During college freshman orientation, Bryan Barnes, owner of Busy Bee Charters was asked what he wanted to do when he grew up.
His response, “Run a fishing boat in the Caribbean.”
This answer surprised not only the counselor, but Bryan himself! He wasn’t a fisherman, he had no interest in fishing, and he had never been to the Caribbean. This spontaneous choice struck him as a grand, almost humorous idea.
As it turned out, running charters in the Caribbean was indeed Bryan’s destiny.
Truth be told, the idea that seemed like an odd blurt at the time did not come from thin air. Bryan’s maternal Grandfather, Ralph Lotshaw, had a passion for sailing and the sea.
Bryan remembers, “Ralph used to really dig into stinkpotters – powerboats. The last time I was with him was shortly after I purchased my stinkpotter. He was so excited and so proud of me, chasing a dream, making a living on the ocean. He wanted to know everything about the boat, about the engines, about where I was operating. He passed away shortly there after, which was unfortunate for me. I’m now living on a 44′ sailboat with my wife. He would have been so excited to sail with us.”
Bryan’s grandfather instilled a passion for the natural world in Bryan – the reefs and wildlife, getting away from the noise and just experiencing the ocean or the wild.
“Diving, sailing, teaching, being on the water, that’s all I want to do. I love sharing my world, whether it is with a new open water student, a boy scout learning to sail, a snorkeler learning a new fish, or just showing Captain Matt a new piece of the never ending boat maintenance regiment.”
Bryan got his start as a mate on a schooner, then purchased and formed Busy Bee Charters in 2012. He named the company after himself.
“Busy Bee has been my nickname for many years. I like the sound, the alliteration, and the concept of always having something going on.”
In 2015, Bryan added a large SCUBA gear set and got his PADI dive boat certification and the necessary insurance to operate as a dive boat. Busy Bee offers private diving charters along with private and per person day trips.
In the summer of 2016, Bryan added the Sea Base St. Thomas program to his list. This is an extension of the Boy Scouts Florida Sea Base.
Bryan explains, “Using our 44′ sailboat, the boat my wife Margaret and I live on year round, we take eight people (six scout and two adult leaders) out for 5 nights aboard the boat. They get to learn about sailing, spending time snorkeling and hiking, as well as learn about the history of the island. We are now in our second season of working with the Boy Scouts.”
Bryan’s secret to success?
1) Find a Niche!
“We started with trying to do what everyone else was doing – day trips to the BVI. I, however, did not ever enjoy those days as much as the ones where I stayed local and took people to hidden gem snorkel spots. It was a combination of trying to grow our local business as well as catering to the more budget/adventure minded clientele of Coral Bay that led to our “Lap of St. John” (per person priced, four stop snorkel trip that circumnavigates the island). When Pizza Pi opened, we added the “To Pi, Arrr” option, which included a stop for lunch. That option was so popular, we have now made it our mainstay.”
2) Involvement in the Community
Margaret, Matt and Bryan formed the Blue Tang Clan dive club several years ago. During the slower times, they offer friends a spot on the boat for a Sunday dive in exchange for a $10 donation. Each week, someone new picks a worthy cause to donate to. Because different people pick, an assortment of different causes receive a donation.
Busy Bee also donates trips to local causes and raffles for St. John Rescue, ACC, Island Health and Wellness Center and many more.
If that’s not enough, Captain Matt and Bryan are responding members of St John Rescue.
3) Unique and Authentic Experiences
Busy Bee skips the crowd infested spots. Bryan and Matt put their hearts and souls into every piece of an excursion. As small, local operator Busy Bee can price themselves far lower than the million dollar boats out of St. Thomas while offering an intimate and truly customized tour.
The passion sewn by Bryan’s grandfather has led to a highly fulfilling livelihood and to a thriving and sought after charter business.
Reflecting on it all, Bryan says, “You know, I still think about Ralph every time I leave a harbor.”