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Voyaging

Weather or Not

There was so much dust in the air in St. Thomas this summer that Pamela Wilson could taste it. "You can hear it in my voice," she said in early July. "I can’t breathe."

For a lot of people, this would be an uncomfortable inconvenience, but for Wilson, the implications were huge. As the general manager of the charter firm Flagship in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Wilson has the duty of scheduling charter vacations and keeping the company’s fleet of boats out of harm’s way--and she believed the dust had a lot to do with the impending hurricane season.

"When we have a lot of Sahara dust, we don’t tend to get a lot of storms," she explains. "When the sandstorms start in Africa and move off the coast, that’s when they become tropical lows. That’s what makes the depressions. If we get a lot of dust early in the year, it seems to keep the number of storms down."

Scientifically speaking, the dust keeps sunlight from penetrating the water, which keeps the water temperature cooler--less than ideal for gathering storms. When Wilson was describing the dust in the air, she also noted that the water temperature in St. Thomas was lower than that in Florida and the Bahamas, where she was guessing the bulk of the late-2006 hurricanes would hit.

She wasn’t alone. A growing number of insurance providers, yacht captains, and charter brokers all believed the same thing--which is why an unusual number of boats decided to stay in the Caribbean and offer charters from July through October instead of cruising north to Florida, south to Trinidad, or across to the Mediterranean to avoid traditional storm routes.

By the time you read this, you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether their logic was right. And if most late-2006 hurricanes do end up striking Florida, the Carolinas, and the Gulf Coast, you can bet there will be a whole lot more yachts available for charter in the Caribbean come this time next year.

"The trend may depend on what the planet does," says Ann E. McHorney, founder and director of Select Yachts in St. Maarten. "Between fuel and weather, we’ve seen a lot of changes in our environment."

Cruising weather in the Caribbean this time of year is actually quite pleasant for powerboat charters (at least when Category 5 storms aren’t rampaging through). The temperature fluctuates only about ten degrees all year long, so it’s warm. The winds are calmer than during traditional charter months such as January, and the anchorages are far less crowded than during the high season.

There’s a surprising demand for charters at this time of year, too. Cruise ships and airlines have trained vacationers to look for discounted itineraries in the tropics all year round, and many families prefer to vacation during August and early September before kids go back to school.

And so, for the first time, there are a few boats--particularly midsize, faster motoryachts that can outrun weather or get hauled out close to their home bases--taking a chance on answering that demand. Some, like the 80-foot Azimut Freedom that's part of the Select Yachts fleet, are even knocking a few thousand dollars off their weekly rates to help entice doubting Thomases.

This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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