As a young girl growing up on Virginia’s eastern shore, Sheila Ruffin came to love boats at an early age. Her grandfather was an avid boater so she spent a lot of her childhood around the water.
Once she was older, Sheila would go on to attend law school. After learning that she didn’t pass the bar exam the first time, it sent her into one of the darkest times of her life. But, there was a bright spot.
She ended up landing a job on the beautiful island of St. Thomas.
In addition to practicing law in St. Thomas, Sheila made the choice to also go to travel school to become a certified travel associate. Once she graduated, she wanted to find a niche area that allowed her to do more than become a travel agent.
“I googled yacht agencies that were one-stop-shops, but I couldn’t find any,” Sheila Ruffin, Owner and Creator of Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters told Travel Noire. “This gave me an idea of what I could do. Plus, I couldn’t find any people of color within the industry. Therefore, I set out to start my own company.”
Soca Caribbean Yacht Charterswas born out of a love for boats plus a need for more Black presence in the industry. Ruffin added the soca aspect because during her time in St. Thomas the sound of the music helped to pull her out of her depression. She always vowed that whenever she did start a business, it would somehow pay homage to the culture that did so much for her.
“Being in St. Thomas and hearing Soca made me happy and more aware. It took my mind off of my troubles at the time. It gave me my life back.”
All of Ruffin’s charters are based in the Caribbean in destinations such as the Bahamas, St. Lucia, St. Maarteen, and the British Virgin Islands. They will soon expand into Grenada as well. She paired with another company that actually owns all of the yachts, and her company provides luxury experiences.
“We offer a door to dock to door service,” Ruffin explained. “The minute you step out of your home, there is a luxury car waiting to take you to the airport. Once you arrive in your Caribbean destination, we provide transfers to the dock where you board your yacht. After your trip, we also provide all services in reverse.”
There is a minimum of a 5 night, 6 day charter. During that time, Soca Yacht Charters provides an over the top luxury experience that includes your captain, personal gourmet chefs, bartenders, and more. You have the option to customize your experience any way you want, based on your needs and preferences.
Once onboard, you will primarily focus on the Caribbean destination that you docked from. That’s one of the main difference between yachting and cruising.
“We want the client to really experience the culture of that one destination.”
Ruffin is proud to introduce this company to the world. She is blazing the trail for Black women, and women in general, in an otherwise white-male dominated market. She wants to break barriers and help those in the yacht industry see that if they continue to overlook people of color, the industry will not survive.
“To be the anchor between the yacht industry and millennials and people of color is amazing,” Ruffin said. “It’s not easy. I’m entering into space where Black women aren’t normally present. It’s an amazing feeling.”
We asked Ruffin to give advice to others looking to break into an industry that may not be as diverse, here’s what she said:
“Pray and ask for clarity as far as a niche. The businesses that survive, are those that bring something different. As Nike says, “Just Do It.” Always keep your dreams close to you and protect them because the minute you voice it, you can’t take it back.”