Our recently completed “Drinks at the Beach” photo contest wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our prize sponsors, specifically Tropical Day Sails (TDS), a Caribbean charter day sail company out of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. Their offer of a full day private charter was by far the largest of the prizes and the work they put into convincing others to donate prizes was paramount to the success of the contest.
Only in business as a Caribbean day sail company for less than a year, Tropical Day Sails has already started snatching up awards in the charter business, including the 2016 Luxury Travel Guide Awards honor as the Best Day Sail in the Americas/Caribbean. They also received first place in Best Day Sail Captain category in the Virgin Islands overall and second place in Best Day Sail category in the BVI as part of the Virgin Islands Property & Yacht Magazine’s 2016 Readers Choice Awards, impressive feats for a brand new company.
Wanting to find out more about Tropical Day Sails and how they arrived at opening their business on December 1, 2015, I reached out to them for an interview and they were more than glad to participate.
TDS is listed at the brain child of Jacques Schoonees and Thys Greef. What are their roles in the day to day business?
“When you talk to the two, it would seem as if the idea was literally born in their own minds at about the same time. Jacques pledge allegiance to the Caribbean when he was captain of charter catamarans, and after having met Sunet back in South Africa, he was convinced that he’ll gently persuade her to join him eventually to return to the BVI. And that’s exactly what happened after Sunet finally decided the corporate public relations rat race wasn’t worth the initial thrill it used to be!”
“Thys at the same time also dreamt about a life where living by the ocean and sailing can finally become his and his wife Thea’s reality. It is a plan he has worked on for years really, as two thirds of their kids are already involved in the cruise and charter sailing industry. Thys is still slaving away at his day job as commercial property sales manager back in Pretoria, South Africa while he uses any spare and sleep time to grow the business in terms of investment and growing the fleet as part of a wider Caribbean endeavor in future. He plans to join over the course of the 2017 season. Thys is also a seasoned sailor and sail instructor, so once he joins in the BVI, he will be able to put his alter ego of Captain Jack Sparrow to good use entertaining guests with his quirks, while taking full over the financial management reigns.”
“Jacques is co-owner along with Thys. He is award winning captain (the coveted 2016 Virgin Islands Property and Yacht Magazine’s Readers’ Choice as the Virgin Islands’ best and favorite day sail captain), and sets the tone for the personality of Tropical Day Sails along with first mate and team mate Paul Schalkwyk. Jacques is also overseeing all maintenance operations, staffing and accounting when he’s not out on the water entertaining guests with his witty confidence and Atlantic crossing stories on board. His skills and experience sailing the entire Caribbean from corner to corner are priceless in a day sail business. Guests are counting on his recommendations of which islands to sail to, which snorkel spots to cover and which bars will be just so perfectly matched up with each group’s personalities and their time and budget parameters. Jacques is a safety first kind of captain, and with his calm-faced and bold exterior, he is always making sure cruise ship or private guests and party goers alike are delivered safely and always on time. Over the span of his career, guests tend to step off the catamaran as Jacques’ friends for life.”
“Sunet is Jacques’ wife and partner and is enthusiastically putting her corporate public relations, investor relations, social media and stakeholder relation skills learnt servicing global multinational technology companies and the South African construction industry to good use to establish Tropical Day Sails as a force de jour in the BVI and specifically Virgin Gorda and other smaller islands. All this while the couple is raising their two year old red-haired son, Blake, in the happiest place on earth, in Virgin Gorda. Most kids only dream about growing up on an island. Unlike the two gents, Sunet never dreamt of taking things slower. But an island is certainly a good place to learn that very important life-skill. On the other hand, this lets her attack the marketing, bookings and administration side of the business in the same way as she would have any communications campaign for her multinational clients back in South Africa.”
“Paul is the fourth member of the Tropical Day Sails team and has quickly become invaluable working with guests on board and giving them a great snorkeling experience. He is also fast becoming the maintenance guru of the 40 foot catamaran, Tropical Spirit, and is being groomed to become captain in his own right.”
You were previously located in South Africa so why were the British Virgin Islands chosen as your location to start a day sail company?
“Jacques knows most of the Caribbean, and due diligence has extensively been done to vie other Caribbean islands. However, the BVI has just always been where his heart and most experience have lied, so it made sense to set up own shop in the BVI.”
What has been the most rewarding aspect of the venture so far? What has been the most challenging?
“Being able to take an idea to a business plan, and then putting the gears in motion to finally end up as real business with real results and achievements. The best of this would be to see our guests step off the catamaran with such delight of a great day had, and then to read the amazing reviews a day or week later. The fact that these customers would actually sit down to literally pen down how great their experience was is priceless for us and we are honored by just this gesture.”
