Choosing how, where, and when to push the boat out will be plain sailing now Paul Ashton is on deck to help you enjoy life on the ocean waves
Jean-Paul Sartre most definitely had something other than holiday matters in mind when he wrote “Hell is other people”, but it is a notion that probably occurs to many of us when faced with the ordinary anarchy of 21st century vacationing. The options for truly getting away from it all with a group of family and friends are surprisingly limited.
There are, of course, some excellent luxury land-based retreats, but even that experience is compromised if your party is of different ages, wants and needs, as you are pretty much fixed in position under one roof. However, if you want a holiday that offers an unmatched personal service, that can cater to everyone, and offers the opportunity to move from place to place with all the logistics taken care of, there is only one thing to consider: a superyacht charter.
As an industry sector, chartering is as old as the era of large yachts—the then Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson spent a summer on charter in the Adriatic in the 1930s to avoid the royal gossips—but it is only relatively recently that the sector has properly matured. The growth in the number of yachts of more than 30m has steadily accelerated since 2000, and that means there is more choice for the client.
You can access the 300 or so superyachts for charter through a number of brokerage houses, which are responsible for maintaining standards throughout the industry. There is a huge incentive for these companies to get this right, as a charter guest may well become a client to buy a new or brokerage superyacht in the future. Also, the firms are competing with each other to get the prime listings from existing yacht owners: if a charter broker does not book enough charters, the owner can move the yacht to another house. Standards of professionalism in the industry, from the captain and crew through to the management team, are higher than they have ever been, and there is a standard industry contract, created by the industry’s trade association. For first-time clients, it is as risk-free as these transactions can ever be.
Further good news for potential charterers is that there is a huge choice of yachts in a stellar array of locations. There is so much choice, in fact, that for first-timers it is all a bit baffling. The yacht will be the first thing you need to think about. Yachts up to 40m can sleep anything from six to 12 guests. You’ll see that most yachts over 40m also sleep 12 for charter, when in fact they have many more berths on board. This is due to the nature of the industry regulations for commercial chartering. Obviously, you will pay more for a bigger yacht, but you are getting bigger social spaces and more facilities.
An initial choice is whether you want a sailing boat or a motor yacht. The latter outnumber the former by about 10 to one, and it tends to be that sailing yachts are a specialist choice. But do not think that motor yachts are noisy and smelly: designers and yards work hard to deal with noise, vibration, and emissions. Stabiliser technology means that when at anchor you will hardly feel any swell.
The make-up of your charter party is key: four adults and six children are going to need something different to a group of five couples. The facilities you find on board superyachts of say, 40m, are roughly the same, but it is the subtle differences that matter. You will almost always get a layout that has a main salon and dining area inside on the main deck, with the master cabin forward, a lower deck of guest cabins, a bridge deck above the main deck with a second lounge, and an open top deck for lazing in the sun.
An important area is on the lower deck aft, the beach club, which can be a treasure trove of facilities. The idea of a beach club is to keep you as close to the water as possible, and it is useful to have a bar down there if guests are going to stay for extended periods. On some yachts you will find a dive-compressor (some even boast a member of crew who is a dive instructor). On bigger yachts there can be a gym, and perhaps even more wellness facilities like a sauna, massage room, and a beauty room (again, crew can be qualified beauticians or hair stylists). Toys include everything from PWCs (personal water crafts) to kayaks and towable inflatables. One of the most popular toys is the slide—this inflatable goes from the bridge or sundeck into the water, and on a hot sunny day you would defy anyone not to give it a go.
Often the most desirable pieces of real estate on board is the sundeck. It is a place where all the guests can gather during the day, whether they want to be sociable or take some me-time with a book. You will usually find a jacuzzi, plenty of sun-loungers, a bar area (and perhaps a barbecue grill), and somewhere shaded. Though no charter party is alike, it is fair to say that when you are at sea the beach club and sundeck are the areas to which everyone gravitates during the day.
Whatever size of yacht you choose, you will not be spending much time inside, although the interior styling can be a factor in choosing. Superyacht interiors will have been created by a specialist designer to meet the taste of the owner, and you can come across yachts that are everything from formally traditional to contemporary and open. The living space needs to be something you can live with for your charter week, and whichever you go for it will be immaculately finished.
You may want to look out for the width of the companionways and whether there is a lift to all decks if you have any in your party who need wheelchair access or have restricted mobility. It is also worth checking on the yacht’s audio-visual system—on the whole, the installations are home cinema quality, piped to every cabin, but it is also good to have a media area in one of the salons, where everyone can comfortably gather for a movie.
Where you choose to charter will be partly determined by the time of year. The general rule is that summer is for the Mediterranean and winter the Caribbean. The western Mediterranean is chartering’s true hotspot, but there are choices here: Spain and the Balearics are opening up with a new tax regime that makes chartering easier, offering an alternative to the hotspots of the Riviera and Sardinia. Montenegro is another growth area.
Once you have firmed up the size of the party and know when you want to cruise, you can approach a charter broker. While a particular company might have a yacht on central agency (that means it has signed a deal with the owner to market it for charter) you are not beholden to that company. Your own broker can access the full portfolio of yachts on that market. Pre-charter, you’ll be asked about any preferences, from dietary needs to your favourite tipple at supper.
Sail on sale
So what does this all cost? The base price for a charter week is the easy thing—these are in the public domain and can sometimes be negotiated on (though not on the most popular yachts that already have a solid portfolio of bookings a year in advance). Your broker will be able to advise on additional costs—you will generally pay for provisions, berthing and fuel, and clearly these will vary from charter to charter. There is also the issue of tipping. It’s expected that at the end of a charter a captain will be handed a cash tip (which he will then distribute among the crew). A thumbnail rule is around 10% of the base cost of the charter week, though once again your broker can advise.
A regular charter guest, a twice-a-year man, once described to me his experience of chartering as the most benign addiction in the world. And once you have sampled life aboard a superyacht (more comfortable than the best hotel) and benefited from the stellar service (on a different level to anything you have experienced before), you will not go back to a more mundane form of holidaying. You pay a substantial amount for the privilege, but it gives you access to a unique series of experiences shared with family and friends. That can only be described as priceless.