By Chris Caswell
Choosing a Yacht Charter: Going In High Style
The basics of making an opulent vacation charter escape
Imagine, if you will, starting your day on the aft deck of a luxury yacht, anchored off a pristine and deserted beach. Fluffy croissants and freshly squeezed orange juice are on the table, and sun-warmed teak decking is under your bare feet. This evening, you might end the day moored to the quay in St. Tropez or Antigua, watching the strollers from your yacht as you enjoy a leisurely five-course gourmet dinner in the soft evening air.
Few of life’s pleasures compare with a yacht charter, because it combines a superb sense of privacy with the freedom and flexibility to do exactly as you please. It’s no wonder that the truly wealthy, from Onassis to Trump, chose yachts as their method of escape.
“The special charm of a large yacht is that it enables presumably responsible people to combine the milder irresponsibilities of a beachcomber’s existence with all the comforts of a luxury hotel,” said King Edward VIII of England, later the Duke of Windsor and a man who knew his way around luxury yachts.
You can, of course, find superb service afloat on many of the best cruise ships but, on the other hand, you go where they choose. Aboard your chartered yacht, the captain in his freshly starched uniform will inquire discreetly what might please you today and, should you prefer to do nothing, you will be left undisturbed.
On the other hand, your options might include jetskis and windsurfers, waterskiing, sailing, snorkeling or exploring ashore. Larger yachts obviously have a wider selection of toys, ranging up to helicopters and automobiles aboard the creme’ de la fleet.
But, you say, I can’t afford to charter a luxury yacht in the 60- to 200-foot range. Nonsense. If you add up what you spend at a top quality resort or luxury hotel for accommodations, food, beverages, and all the other incidentals like sightseeing and those endless tips, you could have had a week in the Caribbean or along the Riviera aboard your own yacht.
While some of the largest yachts may charge $100,000 a week or more, the majority of luxury charters are far less. Victoria Bowie, charter director for The Sacks Group, points out that three couples can have their own yacht, complete with superb food, luxurious staterooms and an attentive crew, for around $5000 a week per couple. Compare that to the price of a five-star resort where you’re “just another guest,” rather than being master of your own yacht.
While most charters are purely for pleasure, many companies are finding that luxury yachts are ideal for truly private and relaxing business meetings away from office pressures and deadlines. Yachts are perfect for entertaining clients or hosting conferences, with stewards that cater to every need and an array of food and drink for every palate. Other companies have discovered that a yacht is the perfect business incentive, and much more of a bonus than a week at a ski resort or hotel.
Where To Start
Most novices are reluctant to try chartering because they don’t how to begin their quest for a yacht. Your starting point, in every case, must be with a charter broker. A travel agent is fine for booking airlines and hotels, but charter brokers specialize in matching up clients with charter yachts around the world. You might want to talk to several to find one with whom you feel comfortable. The charter broker has been described as a combination of psychologist, social counselor and matchmaker, and the best brokers are able to ferret out the perfect boat in the perfect location for each need.
One question that you should ask each broker is, “Have you been aboard each boat and do you know the captain and crew?” Truly professional charter brokers make it a point to visit each yacht regularly, both to inspect it for condition and to acquaint themselves with the crews.
“After all,” says Terry Hines of Bob Saxon Associates, “a successful charter is more about people than about a boat, so we work hard to make sure the client and crew are 100 percent compatible.”
“Although there are probably 500 luxury charter yachts in the world,” notes Victoria Bowie, charter director of The Sacks Group, “we will not put a client aboard a boat that we have not personally inspected.”
In addition to knowing the boats, a good charter broker should also be familiar with the charter areas to make suggestions on possible itineraries.
The four basic questions that each charter broker will ask are where, when, how many and how much, although not necessarily in that order.
Your answers to where and when need not be ironclad unless you have a specific desire to be in one particular place and time, such as Monaco for the Grand Prix, since a broker may suggest alternatives that you may have missed. The Mediterranean high season is the summer, while the Caribbean is the winter, but you might enjoy other areas such as the Eastern United States or even as far afield as Thailand or the South Pacific. To really enjoy a charter, seven days is the minimum required to unwind, and 10 days is even better.
You do need to be honest about your budget, however, but don’t be shy if you’re not in the $100,000 a week bracket. Charter brokers have listings in all size ranges and can often match you up with more than you thought you could get.
Tom Collins, of Tom Collins Yacht Charter, suggests that three couples are a good number, since there are many yachts with luxurious three-stateroom layouts at reasonable rates. “Besides,” he notes, “larger groups have more trouble agreeing on what they want to do or where they want to go.”
Once the broker has the basic parameters, you’ll receive a package of photographs, descriptions, and perhaps even video tapes of yachts that fit your needs.
Look at the photos and study the layouts and descriptions. If you want privacy, try to avoid adjoining cabins, because the walls in yachts are not as soundproof as in homes. You’ll probably see classic yachts built in the Roaring ’20s, sleek European-styled yachts with ultra-modern interiors, and sailing yachts with clouds of sail. Choose one whose looks appeal to you, because there’s no point in spending a week aboard a boat you think is ugly.
When you’ve narrowed your selections, the charter broker looks at the master calendar for that yacht to make sure that your dates are available.
At the time that you make the charter reservation, which actually takes the yacht off the calendar and holds your time block, you will pay 50 percent of the charter fee. You will be expected to deposit the remainder of the fee at least 30 days before the starting date, and this is usually accomplished by a wire transfer so there is no delay in clearing the funds.
