When Christiane Schmitz Beavis married her second husband, David, on the island of Tortola in 2014, she got more than a life partner, she also got a new career.
David, is part owner in VOYAGE charters reservations, specializing in luxury charter yacht vacations in the British Virgin Islands, (BVI). His venture started when he began working as crew on catamarans in the Caribbean. David met Robin and his wife, Jo Ann in the BVI as they were starting up a small charter company with another couple. Twenty five years later, the business has grown into a family owned, boutique charter business on Tortola. After working as crew, David and his first wife participated in the start up of the Annapolis reservation office in 2000, working exclusively with VOYAGE charters BVI, booking charters on VOYAGE yachts in the BVI.
In 2016, Chris joined the company. After a lifelong career in the lab industry, she was ready for a change. “It was a world I was completely unfamiliar with prior to meeting David,” Chris said. But over the years she had developed strong customer service and management skills that she was able to bring to VOYAGE charters. “It was scary (leaving corporate America), but it was also very freeing,” Chris said.
Although perhaps lesser known then the U.S. Virgin Islands, they are no less beautiful with white sand beaches, clear ocean waters and amazing snorkeling and scuba diving. The BVI also have rock formations called the Baths that people come from all over to see.
Chris spends most of her time at the reservation office in Annapolis or working from a home office. She and David work together with their team answering people’s questions about charters, doing computer work and brainstorming ways to promote and grow their business.
Their days start by “walking” their 14-year-old dog and then taking another walk “to get the blood flowing.” During this second walk, they discuss the day ahead and form strategies on how to grow the business and address issues that come up. “I never thought I’d want to live and work with my husband,” Chris said. They are partners in life and in business. After their morning walk, David and sometimes Chris, ride their bikes to work. “I love working with and traveling with my husband.”
“It’s a very different pace than working for corporate America,” Chris said. “Now I work for a small family-owned company where my work is my life. It is a seven-day a-week job.” However, Chris doesn’t mind. “I’m working harder, especially the last couple of years. But it’s wonderful because I have my partner with me.”
A side benefit of her new career is that Chris has been able to experience these luxury vacations, sometimes complete with a captain and chef. She has also had more time to travel. She and her husband head down to the BVI a couple times a year to meet with their business partners and to see how everything is going.
“It’s very beautiful, but it has its challenges living in paradise. It’s very different from our life here.” Chris said. However, Chris is grateful to have the opportunity for frequent visits. “Even though I’m not a sailor, I find it incredibly relaxing to be on the water in such a beautiful part of the world. There’s no better way to see the islands.”
Hitting Rough Waters
But not everything has been a fantasy. In 2017, the BVI was decimated by Hurricane Irma. “It took out our entire fleet and our base down in the BVI,” Chris said. At first, she and her husband didn’t even know if anyone at VOYAGE charters had survived. A second storm soon followed. “David flew to Puerto Rico and made his way to Tortola to drop off some cash, a satellite phone and medicines before the second storm was predicted to hit,” Chris said. “It was very scary for us.”
“I was so new to the business I thought ‘What does this mean’?” Chris said. She knew it wasn’t good. “It took us a few years to dig out from that.” At first, Chris was wondering if she would need to go back to her job in corporate America. But it worked out that she was able to stay on and help rebuild the business.
That didn’t mean that they didn’t have to do a lot of belt tightening, but “we had a nest egg if we needed to tap into it.” They did.
Chris had already been through some challenges in her life including the settlement of her home’s foundation shortly after leaving her job to be a full-time mom and then a divorce from her first husband. However, she feels that those experiences gave her “strength and resilience for the future,” she said.
“We were just coming around the corner from after the hurricanes when COVID hit,” Chris said. The BVI shut down from March 2020 to December 2020 and no tourists were allowed into the territory. According to Chris, even once it opened there was quarantining and multiple testing for tourists visiting the BVI. The BVI lost much of its business to the U.S. Virgin Island, which had fewer restrictions.
“When the BVI was locked down, most of the people there (in the BVI) had no source of income. It’s amazing they were able to get by,” Chris said. It was a struggle for VOYAGEcharters as well. “As a company, we were very fortunate to have boat owners and customers who were supportive of us,” Chris said.
One of their customers, The Cathy Family, owners of Chick-Fil-A, who organizes retreats with VOYAGEcharters, was one of the first ones to call and ask what they could do to help after Irma and the pandemic.
“Through the grace of God and perseverance of the family that owns the charter company, we got through it,” Chris said.
“I have such admiration for what they went through and the positivity that they carried with them throughout it.”
Coming Out of the Storm
Now in 2022, Chris said it finally feels as though things are getting back to normal. “Things are busy, busy, busy.” They are back up to 21 yachts in the fleet and have a new model which will have added 9 new yachts to the fleet by 2024.
“They’ve had a really lush spring down there. The remnants of the hurricane are all but gone,” Chris said, having just visited recently. “You do see some abandoned boats and damage that was done by the storm, but all the greenery has come back.”
Managing Health Care
Working for a small business, Chris relies on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for health insurance. “That was very eye opening for me. In corporate America, I always had great insurance, but now I’m on the open market.”
At first, she went to a private company that said she would have to have a $30,000 rider, per year for her lifetime, in case she hurt her knee. She had previously had ACL surgery and as a pre-existing condition, it wasn’t covered.
“Obamacare did me a huge favor because I had ACL surgery and I have high blood pressure,” Chris said. Both are considered previous existing conditions and weren’t covered under private insurance. The ACA covered both her high blood pressure and any injuries she might have to her knee leaving her free to resume a more active lifestyle.
In addition to walking and biking, Chris has taken up paddle boarding that she loves doing on the Severn River as well as in the Caribbean.
However, Chris said she’s found some downsides to getting her own insurance. “It is an incredible expense, and you still have copays,” Chris said. She has also had difficulty finding doctors she in her plan.
Advice For Those Looking to Make a Change
Chris said she encourages her peers, those 50+, to explore options and figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
“By the time you’re our age, you should be able to trust your gut. There are so many resources to research what you want to do and explore,” Chris said. She encourages people to find out more about different life options. “People are so willing to talk and share their experiences.” She credits Facebook as one way to reach out to people and find out what they’re doing and what might be right for you.
Her final words of advice. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t settle for unhappiness. You are in charge of your own destiny and happiness. There are so many things that we can’t do anything about but there are things we can do something about and the biggest thing is our attitude.”
Smooth sailings Chris.
To find out more about VOYAGEcharters, go to their website VOYAGEcharters.com.
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