Interview with VIPCA executive director Oriel Blake
Captain Oriel Blake Talks to All At Sea’s Carol Bareuther
Carol_Bareuther  May 10, 2018

Talk about a transformation! St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands’-based captain Oriel Blake grew up inland, between rural Sussex and London in the UK, where she studied anthropology at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. It looked like Blake’s life would surely be land-based until she and her family took a Sunsail flotilla sail to Turkey during the university’s summer holiday. After that, there was no looking or going back. Blake replaced anthropology with her captain’s qualifications, and lived and worked solidly at sea for the next decade. Today, Blake is still at the helm, although that helm has changed in an exciting way recently.
“My father was put out that I’d pushed aside a degree for this new-found sailing ‘career’, so I made certain that he trusted my decision by working steadily up the RYA (Royal Yachting Association) sailing certification ladder through to RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Ocean 200-ton and Yachtmaster Instructor (sail),” she says. 
Blake has crewed and captained in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Asia. She expeditioned a return winter trip from the UK to North Africa on a J24, sailed from Cape Town to Brazil on a 43ft foot steel expedition vessel, and circumnavigated the Indonesia archipelago on a 72ft wooden schooner. From mono-hull to catamaran, performance classic J-Class to tall ship, she has loved them all. However, her most recent assignment was also her most demanding and her favorite. As chief officer on the Royal Albatross, a 150-foot four-masted barquentine, she managed a crew of twelve navigating and sailing (22 sails!) between Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. To complement the owner, who was a dive enthusiast, Blake became a PADI scuba instructor and qualified the crew and owner’s guests. Working with an ex-Royal Navy Captain, she was driven, trained and mentored, and became the first woman to be awarded the Nautical Institute’s square-rig endorsement on her Yachtmaster Ocean certificate.

The Barquentine Royal Albatross –
Oriel has the Nautical Institute’s square-rig endorsement on
her Yachtmaster Ocean certificate
“Soon after arriving in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I had made some good contacts and was offered a job,” says Blake, who caught the island life bug much earlier while working on crewed yachts for the Moorings and Tradewinds, sailing in the Bahamas, BVIs, St. Martin, St Lucia, Canouan and Tobago. “The surprising news was that it wasn’t at the helm in a sense I’d known before. Instead, I was elected Executive Director of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ charter industry’s non-profit organization, the VI Professional Charter Association (VIPCA), where I work with a Board who represents each area of the marine sector. Last year was an interesting year with challenges for everyone. Having remained on island for hurricane season and observed the charter industry get back on its feet, I realized it was imperative to demonstrate to the world that our yachts and cruising grounds were in no means a write-off. VIPCA held the USVI charter yacht show as planned with a fantastic turn out both of boats and brokers. Thus, the 2018 season kicked off to a good start and raised money for worthy hurricane relief charities such as My Brothers Workshop and The Marine Rebuild Fund.”
For 2018, Blake’s goals for VIPCA are to develop membership benefits to include more marine vendor discounts documented in a VI Marine Directory; work with the Spanish Virgin Islands to provide freedom to charter between the territories; work with the BVIs to improve the status of fees; provide international marketing for the VI charter industry; track VI youth into the marine industry by providing apprenticeships and scholarships; and to develop transient mooring buoy fields in the territory to promote the cruising grounds. 
What are Blake’s recommendations for those who’d like to follow in her footsteps?
“As a captain, you must be self-sufficient with all the vessel’s operating systems. It’s one thing to be a certified sailor, but it’s another to be handy in the engine compartment or to fix the air-conditioning unit, or worse still, un-block a head! If you’re capable in the engineering department, or keen to learn, then there’s absolutely nothing to stand between you and the next male captain. What’s more, women in every industry make supremely good managers and we have nothing to prove so long as we demonstrate our capability by just doing it.”

Encourage VI youth into careers in the Marine Industry

Announcing 6 week VIPCA Marine Apprenticeships June 25 – Aug 3rd, sponsored by Marine Rebuild Fund – well done Kayiel Sealey for assisting Oriel Blake to give Eudora Kean seniors an insight into jobs and training available in the marine industry in the USVI. If your marine business is keen to offer work experience to 6 candidates please get in touch.

VI Marine Press Tour

This weekend VIPCA hosted 5 marine journalists and presented the “VI Yachting Still Nice” video.

Articles are to be written in SAIL, SAILING, USA Today, Scuba Diver Life, Dive Training Magazine – if you would like to contribute any photos or quotes please email them to with many thanks!

Many thanks to Steve, Bonnie and Brie with Paradigm Shift and to Susan and Don with Red Hook Dive Center for hosting the press and showcasing what we have to offer on the water in the USVI.


VI Yachting Still Nice!

VIPCA successfully brought Customs to American Yacht Harbor, Red Hook!

March 2018 First Quarterly

March 2018 First Quarterly Newsletter – VIPCA

Operational USVI Charter Businesses

VIPCA worked together with VI Marine Rebuild Fund to gather all vessels operational in the USVI since the 2018 hurricane season.

To see our list of boats please visit:


This list is not yet exhaustive.  To add your boat to the list please fill out the quick form found at this link:

Summary of 2017!

National Park and STJ update post hurricanes


What is the current status of the mooring fields?

The mooring buoys are among the 400 marine resources (navigational markers, channel markers buoys, etc.) that need to be visually inspected.  At this time, the condition of each of the mooring buoys is unknown.  As mentioned, dive crews are concentrating on the aids to navigation and channel markers, before moving to the mooring buoys.


When do you think the park will reopen for tourists?

