Conch ChartersThe British Virgin Islands is home to Conch Charters, operated for the past 25 years by Cindy Chestnut and Brian Gandey, a young couple from Montreal.

Everybody that I have met that has taken a winter trip to the Caribbean spends at least one moment fantasizing about “cashing it all in” and starting a
business in a tropical paradise. I know because I have done it many times. The British Virgins Islands is one of these special places; beautiful blue water,
swaying palm trees, gentle people and perfect sailing weather almost all year long. In today’s world this is all but impossible with all regulations, quotas,
bureaucracy maturation of the of the local business society in the islands. But 25 years ago the dream was alive and for the taking for Cindy and Brian.

Was it the exotic tropical islands or escaping from the reality of Canadian winters that made these two rookies take a leap of faith to start Conch Charters?  Brian recounts that back in the day when you had a business idea for the BVIs you met with the Governor and Chief Minister and  talked for a while. Then as Brian remembers, “after a few cocktails, they told us the secret to getting tourists down here was yacht chartering, and just like that we were in the yacht chartering business”.

Conch Charters in 1987
At the time chartering was in its infancy and to start the newly formed company, the daring duo purchased two boats: an O’Day 37 centre cockpit an Allmand 31 and found dockage for them on some well used wooden docks just outside of Roadtown.
Cindy, who handles most of the advertising and marketing crafted together a small classified ad and placed in Cruising World Magazine and waited. Their first customer was a fireman from New Jersey who was sent out by Conch on December 7th, 1987 on a yacht bearing the Japanese name Nishikazi.  The charterer, who had a wicked sense of humour, called Brian from Cane Garden Bay, Conch’s first call from a boat out on charter, to tell him that he was out sailing a Japanese named boat on Pearl Harbour Day!  Both had a good laugh over that. The charter ended up a great success and he became a regular customer for many years thereafter.
Currently Conch Charter operates with approximately 48 yachts, both monohulls and catamarans in Fort Burt Marina that has evolved from wooden pilings to two large concrete docks with an adjacent office. Cindy laughs when she remembers when the original office was in the laundry room of their apartment between the sheets and the towels. The facilities have gotten bigger and better but Cindy and Brian have always worked hard to maintain the feel of a family run business.

Our customers feel and appreciate both our attention and passion for the business as over 60% of our customers are repeat customers. Our staffs of 23 people feels this passion too as several of the staff has been with Conch almost from the beginning.


Conch Fleet in 1987 Brian and Cindy today 1987


As in any business that has been a going concern for 25 years, Conch Charters has had to endure a few bumps in the road so to speak. In 1991 The Gulf War broke out and the world stopped flying, tough situation when your business is on a distant island. Brian remembers that he went to Jost Van Dyke and there was only one boat in all of Great Harbour in February one of the most popular moorings in all the BVIs. It stayed that way until Desert Storm.
In 1989 Hurricane Hugo came roaring through the Caribbean. Well before the Weather Channel and satellites “weather guessing” a questionable science. They moved their six boats to Nanny Cay and had one of the “worst nights of my life” said Cindy. The category 5 blasted in with sustained winds of over 155 mph / 250 kilometres. On Tortola every leaf was blown off every tree. Throughout the night their thoughts and fears were such that they invisioned themselves gathering the meagre belongings and heading back to Canada and to start over again. Miraculously, the Conch fleet somehow survived intact.
On September 9/ 11 the phones went dead. Nobody wanted to travel and staying home became the new norm. Things seemed somewhat desperate but then the Canadians came and saved our “Canadian bacon” says Brian. Getting through natural disasters, challenging world events and the normal trial of building a business has required great employees, good friends, loyal customers and a little luck. Through it all Cindy says, “We’ve always ended up in the right place at the right time”.
Brian and Cindy have prospered over the years and now can taking some time traveling around the world. The business people they are, are always keeping an eye out for a way to improve their business and providing a better experience for their customers. Charter boats are becoming bigger and more cushier and customers have higher expectations for their charter. In keeping with changing requests for what would be considered luxury items,  wi-fi and generators are becoming expected accessories on charter boats. Every boat in the fleet can now be seen in a 360-degree view on their website:
Brian still says that one of the main reasons for Conch Charters success is like the old saying: location, location, location! When he looks out across Sir
Drake Channel to Peter and Cooper Islands it is just as beautiful as it ever was. From Brian and Cindy, “To all of our customers, boat owners, staff and
business associates, we would like to say thank you for the past 25 years, it has been fun”.
Now the next time you are in the Caribbean dreaming up some way to “cash it all in”, start a business and drink rum punch all day think of these two
Canadians, Cindy and Brian who made the big escape to islands and made it work.

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