Word of Mouths: The Story of Paul LaFleur's Trip of a Lifetime
Paul LaFleur’s parents chartered a sailboat 30 years ago in the British Virgin Islands and haven’t stopped talking about it since. “They told me it was one of the greatest trips of their lives and said I needed to go see for myself,” says Paul, a Gulfport, Mississippi-based strategic account manager for SunBelt Rentals. But it wasn’t until after one of Paul’s customers returned from a MarineMax Vacations trip in the B.V.I. that he took his parents’ advice.
Paul grew up boating and owns a 26-foot BlackJack center console bay boat to fish and cruise the coastal and inshore waters of the Florida Panhandle, but he had no charter experience. “After my first inquiry [to MarineMax Vacations], they called me back within 24 hours and provided lots of information,” says Paul and adds that he spoke with a lot of customers who had been on the trip previously. “Then, a month or two before the trip, they sent videos and additional information about the boat’s generator, toilet and grey water procedure that I could share with my wife and the other couple we invited. We all knew what to expect.”
Paul’s group flew to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and took the high-speed ferry to Nanny Cay, where they stayed for the night prior to their departure the next day. “Our expectation was already really high, and our excitement for the trip built over dinner at Peglegs,” Paul recalled. Their overnight location was close to the MarineMax base for their 11 a.m. orientation the next morning, which Paul describes as very thorough. They also recorded the entire presentation so that they could revisit it later if needed.
The Aquila 443 power catamaran they chose gave them plenty of room for their weeklong charter. An employee from the base operations guided their vessel out of the slip toward the harbor entrance and jumped off at the fuel dock. “The navigation was really simple. Anyone with any kind of boating experience would feel comfortable, even if it’s on smaller boats,” Paul assures. The first leg of their itinerary was to the west side of Tortola, where they picked up a mooring ball in Cane Garden Bay for the evening. “We had drinks and dinner on the boat and just relaxed to get familiar with the boat. We had one problem with the generator, but they came over within an hour to fix the generator and changed the fuel filter.” Paul added that they didn’t have another problem with it the rest of the trip.
According to Paul, every island in the B.V.I. has its own appeal and it’s difficult to say which is his favorite although Paul claims Great Dog is probably the 2nd or 3rd best snorkeling place he’s ever been. The seas on their cruise to Anegada were rough, but the boat handled really well, and the lobster dinner ashore was well worth the trip. He’ll never forget Virgin Gorda and the boulders at The Baths, and Cooper Island was where he saw a sea turtle for the first time. “We spent two nights there because there was so much sea life—big barracudas, tarpon, conch, plus at least 30 sea turtles throughout the time we were there!”
Their last day was memorable at Peter Island and aboard the Willy T (now located at Norman Island). “We walked the plank and jumped off like everyone does,” Paul says about the infamous B.V.I. tradition. “Mooring at Norman Island set us up for an easy journey back to the base the next morning and to fuel up.”
Fuel economy was one of the many aspects that impressed Paul about the Aquila 443 and says it didn’t burn nearly as much fuel as they expected. In addition to comfortable beds and air conditioning for restful sleep, the onboard amenities were more than what they anticipated. “We used the grill several nights and the underwater lights attracted tarpon, which were fun to watch. We didn’t even turn on the TV!” Paul’s entire group feels the cost of the trip is a great value for the money. “They put a million-dollar boat in your hand and prepare you to use it. The boat was a couple of years old and in great shape. Everything worked and if it didn’t, they were there very quickly. We ran both our engines and generator the whole time and burned less than 125 gallons of diesel for seven days.”
As a first-time charterer, Paul says his experience with MarineMax Vacations could not have been better. In fact, Paul and his group were so impressed by their experience, they’ve spread the word and plan to fill two or three boats for a repeat trip next year. “Bitter End wasn’t reopened yet so it’s a good reason to go again,” says Paul and adds a few other places they want to include on their next trip. They’ll also pre-arrange for more food provisions on Tortola since they enjoyed cooking onboard. “We never understood why some of our friends go on the same vacation, year after year. But this is one trip that we could do over and over.”
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