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Chartering a Yacht: How to do it right
Imagine starting your day in a comfortable chair on the aft deck of a luxurious yacht, anchored off a deserted beach where palm trees shade the flawless white sand. A uniformed crewmember serves warm croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice and icy champagne as you wiggle your toes with pleasure on the sun-warmed teak deck. Your only decision is what to do today.
You might choose to stay right where you are, swimming, snorkeling and exploring the shallows where rainbow-colored tropical fish swarm around your facemask. Perhaps you'll take a ride on a Jet Ski. Or you might suggest that your captain and crew sidle your yacht into a nearby harbor where, moored to the quay, you can watch the crowds strolling the waterfront while you enjoy a five-course gourmet dinner.
"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 Edward VIII, King of England, a man who knew his way around luxury yachts.
Few recreational activities are as perfectly suited to combining with private jet travel as yacht charters. Great ski areas are easily accessible by airline service, as are major golf courses. But to reach a yacht that awaits at an island served only by puddle-jumpers-well, that's where private jets excel. And not many of life's pleasures can compare to a yacht charter, because it blends 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 Donald Trump to Oprah Winfrey, opt for yachts as their method of escape.
You can, of course, find superb service on many cruise ships, but the downside is that 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 water sports or exploring ashore. Larger yachts obviously have the widest selection of toys, ranging from helicopters (see 'An Airborne "Water Toy"' below) to miniature submarines.
While most charters are purely for pleasure, many companies are finding yachts ideal for entertaining clients, hosting conferences and conducting business meetings away from office pressures. Other companies have discovered that time on a yacht is a highly desirable staff bonus.
Don't worry about being out of touch: modern yachts may well have better communications systems than your office. With everything from satellite and Wi-Fi to Telex and video conferencing, you'll be able to keep an eye on business while you play.
For the uninitiated, a luxury yacht charter can be as intimidating as dining at the White House. What does it cost? What can we do? What should we take? How much should we tip? The questions can seem endless, but charter brokers can answer them for you. They specialize in matching clients (and their budgets) with the right yacht in the right place and can advise you on the best seasons and destinations. Like a good waiter, a good charter broker seems nearly invisible while making sure everything goes smoothly. You might want to talk to several to find one with whom you feel comfortable.
One question you should ask each broker you consult is, "Have you been aboard each boat and do you know the captain and crew?" The best brokers visit each yacht regularly, both to inspect its condition and to acquaint themselves with the crew. They're also familiar with charter destinations, so they can suggest itineraries. Some areas are as remote as Robinson Crusoe's island, while others are known as nightlife hotspots.
A charter broker will ask you where and when you want to charter, how many people will be aboard and how much you want to spend-although not necessarily in that order. Your answers regarding destinations and dates need not be ironclad unless you desire to be in a particular place at a particular time, such as Monaco for the Grand Prix, since a broker may suggest alternatives that you overlooked. The Mediterranean charter high season is the summer, while the Caribbean is most popular in the winter, but you might enjoy other areas such as the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, the Pacific Northwest or even Thailand or the South Pacific. In any case, keep in mind that to really unwind and enjoy a charter, you should allot a minimum of seven to 10 days.
Once the broker has the basic parameters, you'll receive photographs, descriptions and videos 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 aren't as soundproof as they are in homes. You'll see classic yachts built in the Roaring '20s, Euro-style yachts with ultra-modern interiors and sailing yachts with clouds of sail. Choose carefully. There's no point in spending a week aboard a yacht you think is ugly.
After you've narrowed your selections, the charter broker will look at the master calendar for that yacht to make sure your dates are available. Then you'll make a reservation and pay 50 percent of the charter fee. You'll be expected to pay the rest-typically by wire transfer so the funds clear without delay-at least 30 days before the starting date.
Prices vary widely, depending on the quality and size of the yacht and crew as well as the amenities aboard. At the upper end of the scale, arguably one of the best charter yachts in the world is Excellence III, a 187-footer with a crew of 14 that can accommodate 12 guests at a rate of $315,000 per week. The 164-foot Blind Date has an elegant Patrick Knowles interior for 10 guests at $235,000 per week, while the 100-foot King Baby has an interior that pays tribute to rock 'n' roll legends with photos as well as a sophisticated sound and entertainment system, for eight guests at $45,000 per week. For sailors, Andromeda La Dea is a 154-foot Italian-built masterpiece for eight guests at $135,000 per week.
What can you expect onboard? 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. Whatever your preference, chartering a luxury yacht is one of the best ways to have your fun and take it with you.
An Airborne "Water Toy"
One of the newest draws of yacht charters is the addition of helicopters to the standard collection of "water toys," which are more usually Jet Skis or the tender used for going ashore.
Helicopters have become, in a way, a flying tender to mega-yachts. They are used to deposit heli-skiers high on virgin snow, drop fly fishermen into pristine streams or simply pick up a fresh supply of flowers and Cristal champagne from shore. By meeting guests at the airport, they can cut hours off the usual shore transfers. Helos have been used to deliver guests to another yacht for dinner, and even in medical emergencies. Many yachts are being built or refitted with helipads and some, like Paul Allen's 414-foot Octopus, have helipads at both bow and stern.
Yacht helicopter operations fall into two categories: touch-and-go or onboard. Touch-and-go means the helicopter can employ the helipad for delivering supplies or picking up passengers, but it remains ashore when not in use. Onboard use is more complicated, because storage for the helo (as well as refueling and service) must be considered.
Helicopters don't like salt water, so keeping one on board requires a hangar, and the size is dictated by the rotors. The ideal helo has rotors that fold back along the tail-boom, thus minimizing the space needed. Next best is a two-blade rotor, so only one overhang is a problem. Helos with three or more fixed blades are impractical unless the blades can be removed and that's a lot of work. Among the popular helicopters for yacht duty are those from Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter.
Most helipads have a sundeck or upper deck, and even a sailing yacht such as the 178-foot Tiara can have a permanent helipad in spite of the mast and rigging. A leader in outfitting yachts for helo operations, Florida-based Heli-Yacht International, provides everything from pilot and yacht crew training to operations and support.
If you're chartering a yacht with a helicopter, be sure to ask about availability and cost. Some countries won't allow onboard helicopters without local registration, which can be time-consuming and expensive. In that case, a yacht with a helipad is better served by hiring a helicopter locally and having touch-and-go operations as needed.
What Your Money Buys
When you shop for a yacht charter, you'll be offered Western Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean or Caribbean terms. Here's what you get with each:
Western Mediterranean Terms (WMT) include the yacht, all equipment and the crew but not food, fuel, harbor fees or communications fees. WMT is popular on the Riviera because the lifestyle there lends itself to eating ashore, so charterers don't have to pay for unused groceries.
Eastern Mediterranean Terms (EMT) are essentially the same as WMT with the addition of two meals a day (usually breakfast and lunch) and enough fuel for cruising three to five hours a day.
Caribbean Terms Inclusive (CTI) include three meals a day, most drinks and fuel. Often called "all-inclusive terms," these cover most of your expenses at a flat rate, although you'll still pay for communications and premium drinks like vintage wine and champagne.