“Also to have ticked a bucket list item off the list for Jacques and Paul to have crossed the Atlantic from Durban, via Cape Town across the wide Atlantic to the BVI in forty days and forty nights.”
“Although we had many challenges over the years trying to set up a company in a new country, that now seems small when looking back on it. The hardest now is actually every new challenge you encounter – by definition being an entrepreneur is being a pioneer. There is actually no better place to be a pioneer than on an island, to be honest. It is rife with opportunities for anyone wanting to offer a service or product you don’t already have on the island. But the flipside is that yes, you can have success, but that it often comes by taking the long and winding road of the that road less traveled. So we are still in that stage – cutting down obstacles on our trek to the top, every day! It is hard, but also tremendously rewarding.”
“On a personal note, being able to raise our son on an island and give him so much freedom to blossom into an independent toddler is a priceless blessing. Not many kids come home from school to run around on the beach in their birthday suits, develop sea legs before they could walk and imitate dad tying the lines or hoisting the sails.”
When customers step on the boat with you, what kind of experience should they expect?
“From the moment we first get that booking inquiry, we believe in treating guests as if their needs matter in order to give them the best experience they could ever get. We feel like we need to give each visitors to the BVI a reason to love the islands, not just once, but over and over again. So when day sail day actually arrives, we want guests to have the greatest day of their lives and to far outdo their expectations. The BVI has a sense of beauty and freedom that is very characteristic of a lot of Caribbean islands, but the BVI is somehow different because of the widespread and unique array of islands that really is best to explore from the comfort of a catamaran.”
“For one day (or oftentimes multiple trips) captain Jacques and first mate Paul aim to make guests view Tropical Spirit as their home on the water, but always with safety first in mind. Jacques expertly sails them to their destination whether it may be snorkel spots such as Monkey Point, Mountain Point, Fallen Jerusalem, or vibey spots such as Cooper Island Beach Club, Anegada, Scrub Island Resort or Willy Ts floating bar. Then Paul guides them on their snorkel tour or memorable spots on land such as Bubbly Pools, The Baths or a Norman Island hike, or swim out with dollars in pockets to Soggy Dollar Bar on White Bay.”
“And at just the right moment during the day, captain Jacques whips up our signature complementary Rum Punch which tends to guarantee happiness and merriment! Sometimes even the Shot Ski comes out and creates a lot of fun on board! We make sure to gauge the group well to either entertain them with sincere conversation and stories about the crossing or life on the island, or support them in having a great party (we have even helped plan a secret engagement sunset sail and pre- and post-wedding parties), or just be diplomatically and courteously in the background.”
“Believe it or not, when we see sad faces when reaching the marina at the end of a day, BECAUSE we have reached the end of our day….our job is done. It’s definitely rewarding working with people when they are in a ‘vacation spirit’.”
What separates TDS from the other charter operations in the region?
“All charter companies who care really do a great job. We like them all, and we can never say we are better than anyone else, but perhaps our distinguishing factor is that we really enjoy what we do, and we would like to think that it shows in our work. We have worked hard and paid with blood, sweat and sometimes tears to set up Tropical Day Sails, all of us for different reasons and at different points during the journey. So it makes us proud to go from strength to strength and be grateful along the way.”
Many people think about getting out of the “9 to 5” and moving to the Caribbean to start their dream business. What advice would you offer them?
“When you get out of the “9 to 5” you step into the “12 to 12” cycle, meaning you are always on! Every email inquiry or problem are treated with urgency, because it matters….a lot! Time zones don’t mean much! So when you think you have moved away from a boss who expects it all, you will soon realize you have become the boss who expects it all! But on a serious note, you will soon get to know yourself in a whole other light – you may like it or you may not. But you will learn things about yourself and about life you never dreamt of.”
“One amazing thing about the Caribbean you shouldn’t take out of the equation is that there is always something fun to do ….”
“Our advice to anyone wanting to move to remote parts of the world to start a business would be to do it, then work hard, and at all times to maintain your sense of humor, and take every day’s challenges as it comes, then learn from it and do it better or differently the next time. Accept that you are always learning. Take stock often of where you started and where you are now. Chances are you have crossed bridges so many times already that you need to really give yourself credit for each and every success. One amazing thing about the Caribbean you shouldn’t take out of the equation is that there is always something fun to do – visit beaches, go kayaking/SUPing/ boating/snorkeling, have another beer, or meet like-minded people. And lastly, just BE that guy who, well, pioneers. The rest will follow by definition.”