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Pair planning new millionaires’ row for St George’s

Revenue from wharfage fees in St George's has shot up by 1,000 percent in just four years after the service was put into the hands of a private management company. And East End officials are now confident the town can become a magnet for millionaire mega-yachts seeking some much-needed shore time during ocean-crossing voyages. Bermuda Yacht Services took over the management of the Ordnance Island wharf in 2009 after scheduled cruise ship visits to the town were scrapped. BYS chief Mark Soares said he approached the Corporation with the idea of improving facilities for transient shipping that calls in on Bermuda en route from the US, Caribbean and the Mediterranean. The company introduced a number of services, including secure docking, and an on-duty concierge. Vessels were able to book spots well in advance of their arrival, while a 'med-mooring' process — where yachts reverse into the dock rather than berth alongside it — has increased the capacity of the 200ft facility dramatically. 'We can now accommodate as many as five super-yachts, all in excess of 150ft, like we had last week,' Mr Soares said. 'We thought that this was a great way to make lemonade out of lemons. The town was in such a decline because of a lack of cruise ships, and yet we knew we had an existing facility in the town that could generate some revenue for the town but also generate some buzz and interest overseas.' Mr Soares pointed out that the improved facilities meant that boats were now far more likely to stay in port for longer periods. 'We now have four years of experience and four years of data and what we've found is that things are really starting to happen. If we're not encouraging new yachts visiting Bermuda, we're definitely finding that they are using the facilities more and staying longer,' he said. He added that recent changes in the law, which allowed private yacht crews to remain in Bermuda for up to 90 days rather than just a few weeks, had also made the Island more attractive to sailors and their passengers. 'What we needed to do was roll out the red carpet, not the red tape,' he said. Mr Soares said that the reputation of St George's as a top destination was now spreading among mega-yacht owners, who can pay out as much as $100 million for their playthings. And the businessman and former sea captain has been busy promoting the Island overseas, visiting marinas and attending trade shows in the US and the Caribbean. Mr Soares said that, as well as attracting super-yachts, it was important that St George's appealed to smaller vessels as the ideal spot to stop over. 'Bermuda, traditionally, and for hundreds of years, has been a refuelling stop for yachts heading to the US East Coast, or Mediterranean,' Mr Soares said. 'What we're beginning to see happen now is, we have bigger motor yachts coming in and they're hanging around a little longer. They're also talking about bringing their guests or owners to Bermuda, and they're also talking to each other, so the word is spreading.' In the past month the town has played host to several massive yachts, some of which have stayed for extended periods. Manned by dozens of crew members, the yachts have given local retailers a business boost, according to Mr Soares. 'We're not going to be the next Monaco and we don't necessarily want to be the next Monaco,' he said. 'But there are 15,000 super-yachts out there. We don't need to attract 1,500 or even 150, but if we can attract some of them, that's going to increase our revenue and bring in ancillary business for Bermuda.' Mr Soares is one of three businessmen behind St George's Harbour Marina (SGHM), which has submitted plans to build a new marina to the east of Ordinance Island. The first phase of the facility will consist of a breakwater, with around 38 berths. Plans were submitted after the Corporation of St George's, which will be leasing the land to SGHM, put out a Request for Proposal. Last night St George's Mayor Garth Rothwell said he was now focusing on getting the marina approved, built and operating by next March so that the town can take advantage of the busy Spring season. 'This isn't some pie-in-the-sky pipe dream,' Mr Rothwell said. 'The four years of real data that has been collected shows that this project is working and can grow. 'Furthermore, SDHM have the funding in place. It's being funded locally but the revenue that it will bring in is foreign, which is the perfect combination. 'My focus for the next couple of months is to get this marina underway, into the Planning process with a view to having a new marina here at the start of the next season next March. It's a great fit for St George's.'

Bermuda Yacht Services' Mark Soares and Mayor of St George Garth Rothwell at Ordnance Island. (Photo by Mark Tatem)