Despite a rich seafaring heritage, modern day recreational boating has been slow to gain traction in the Cayman Islands. All that is about to change, however. The opening of two world-class marinas in the past two years has laid the groundwork not only for a domestic yachting industry to flourish, but is also putting the Cayman Islands on the map as a cruising destination.
A little more than 10 years ago there was only one marina in the Cayman Islands: the Cayman Islands Yacht Club. But in September 2004, Hurricane Ivan laid waste to the facility and destroyed dozens of commercial and private boats, not to mention hundreds of homes and businesses. Although the yacht club continued to limp along as best it could in the years following the storm, amenities were limited and the facility was unable to receive visiting boats. The recession dealt a further blow to the yachting scene in Cayman: Boats weren’t being sold and the funds needed to make the Cayman Islands Yacht Club fully functional again were not available.
Today, however, the scene is quite different. The Barcadere in George Town and the newly refurbished Cayman Islands Yacht Club are creating the infrastructure needed to support a thriving boating scene. Residents and visiting boats now have a choice of places to dock, store and haul out their vessels — something that will not only make boat ownership more accessible to residents, but will encourage the more intrepid Caribbean cruisers to visit the Cayman Islands.
Located in George Town, The Barcadere reached its current state of completion in February 2013. The complex includes a marina that can accommodate boats of up to 150 feet with dockside facilities such water, electricity, fuel, sewage pump-out facilities, nighttime security and free Wi-Fi. The adjacent boat yard with a 110-ton travel lift — the biggest in the region — chandlery and service centre mean that all one’s maintenance and repair needs are met onsite, while marina guests have access to luxury bathrooms and can wander over to enjoy the bar, restaurant, club house and pool at the George Town Yacht Club. But that is only the beginning. “There are two future phases yet to come, for which all of the prerequisite infrastructure is already in place,” explains one of the owners, Neville Scott. The plans include a retail village and a residential component looking out over the North Sound. The docks were originally intended for these residences and when the project is fully completed, it will be a world-class marina community. “We are now actively seeking capital investors and/or development partners who would be interested in a joint venture to move the project forward, in order for it to truly come into its own,” he adds. The Barcadere’s location immediately adjacent to the airport means that boat owners flying in from overseas can walk from the terminal building to the marina, hop aboard their boats and be speeding over the North Sound to a condo in Cayman Kai within minutes of arriving. The haul out and storage facilities also make boat-ownership a hassle-free option for part-time residents who can have their vessels lifted out of the water and kept safe when they are off-island.
After being in a state of disrepair, the Cayman Islands Yacht Club was purchased in 2011 by DART Realty, the local development company behind Camana Bay. Following a $7 million extensive refurbishment of the facility, the first phase of the renovated facility was officially launched in September 2014. The refurbishment doubled the dockage (it now has a capacity for up to 158 vessels) and the high-tech docks with floating pontoons feature individual water, electricity and pump-out systems. The facility also includes a full-service chandlery and service centre, fuel depot, CCTV security and a provisioning store. The recently relocated Morgan’s Seafood Restaurant within the Cayman Islands Yacht Club offers fresh local seafood run by the owners of the former Morgan’s in West Bay. With direct access to the North Sound, it is the ideal gateway for commercial operators and private boat owners heading out to dive the North Wall, visit Stingray City or explore the North Sound. After a day out on the water, the bar at Anchors is fast becoming a gathering spot for locals and visitors to trade tales over a cold beer. “The Cayman Islands Yacht Club used to be a hub for the community and boaters alike,” says harbour supervisor Sheldon Reid. “I am really proud of how the yacht club looks today and that it’s bringing the community back together.” There is indeed an undeniable camaraderie and sense of community in the boating world, and the social aspect of boat ownership is not to be underestimated. The fact that the new marina facilities include bars and restaurants where boat owners can meet will no doubt assist in fostering a thriving boating community.
For Cayman Islands residents, whether year-round or seasonal, boat ownership offers endless possibilities for recreation: swimming, diving, fishing, snorkelling, wake-boarding or simply cruising from one beach bar to another. Kaibo Beach Bar & Grill, Rum Point, Morgan’s and Camana Bay are just some of the destinations boaters visit to moor up and step ashore for a cold drink or lunch. While boaters in the Cayman Islands typically head out for day trips (cruising around the islands is unusual), some do choose to stay overnight aboard their boats. It is possible to stay overnight in The Harbour at Camana Bay with prior approval, and Scott notes that some local customers spend the evening enjoying dinner and drinks at the George Town Yacht Club and then sleep aboard their boats in the marina, ready to head out to sea in the morning. Boating without Owning For those who don’t want to take on the responsibilities of maintenance, servicing and insurance that comes with boat ownership, there are other options. One is to charter a boat for a day — with or without captain — and another, newer option, is to join a boat leasing club. Moore Marine’s Leisure Boat Leasing Club offers a variety of packages, depending on one’s usage expectations, which allow members use of their fleet of well-maintained boats for an annual fee, plus fuel costs. All the maintenance, storage and insurance is taken care of so that members need only reserve online and the boat will be delivered to the launch site of their choice. It’s more economical than owning and offers greater flexibility than chartering.
The distance between Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands — some 80 miles — makes cruising between the islands quite challenging. It’s certainly not impossible, however, and very enjoyable for those who make the trip, but it’s not for the inexperienced. “It requires navigational skill, competence and confidence to leave the psychological security of being in sight of land and heading out over the horizon,” Scott observes. Once in the Sister Islands, he adds, one has to be prepared to spend the night at anchor, as there are no docking facilities to speak of, and severe draft limitations make it difficult for boats to access the protected waters inside reefs. A New Cruising Destination While the eastern Caribbean has long been a popular cruising ground thanks to the proximity of various islands, numerous safe anchorages and well-developed infrastructure, the Cayman Islands have the potential to appeal to the more adventurous sailors. Scott has spent years working with marinas in Cuba, Jamaica and Central America to promote the concept of western Caribbean Cruising. “I think that Cayman being off that beaten path is an attraction in itself, and our proximity to Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico puts us in a favourable position as a waypoint for western Caribbean cruisers,” he says. U.S. President Obama’s announcement in December 2014 that U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba would be reopened bodes well for the future of yachting in the western Caribbean, too. The fact that the Cayman Islands offer first-world infrastructure, reliable communications, internet and access to parts and service are all attractive points, he adds. “Some of these things residents take for granted, like reliable communications, but just try sending an e-mail to a remote location in Cuba and you will better appreciate the huge disparity in infrastructure.” The potential contribution that this form of tourism could have for the islands is considerable, Scott continues. “The people who visit from overseas typically spend quite a bit on renting cars, shopping for provisions, visiting restaurants and tourist attractions, and benefit the economy as a whole. Compared to the average cruise ship visitor, they are, in my opinion, far more valuable to the economy.” With the economy back on track and the infrastructure in place, Cayman’s budding yachting industry promises to increase recreational options for those who live on the islands, diversify the tourism product and create new employment opportunities.