$8,000 to more than $180,000 per week.
Crucial. The right broker will make your trip. See Interviewing Brokers, below.
"The Monaco to St.-Tropez run is the number-one choice in the Mediterranean," notes Nick Jeffery of Camper & Nicholsons International, an English firm known for its Mediterranean expertise. Before the cruise the captain or broker creates an itinerary based on client specifications. How far you go depends upon the time you have and whether you choose to motor or sail.
Absolutely necessary. To get the widest choice of yachts and charter dates, pros recommend booking in October or November for the following summer; the latest you should wait is January or February. There's also the issue of payment. "We're one of the few brokerages that accept credit cards," explains Alev Karagulle, owner of Crestar Yachts—a British agency founded in 1982—over the phone from her London office. "Most require a wire transfer, which can sometimes take a while to go through."
Best Time To Sail
May, June, and September, which are considered the low season. "You'll find the best choice of boats and the best prices in these months," says Jan Henry of the Ft. Lauderdale-based Fraser Yachts.
Worst Time To Sail
July and August, because of the crowds—and the sometimes fierce mistral winds that can keep boats in port.
The Major Challenge
Docking. It's less of a problem in low season; in Monte Carlo because the harbor is larger; and in ports where there's less of a "see and be seen" port culture. "But in July and August dockage is scarce, especially in Monaco and St.-Tropez," Henry explains. Even when dockage is available, you may not get a slip, or space for docking. "There's really no guarantee," says Karagulle. Sources agree that in some ports you can make a tentative reservation ahead of time; actually getting dockage depends on the yacht captain's connections with the port master, on the time you arrive, and on the amount of money in "tips" you're willing to pay the port master. (Tips usually vary from a few hundred dollars in July to a few thousand in August.) In Cannes, sources say, it is not an issue, because the port master does not accept tips and reservations are approved by an official town committee. It's a real problem, however, in St.-Tropez.
"Even if you have a reservation confirmed via fax from the St.-Tropez port, you still have to reconfirm 48 hours ahead of arrival and give the port captain a 'tip' when you get there," says Kelley Smitten of the Beverly Hills-based Elite Yacht Charters. "And you still might arrive to find them looking at your fax blankly as they tell you that your slip isn't available. This is just one of the challenges of dealing with the French system." But, she adds, "we've never not gotten into St.-Tropez."
Difficult, especially during July and August for the above reason. "We emphasize strongly that dockage is at a premium in July and August," says Karagulle, "and that clients should tell us in advance when they want to dock in specific places so that the captain can start working on it. But sometimes charterers have disregarded this and told us at the last minute that they absolutely have to be in certain ports on certain dates—whatever it takes, at whatever cost. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
Power Or Sail?
Karagulle says that 75 percent of her French Riviera clients choose motor yachts because they lend themselves to "a more sedate journey," as well as more lavish entertaining. "Clients use them as floating hotels," she explains.
"And then, until recently there weren't many high-end sailing yachts," she adds. "Now there are some new, larger sailing yachts, such as the Mirabella III and Mirabella C, that are very luxurious and sophisticated, and on which you're not really roughing it. But they're still not as luxurious or as spacious as the motor yachts."
Says Henry: "Motor yachts offer more creature comforts, larger and more commodious staterooms, larger bathrooms that may include bathtubs, and a lot more storage room for carrying watersport vehicles." And motor yachts, which often have built-in stabilizers, offer a smoother ride.
People who choose sailing yachts tend to be more active," says Henry. Crews on sailing yachts tend to be more active too. "Sailing crews are usually younger, more athletic, and more energetic," Karagulle concurs. "Motor yachts are more formal, and the crew is more formal."
But the big difference is power. "You are more limited time-wise with sailing yachts," Karagulle says. "Yes, they can have auxiliary engines that can get up to ten knots, but they're just not as mobile. With a motor yacht you can have breakfast in one town, lunch in another. It's just pull up the anchors, and you're off. On a sailing yacht it's a whole different story." Smitten puts it simply: "Sailing yachts are more popular in the Caribbean. In France there's either too much wind, or there is not enough. A typical beautiful day in the Mediterranean means no wind at all."