The park is still in the emergency stabilization phase.  Hazards (both on land and water), are being identified and mitigated.  There are not currently any facilities for visitors to the park.  The Visitor Center at Cruz Bay is currently closed.  The day use area at Cinnamon Bay will not be open to the public for the foreseeable future. Restrooms and other facilities have been damaged and will need to be rebuilt.


How can yacht crew stay up to date with National Parks progress?

As information about park recovery efforts becomes available; it will be posted on the parks webpage: and on the park Facebook page:


How should yachts interact with the park during the recovery and rebuild phases?

Patience is the biggest request we have at this time.  We are also working to identify and obtain contact information for the owners of displaced vessels within the boundaries of the park.  Currently we have numerous vessels that we do not have owner contact information.  We ask that vessel owners contact us at so that we can make sure we have good contact information.

We also need to know what their plans are for salvage/removal of vessels.


Any other information that travel agents and yacht crew may need to know?

We have a long road ahead of us. The park resources and infrastructure that have existed in the past are not currently available.  We are committed to doing all we can to open the park as quickly as possible.


-Mike Johnson


Michael Johnson, M.Ed

Regional Wildland Fire Communication and Education Specialist

National Park Service

Midwest Regional Office
601 Riverfront Drive
Omaha, NE 68102
402-661-1760 office
402-250-5017 iPhone

VIPCA’s 2017 USVI Charter Yacht Show Confirms Territory is Open for Marine Tourism

November 16, 2017


VIPCA’s 2017 USVI Charter Yacht Show Confirms Territory is Open for Marine Tourism


St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The success of the USVI Charter Yacht Show proved St. Thomas is back on the map and open for business in terms of marine tourism in the wake of two major hurricanes in September. Sixty-six charter yacht brokers from the Caribbean, U.S. and Europe visited the three-dozen luxurious 40- to 93-foot sailing and power yachts that nearly filled the available docks at IGY’s Yacht Haven Grande Marina. The November 11 to 14, 2017 show was hosted by the VI Professional Charter Association (VIPCA).


“The show was such a triumph, considering the challenge of not just assembling the yachts, brokers and sponsors, but to do so post-hurricanes, while trying to do the right thing for our territory” says Oriel Blake, executive director of VIPCA, the only 501(c)(6) nonprofit charter association in the USVI, whose purpose is to promote, protect and further the capabilities of charter yachts and the marine businesses that sustain them in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “In the end, we decided to tailor the show to work with My Brother’s Workshop (MBW) (a non-profit VI charitable corporation that assists at-risk youth with job training and placement) in recognition of the tremendous work done overall and post-storm.”


The multi-faceted four-day show offered many events designed to give brokers ample opportunities to meet the crews and tour the yachts the brokers will book on charters in the coming weeks and months. These included a kick-off crew party, marine charter conference, Speak Easy themed yacht hop, culinary and cocktail competitions, and a sunset cruise awards dinner aboard the iconic day charter vessel, Kontiki.


Winners of the various contests highlighted the caliber of the Virgin Island’s crewed yacht product. For example, the 62-foot Privilege catamaran Anastasia won Best Crew and Best Boat over 50 feet, while the honor for Best Crew in the under 50-foot category went to the 45-foot Leopard, Free Ingwe, and Best Boat to the 47-foot Nautitech catamaran, Nemo. Anastasia’s chef, Rebecca Silva, earned first place in the Entrée and Dessert competition, while Missy Kay on the 47-foot Leopard catamaran, Pisces, took top honors in appetizers. Chefs were tasked to create dishes incorporating coffee by VI Coffee Roasters.


Two events in particular, the MBW volunteer day and the marine charter conference gave show participants an opportunity to get a real-time update on island services and state of the cruising grounds (with imagery from the Marine Rebuild Fund’s charter itinerary survey) as well as a chance to give-back.


Attendees also learned about the Marine Rebuild Fund or MRF ( which was set up by VIPCA, the St Thomas Yacht Club, VI Hotel and Tourism Association, Coastal Zone Management and Pizza Pi and is managed by the Community Foundation Virgin Islands (CFVI). Its mission is to provide monies for re-establishing a stable marine industry and a safe, appealing cruising ground, and to boost marine tourism in the USVI in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes.


“The good news is that now having surveyed both the USVI and the BVIs we are confident in reassuring the world that our cruising grounds retain their natural beauty. Our surveys show that most of the beaches and the waters are in excellent condition and ready for visitors, boaters, snorkelers and beach lovers. The MRF has identified where there is work to be done and where its monies will assist a speedier recovery.” says Blake.


Beyond charter yachts, other signs that the U.S. Virgin Islands marine tourism industry has successfully pushed the re-set and re-open button is the visual from the show itself. From a second-floor balcony at IGY’s Yacht Haven Grande marina, two superyachts on the docks, a cruise ship on port call and day boats providing excursions to these cruise visitors were all visible in the background of the yachts showing.


Blake and her VIPCA Board of Directors are already looking ahead to next year.


“Three goals for the future are to continue to train VI youth for employment in the marine industry, create greater freedom in movement between the U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands, and to develop a superyacht factor to the VIPCA Charter Yacht Show 2018 while maintaining a strong community element with our continued support of MBW.” says Blake.


Sponsors of VIPCA’s 2017 USVI Charter Yacht Show are Yacht Haven Grande, Gowrie Group, USVI Department of Tourism, Denison Yacht Sales VI, Stoli (West Indies Co.), Captain Morgan (Bellows International), Bohlke Air, International Medical Group (IMG), Charter Yacht Brokers Association (CYBA), 1First Bank, Cardow Jewelers, Orogold Cosmetics, The Fruit Bowl and Fresh Bistro. Proceeds from the VIPCA Charter Yacht Show were donated to My Brothers Workshop and the CFVI Marine Rebuild Fund.


For more information, visit