Features July 1, 1998 Issue

Offshore Log: Full-Service Caribbean Chandlery

If you are a sailor living in the US, you don’t know how spoiled you are when it comes to finding bits and pieces for your boat. At its simplest, you get into your car and drive five or 10 minutes to a big local chandlery. At the very worst, you pick up the catalog from West Marine, BOAT/US, Defender, or one of the other big mail-order chandlers, dial a toll-free telephone number, and a few days later the UPS man drops off a package full of goodies at your door.

In much of the rest of the world, the level of service and the variety of products that American sailors take for granted are virtually unknown. Even in the Caribbean—an area overrun with charter sailboats, megayachts, and cruising boats—finding what you want or need to maintain or upgrade your boat is not always an easy job.

Traditional West Indian yacht chandleries are geared toward maintaining boats. They stock paints, varnishes, sandpaper, solvents, and fastenings, but have a much more limited range of equipment for upgrading your boat, as they carry little safety equipment, galley gear or sailboat hardware.

A notable exception to this rule is the expanding chain of stores called Budget Marine. Headquartered in duty-free, Dutch St. Maarten, Budget Marine consciously and unabashedly styles itself after West Marine, publishing a big, US-style catalog with an excellent array of equipment from around the world.

The only clues that this might not be a US company are the large percentage of European products in the catalog, the fact that payments can be made in US dollars, Dutch guilders, or French francs, and the method of delivery for mail or phone orders. Instead of UPS, there is Karma Shipping, a sea freight line that operates in the Leeward Islands.

Because of complex delivery logistics and varying tariffs, catalog prices are valid for St. Maarten only, and prices at the other major Budget Marine stores—Antigua and Trinidad—may be higher on many items.

Price comparisons with US chandleries are difficult. Some European products are actually cheaper than the same item from one of the US catalogs. Most, however, are higher, as you would expect, given the logistical hassles and relatively small scale of the company compared to its US counterparts. Cash gets you a 10% discount at the St. Maarten store.

What counts in the West Indies, however, is that they actually have the variety of goods that US sailors have come to expect, and they have them in stock. Their “warehouse” consists of more than 20 big storage containers crammed full of stuff, including everything from inflatable dinghies to wind generators.

Budget Marine, PO Box 434, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles 5995-22068; fax 5995-23804.

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