Sixty-five to 85 feet is considered small; 85 to 100 feet average; longer than 100 feet, large. On average, yachts up to 100 feet have three, sometimes four, staterooms or cabins, each of which normally includes a queen-size or king-size bed in the master stateroom. ("Some Broward motor yachts have regular berths and pullman, or pull-down, berths as well, which are great for families," says Henry.) To get four or more staterooms you generally have to exceed 110 feet. The yacht's weight also determines how many people it can legally accommodate. Under 100 tons it can take a maximum of six people; over 100 tons it can take up to 12.
Yacht charter companies regularly list the size of the beam (the widest part of the vessel) and the draft (how far below the surface the hull extends). But according to Henry, "draft is not a concern for yachts in the South of France because the waters are deep."
The average motor yacht cruises at 15 to 17 knots. Speed is usually a function of hull design, with vessels divided into three categories: displacement, semi-displacement, and fast-planing. Displacement yachts, the slowest, cruise at 10 to 12 knots; semi-displacement and fast-planing yachts at 17 to 35 knots.
Speed comes at a price: "Faster yachts bounce a lot when the sea is rough," says Karagulle. "If you want a smooth, easy ride even in rough water, go with a displacement yacht." And faster yachts consume a lot of fuel. "They're real gas-guzzlers," says Henry. "Some jet boats burn more than 150 gallons of fuel per hour. Others use more than twice that, which is a lot considering that fuel can cost up to three dollars per gallon." She says a yacht that costs around $100 per hour for fuel is a good, fuel-efficient boat.
One big way of saving money on fuel is to find a yacht such as Timeless, the 101-foot Belgian-owned motor yacht that can buy duty-free fuel, which means you don't pay the 20.6 percent French Value Added Tax, or VAT. "But there aren't many of these, because it has been hard to get the correct commercial documentation to qualify, although it's getting easier," says Karagulle. She estimates that 10 percent of charter yachts currently have such documentation. (In Crestar Yachts' summer 1999 catalog, there are only four such yachts out of more than 90.)
The basics for both motor and sailing yachts are: air conditioning throughout the yacht, fax, cellular phone, Internet access, a safe in the master stateroom, TV, VCR, video and music libraries, and watersport toys such as water skis and Wave Runners.
Babysitting is not one of the crew's duties. "If clients plan to bring kids under 14 years of age, we tell them they should bring a nanny or expect to watch the kids themselves," states Henry. "But often the crew falls in love with the kids and helps out anyway."
According to the contract of the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association (MYBA), the leading private yachting organization overseas, you have to get written permission from the owner.
Karagulle says the crew's nationality plays a role in the service and onboard climate. American crews, she says, are "very can-do. The good ones serve hand and foot, eager to do whatever you want. And they are very smartly presented—often in uniforms like the ones used on liners." European crews, on the other hand, tend to be "more low-key," with British crews at the top of the list for service. "They're often very personable," she says, "with an amazing sense of humor. Sometimes you'll get crew members that used to sail with the Merchant Navy and have wonderful tales to tell." Smitten, however, disagrees. "The service and personality of the crew generally have nothing to do with nationality," she says. "It depends on how they've been trained."
On many high-end yachts chefs are "quite diverse in their culinary skills," states Karagulle, "able to offer just about any type of cuisine, including Asian and Southeast Asian—although most clients request a healthy, light French or Italian menu." Especially when you exceed the 100-foot yacht category, cuisine is "very competitive," says Henry.
It's unlikely that you'll be able to have a test meal, so here you'll have to rely on the broker. Many of the best brokers go to the biannual Concours du Chef, cooking competitions for yacht chefs held in July (Monaco) and December (Antigua).
Be specific about dietary likes and dislikes on the questionnaire that you'll receive from the broker. The information is relayed to the captain and the chef, who use it to create menus. "But even once the cruise has begun," says Henry, "if what you want isn't onboard, the crew will get it."
