From its origins to today
THE HISTORY OF THE VOYAGER FERRIES COMPANY
Once upon a time, there was a small Caribbean island named Ouanalao, populated by Amerindians (Caribs, Arawaks or Tainos).
Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, he renamed it Saint Barthélemy, in honor of his brother Bartolomeo. After a Swedish period (from 1785 to 1878), the island finally became French again and was only populated in the 18th century by about fifteen families, mostly descendants of Normans and Bretons. Due to poor soil and a very dry climate, the island had few natural resources and offered little economic potential.
In the 1950s, impressed by its wild beauty, the wealthy banker David Rockefeller fell in love with the island and brought along his rich friends and many celebrities of the time: Edmond de Rothschild, Howard Hughes, Jackie Kennedy, Rudolf Nureyev…
St. Barth’s tourism boomed, based on luxury products and services designed to meet the needs of a high-end customer.
THE ORIGINS OF VOYAGER FERRIES
The idea of the creation of the Voyager company results from the desire of the inhabitants of the island of Saint Barthelemy to have a modern maritime link. Indeed, at the time, despite its tourist development, the island only had regular air links which were very expensive for the residents.
Maritime links had certainly evolved since the days of schooners that carried passengers and animals between the islands of the West Indies, but only a few poorly adapted motor ships operated between St Barth and St Martin. These residents of St. Barth, determined to improve their transportation conditions to the neighboring island of St. Martin, contacted Dieter Gust, CEO of Construction Navale Bordeaux (CNB), the French shipyard whose large charter yachts often anchored in Gustavia harbor.
After a study of the previous commercial failures of several vessels, a review of the existing situation and its development potential, it was decided to launch the project of a modern aluminum monohull of intermediate size (24 meters) with 110 seats, more adapted to the demand of residents and tourists.
To maximize the chances of success, it was decided to entrust the architecture of the passenger ship to the experienced Philippe Subrero (Mer & Design firm), who had already successfully designed many similar ships.
As the project took shape, it was presented to a group of French investors from the retail sector (but involved in maritime tourism within the framework of tax exemption laws). They were immediately interested both in the prospects for tourism development and in the strong interest aroused by the local population, traditionally turned towards the sea, and who would like to finally have their own boat.
BIRTH OF VOYAGER FERRIES
One evening, while the ship is already under construction, Dieter Gust (Didi) suddenly walks into the office of Jean Claude Latournerie, his CFO (Chief Financial Officer) at CNB, and tells him: That’s it, I found the name of the little company for St Barth, it’s VOYAGER”.”Faced with Jean Claude’s lack of enthusiasm, Dieter tried to persuade him of the merits of his idea: “VOYAGER is very good because the name is already known (Voyager 1 and 2 space probes), it inspires the notion of transport and sounds good in French and English (for American customers). At the time, Jean Claude and Didi had no idea that the Saint Barths would affectionately rename their boat “Le Voyager” a few years later!
As the delivery of Voyager 1 approached, a marketing agreement for the Voyager vessels was signed with Lila Rosen of Dockside Management, who already managed the White Octopus (from Philipsburg and Oyster Pond) on the route to St Barts.
After ten months of construction in the CNB shipyard, the Voyager 1 was launched in Bordeaux in the Garonne River, where he performed his first trials. He reached the port of Montoir in Nantes by his own means to embark on a trans-oceanic vessel to reach St Martin at the end of December.
LAUNCH OF THE OPERATION OF VOYAGER 1!
Early in the morning of January 3, 1995, it was a local event: 90 passengers crowded into the port of Marigot to board the new Voyager 1 ferry and spend the day in St. Barts. The commercial teams working under the leadership of Lila Rosen (Lou, Corinne and Philippe) had done their job well… And Voyager 1 successfully made its first inaugural voyage between the islands of St Martin and St Barthélemy.
Within the first months, Voyager 1 became the new reference in terms of speed and comfort and the company quickly gained market share, which led to the discontinuation of the existing vessels after a few weeks.
The great success of Voyager 1 prompted the company to launch the construction of a larger catamaran Voyager 2 at CNB.
