Rising fuel prices and the changing storm paths are two of the three main things that finally persuaded boats to stay, McHorney and Wilson say. "If you just look at the amount of money just to get up to Florida to reposition," McHorney explains, "that's 1,200 or 1,500 miles. That's at least $150,000 plus the large amount of petrochemicals being burned," which many scientists say is a cause of global warming and thereby of the changing strength and path of hurricanes.
The third reason more yachts are staying in the Caribbean is newly available forms of insurance--for both the boat owners and the charter clients. On the one hand, companies that insure yachts are seeing the same weather trends unfold, but instead of requiring boats to move away from traditionally hurricane-prone areas, they are instead insisting on hurricane-avoidance plans.
We have the same insurance company," says Capt. Randy Zurrin, who, with his wife Sandy, offers charters onboard the 85-foot Hatteras Obsession through Flagship out of St. Thomas. "They used to want to know that the premium was paid. But now, they send us forms. They want to know where we're going to put the boat, how much ground tackle is onboard, do we have a safe place to haul out. We [have to] make reservations ahead of time [with a service facility]. They've saved us an 85-foot spot where they can haul us out and block us off. As soon as the hurricane comes up, we call them. They’re expecting the call."
On the other side of the equation is trip insurance, which anyone booking a charter can now get, in general, for four to eight percent of the charter’s cost. Hurricane-specific addendums without substantial extra fees are becoming more common, and they allow you to get a full refund if a storm churns up.
"If we know a hurricane's coming and you’re planning a trip in a week or two weeks, chances are you’re not going to be able to get insurance," explains Peter Evans, executive vice president of InsureMyTrip.com, an insurance-comparison search engine which covers charters. "It's foreseen. It's like running into a burning building and saying, 'Oooh, I think I need fire insurance.'"
But if you’re planning a vacation in advance, he says, you can often find a policy for a Caribbean charter at any time of year. "What you need to focus on is insurance carriers who have [the provision called] 'destination you're going to made uninhabitable.' It's not a question of whether you can get there or not, because infrastructure like airlines is usually the first thing that is back up and running, but it's a matter of whether where you're going is being wiped off the face of the earth."
A few insurance carriers that work with Evans' site also offer a clause called "cancel for any reason," which can add 40 to 50 percent to your premium but that may be advantageous in a charter situation. "Let's say you’ve booked this trip, you're going down to the Caribbean in September," he says. "It's August, and it's been an active season, and you decide you don't want to go anymore. This covers that."
McHorney and Wilson both say trip insurance is a charterer's best bet for bookings during storm season in the tropics. The contract you have with the yacht itself usually gives the captain total authority to reschedule or outright cancel the charter in the event of a serious storm, with no refund to you. The separate trip-insurance policy is your backup plan.
More than a few people felt the risk was worth it as this year's storm season approached. By early July Zurrin alone already had two inquiries for charters in August plus another in October, putting him nearly halfway to a full season's schedule.
McHorney was fielding inquiries for other yachts as well and couldn’t be more optimistic. "Hurricanes are a roll of the dice," she says. "But our waters are beautifully calm in the summer. It's the calm before the storm. It's great."
This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.