Yachts rent by the week. The rate includes hire and insurance of the yacht, crew wages and food, and the ship's laundry. It does not include food or beverages; your laundry and communications (fax, phone, Internet access); fuel and lubricating oil; national/local taxes; dockage fees; and crew gratuity. Sometimes you also have to pay for water and electricity. "Most large yachts have water-makers," says Karagulle, "but when they're docked they'll fill up. And they will often plug into shore power while in port, which you have to pay for." According to Henry, on average the expenses—excluding tax, gratuity for the crew, and communications—add up to 25 to 30 percent of the charter fee. So on a $25,000 per week charter fee, estimate $7,500 for expenses.
The Broker's Fee
This is paid by the yacht owner. "If a broker quotes you a flat rate for the charter and an additional broker's fee, run a mile in the other direction," says Karagulle.
When you sign the contract you pay 50 percent of the total charter fee, which is placed in escrow, or in an intermediary account. (In the MYBA contract, the "majority stakeholder," your charter broker, takes care of this.) One month before departure you pay the remaining 50 percent (which is also placed in escrow), all taxes, and a 30-percent expense advance, which is sent directly to the captain to buy provisions, along with the guest charter information questionnaire. On the first day of the charter the owner receives 50 percent of the money. At the end of the cruise, assuming guests have no complaints, the owner receives the balance. In case of complaints, arbitration is used, but brokers say it rarely gets to this point. "In my twenty years in the business, I've only gone to arbitration once," says Henry.
The owner usually pays for liability insurance that covers damage to the boat or injury to the crew. However, you should take out charter liability insurance in case you damage the boat or someone in your party gets hurt by accident. Brokers also advise taking out charter cancellation insurance, which is 1.5 percent of the total value of the charter, since the MYBA contract stipulates that the charterer is not entitled to a refund if he ends the voyage early.
Gratuities are at your discretion and are customarily given in cash to the captain at the conclusion of the voyage. Crestar Yachts recommends giving a minimum of 7.5 percent of the base weekly rate. But American crews, Karagulle says, tend to expect at least 10 percent—and they hope for as high as 15 percent. Elite Yacht Charters' Smitten recommends five to 15 percent, "but we focus on ten percent," she says. "The tip expected has to do with the size of the boat. On smaller yachts, which cost $15,000 to $20,000 per week to charter, crews might expect larger tips. But on yachts that cost $150,000 per week, the crew won't expect more than a ten percent tip, regardless of their nationality. They know that you're already spending so much it would be unreasonable to tip a lot."
We selected four yachts in four representative price ranges to show what you get for your money. (Sources: Fraser Yachts, Crestar Yachts, and Elite Yacht Charters.)
Weekly Rate (High Season): $33,250
Size (Length): 98 feet
Size Of Crew: 6
Speed (Cruising To Maximum): 11-12 knots
Average Fuel Consumption: 37 gallons/hour
Number Of Staterooms: 4 (one double bed, six twins)
Maximum Number Of Guests Allowed:8
Amenities: One bathtub; Laser sailing dinghy; kneeboard; 40-volume video library; Sega Saturn computer game system
Weekly Rate (High Season): $48,000
Size (Length): 101 feet
Size Of Crew: 6
Speed (Cruising To Maximum): 12-18 knots
Average Fuel Consumption: 55 gallons/hour
Number Of Staterooms: 4 (one king bed, six twins convertible to three queens, three pullman berths)
Maximum Number Of Guests Allowed: 8
Amenities: One bathtub; TV and VCR in one stateroom; scuba gear for four; kneeboard; outdoor Jacuzzi; Value Added Tax (VAT) exempt
Weekly Rate (High Season): $90,000
Size (Length): 172 feet
Size Of Crew: 9
Speed (Cruising To Maximum): 11.5-12 knots
Average Fuel Consumption: 75 gallons/hour
Number Of Staterooms: 6 (two king beds, one queen, six singles)
Maximum Number Of Guests Allowed: 12
Amenities: All six bathrooms have bathtubs (two with jets); outdoor Jacuzzi; TV, VCR, and stereo in every stateroom; barbecue; 150-volume video library; two Sunfish sailboats; treadmill; free weights; stationary bike
