Mediterranean dream cruise
It's the perfect time to charter a yacht for a summer getaway in the Mediterranean. Ample supplies of sailing and motor yachts are available, the currency exchange is the best it has been in years, and there is wiggle room in the prices, something unthinkable before the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
If you play it right, you may be able to get a free extra day tacked on to a seven-day cruise. That amounts to a 13% savings, no small sum considering that a week on the azure seas of, say, Sicily and the Aeolian islands can easily run north of $100,000.
While yacht owners are generally loath to cut their sticker prices, some now extend their rates for the "low season" months -- May and September -- through at least some of the high season. And many haven't raised their prices for a good two years.
Not that any of this is cheap. Expect a sailing yacht with crew and three staterooms to run anywhere from a base price of $22,000 to $122,000 a week. Motor yachts typically command more. Much of the price depends on the overall size and quality of the yacht, as well as the number of crew. But all the prices are helped by the dollar's strength against the euro in the past nine months.
"There are a lot of great bargains out there, especially if you pay in U.S. dollars," says Barbara Dawson, charter broker for Camper & Nicholsons of Palm Beach, Fla., and a board member of the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association, an elite trade group formed to promote high standards and ethics in the international yachting industry. "Boat owners are more open to wheeling and dealing, and a lot of people are doing last-minute deals."
Notably absent, compared with recent years: mega-rich Russians, who had been driving the market for newer and bigger boats. Still, don't expect fire sales. "One of the easier discounts is an extra day," says Missy Johnston, owner of Northrop & Johnson Worldwide Yacht Charters of Newport, R.I.
Some yachts are in such demand that discounting isn't an option. Consider the wildly popular technological marvel that is the 289-foot Maltese Falcon, the largest sailing yacht in the world. Originally built for venture-capital titan Tom Perkins, it combines the excitement of a sailboat with the comfort of a motor yacht, and it commands a base charter rate of 378,000 euros a week (about $515,000) in the high season and €350,000 (about $480,000) a week in the low. As is typical, delivery charges, food, beverage, dockage and gratuities are extra.
Dawson and Johnston know the various negotiating tactics because it is the broker who bargains on behalf of the client. Indeed, only through the assistance of a broker working with an owner's agent is it possible to obtain access to most yachts, which are on a multilisting service similar to the type used in the real-estate industry.
Managing a trip of this scale and expense requires the expertise of a broker who is familiar with the boats and who has forged relationships with the best captains and crews. More importantly, working through a broker -- particularly one who is a member of the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association or the American Yacht Charter Association -- gives you some financial protection in the form of contracts that are recognized and accepted worldwide. MYBA and AYCA members are also well-versed in crew-licensing requirements and safety standards.
In advance of your cruise, be prepared to pony up a deposit of 20% to 25% of the chartering cost of a sail yacht and 30% to 35% of a motor yacht -- to pay for provisions as well as fuel and fees for dockage and, in some cases, a value-added tax, depending on the cruising grounds. Tack on another 5% to 15% of the base charter price for gratuities for the captain and crew.
If glamour and glitz are what you are after -- and the goal is to dock along the French or Italian Riviera -- be prepared to pay dearly. Boats far outnumber boat slips in the Western Med, and docking fees can add significantly to expenses. Consider that Italy's Portofino, a seaside town that epitomizes la dolce vita, has only eight to 10 slips available. Anchoring, on the other hand, is always free.
Brokers are also instrumental in arranging land-based excursions for clients. "In the Med there's so much to do on land," says Dawson, ticking off a list that includes visits to vineyards, historical sites, bicycling tours, even private tours of the Vatican. Want truckloads of Evian spring water delivered to the boat to bathe in? When it comes to pampering clients, almost anything is possible.
Of the choices you will need to make, the right crew is the most crucial.
"I don't care what boat you have, 95% of cruising is the crew," says Dawson, of Camper & Nicholsons. "If a broker is telling you the crew [of a boat] is the best, but you don't like the boat's interior, compromise and go for the crew."
Virginia Bush, an educational consultant and lifelong sailor from Old Saybrook, Conn., takes two cruises a year with her second cousin, 97-year-old Palm Beach socialite Lucille "Lulu" Parsons Balcom. One of their favorites is the Cinderella IV, a 128-foot high-performance sailboat, which they chartered most recently in October, for a Corsica cruise.
"It's more the captain than the boat," says Bush, singing the praises of Captain Andy Wilson and his wife, Linda, who have been with Cinderella for the past eight years. Linda, a registered nurse, proved invaluable when Lulu needed medical attention during the recent trip.
Sailors and adventurers, Bush and Balcom chose Corsica for the good winds and the medieval charm of Bastia, with its captivating architecture, religious art and rich history. With a top-notch chef aboard, they always dined on the boat.
Some of the best yacht values are in the Eastern Mediterranean, for charters from ports on the Turquoise Coast of Turkey and Croatia. Among the draws: currencies not tied to the euro, public marinas with inexpensive docking fees and a variety of cultural attractions.
"I have more inquiries for the Eastern Mediterranean," says Maggie Vale, charter broker at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Rikki Davis Yachts at Churchill Yacht Partners.
A revival of interest in Turkish gulets, very wide wooden sailing ships with plenty of deck space, has led to a boom in the number available. "They are spacious, with lots of amenities, and they are much more reasonable -- at €40,000 to €60,000 [about $55,000 to $80,000]," says Dawson of Camper & Nicholsons. "That's a steal." Sailing yachts that accommodate eight to 10 people and require a larger crew typically command $120,000 to $160,000 (€90,000 to €120,000) a week.
A lot of folks opt to charter motor yachts simply because they have never been sailing and like the roominess and comfort. Also, motor yachts carry more water toys, like jet skis, doughnut floats, and boats for exploring the coastline. Increasingly, though, the big sailing yachts have the same amenities as motor yachts and, says Dawson, "if you're in a six-foot sea, you'll feel it more in a motor yacht."
More and more cruisers are waiting until the last minute before committing to trips, and in some cases that may lead to bargains. But, as a rule, the sooner you book, the better the yacht.
So call a broker. Make a plan. Then go down to the sea for a real bon voyage.