A Candid Interview on the Maritime Sector
It is no secret that the growth of Saint Lucia’s yachting industry and the growth of Cuthbert Didier are synonymous. Didier has been at the forefront of the industry since the late 1980s when he was recruited as an accountant of the Rodney Bay Marina – an outfit he saw the birth of and eventually led as its General Manager through to its maturity and to the historic handover to the Island Global Yachting (IGY) group. Today, he remains a leader in yachting and everything marine and maritime development in the island and stands as the go-to person for almost every figure from those in government to those in the private sector locally and internationally. Business Focus tracked down this leader and sought his insight into the growth and development of the industry he had a hand in building. Here are the questions we posed and the responses provided by this marine guru:
BF – There has been increasing concern for Maritime Security in the Caribbean. What are your thoughts on the matter and what do you propose would reduce these anxieties and potentially lessening the fears of yachters from around the world?
CD – There are three main areas of concern as it regards to this – beginning with piracy, which appears to be looming off the Venezuela and Trinidad coasts. The second is the issue of burglary and damage to yachts on anchor. The southern part of the eastern Caribbean appears to be plagued with these matters during the high season and any one event, however small, has a negative impact on the sailing experience for persons in the area. There is a major need for resources to be allocated at all ports of entry for a full 24- hour surveillance. We need to move to a level where yachts getting into ports of entry can be monitored and properly documented prior to clearance.
BF – How would you describe Saint Lucia’s Yachting Industry, from the 1980s to today?
CD – We have definitely made quantumleaps within the yachting sector since the1980s. No longer are we an undiscovered
sailing route thanks to the Atlantic Rally for Cursers (ARC). Despite our progress we have still maintained the unique Caribbean scenery, which is critical to sailors from around the coast. What has been our most defining moment though is our ability to marry the sailing experience with the present land based tourism infrastructure. Yachtsmen don’t just sail to Saint Lucia – because of all the soft adventure… infrastructure, shopping, boutique hotels – they have been able to infuse themselves into our economy and that is what has made us a formidable destination.
BF – Many of Saint Lucia’s ports have evolved from fishing villages to commercial shipping and yachting hotspots, what are your thoughts on these developments and what do you think it means for the further development of the island’s ports?
CD – The first thing is that it has been a perfect natural progressing for Saint Lucia from fishing to official ports of entry, that has made the yachting experience very wide and unique mainly because these ports are scattered along the coast of Saint Lucia. For the future I think it means moving forward. There is now a greater onus for us to make the facilitation of yachts and fishermen alike at all ports, seamless. Whether Vieux Fort, Soufriere, Castries or Rodney Bay, we must move towards embracing technology so that all aspects of our engagement with yachts are electronic. I truly believe that the less time yachtsmen spend processing and the more time they spend in actually enjoying the island, we will truly begin to grow leaps and bounds. We will begin to see this open the door for the decentralization of services and allow for the possible pre-clearance of yachts coming from other destinations and allowing for a much broader and seamless spurt of economic growth in areas of Saint Lucia that remain untouched.
BF – Based on your position and influence, what does the future hold for furthering the industry considering existing policies.
CD – The present government’s policies must remain user friendly for visiting yachts. It must also continue to facilitate strategic alliances with key source markets like Russia, Taiwan and Argentina. Government agencies must also remain focused on being partners in the industry, not just regulators.
BF – The Rodney Bay Marina has evolved folds over and has had a hand in the economic development of the island in areas way beyond what was envisioned at the time of its construction. What do you think about the evolution and impact of that vision that was once shared between Sir John Compton and Arch Marez, your own mentor?
CD – Without a doubt, the Rodney Bay Marina, now operated by IGY, was the catalyst in creating growth within the yachting sector. Its evolution from construction to operation has certainly positioned Saint Lucia to not only be the host of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) but also for ushering in several businesses, land development and waterfront condominiums which has created a unique matrimony between a marina operation to water front homes and boutique hotels. What this has created is a considerably high value for land that has ushered in some very focused development, which is now called the Rodney Bay Marina.
When the marina was born it came with some very forward thinking. But then again you had two mavericks, one wanting to solve a mosquito problem while the other wanted to provide simple anchorage for yachts. Beyond a doubt the combination of these two visions have created a lasting legacy that has lead to not only the most beautiful bay, but also a site that screams, “come… let there be yachts.”
BF – Do you believe the IGY Rodney Bay Marina to be a Pacesetter in Saint Lucia’s marine development?
CD – Without a doubt! Island Global Yachting was and still is the best entity to take the marina in Rodney Bay to the next level. There are various players within the yachting sector and I still believe that where mega yachts and super yachts to Saint Lucia are today would not be possible without the Marina.
BF – Marigot Bay remains a natural harbour and certainly a yachtsman’s haven in the Caribbean. How do you forsee that being sustained in light of the overwhelming potential for further development there?
CD – Marigot Bay should always remain a quaint unique yachting destination, within a destination. The scenery and location of the marina facilities and the location is so unique that it has been recorded considerably and not much has changed for the visiting eye of a wary yachtsman. Whatever improvements come to the marina must be quaint and focused
on shore-based services only. The Bay must remain deep, tranquil and natural. We must protect the present maritime locations.
