Who said that setting up a naturist holiday business was easy? Naturist Travel meets the resilient owners of Nudist Sailing Vacation.
As a company name, Nudist Sailing Vacation certainly fits into the ‘does what it says on the tin’ category.
And what could be simpler as a business model? You are two experienced sailors. You own a fabulous vessel. It sails in one of the world’s most beautiful aquatic locations. And a naked holiday at sea is the ultimate dream for a lot of people.
Wrong. Wilson Bryan (aka Captain Cactus) and his wife Elizabeth (aka First Mate Betsy) might know their way around the waters of Mexico, the Caribbean and the USA like most of us know our way around our back gardens, but the cruel sea has been cruel to them on several occasions, and it is only by determination, perseverance and an optimistic approach to life that they now have a successful operation offering luxury yacht charters around
the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez), one of the richest and most spectacular marine environments on earth, and one that inspired Jacques Cousteau to call it the “Aquarium of the World.”
The Sea of Cortez is where the Sonoran Desert, which straddles the border between Arizona and northern Mexico, meets a clear blue ocean that teems with life: colonies of playful and mischievous sea lions, flying manta rays that leap out of the water, species of reef fishes that only occur in this part of the world, large colonies of seabirds nesting and soaring overhead, humpback whales breaching, and blue whales and large schools of dolphins cruising past.
On-board activities include snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing. And for virtually all of your time at sea, you - along with the Captain, the First Mate and stewardess Shari - can be naked.
It’s a dream come true. But in getting there, Wilson and Elizabeth have had more than their fair share of nightmares.
Keen naturists, and with years of nautical miles under their figurative belts, the US-based couple first began offering clothing-optional vacations in 2005. “Our philosophy,” says Elizabeth, “was to give guests the option to be clothes-free, but back then, not too many of them seemed keen on taking up the option!”
Nevertheless, naked or not, life was still pretty good. “We had a traditional 100ft classic square-rigged schooner built in 1928,” adds Wilson, “sailed her all over the West Coast of the USA, and won first prize when the Tall Ships Festival first came to California. With the US economic downturn in 2008 however, our charter company and many others like us suffered badly, so we headed for the Virgin Islands. After three years we were turning over six-figures and had re-established ourselves - until our vessel was hit by a ferry and sunk in 2015.”
“We were devastated again but our resilience got stronger,” says Elizabeth, taking up the story once more. “We replaced our classic old ship with a modern luxury 75ft yacht called Stargazer and began focusing more exclusively on naturist chartering. The market seemed more open to the idea and business began picking up quickly. We were thrilled.”
Unfortunately, Mother Nature stepped in again, and in 2017, the Virgin Islands was hit by two Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria. Over 90 per cent of the region’s hotels were destroyed, along with most of the sailing yachts.
For once, luck was on their side. “We happened to have sailed Stargazer to Grenada just before the hurricanes,” explains Elizabeth, “and missed the devastation. But we took the decision that the Caribbean weather system was proving to be too volatile for any long-term planning and decided to relocate to the more sheltered Gulf of California. On and off, we had spent over 25 years in these waters, so knew them well. The region is an amazing place and has some of the most private and beautiful coves and bays in the world. It’s perfect for sailing most of the year round, but by choice we run charters from November to June: an ideal time for many people to take a holiday that offers guaranteed winter/spring sunshine with no clothes: naturists couldn’t really find a more natural and undisturbed environment.”
Stargazer comprises one master suite and two double cabins, all with en suite facilities, thus sleeping six guests in addition to the crew of three. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and all drinks are included, and prices are from US$3,000 for 7 days and 6 nights.
“We do get some younger people, but on the whole our vacationers tend to be between 50-80, and whilst groups of six often do charter us exclusively, we also get a lot of business from naturists who just enjoy meeting other naturists, so we can take individual bookings for the staterooms, much like a commercial ship. We have found it best to remain as open and flexible as possible.”
The cruising waters range from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose Del Cabo, and La Paz to Puerto Escondito and Loreto. Many beautiful islands are only a short distance from La Paz, the yacht’s base of operations, and charters can begin or end at any of the above-mentioned locations.
Wilson is a Master Mariner, and prior to your vacation, will suggest an itinerary tailored to your preferences. You also have the opportunity to take the wheel if you wish, or simply sit back, relax and enjoy all of the pleasures that the trip has to offer. It’s the type of holiday that appeals equally to those who want some hands-on experience of sailing and those who are perfectly happy to let somebody else do the hard work.
“Life is never simple,” laughs Elizabeth, “but our marketing strategy is. Do an excellent job, and they will come. Our web presence is pretty good, we travel to naturist resorts to make presentations, and run some adverts in various naturist newsletters. But primarily, we keep in touch with our past clients, which generates repeat business and referrals.
“We are still relatively new in terms of offering holidays from this particular part of the world, and we realise building up the business will take time - but we have been there before!”
© PAUL ROUSE 2019