The pandemic made for some tumultuous times for many small businesses in the Caribbean, with the loss of customers and the revenue they generate.
But Sail Luna, a charter business based in the U.S. Virgin Islands, managed to navigate those tough times very well, according to Capt. Nim and chef/first mate Fabiola "Fabi" Hirschhorn, the husband and wife team who own, operate and charter their 45-foot Sail Luna catamaran out of St. Thomas.
"Between mid-March 2020 through June 1, 2020, tourists were not allowed to enter the USVI, so -- like many others in the tourism industry -- we had no work at all. But we did have enough savings to survive," Nim said.
"When the USVI reopened to visitors on June 1, 2020, we were immediately booked for the rest of the season," he said.
Businesses in the USVI faced a second crisis in August 2020, when case numbers rose and the territory was forced to close to leisure travelers for 30 days. All businesses, including charter operators, were not permitted to accept or book new reservations for a month.
However, when the order was lifted and the USVI reopened again in September 2020, the period that followed for the remainder of last year and the spring and summer of 2021 marked "one of the most successful and busy charter seasons in our industry," Nim said.
He chalked that up to many travelers preferring the privacy and safety that charters offer, especially in the age of Covid.
We explain entry requirements in place for U.S. visitors travelers in each Caribbean country. Many islands have eased protocols for fully vaccinated travelers.
"Guests hang with their family or friends in a safe environment within their own bubble. Most of our recent guests were vaccinated, and we maintain sanitation measures at all times to protect them and us," he said.
The couple normally doesn't charter their catamaran during hurricane season, shutting down from July until November. But they stretched the 2021 charter season through Aug. 14 this year.
Guests are always urged to buy trip insurance to cover cancellations due to weather or medical issues.
If a cancellation is weather-related, guests can reschedule within 12 months of the scheduled charter date with no penalty fees or can choose to receive a refund of all payments made, less a 35% cancellation fee.
Sail Luna's catamaran sleeps up to six guests in three cabins. Each cabin has a queen bed, air conditioning and private bathroom.
A typical charter length is six or seven nights, starting from St. Thomas and sailing throughout the USVI.
"There are numerous flights into St. Thomas from U.S. gateways, making for ease of travel for our guests," Capt. Nim said.
Itineraries are tailored to the guests' requests. Some groups prefer to go ashore and check out local restaurants, while others choose to eat onboard every day.
Husband and wife Nim and Fabi Hirschhorn fill the roles of captain, chef and mixologist on Sail Luna's catamaran. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sail Luna
Both Nim and Fabi are award-winning chefs and mixologists, so food and cocktails are an important feature of their charters.
"I delight in tailoring the menu and creating special moments and the perfect atmosphere for each group of our guests aboard," said Fabi, who has catered high-end events and trained in all aspects of food safety and hygiene.
"Before each charter, we ask our guests to fill out a preference sheet so I can build a perfect menu for them and we can provision for the trip. "
USVI entry regulations require all travelers from the mainland U.S. age 5 and older to apply through the destination's travel portal and submit a negative Covid-19 test done within five days of travel.
"All of our charters are in the waters surrounding the USVI. We hope to add an option to include stops in the British Virgin Islands in our itineraries when the BVI entry protocols become feasible for charters," Nim said.
Nim is a U.S. Coast Guard-certified captain and an experienced PADI divemaster who has sailed extensively throughout the Caribbean and internationally. He is a former information technology executive and an Israeli Air Force combat veteran and is fluent in English and Hebrew.
Fabi is of European heritage and is from the islands. She grew up on sailboats, and in addition to her culinary background, she has graduate degrees in business, is fluent in English and Spanish and is a U.S. Coast Guard-certified captain.
Kids age 8 and older are welcome on Sail Luna charters, which are commissionable at 10% and include all meals, full ship's bar, accommodations and use of onboard water toys. A seven-night, six-guest charter is priced at $19,990, while a six-night charter for six passengers runs $17,134.
"We get most of our bookings from travel agents, who can book through us directly at www.sailluna.com, or through our preferred yacht charter broker at Sailplaydine.com," Nim said.
Although there is competition among charter companies in the USVI, "we've seen firsthand that there is room for all of us. Demand is very high. We are fine down here, and we are busier than ever," Nim said.