BF – There has been talk of the establishment of a marina in Soufriere, potentially amplifying the island’s footing in the regional and global yachting industry? Do you believe Saint Lucia is ready for this and how do you see it playing out should the development go forward?
CD – St Lucia is certainly ready for a full service marina in the South, however Soufriere presents a unique landscape
and because of its terrain any marina placed there would be a special feature. Soufriere needs organized mooring facilities similar or better than those that are now in place by Soufriere Marine Management Area (SMMA) so that yachts
can enjoy the unique features of the Pitons.
BF – Discussions and studies about Castries being on the receiving end of a major transformation has been in the air for as long as most of us can remember. How do you feel about the process so far?
CD – The process is taking way too long and the time and opportunity is now. This will re-invent Castries so that it takes its rightful place as a waterfront city in the Caribbean. The present layout is not inviting and does not reflect its rich maritime history.
BF – The St Lucia Yacht Club has served as the breeding ground for our next generation of sailors. What are your thoughts on the contribution the club has made so far to the industry at an island level and how do you see that being reflected in the daily lives of the normal man?
CD – The Yacht Club has definitely continued to create the next generation of yachtsmen and women and racers – particularly in the optimist division. We now have young sailors that are competing globally and representing Saint Lucia, so it has fulfilled that purpose. It must be complimented for exposing the young Saint Lucians within the vicinity of Gros Islet and Castries to the skill of sailing. I am looking forward to the day when its activities can extend to all the schools within the island and truly create a generation that is energized by the thought of engaging in regattas.
BF – Japan has been a favourable player in the development of Saint Lucia’s marine industry for the past several years, investing in infrastructural development that has undoubtedly aided in the progress of the common man, how do you see that fitting with the overall agenda of marine growth in Saint Lucia – not only for commercial, but for the grassroots levels that most of our coastline villagers have become accustomed?
CD – It has done an excellent job so far and there is no reason for the input of the Japanese to stop. They have given us the expertise, knowledge and assistance in constructing well-placed fisheries locations along the coastline of Saint Lucia. That effort has struck a balance between the user conflict – yachts men and fishermen. And I hope moving forward Japan’s role and its presence continue so that we have the coexistence of aggressive fishers and yachtsmen on the same island.
BF – Taiwan has grown considerably and continues to anchor itself in the global yachting arena, what are your thoughts on the country’s investments to date in the yachting industry?
CD – Taiwan as a yacht builder is the model Saint Lucia needs to adopt. The Taiwanese have a unique propensity for building yachts and mega yachts that are efficient, sexy and affordable. We as a yachting destination must move towards engaging in a transfer of these skills from Taiwan so that we can one day not only be an exciting yachting destination buy also an island that can produce its own model of yachts.
BF – The Boatyard has long been considered a canvas for the story of St Lucian entrepreneurship in the marine industry, how accurate is that and what can you personally attest to in this area?
CD – The present Boatyard situated in Rodney Bay has seen the growth and maturity of unique service providers. However, in that area drastic improvement is needed. While we have not been able to create a legacy with the ARC for repairs of yachts, we have definitely created an enabling environment where young skilled Saint Lucians are harnessing their craft and one day soon can be global players in the yacht repair business.
BF – The Landings, with its exceptional facilities in being eyed as a yachting tourism success story in Saint Lucia with potential weighting throughout the Caribbean, where do you think that places the island as it looks to grow in the yachting industry going forward?
CD – The Landings has positioned Saint Lucia as a favorable destination for not just villa/condo ownership, but one that offers waterfront access.It has created a product that has not only blended with the landscape of Reduit Beach, but has created that unique synergy between land based tourism and nautical tourism. Moving forward it is my dream that somewhere in the south of the island we can replicate that concept and further enhance Saint Lucia as a diverse yachting product.
BF – The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) is certainly creating worldwide interest in St Lucia, how do you see this tying into the island’s potential of becoming the yachting haven of the Caribbean and potentially hosting scores of other regattas?
CD – The ARC over the years has certainly defined our yachting product. But now we must allow this Rally to create unique spinoff events that would encourage longer stay and exciting regattas around Saint Lucia. It must be allowed to expand so that one day we can see a total of at least 300 yachts setting sail to Saint Lucia, moving forward as a Rally that ushers in not only our yachting season but a potentially fun, energetic regatta that can infuse and encourage the participation of all yachts positioned in Saint Lucia during the time of the event. We should not be complacent while hosting this event. We must see it as the strategic next step in creating the opportunity for unique regattas.
BF – Capella has undoubtedly redefined Marigot Bay, growing hand-in-hand with The Marina at Marigot Bay. Share with us your insight on this apparently perfect partnership in marine and luxury accommodation.
CD – Capella is the visual of a natural progression that Saint Lucia faces with its yachting product. With the increase in boutique luxury hotels on the island, there must continue to be a unique mix and interconnection between marinas and boutique hotels. Capella has embraced this vision and will in time – due to its brand – create a unique marina experience that fits with the landscape, location and concept.