BILL KISER / Virgin Islands Daily News

USVI - Yachts are visiting in record numbers this season. Will it last?

Virgin Islanders may have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief at the sight of yachts along territory waterfronts.

It’s not a mirage, says Oriel Blake, executive director of the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association, who estimates USVI-based charters contribute almost $88 million to a COVID-challenged tourism economy.

From the perspective of an anchorage off St. John, visiting yachtsman Sequoia Sun agreed. The New England sailor who returns to St. John annually likened getting a mooring in Virgin Islands National Park waters to a game of musical chairs with 200 chairs and 400 yachts.

“It is way, way, way more crowded here. There are hundreds more boats than I’ve ever seen,” he said.

The contributions of yachts, as opposed to cruise ships, come not only from direct expenditures such as the $1,500 business license to operate a charter in territorial waters, but also indirect ones like food for gourmet meals, fuel, dockage, boat cleaners and myriad other costs, Blake testified in a recent session of the Legislature. This doesn’t include the money spent in the territory by private yachts, whether like Sun’s 56-foot ketch or 200-plus-foot superyachts.

The Legislature recently ratified a minor Coastal Zone Management permit for the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association, Inc. to install 100 moorings at locations around the islands — all of them public, Blake said.

At Yacht Haven Grande, where the big boats usually berth, marina manager Phil Blake estimated there are nearly 50 super-sized visitors right now.

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