On September 4, 1995, the crew of Voyager 1 composed of Joseph and Frederic (and their captain Richard) distinguish themselves by their excellent work and by their courage. The ship resisted well in the lagoon of St Martin, to the hurricane Luis (category 5) which devastated the Northern Islands… It was Voyager 1 which brought the first help to the island of St Barthélemy
ARRIVAL OF THE CATAMARAN VOYAGER 2
In February 1996, the catamaran Voyager 2, which started its operations in the Dutch part of Philipsburg (replacing the White Octopus), demonstrated its marine qualities, even in rough seas. It allows the passengers to have more space and the company to have a larger capacity.
Mr Jean Claude Latournerie is appointed to the management of Voyager in order to reorganize the company after the tourist crisis linked to the passage of cyclone Luis, then to gradually develop it with its two ships Voyager1 and Voyager 2.
The arrival of the Voyager 1 and 2 ships in St. Martin and St. Barth has had a significant local economic impact and is a good example of successful tax exemption in the French West Indies.
2ND ROUND TRIP PER DAY
A partnership is set up with the agent Dani Siau in St Barths and Voyager 1 is now based in St Barths to offer more adapted schedules to the island’s residents (as they wished when the project was launched). A 2nd round trip is set up to allow tourists to spend the day in St Barths
On certain days of the week, a trip to the neighboring island of Saba is organized.
The effective action of the agent of St Barths, Dany Siau, wins Voyager the heart of the inhabitants of St Barthswho affectionately nickname the company: “Le Voyageur”
The Voyager company, having been strongly impacted by the tourist crisis in St Martin and St Barths following the passage of hurricanes Luis (1995) and Lenny (1999), the departures from Philipsburg and to Saba have been cancelled due to lack of customers.
It was decided to give a new impetus to Voyager by launching a new departure one day a week to St Barth from Oyster Pond, in addition to the one from Marigot.
3RD ROUND TRIP PER DAY
A 3rd round trip per day (in the middle of the day) is introduced from Oyster Pond to St Barths to facilitate passengers’ connections with their international flights to Europe or America.
A HYDROFOIL CATAMARAN IN PROJECT
Jean Claude Latournerie has realized that passenger transport has changed and that the ferry company needed to take a new step. A comparative study was launched in the greatest secrecy in 2009, to study the best passenger ships in the world.
The solution of a last generation hydrofoil catamaran seems to be the most attractive option for ecological and economical reasons, and a campaign of tests in a hull tank with a model are organized in Nantes, to validate the first theoretical calculations.
At the end of 2010, the project is signed between Voyager and its usual partners CNB and Mer & Design. The project foresees the special intervention of a designer to stand out from the traditional passenger ships. The objective of the design of this ferry is to create an immediate “wow” effect, because the people of St Barth and St Martin deserve THEIR ferry to be as beautiful as the magnificent megayachts that visit the harbor of St Barth…
One morning, while Jean Claude was discovering the drawing of the secret project on his computer, little Yanis, Nathalie’s son who works at the Marigot office, slipped behind him, caught a glimpse of the drawing of the new project and said: “It’s beautiful, if it could be the new Voyager…” Jean Claude immediately understood that the desired “wow” effect is achieved and validated it right away!
Voyager’s technical teams (sailors, local suppliers) are informed and invited to participate in all discretion in the project specifications to make it as reliable and efficient as possible. All teams are involved, including the commercial staff, which is involved in the layout and interior design. The appropriation of the project by Voyager employees is visibly successful since Nathalie’s other son Yael will one day say to the tourists coming to inquire about the port: “You can book, it’s Mom’s boat!”
The name VOYAGER3 DREAMLINER was finally retained, a sign of belonging to its family (Voyager 1, 2 and 3) and of modernity (Dreamliner). Nowadays, many customers have also adopted it and often say: “When is the Dreamliner leaving?)
THE VOYAGER3 DREAMLINER DESIGN FERRY HAS ARRIVED IN THE CARIBBEAN
After having developed the project in secret, then in small committee, Voyager organizes in St Martin in June 2011 a press conference to announce the upcoming arrival of the new ship. Well helped by Didi and in the Steve Job way (“this is a revolution”), Jean Claude announces his revolution in passenger transport between St Martin and St Barth to a room surprised by the interest and beauty of the project.
Jean Claude announces on this occasion two other novelties:
The ferry will have a comfortable panoramic Business Class cabin.
