For one British family, the lockdown home-schooling experience has been rather different. Shortly before international borders closed, they chartered a 70-metre superyacht in the Caribbean, initially for two months but with the option to extend. Each morning the children, who ranged from a toddler to teenagers, dressed in school uniform before starting their online lessons, supplementing them with visits to the bridge to learn map-reading with the captain, to the galley for cooking classes with the chefs, and to the engine room for tutorials from the engineer. Games lessons were watersports or badminton on the foredeck.
“When people are chartering, a lot of the time they will be in their own bubble, going from home to a private jet or helicopter, arriving in port and jumping on board,” says Nicci Perides of superyacht broker Burgess, which has 14 offices worldwide. “So it is almost the perfect way to get away and stay isolated — if you’ve got the money to do that, of course.”
Burgess arranged several “isolation charters”, including for the British family in the Caribbean and for another family who went to the South Pacific, before borders were closed and the yachting industry largely shut down. Now, however, there seems to be a rush of interest as the chance to travel while also minimising human contact becomes increasingly prized. Y.CO, another superyacht broker with offices in Monaco, London and Fort Lauderdale, says charter inquiries in May were more than double those the previous month, and even during the key European lockdown period, from mid-March to mid-May, online inquiries were up 24 per cent compared with the same period in 2019. Burgess says its Monaco office has seen “a surge in calls over the past few weeks”. “I think now is the tipping point, everything is slowly beginning to open up,” says Perides.
As well as boosting short-term demand, the pandemic could have more far-reaching effects in the superyacht world. Already it has changed the industry’s usually rigid seasons — many superyachts were unable to make their normal spring migration from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean. The fortunate result is that they are now available to US clients prevented from travelling to Europe by the flight ban. “There will definitely be a different breed of yacht there this year,” says Charlie Birkett, co-founder of Y.CO.
Key Caribbean destinations are likely to include St Lucia and the Bahamas, with options including the 60-metre Elysian (carrying up to 12 guests and 16 crew, from $392,000 week) and the 55-metre Lady Michelle (12 guests, from $266,000). In many cases yacht owners are putting in place regular Covid-19 testing programmes for their crews.
Other yachts are being moved closer to their clientele in order to help avoid the uncertainty of travel restrictions. Fair Lady, for example, a classic 1920s yacht that sleeps eight, is transferring from the Mediterranean to the UK, and will be available for charter from late June to early October, mainly in Scotland (at £56,000 per week). The yacht’s owner also has a Cessna 208 seaplane, which can collect guests from any UK airfield and deliver them to the vessel. “I don’t remember any of our yachts ever being available to charter in the UK,” says Perides.
Meanwhile a growing antipathy towards crowded places could accelerate the trend towards more remote, self-contained charters. Rather than use a superyacht as a floating five-star hotel for touring the resorts along the Amalfi coast, say, clients are using them for longer trips and to access places such as Vanuatu or Greenland. So-called “expedition” or “adventure yachts” can cruise for eight weeks or longer without resupply; some, like the 77-metre Legend, have an ice-breaking hull that enables it to operate in polar regions, as well a helipad for heli-skiing.
With the focus on the natural world rather than shore visits, such yachts often come with submersibles for underwater exploration or fast tenders for exploring the shoreline.
“We’re definitely seeing a spike in people wanting to do something a little bit off ordinary,” says Birkett, whose roster includes the 55-metre Driftwood, which has relocated to Costa Rica to offer surfing-focused charters. As well as having a surf instructor among the 13 crew, it comes with “jetsurf” motorised surfboards, electric hydrofoil boards, paddle-boards, wakeboards, jetskis, Seabobs and a 19-metre “chase” boat capable of 50 knots to access the best breaks. All yours from $275,000 per week.
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