You don’t quite notice it every day, but the blue seas surrounding Sri Lanka possess a beauty and a charm that is quite hard to describe. Somehow, the Indian Ocean captivates, excites, and soothes the soul at the same time. If you look carefully, you might notice that the gentle bobbing waters have a distinct rhythm to them, one which has mesmerised many from far off lands and convinced them to call Sri Lanka their “HOME”.
For the longest time though, none apart from the local fishermen dared to venture out a few nautical miles from shore to answer the beckoning call of the sea. The sea always remained something you would admire from a distance, perhaps through a window from the safety of your home. With the dark cloud of a 30 year civil war hanging over the country, that’s understandable. Once the war ended, people started taking notice of the seas around Sri Lanka a little bit more.
Pierre Pringiers is one such idol. Being the former consul of the Belgium Consulate in Sri Lanka, Pringiers fell in love with Sri Lanka’s seas and founded Sail Lanka Charter in 2014 to give people the chance to experience the beauty of Sri Lanka’s seas in a luxurious and a comfortable way, yet keeping it environmental friendly in every possible way. The company operates a fleet of ten yachts that primarily consists of luxury catamarans i.e. sail-driven yachts, and offers day-trips or overnight stays to locations around Sri Lanka such as Mirissa, Trincomalee, Pasikudah, Jaffna, Kalpitiya, and Colombo.
All yachts operated by Sail Lanka are designed and built by Sri Lankans themselves at the Koggala Free Trade Zone and Welipatanwila boat yard. Professional boat builders employed by BAFF Polymech, a sister company of Sail Lanka, guide local youth to build these yachts to global standards using the latest technologies. The trickle-down effect doesn’t stop there. All of Sail Lanka’s yachts are operated by professional sailors, some of whom hail from the local communities. These youth were initially recruited as deckhands and apprenticed under Sail Lanka’s seasoned European sailors before being put in charge of their own vessels.
Today, Sail Lanka offers overnight cruise packages and day cruise packages as well, though customized options are available. This, coupled with its varied fleet of yachts, allows Sail Lanka to offer private cruises for couples, families and small groups to any location on the country’s 1,400km coastline. Sail Lanka also offers whale watching tours, and is actually the company that pioneered whale watching in Sri Lanka thanks to Mr. Pringiers’s discovery of whales off the coast of Mirissa together with some local youth whom he had allowed to use his boat. Weather permitting, Sail Lanka also offers its charter guests the chance to go paddle boarding on the shallow seas, which is a novel experience in itself.
Gourmet dining is standard on every Sail Lanka cruise, and when paired with the opulence and comfort of the yachts, the experience is very much a replica of what we see in the movies. Looking at the yachts, it’s almost too easy to imagine Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt sipping champagne on a yacht off the coast of Mirissa or Koggala. That’s how beautiful the Sail Lanka experience is, and 70+ ‘Excellent’ reviews on TripAdvisor back us up.
Luxury boating can be the perfect industry to reposition Sri Lanka as a luxury destination, and it is also unique in that it leaves no one behind. The economic prosperity it brings can be shared with everyone, starting with the local communities themselves who stand to gain the most out of it. Sri Lanka’s teardrop shape also presents a unique opportunity most other yachting destinations in Asia don’t possess. For instance, in Thailand, chartered yacht tours take guests from island to island. But in Sri Lanka, one can sail around the island and come across different experiences all along the coast. Of course, pristine beaches are given, but you can also come across a little fishing villages or an old kovil or church on an untouched beach or island in Jaffna. Also, since seasons alternate between the two coasts, cruises can be operated all year round. More cruises means better asset efficiency, and better asset efficiency is good for the sustainability of the services.
However, for Sri Lanka to be looked at as a luxury yachting destination, priority must be given to building a modern marina that can cater to the most important pain points of yacht operators. The marina must also remain distanced from local fisheries harbours, in order to avoid friction with local fishermen and also to ensure the marketability of the marina. That is why developments like the Colombo Port City’s yacht marina should be hailed as a welcome development, for it would provide a chance for operators such as Sail Lanka to elevate Sri Lanka as a travel destination to a whole new level.