The idea of creating this cabin came from Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of Easyjet… And customer of Voyager! Indeed, Stelios prefers the boat to the plane to go to St Barths for security reasons, he indicates to Jean Claude that a more comfortable cabin would undoubtedly please the high-end clientele of St Barths and even proposes to Jean Claude to participate in the financing.
Customers will be able to vote on social media between 3 different exterior decorations of the ferry it presents… In the end, the decoration that most closely matches Voyager’s previous color code is chosen with 95% of votes.
On November 2, 2011, Jean Claude discovered the design ship just before its launch in the Garonne River, in Bordeaux. If the design of the ship is clearly futuristic, one can nevertheless recognize its family resemblance with the previous ships.
After trials, VOYAGER3 DREAMLINER reached Le Havre, to be loaded on a container ship before crossing the Atlantic. Disembarked in Philipsburg, VOYAGER3 DREAMLINER was christened in the port of Gustavia on December 5, 2005 with a young talented student from St Barths as godmother, symbol for the Voyager team of the bright future of St Barths.
VOYAGER BECOMES LEADER BETWEEN ST MARTIN AND ST BARTH !
The revolution announced in 2011 by its leader is taking place as planned…
Carried by its design and ecological image, and its performances combining speed and comfort, the new hydrofoil catamaran allows the “small” maritime company Voyager to double its number of passengers, and to rise to the first place of the companies which transport passengers between St Martin and St Barths, in front of the airlines!
THE VOYAGER CREW SAVES 3 PEOPLE!
The Voyager company is not satisfied with ensuring territorial continuity between the islands by basing a boat in St Barths… Voyager is involved in local life by proposing special excursions to other destinations (Saba, Anguilla, Pinel, St Kitts) or special rates for associations that travel between the islands.
Voyager also encourages tourists to consume locally by proposing visit packages including complementary services such as meals, a visit by cab or car rental, an airport transfer, etc…
Voyager participates actively in the rescue operations at sea. Beyond the first aid operations carried out each time during the passage of major cyclones, Voyager crews regularly intervene at sea in solidarity (several dozen times a year). On January 28, 2014, our efforts were rewarded by the rescue of 3 people, in immediate danger just before nightfall, from a small plane that had crashed into the sea after taking off from St Martin Grand Case… Bravo again to Jeff and Daniel for their courage and determination!
2015 – 2016
100 000 PASSENGERS PER YEAR!
100 000 Passengers !!
In 2015, the Voyager team decided to implement an electronic reservation system “Zenith”, inspired by the airline industry, and designed to facilitate passengers’ travel, from booking to boarding the ferries.
A new intermediate fare class “Smart” was created, providing additional services such as Wi-Fi on board.
This permanent will to evolve its services to improve the customer experience allows Voyager to reach in 2015, for the first time since its creation, 100,000 travelers per year!
Other novelties will follow in 2016 with the launch of a new website and the creation of a blog.
2019 – 2021
VOYAGER CELEBRATES ITS 25TH ANNIVERSARY!
ECOLOGICAL TRANSITION AND DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
Despite the tourism crises related to the passage of the major hurricane Irma in 2017, and then the Covid-19 health crisis in 2020/2021, the Voyager team is continuing its efforts to revive the business, ensure the ecological transition and improve the customer experience: redesign of the website, new airport shuttle, possibility of co2 offsetting, launch of new original tour packages…
A LOT OF COMPETITION SINCE 1995…
Since 1995, many companies and nearly 25 vessels (17 motorboats and 8 sailboats) have tried the line between Saint Martin/Sint Maarten and St. Barthélemy… Without always meeting the expected success. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
Before 1995, the commercial failures of Cogedom’s Galatea (1993, later Maria Galanta in Guadeloupe), Princess or Martini Bianco had served as a lesson to Voyager to better prepare its own project.
With the arrival of Voyager 1 at the end of 1994, 4 boats regularly operate the line: Dauphin 2, St Barth Express, White Octopus and Edge 1:
Following the arrival of Voyager 1, the Lizé shipping company quickly withdrew the Dauphin 2.
The Huguet company replaced the St Barth Express in early 1995 with the Gustavia Express (after having tried to launch the Spider in 1994). The Gustavia Express (until 2002) and then Gustavia Express 2 will continue the line for a few years under different entities, before stopping the operation in 2004.