But, if you’re used to staying at luxury hotels, you’re probably wondering about all those “extra costs” that can increase the price. Most yacht charters are priced in one of two ways: all-inclusive, or Western Mediterranean Terms.
All-inclusive is just that, and the base rate includes fuel, food, beverages, docking fees, and, of course, the captain and crew. There are a few extras, however. Don’t expect to drink Dom Perignon daily, although good wines and champagnes are included in the rate. Some all-inclusive contracts may specify a certain number of hours of fuel use each day, with a charge for additional running time. In addition, you’ll be expected to pay for communication costs, such as long-distance phone calls or faxing.
Western Med Terms are more of an “a la carte” plan, and the base charter rate provides the yacht and crew. Beyond that, you will be charged (at cost) for fuel, food, beverages, and incidentals such as harbor fees. WMT is popular in the Med because that lifestyle lends itself to eating ashore in the evenings, so charterers don’t have to pay for unused food.
With both plans, however, you should plan on tipping the crew at the end of your cruise. This can range from 10 to 20% of the base fee, depending upon the yacht and the location. Tipping is usually toward the lower end of that scale in Europe and higher in the U.S. and Caribbean, but don’t forget that this is truly a tip and should be based on the quality of service provided.
Once you’ve chosen the yacht and location, you’ll receive a preference questionaire from the charter broker, which will cover everything from your favorite foods and beverages to any specialized requirements such as computers.
You will be entering into a contract for the yacht charter, so make your plans carefully. Cancellation can cause forfeiture of your deposit as well as responsibility for the remaining fees if the yacht is not able to re-book that time period.
The ultimate responsibility for the yacht rests with the captain, and his decisions are law regarding the safety of the ship and crew. Aside from that, you are the master of the ship and can direct it to depart or dally as you wish. Each yacht is fully insured, so you need not worry about accidents.
Because of 200-year-old maritime laws for charter yachts operating from United States ports, in this country you will operate under bareboat, or “demise,” charter contracts. While this states that you are chartering the boat itself and hiring the crew separately, there is essentially no difference in liability or responsibility from normal crewed charters.
Take your pick from a wide range of yachts. The 163-foot Jefferson Beach, for example, carries 12 guests in six luxurious cabins (each with shower or tub) served by a crew of 12, for $79,000 a week in the Mediterranean. For those wanting speed, the 132-foot Octopussy is the fastest megayacht in the world at more than 50 knots, carrying 10 guests in five cabins, a crew of six, plus a Jacuzzi, sauna, and nine bathrooms, for $55,000 a week based in Palm Beach. Destiny is a 120′ Broward which will be available for 10 guests in New England this summer, at a rate of $45,000 a week with seven crew. At the other end of the spectrum, Reality is a 91′ Broward with three staterooms and multiple water toys for $17,500 a week, while the 62′ motoryacht Jewell has three staterooms and a crew of two for $ 9,500 a week.
If you’re concerned that you will be out of touch for days on end, rest assured. Most modern luxury yachts have better communication systems aboard than you have in your office. Aside from the standard marine electronics, charter yachts often have satellite communication systems (satcom) that allow direct dialing anywhere in the world, regardless of whether the yacht is in harbor or at sea. Telex, fax machines, and computers with modems are all available for those who want to stay in touch with business while their family plays.
The crews of large yachts have more than enough work to keep them busy, so don’t expect them to join you on your sightseeing junkets, although they’ll drop everything to ferry you to and from shore. On smaller yachts, there is more flexibility and you can invite the captain or crew to join you ashore if you desire. Don’t be offended if the skipper declines, though. He may have projects to get done, or he may simply prefer to keep a slight distance from his clients.
Remember also that the crews are not babysitters. If you bring young children, plan to care for them yourself or bring a nanny.
What can you expect? Anything you want. A typical seven day charter along the Riviera might include stops at Monaco, Antibes, Cannes and St. Tropez, plus exploration of offshore islands, shopping ashore, and sightseeing. In the Caribbean, you can enjoy pina coladas at lunch, water sports in the afternoon, and quiet anchorages at night.
Rikki Davis of Rikki Davis Inc., points out that too many first-time charterers try to cram too much in. “Don’t try to rush around to every island and harbor…this is a relaxing vacation rather than a hectic tour. Plan to sleep late, enjoy life aboard the yacht, and make short passages when you feel like it.”
Your charter broker can advise you on what clothes to take, which is usually a range of resort wear depending on your dining plans ashore. Even though these are large yachts, storage is tight, so keep hardsided suitcases to a minimum and use folding duffel bags for most of your clothes.
What about chartering for business? The same rules generally apply, whether you want the yacht for a business meeting on one afternoon, or an incentive cruise for a fortnight. Sophisticated communications keep you in touch, but recreation is only a step away and a dive into the sea.
An American computer company chartered a mega-yacht for an evening cruise with 35 guests on the waterways of Florida, with heavy hors d’oeuvres and open bar to celebrate a recent business success. As one guest noted, “It was so much nicer boarding a yacht and going out on the water than spending another evening in a stuffy hotel ballroom” and the costs were about the same. Another U.S. corporation chartered two luxury yachts for 10 weeks as sales incentives for their top salespeople. Canon Business Systems recently chartered seven yachts for a week of cruising the Riviera, ending up in Rome to watch the World Cup Soccer Matches.
Whatever you preference, chartering a luxury yacht is the best way to have your fun and take it with you.