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POWER TRIPS

MarineMax of Clearwater steps into the travel business with a new, custom-built fleet of power catamarans in the Caribbean.

Imagine kicking back on the deck of your own private boat anchored in a secluded cove of a tropical island where only the local fishermen know the name.

Lifestyles of the uber wealthy? Not anymore.

Clearwater-based MarineMax, the largest recreational watercraft dealer in the United States, prides itself on promoting the boating lifestyle. Since its formation nearly 20 years ago, the publicly traded company has worked to bring boaters together through local flotillas, rendezvous and poker runs.

These days, it is jumping into the travel business.

"This is just another way for people to enjoy boating, but instead of doing it in our back yard, they have the whole Caribbean to explore," said Raul Bermudez, vice president of the company's new charter division.

Several companies offer bareboat sailing adventures, but MarineMax hopes to corner the market on powerboat charters with its new, custom-built fleet of power catamarans.

"Everybody wants to cruise the Caribbean, but nobody wants to burn all that fuel to get down there," Bermudez said. "Now with our MarineMax Vacations, we take the hard part out of it. You just fly in and hop on board - everything is ready to go."

MarineMax Vacations kicks off in the British Virgin Islands, which has more than 60 anchorages available. The new custom motor yachts, which also are available for sale, range from 38 to 48 feet in length.

Customers can choose to pilot the crafts themselves; or, if they prefer, MarineMax will arrange to have a captain aboard. The cost of a charter vacation is comparable to one spent in a luxury oceanfront resort. Card rate for a week in November aboard a MarineMax 382, (two staterooms; sleeps up to six people) is $4,270, or roughly $712 per person.

"But as far as experience goes," Bermudez said, "there's no way to be more oceanfront and private than aboard your own luxury yacht, where the dress code is yours to set, the kitchen is always open and the lounge ambiance is your own."

Investors can purchase a charter yacht in the fleet; they will get a monthly check, and MarineMax handles all operating costs. The 382, which made its international debut at this year's Miami International Boat Show, has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $489,000. Charter price: $419,000.

With boats that accommodate up to 10 people and a flotilla that can take on groups of up to 100, MarineMax hopes to attract families for vacations and reunions and corporate groups eager to try everything from team-building to retreats.

"A charter-yacht vacation is the only family vacation that my kids actually ask to go on," Bermudez said. "My kids range in age from 6 years old all the way up to 18 years old. It is the one vacation we all enjoy, reconnect and have a great time. No video games that week."

Educating powerboaters has posed a challenge, Bermudez said. "When you talk to powerboaters about chartering, they usually think one of two things - a one-day fishing charter or a luxury megayacht vacation."

The qualification process is simple he said, based on potential customers' boating experience.

"The boats are very user friendly," he added. "Everything is state of the art."

MarineMax Vacations also has worldwide destination opportunities aboard luxury crewed yachts ranging from 50 feet to more than 200 feet. For more information, marinemaxvacations.com; (813) 644-8071.

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