Monday, May 07, 2012

Top 10 Tuesdays: 10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Caribbean Boat Yard

Rasmus getting a power wash before she's chalked for the season.
It's hard to believe we are almost half-way through our time as landlubbers.  In almost exactly four months, we'll be returning to the Caribbean to resume our life as live-aboards with our baby girl (and possibly, a new boat!).  It's exciting to think about - but for boaters who are already cruising down south there is another time of year is fast approaching: hurricane season (June to November).  

For some, this is a time to stay put on their boats in some hurricane hole like Luperon (Dominican Republic), Salinas (Puerto Rico), St. Georges (Grenada) or Chaguaramas (Trinidad) (to name a few)...Certain brave souls continue sailing while keeping a watchful eye on weather while others choose to put their boats up "on the hard" and head home for a few months to catch up with family and friends and refill the cruising kitty.   Some of you might recall when Scott and I were deciding where to store Rasmus before we headed back to Chicago to have our baby, Isla.  Our choices were to either keep the boat in Grenada or sail her down to Trinidad - we opted for Peake Yacht Services in Trinidad for a number of reasons.  These ten factors weighed heavily on our decision.  With no further ado, here are our... 

Top Ten Considerations When Choosing a Boat Yard in the Caribbean:
  1. Location - Where you end up will most likely have a big impact on where you keep your boat.  If you are in St. Thomas, for example - you might not want to sail all the way down to Grenada to store your boat.  However, great attention must be paid as to the location you keep your boat.  Keep in mind where the hurricane belt is and know the risks of storing your boat in a yard that might get caught in a storm.  
  2. Safety - Some islands are considered more "safe" than others.  This should be factored into your decision because where there are thugs, there is theft.  Trinidad is considered a pretty volatile place comparatively, and it was definitely something we considered when we were going through our decision-making process.  However, the many pros we discovered outweighed this con (for us).  
  3. Security - Just as I mentioned that safety should be a concern, so should security.  Even on the "safest" islands there are accounts of theft.  Make sure the boat yard you choose has adequate security.  The boat yard we were considering in Grenada had not only had some very serious break-ins in the last year (one boat lost over 30K worth of equipment) but the "security cameras" they had didn't seem to be working when the thefts occurred.  This was a huge factor is why we decided to move our boat to Trinidad.
  4. Scuttlebutt - The cruising community is many things, and being tight-lipped about sharing information is NOT one of them!  Ask other boaters about their experiences, listen to what they have to say and make an informed decision.  Word of mouth is the very best form of advertising and when a third boat told us not to store our boat long-term at the yard we were considering in Grenada, we listened.
  5. Access to facilities - No matter what you think, when you put your boat in a yard it means one thing: boat work!  Whether it be something simple like painting the bottom or a more complicated project like installing refrigeration - you're going to want access to a yacht chandlery.  If the nearest boat/hardware store is ten miles away, your project is going to take a LOT longer to complete.  In addition,  you might need to stay off the boat a night or two while you are working on it - make sure there is a cheap hotel nearby.  The yard we chose in Trinidad not only has a yacht chandlery on site, but also has a nice little hotel at the harbor as well.  In addition, there are loads of other boating specific businesses within a two mile radius of the yard there in Chaguaramas.
  6. Quality of work - Many boat yards will have a staff that will work on your boat if you hire them, others will provide you with a list of preferred vendors.  Do your homework to make sure these folks do quality work.  Asking other boaters for their experiences and/or referrals is a great way to do this.
  7. Storm contingency plan - Most islands in the Caribbean fall in the hurricane belt, and even Grenada (typically considered "outside the box") has been hit by nasty storms in the past.  Many, many boaters keep their boats in places like St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic - but it should be known that all of those places are likely to be hit by at least one storm during a season.  You want to store your boat in the safest way possible - some of these yards will dig a hole to drop the keel of the boat into and provide you with very secure tie-downs.  Talk to the yard about their storm contingency plan and if you have it, make sure your insurance will cover you if you are in the "hurricane box", as many will not.
  8. DIY friendly - Scott and I try to do as many projects as we can on our boat.  Experience has taught us that this is not only a great way to learn about your boat, but a great way to save money as well.  Some boat yards do not allow boaters to do work themselves so if you are planning on rolling up your shirt sleeves, make sure you find out the yard's policy on this.
  9. Professionalism - A HUGE reason we chose Peake Yacht Services in Trinidad was by and large the incredible professionalism they displayed when dealing with us.  They responded to our emails quickly (usually the same day, often within the hour!!... which is not common in the Caribbean!) and their staff were all articulate, friendly and knowledgeable.  When you are leaving your boat somewhere for months at a time - you want to make sure someone on the other end will answer your call or email quickly. 
  10. Cost - Of course, cost will play into your decision.  While Scott and I try to save money where we can, we also believe that "you get what you pay for" so we chose a yard that was slightly more expensive but in turn offered us more peace of mind.  More expensive, however, doesn't always mean "better" and some islands are cheaper than others.  Do your homework and do a little cost analysis!
Leaving your boat thousands of miles away is daunting, to say the least.  Make sure you leave her in good hands!  Speaking of, we just got an email today from the company that is watching our boat with new pictures and confirmation that she has been washed down and all is well on board (no bugs, no mildew, bilges clear...etc).  Sigh.

Brittany, Scott & Isla


Pat Sixbey said...

That's the post I've been waiting for and it's a great one. Thanks!! Little Isla is beautiful. I will be reading her blog of her adventures one day soon I am sure. I am anxiously awaiting the new boat decision. As far as my boat, I am finally to the point of ordering the engine. She should be in the water this fall!!!!! I will then catch up to you guys.

Windtraveler said...

Oh good Pat - I'm happy it was helpful to you!! Hope all is going well on the refit!! Can't wait for you to catch up - we'll have a bottle of rum (or wine, if you prefer!!) waiting!!

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