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High-Seas Luxury: Charter Yachts

Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

The hull shudders ever so slightly as the perfectly tuned brass propellers bite into the turquoise sea. As the huge diesel engines collect momentum, the boat gathers speed. The bow rises, the stern falls and the heart picks up the beat. With each knot of boat speed, the sense of power intensifies, and each sweet breath of tropical air purifies the senses, each and every one. You know, at this moment, that you are going where you want to go, doing what you want. You are free.

This big boat--125 feet of rugged construction and aesthetic design, of gleaming fiberglass, rich woods and luxurious fabrics, of marble and gold and leather--is at your command. Captain, take us to Saba.

All right, so you're not the owner. OK, so you didn't have the $5 million that would have allowed you to put your name on the transom. But hey, you had a very good year, had $60,000 or so to dedicate to the finest of vacations and had this very fine and noble idea to charter a yacht for a week in the Caribbean, take along family and friends and become a true Adventurer in Paradise. It could happen. (First, get the $60,000.)

What the right amount of money will buy is the chance to be a surrogate owner of a megayacht for a week. You will get a captain and crew absolutely dedicated to providing you with the finest in service. Within the navigational limits of the boat, you can travel to whatever destination strikes the fancy. A master chef of many cuisines will prepare to your exacting tastes exquisite meals from the most simple to the most sumptuous. Take breakfast in the master stateroom. Take lunch on a deserted beach. Take dinner in the salon. Most of all, take it easy.

Chartering a megayacht is the next logical, and final, step up from the presidential suite of the Nordic Princess Fantasy of the Seas. Oh, the presidential suite was luxurious and came with 24-hour butler service. The staff was attentive and the meals exquisite. The showgirls were shapely and the blackjack dealers trustworthy. There was plenty of duty-free shopping and don't forget that intimate lunch on the beach for you and your 537 closest friends.

Yes, the Nordic Princess Fantasy of the Seas took you to exotic places in grand style. It sailed effortlessly from St. Thomas to St. Martin to St. Lucia and many other beautiful places that provided you with a suitcase full of photographs and a lifetime of memories. But you wanted to see more--or perhaps less--while the Nordic Princess Fantasy sailed on her own timetable, not yours. You couldn't linger on the beach to watch the sunset, couldn't take that extra dive with the angelfish, couldn't stay among the porpoises when they had every intention of staying with you.

"No matter how luxurious a cruise ship is, your time is allotted, "says charter broker May Gaskell of Fraser Yacht Charter Services in Fort Lauderdale. "You can only spend so much time ashore shopping or dining or playing golf or picnicking on the beach. You're a prisoner of the ship. A charter yacht is your own private resort. You can do with it what you want. It's an experience like no other. You're totally pampered; the chefs are phenomenal and you can go where you like. You just don't have any shows at night."

Yacht chartering is an exercise in elegance with an emphasis on privacy and versatility. It is expensive and rewarding. For people of means, it is a way to escape the conventional world of tourism. No matter how lush the resort, how swell the ship, none can compare to a chartered yacht anchored off a Caribbean island, its aft-deck table filled with fresh fruit and good Chardonnay. It is a world to itself.

Make no mistake: these big boats are truly small worlds. Let's take Fraser's charter yacht Fifty One, all 125 feet of her. She is a magnificent and traditionally designed motor yacht built by the Christensen yard of Vancouver, Washington. She has five opulent staterooms to accommodate 10 guests and a crew of seven: the captain, first mate, engineer, deckhand, two stewards and a chef. There are various sport boats aboard like a 22-footer for water-skiing, an inflatable one for going ashore, a three-seat Jet-Ski for dashing through the waves, a 14-foot Hobie Cat for sailing. There are also large-screen televisions and a first-class sound system throughout the boat.

Through a charter broker, you can charter a yacht like the Fifty One for a base rate of $44,000 for the week--a figure that represents about two-thirds of the actual cost of the charter. What brings the total to $60,000 or more is the running cost of the boat, the provisioning of the boat with food and spirits, and the crew gratuity, which could be from 5 percent to 20 percent of the base rate. Also additional would be dockage fees. Spending a night or two at the docks of the chichi St. James Club in Antigua could also be pretty steep, though throughout the Caribbean, most yachts anchor in protected bays.

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