Exploring Megayacht Tourism in Anguilla from Marina World Magazine

Plans for Sandy Ground, a narrow peninsula with a seafront beach, propose to transform a salt flat into a megayacht marina.
Caribbean yacht migration patterns
An historic port of entry for ferries arriving in Anguilla, Blowing Point’s ferry terminal was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Plans are proposed to restore the building and create an inner basin marina.

Exploring megayacht tourism in Anguilla

By: Gregory Weykamp

Published in Marina World Magazine January, 2019

Anguilla, the northernmost of the Leeward Islands along the eastern edge of the Caribbean, is a beautiful island nation of just 15,000 residents.  Known for its quiet and peaceful beaches, friendly locals, and a distinct lack of American style franchise chains that clutter so many other Caribbean islands, Anguilla has made a conscious effort to focus their efforts on protecting the authentic character of the island by concentrating on serving a smaller number of tourists, but at a much higher level of service.  Rather than compete for the mass market cruise ship industry, which could easily overwhelm the natural resources and culture of the island, Anguilla has set its sights on providing a new destination for the hundreds of super and mega yachts that cruise the Caribbean.

Located just eight miles north of Saint Martin, Anguilla is a very desirable alternative to the more crowded beaches and cruise port for those looking for a different experience.  While large yachts regularly visit the waters around Anguilla, there are currently no dedicated facilities for berthing private yachts of any size anywhere on the island.  Visiting yachts must anchor offshore or utilize one of the very few mooring fields and use their tenders to visit the island or provision the yacht.

While there are many high end five star resorts on the island, previous attempts to date to create a marina capable of serving yachts in excess of one hundred meters have yet to succeed.  In many cases, land ownership and entitlement process were difficult which hindered the opportunity for a project to move forward.    In an effort to address those concerns, the Government of Anguilla recently commissioned Edgewater Resources, LLC to complete a megayacht feasibility study for the entire country, with the intent of documenting demand for megayacht facilities, identifying the best potential sites for megayacht marina development, and engaging local residents to establish plans that protect the character of Anguilla that attracts visitors, while building local support for the projects.

The obvious benefits of megayacht tourism for Anguilla include significant positive economic impacts for the overall economy, including direct and indirect job creation and related economic impact.   These impacts are derived from yacht  berthing, service, fuel, provisioning, maintenance, and sales  The feasibility study also built broad support for development of megayacht marinas from the local community by considering less obvious positive impacts including educational partnerships to build capacity to service the megayacht industry, environmental restoration of marina sites, and consideration of long term environmental risks such as a response to sea level rise.   Lastly, the projects also provide a substantial real estate opportunity with waterfront single family home sites with boat houses, condominiums, and hotels.

Establishing the megayacht marina industry in Anguilla will require the development of a broader base of skilled workers capable of servicing the marina clientele, including the full range of hospitality sector workers that will come from the existing highly qualified pool of service workers currently working in the numerous five star resorts on the island.  This will increase demand for hotel and restaurant service staff, as well as musicians, artists, and entertainers, creating more opportunities for local business to thrive and expand.  Newer categories of services that will require educational partnerships with local schools include all the marine maintenance trades, such as engine mechanics, marine electrical technicians, painters, woodworkers, fiberglass repair, canvas, etc.  While all of these services exist on the island now, the greatly increased demand for these services will require job training programs and create opportunities for local residents.  With the support of the Government of Anguilla, the selection criteria for developers of new marina facilities will consider the developer’s commitment to hiring local residents rather than importing workers from elsewhere.

The feasibility study examined the entire coast of Anguilla to identify the best sites for marina development, considering a range of factors including physical features such as the water depth, wind and wave conditions, littoral drift, and the presence or absence of sensitive habitat.  Additional considerations included potential impacts on local neighborhoods such as displacement of residents and businesses, traffic, and historic features.  Upon completion of the evaluation, five sites were selected for both physical feasibility as well as offering a diversity of opportunities that would attract a wider range of developers.  Concept plans were prepared and reviewed with the local communities in the areas near the proposed sites to build community support for the marina vision so future development activities can be completed efficiently.

One key element in building community support during the development of the concept master plans was consideration of efforts to plan for and mitigate the effects of sea level rise on historic communities on the island.  The United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects seal level rise in the range 100-150mm by 2030, 300-560mm by 2050, and up to two meters by 2100.  While sea level rise of this magnitude will affect all waterfront areas, this level of impact threatens to completely submerge many areas on the island, including  Sandy Ground, one of the historic beachfront neighborhoods on the northern shore of Anguilla that is also one of the proposed megayacht marina sites.

Sandy Ground is a narrow peninsula with an ocean front beach on Road Bay to the west and a 43 hectare salt flat to the east.  Just 150 meters wide, Sandy Ground is home to some of the best local restaurants and beaches on Anguilla, as well as many historic homes, all of which are threatened by sea level rise.  The concept master plan for this site proposes to transform the salt flat into a megayacht marina capable of supporting nearly 2,900 meters of berthing for vessels in excess of 100 meters in length.  The new marina will be nestled into the site and surrounded by a nature preserve for nesting terns and emergent wetland and upland vegetation.  The maritime traditions of Anguilla will be preserved through a heritage center that will share the traditional knowledge, cultural artifacts, and history of the site Sandy Ground.  Additional elements include high end resort and residential, as well as marina service facilities, all on new land created by dredging the salt flat to create adequate depths for navigation.  The plan avoids displacing the existing residences and businesses, will also providing for use of the dredge materials to raise the Sandy Ground neighborhood above anticipated sea level rise.  While the cost of preparing for sea level rise is significant, the proposed project provides both the source of materials needed to raise the elevation of the neighborhood and the economic activity necessary to allow the Government of Anguilla to implement the plan.  Similar improvements are proposed at Blowing Point, the historic port of entry for ferries arriving in Anguilla.  The Blowing Point concept proposes to restore the historic ferry terminal that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma, and greatly improve the arrival experience for visitors and residents of Anguilla by extending an existing breakwater reef, creating an internal basin marina with repair facilities, and enhanced waterfront shops, restaurants, and hotels.

One of the key factors in the success of the megayacht tourism in Anguilla is the recognition that, while it is important to build very high quality facilities to attract and support megayachts, what really separates Anguilla from other destinations in the minds of the owners of megayachts is the quality of the experience on Anguilla. The authentic character of the island must be protected above all else, because in the end, it is the quiet beaches, the wildlife, the tiny restaurants on the beach, the local musicians, and the local people that simply cannot be found anywhere else.  The experience can’t be bought and imported by private jet.  You must come to Anguilla for the experience, and with this in mind, the residents and visitors to Anguilla will all benefit.

Gregory J Weykamp, ASLA, LEED AP BD+C is president of Edgewater Resources, LLC, a waterfront development consultancy firm with offices in Michigan and Florida, USA. He has over 25 years of experience in planning and design with an emphasis on implementation of marinas, sustainable landscapes and urban waterfront environments.