The White Octopus catamaran will be replaced in Philipsburg (Bobby’s Marina) by the Voyager 2 after the agreement between Voyager and Lilia Rosen (who will market Voyager for several years).
The vessels Edge 1 followed by Edge 2 will continue to operate from Pelican (St Maarten) to Saba and occasionally to St Barts.
Some small ferries will be successively operated between St Martin and St Barth, before stopping:
1997 : St Barth jet Ferry
2000 : Wapayou
2007 to 2009 : Rapid Explorer will operate 5 motor catamarans from 2007 to 2009
from 2010 to 2011 : Navegante
from 2010 to 2018 : Shantiwa
A big thank you!
VOYAGER IS ALREADY 25 YEARS OLD: A GREAT HUMAN ADVENTURE!
At sea or on land, members of the seagoing or sedentary personnel, the women and men of Voyager are at your service all year round. For 25 years. They are above all the ones who work 7 days a week for the success of the company and the satisfaction of its customers.
As it is not possible to quote all the people who contributed to the 25 years of Voyager, may those who played their part but whom we cannot quote forgive us…
First of all, we would like to thank all our customers for the trust they have shown us, for their understanding of the safety instructions and their patience when we were not perfect. Thank you also for the quality of our exchanges and your good mood that have enchanted our relationship for all these years. We are very lucky to have such kind and caring customers and we are proud to have reached 2 million passengers with you and to have flown more than 20 times around the world!
Then, how not to evoke those who launched the shipping company: Dieter, Gilles, Michel, Hilaire and the others… We owe you a big thank you because you have dared, you have fully invested yourselves and thus allowed the sustainable development of our islands.
The history of Voyager is above all that of men and women motivated to offer a serious service, and on which one can count even in the difficult moments in our islands. We will therefore continue with the company’s employees who have made it possible to provide a daily service:
On land :
The experienced and “historical” ones : Mireille, Nathalie, Anais
More recently joined the company (but still going strong!): Liscaira, Audrey
They left Voyager but marked it by their long presence, their good mood and the quality of their daily work: Dany, Alene, Sandra, Anne Sophie, Fanfan…
At sea : the list of sailors is long since 25 years…
The current ones : Roberto, Daniel, Emroll, Lucas…
The old ones who ensured for a long time : Frédéric, Yvon, Hervé and Marco, Pierre, Pascal…
A special mention to external speakers (but who played a decisive role):
– In the commercial field in St Martin with Lila & Lou & Lorna & Brigitte, Corinne & Philippe, and in metropolitan France Grégoire E always at the Zenith, Grégoire L & Gaël for their digital help, Hervé for his wise maritime advice.
– The builders Pierre and Taieb, the architect Philippe, the technical partners with the “Mendol family”, Erwan & Vincent & Thierry & Xavier, Claude, Antoine & André, François and Hanke for their security, Natalia & Christian for their energy, Jean Louis for his efficient and quick interventions, the experienced Prince.
– The partners in St Barth : René lise and Jeanne for their support, Vincent always up to date, Laurent and his electric ideas, Marine for her dynamism, Aurélie and the “Bonneau family” for their friendship, Abigael & Pierrette & Didier for their clear-sighted information and inspirations.
– The commercial partners in St Martin and St Maarten: the efficient Beatrice & Christophe, Anolan, Teddy, Brenda & Christine, Ali, Florence for her information, Daniel & Alain who print quickly, the wise Ricardo like a picture, the experience of George in Phb
– On the pontoons of ports and marinas: Bruno & Ernest & Albéric for their lasting relationship, Daniel for his daily good mood, Jean Claude the lifeguard, Laurent and Stéphane the sailors…
– We have not forgotten them, even if they left us too soon: Joseph Corlobe one of our first Captains, Serge Mesnières our faithful customer of the first trip in 1995, Serge Huguet for his good spirit, Jo for his help on the quay, Tall boy and Dominique Larrouturou for their good relations, Albéric Cocks for his kindness, Jean Marc Poisson for his fast and serious work, Jean Farnarier for his assurance, Alain the communicator, Yves Blanchet the aviator, Jean Charles Pujol the expert, Jean Pierre Papeix for his devotion to the world of the sea, Guillaume Llobregat the navigator, Captain Oliver the precursorand Daniel with his cigar on Marigot port…