Nikki Schletz welcomes guests aboard the 44-foot Leopard catamaran, Sol Seeker, with seemingly a wave of the hand. More specifically, Nikki moves the flat hand of her palm up and away from her body slightly to the right and then brings her hand in towards her body. The action translates to ‘Welcome’ in American Sign Language (ASL). The yacht chef, who charters with husband and captain Scott Schletz out of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is the only charter yacht professional of her kind in the Caribbean, and maybe even the world, who is a nationally certified ASL interpreter. It’s a welcome sign of the times, and Nikki is excited to make this type of vacation a more inclusive and joyful experience for a person who is deaf.
“I attended high school with another student that was deaf. That is what sparked my interest in sign language initially,” says Nikki, who grew up along the waters of the Mississippi River and spent her past professional life employed as a Sign Language Interpreter in fields ranging from medicine to travel. It was also during this time she learned to sail on the waters of Lake Michigan and soon gained her sea legs in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean.
“Safety, inclusion, and enjoyment will be increased for this community if they choose to join us on their vacation. I would also be able to interpret any land tours or SCUBA lessons if they were interested in doing that while on charter with us,” she says.
The benefit, especially of the latter, is the pleasure guests get from learning about the Caribbean’s incredible marine environment. Scott spent his land-based career as an educator, teaching biology and earth science. Earlier, he dove into his love of the water when at age 16, he started SCUBA diving. Later, his aquatic ardor led him to charter sail with guests during the summer on Lake Michigan.
My enjoyment of marine biology and education flow out throughout the charter. From introducing guests to the possible hazards during my safety speech to snorkeling with them and pointing out the wide variety of species they can see in the islands. I like showing guests the beauty and majesty of local wildlife safely and respectfully. In addition to personally enjoy locating turtles and just swimming along over them, providing a beacon for the guests to follow to see these unforgettable creatures. I also love discussing cloud formations and the possibility of differing weather as we see it on the horizon. This usually leads right into conversations about sailing and how, why, and when we can sail. Nikki and I both taught sailing previously and take delight in teaching guests that are interested in learning to sail,” tells Scott.By Scott
All of this – the on, under, and above-the-sea adventures of a Caribbean crewed yacht charter, is something Nikki can interpret for guests aboard Sol Seeker who are deaf.
“People who are deaf automatically have their other senses heightened. The U.S. Virgin Islands are a wonder for the eyes. The sun and breeze feel amazing on the skin, and I would also make sure their sense of taste is delighted by my cuisine,” says Nikki. Her passion for pallet pleasing extends to a specialty in accommodating guests that have allergies and gluten sensitivity. Or prefer vegetarian or vegan cuisine.
Nikki and Scott’s launch into chartering for the first time this season. This comes at the end of a long road with a large goal at the end. Back in 2012, family losses drove home the need to live life rather than just be alive. Additionally, Nikki’s profession brought her in contact with the trials, tribulations, and tragedies of life daily. It wore the couple thin, and they wanted to make a change. As adults with children in a previous marriage, the two knew they couldn’t abruptly heave-ho and go. Thus, they set out on a sound plan. Filled with skill-building and methodical preparation, to move their life and work to the water.
“As a first-year crew, we’re excited to bring the joys of the islands to the guests. And make several of their experiences especially special by experiencing them right alongside the guests, says Scott.
Beyond this, adds Nikki, “we work hard to make every guest’s experience unique to them. Modified menus for each charter to fit their wants. Modified itinerary to hit the places they want to see and visit. And a flexible environment where change and the whims of vacation life are a priority. We love adapting and adjusting. We flex with client needs and give them the vacation they want rather than the schedule we plan for them.”
With that, Nikki waves Goodbye, adding the hand signs for ‘come back soon!’ by Carol Bareuther.