Weekly Rate (High Season): $196,000
Size (Length): 189 feet
Size Of Crew: 18-20
Speed (Cruising To Maximum): 10-14 knots
Average Fuel Consumption: 50 gallons/hour
Number Of Staterooms: 9 (three double beds, twelve twins, of which four twins are convertible to doubles)
Maximum Number Of Guests Allowed: 12-18
Amenities: All nine baths have bathtubs (one with jets); TV, VCR, and stereo in every stateroom; two 18-foot speedboats; Laser sailing dinghy; outdoor Jacuzzi; sauna; gym; hair salon with beautician; baby grand piano
Yacht Brokers Directory
Crestar Yachts Alev Karagulle, London, England, 800-222-9985 • Northrop And Johnson Yacht Charters Missy Johnston, Newport, Rhode Island, 800-868-5913 • Elite Yacht Charters Kelley Smitten, Beverly Hills, California, 310-552-7968 • Camper & Nicholsons International Nick Jeffery, London, England, 44-171-491-2950 • Fraser Yachts Jan Henry, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, 954-463-0640 • Nigel Burgess Henry Craven-Smith/Helen Gordon, London, England, 44-171-766-4300
There are no exclusive listings in the yacht-charter business, so the key issue is finding a broker with whom you're comfortable. Here is a checklist of questions to use in interviewing prospective brokers.
How long have you and your brokerage been in business? "When you're dealing with the Caribbean, a broker can be in business for three or four years and still provide a reasonable service," says Alev Karagulle, owner of Crestar Yachts, who's been in it for 17 years and who calculates that 50 percent of her clients are American (40 percent are European and the remaining 10 percent are from other countries). "But in the Mediterranean," she says, "where yachts are larger and chartering is more complex, you need at least ten years' experience—and that's not including yacht-stewardess training, which many brokers have as well."
The age of the brokerage doesn't necessarily determine an individual broker's experience, either. While a brokerage may have been around for 20 years, a particular broker may have been working for it only for two. "Especially in the United States," says Karagulle, "brokers work as independent contractors on commission only under a company's name. That means that even if a company's been around for twenty years, the broker may only have a couple of years' experience."
Have you personally inspected the yacht? Good brokers check out the yachts they represent, either while the boat is docked or at the international boat shows.
Do you know the crew? The personality of the crew—and particularly the captain—is paramount, as they will be your housemates for the duration of the cruise. According to Karagulle, you want a crew that matches your temperament and style of doing things. The broker should be able to supply detailed descriptions of crew members and their training.
Are you a member of the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association (MYBA) or the American Yacht Brokers Association (AYBA)? The best brokers are members of one or both organizations.
What are the drawbacks of the yachts you're offering me, particularly in light of my interests? If a broker can't answer this, chances are he doesn't know the yachts well.
Do you manage the yachts you're recommending to me? Some top brokers—including Camper & Nicholsons, Fraser Yachts, and Nigel Burgess—not only charter yachts but manage them for an extra commission from the owners. And, the argument often goes, by so doing they have more control over the yachts. But some brokers think it's a conflict of interest because owners may pressure brokers to charter their yachts above others. "We don't manage boats because we don't want our interests to be biased," says Kelley Smitten of Elite Yacht Charters. "We think it's unfair to the charterer. That doesn't mean we think all brokers who do it aren't good. A lot of the good ones do it. But we don't." Says Karagulle of Crestar Yachts, which manages "a handful of yachts": "A top broker won't recommend a yacht to a client if it's unsuitable to that client's needs, even if it's a yacht his firm manages. We never do that at Crestar because we think it's not correct. It comes down to a high level of professionalism and service on the part of the broker."