G R E AT E S C A P E S
WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL
CHARTER YACHT? w
BY KIM KAVIN
ARIOSO, LADY J AND SWEET ESCAPE EACH NET AT LEAST $1 MILLION A YEAR ON CHARTER FEES. THEY’RE NOT THE NEWEST, NOT THE BIGGEST AND NOT THE FANCIEST—BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT.
owner of Sweet Escape bought a water slide after losing a charter to a competing yacht that had one.
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isps of a hot-pink Afro wig dangle into my oversized sparkle glasses. I take a hefty swig of pinot noir and glance around the salon at friends cheering me like I’m Aretha Franklin herself. The telltale guitar chords at the start of “Respect” ring out on the surround-sound system. I grip the microphone, my liquid courage winning the battle of nerves. Inhaling with gusto, I unleash my inner soul. “What you want! Oooh baby I got it … ” It’s the first time—in nearly 15 years of covering the charter industry—that I have felt compelled to participate in karaoke night. Plenty of yachts offer similar theme parties, and usually I’m the wallflower. Something was different during my tandem charter aboard the 142-foot (43.2-meter) Palmer Johnson Lady J and 130-foot (39.6-meter)Westport Arioso. Maybe it was the way the costume garb was laid out, giving me a way to create an alter ego. Maybe it was that Arioso’s crew sang first, setting the stage with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Maybe it was the belly full of wine I’d enjoyed with dinner earlier aboard Lady J. Or, maybe there’s just something special about the charter vibe aboard these yachts, which, along with the 130-foot (39.6-meter) Christensen Sweet Escape, each net more than $1 million a year in charter fees after commissions as part of the Churchill Yacht Partners fleet. I’ve spent time aboard Sweet Escape,
▼ Arioso’s charter-friendly features include underwater lights off the swim platform.
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too, and I feel different there as well—more relaxed, more youthful, more happy. The success these yachts enjoy isn’t because they’re new; Arioso is a 2006 build, Lady J is a 1997 and Sweet Escape is a 1993. It’s also not that they’re top-dollar, with weekly base rates of $95,000 to $98,000 for 10 guests (or 12 aboard Lady J with the trundles). What sets them apart is owners, managers, captains and crew dedicated to making them the best charter yachts in their range. “Charter is competitive,” says Leslie Howard, owner of Lady J. “We’re always thinking about how to differentiate our boat from the others. We understand that people are spending a lot of money on this kind of vacation. We want to know what our charter guests think and what can be improved upon. You have to be willing to take that feedback.”
runas Chesonis, owner of Sweet Escape, shares that attitude: “Maybe a year and a half ago we had a client who said, ‘You guys don’t have a water slide. If you’d had a slide, we would have chartered with you.’ It took Capt. Paulo [Guedes] and myself about 30 seconds to decide to get the slide, and it’s made a difference in five or six additional charters.” All three owners invest regularly in maintenance plus details as small as bath soaps, believing that if you give the crew a good platform, they’ll feel proud and work even harder. Some of the owners offer financial incentives, including some bonuses, for crew productivity. That means less turnover, making the boat a trusted product among charter brokers. The best crew clamor to work on board because they can earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year in charter gratuities. And when inquiries come, all three owners do everything to accept them, even changing their own cruising dates. That’s what it takes to generate serious charter business, and it’s why Churchill wants boats like these in its fleet, according to Ben Osborn, controller and manager of operations. “We ask four questions of every owner who wants us to manage a yacht,” Osborn says. “We want to know if they have full-time crew, if we can charter the boat during the holidays, if they want at least six weeks a year, and if their boat is off the brokerage market. If any of the answers are no, we don’t take the boat in our charter fleet.”
Arioso crew show off their skill at helping charter guests land memorable fish. RIGHT: The Palmer Johnson Lady J boasts a timeless profile. FAR RIGHT: Capt. Paulo Guedes, chef Lizzie Hall and the entire Sweet Escape crew are prepared to please charter guests in many cruising locations.
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▼ Charter guests swim before lunch at the beachfront restaurant Jackie O’s in Antigua with Lady J and Arioso anchored nearby.
‘WE ASK FOUR QUESTIONS OF EVERY OWNER WHO WANTS US TO MANAGE A YACHT. IF ANY OF THE ANSWERS ARE NO, WE DON’T TAKE THE BOAT IN OUR CHARTER FLEET.’ —Ben Osborn, controller and manager of operations, Churchill Yacht Partners
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▼ The sundeck spa tub aboard Lady J is a must-have charter feature for motoryachts in her size range.
J First Officer Franco Cronje helps kayaking charter guests with a beach landing. BELOW: Lady
Churchill also looks for yachts whose captains ensure guests are happy even when they get the final bill. “These boats take their fiduciary responsibility very seriously,” Osborn says. “They get whatever the client wants, and they get it at a good value. That’s not true of all boats. These boats understand that value doesn’t always mean expensive.” Arioso, Lady J and Sweet Escape are all managed within Churchill by Lara-Jo Houghting, who helps create everything from videos to websites that brokers can use for promotions. “L.J. is leaps and bounds above all the other managers,” says Arioso Capt. Peter Martin, who has worked with several charter companies. “They just list the boat. She actually cares. When she says, ‘What can I do for you?’ she actually means it.” It doesn’t hurt that Houghting has a lot to market, including award-winning chefs in Lady J’s Nate Cox and Arioso’s Jerry Pond (Cellar & Galley, this issue). Other crew do far more than their job descriptions require, too. Arioso engineer Leon Clemones serves triple-duty as charter photographer and disc jockey. Lady J’s First Officer Franco Cronje is half fish, constantly in the water helping guests play and relax. That was true the day after my karaoke performance, when rain clouds spread over the Caribbean. Clemones, Cronje and their crewmates were unfazed, setting up tents, chairs and toys on the beach all morning. When the afternoon break of sun blissfully arrived, everything was waiting, including Lady J stewardess Danielle Jones, who offered fresh cocktails when our guest tender made landfall. “It’s all those details that make it work,” Chesonis says. “It’s not any one thing. All you need is a couple of bad weeks of charter, and you lose that repeat business, and the brokers don’t want to give you new business, and it’s a spiral. It can take a while to recover—if you recover at all. It doesn’t have to be investing in stuff that costs a million dollars, either. It’s about staying ahead of the game.” ■ FOR MORE INFORMATION:
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954 761 3237; churchillyachts.com