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Sailing on the Wildside

by Erin Carey 17 Jul 05:39 UTC
Salt Whistle Bay © Sailing Wildside

Being a charter boat owner/operator in these uncertain times is not easy. I spoke to Steve Hooker of Sailing Wildside, an owner-operated charter boat based in the Eastern Caribbean, to learn more about his business and to understand the impact the global pandemic has had on his livelihood.

What led you to become a charter boat captain?

My sailing experience goes back to when I was a kid in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve Cadets. Being a surfer, wakeboarder, scuba diver and all-round water lover, led to me becoming involved in the water-sports business in tourism and studying for maritime commercial licenses. I worked as a Brisbane city ferry boat captain and after a few years of this routine lifestyle, my adventurous spirit led me to Greece, sailing the Greek islands as a charter yacht skipper. It was in Greece that I discovered kiteboarding and very quickly became one of the first kitesurfers on Kos island- self-taught on my 2 line Wipika Classic kite and my home-built carbon twin tip board. It was inevitable that I would one day combine my two passions: kitesurfing and sailing.

My partner Monika's dream and passion for travelling to exotic locations led to her studying a Masters in Geography and tourism. On Sal Island in 2008, Monika discovered kitesurfing, and from that point on, inspired by her newfound passion of kiteboarding and the sea, her choice of working destinations became based on the wind conditions and the prevalence of kitesurfing locations. It was on one of the kite beaches of Kos Island that we met and I introduced her to sailing and a new world on the sea. She too discovered it was the perfect way to combine travel and kiteboarding, and the rest is history. We have now been working together as a charter captain and first mate for nearly ten years.

Tell me about your business and your boat?

Sailing Wildside is an owner-operated charter company, which means that we also call our yacht Groovy, our home. We generally operate in a casual Aussie style, a beer and BBQ in the cockpit is favoured over silver service. We aim to create a timeless sense of exploration and adventure, allowing our guests to really get away from their everyday lives and escape to a place of freedom and adventure. We believe that if we as hosts are enjoying ourselves and are enthusiastic about the things we do, the places we visit and the people we meet, then our guests will feel the same way.

Sailing Wildside is typically known for physically active charters with a main focus on kitesurfing, which means we can take guests to some of the most iconic kitesurfing locations in the Eastern Caribbean. However, kitesurfing doesn't have to be a feature of sailing Wildside's cruises. We can share so many other sights, passions and activities with guests, including our love for nature and wildlife, hiking in the rainforests of St. Vincent, snorkelling and free diving in the Tobago Cays marine park, standup paddleboarding in Bequia or exploring the sites of the Grenadines.

Our typical charters run for 7 to 10 days and we ensure that each itinerary is tailored to individual charter groups.

Our catamaran is a 2011 Leopard 44 named Groovy. She has enough berths to sleep 10 people, however, we only take 6 guests for comfort, 7 if children are aboard. We have four double beds and two forepeak cabins that could accommodate small children. Monika and I accommodate one cabin, so there are three double cabins available for guests, each with its own ensuite bathroom.

Where are you based out of and how has business been affected during the pandemic?

We usually base ourselves out of the island of Bequia or Union Island, which are both located in the country known as St Vincent and the Grenadines. We chose to base ourselves out of these areas because it is largely unspoiled by tourism and we love the contrast between the dramatic rainforests of St. Vincent and the tropical beauty of the island archipelago of the Grenadines. Given that we are also avid kitesurfers, it's a real bonus that our backyard offers some of the best kitesurfing grounds around.

Unfortunately, as was the case in the whole tourist industry, as soon as the pandemic began and the borders closed, we lost all of our clientele. We have now been without an income for over three months. The clients that were booked to join us have postponed, but as we don't know when they will be able to travel, we are unable to re-schedule a date. We were right in the middle of our peak season when the pandemic struck, so we have suffered quite a setback to our business plan. Fortunately, we have quite a few years experience in the business of tourism and understand how fickle it can be, leading us to be prepared for the possibility of a poor season.

According to the latest reports, American Airlines resumed flights to St. Vincent on the 4th of June. As it's summer vacation for the US, these months are usually some of our busiest and we hope that people will feel safe enough to visit us soon. Sailing Wildside is definitely open for business and eager to accept new clients. We hope that we can offer a safe, personalised and fun alternative to cruise ships and resort vacations. However, insurance is recommended for guests in the unlikely event that charters have to be cancelled/postponed or we have to sail to Grenada due to storm warnings.

How are you ensuring that sanitation and hygiene standards are being followed during the vacation?

As professional certified owner-operators, we have always followed a high standard of safe food and hygiene practices. Our guests can rest assured that we will be increasing our efforts even more, to ensure the safety of all aboard. The extra measures we have taken include sanitizer dispensers on the back of the boat where guests board and disembark and also in the tender for use before and after going ashore. Luggage coming aboard will also be sanitised. Guests body temperatures will also be checked and logged in anticipation of new regulatory requirements.

What are your predictions for the future of charter companies in the Caribbean?

We will always remain optimistic about the future of boutique and outdoor type holidays and vacations like ours. However, we feel that the big players in mass tourism like the cruise ship industry will lobby for regulations to suit themselves after such huge losses. Hopefully, local governments will not forget about us and what we offer as a sustainable and environmentally friendly business, working with and promoting local communities.

As we come out of various lockdowns and quarantine, we believe that more people will be looking for quality time together with friends and family, a safe alternative to cruise ships, and a personalised vacation that they will remember for a lifetime. We plan to fulfil those dreams by continuing to look for out of the box ideas on how to best serve our customers.

For more information visit their website.

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