Standing at the helm while cruising in a new locale definitely has its moments. You get to look out toward the horizon and enjoy a sense of solitude that simply can’t be found on land. Now, imagine that experience without having to keep an eye on the chartplotter or figure out why the engine just started making a strange noise. That’s the beauty of a crewed yacht charter. You get all the fun parts of boating without the headaches. There’s a captain at the helm, so you can actually look at the scenery instead of catching a glimpse as you cruise past it. And because there’s a chef cooking meals, a deckhand offloading water toys and crew taking care of everything else, your only job becomes stretching out and relaxing. Quite a few options exist for those who want to try a crewed charter. Granted, the expense is a splurge, but know that some boats can be chartered in the same per-person price range as high-end cruise ship or a house rental in Nantucket. And yes, the captain will often let you take the wheel, if you just can’t help yourself. Here are crewed yachts leading brokers recommend in beautiful locales.
Dubrovnik Aboard Libra
Charter bookings in Croatia skyrocketed this past summer when Game of Thrones fans realized the HBO blockbuster was ending. The series has long filmed in Croatia, and specifically along the part of the coast from Split to Dubrovnik where charter yachts cruise. Walking through some of the towns with ancient stone walls and buildings can feel like strolling along a mystical Hollywood set.
“This is a comfortable cruising area with semi-protected waters and many islands, anchorages and ports to visit,” says Missy Johnston, who owns Northrop-Johnson Yacht Charters in Newport, Rhode Island. “A charter can be done in either direction between Split and Dubrovnik. And there are two UNESCO World Heritage sites in this cruising area, which are Diocletian’s Palace in Split, and Old Town in Dubrovnik. In addition, there are medieval walled towns, beautiful scenery, boutique wineries, farm-to-table peka bell cuisine and klapa singing.”
Motorsailers called gulets are regularly offered for charter here. They originally were built for carrying cargo, so they have wide decks and surprising stability for hulls with sails. On board, they feel more like catamarans than monohull powerboats. Gulets tend to rock and roll a lot less than performance sailboats. One of Johnston’s favorite gulets in Croatia is the 113-foot Libra. English is spoken on board, she says, and the staterooms are roomy with ensuite heads.
“The captain and mate are brothers and own the gulet. They do an excellent job,” she says. “There are two other crew. Each winter, like all Croatian gulets, the family works on board on maintenance, including varnish and new projects to keep the boat updated.”
Given the crew’s local knowledge, Johnston says, charter itineraries can include popular waypoints such as the Old Town in Dubrovnik, the island of Mljet, the Old Town in Korcula, Hvar, Brac, the Old Town in Trogir and Split. At each of these locations guests have the chance to swim, relax and use the boat’s water toys in beautiful waters. You can also hire guides to tour historic locations, hike and bike. There’s night life, too. njcharters.com
LOA: 113’ / Staterooms: 6 / Guests: 12 / Lowest weekly base rate: $18,500
Amalfi Coast Aboard Ombre Blu3
LOA: 67’2” / Staterooms: 4 / Guests: 8 / Lowest weekly base rate: $36,900
Italy’s Amalfi Coast along the southern edge of the country is one of the most picturesque charter locales in the Mediterranean. Destinations such as Positano and Ravello are postcard-perfect stops with classic waterfront ports, dramatic cliffs and olive and lemon groves galore. For more than a decade, the crew now running the Sunreef 70 Ombre Blu³ (a 2010 build) have cruised these waters, working out charter itineraries that highlight the best food and wine the region has to offer. “You will taste the best of the local food and wine,” says Tanja Seubold, a charter broker with Ocean Independence. You can visit the local fruit and fish markets with the crew, tour a small, family run vineyard in Ischia and enjoy some of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy.
“The advantage of doing this trip on this boat is that you will never end up in a tourist trap, dine in the wrong place or go ashore at the wrong time of day,” Seubold adds. “The crew, who have been showing guests this area for eleven years, know all the secrets.”
Some mouthwatering options include tasting what the crew says is Italy’s “oldest and finest” Prosecco. Or try the pasta alla norma—a dish that Sicilians made famous, with tomatoes and eggplant—and involtini di pesce spade, the local delicacy of stuffed swordfish rolls. And of course, it’s key to try the cannolo pastry (what we Americans think of as cannoli), made with fresh ricotta and topped with pistachios.
Working off the calories should come easy. Ombre Blu³ offers snorkeling, scuba diving as a PADI Dive Center, kayaking and paddleboarding. And one of the crew members is a trained massage therapist who offers massages on board. “There is not one secret beach or cove that they do not know,” Seubold says, “and they are more than happy to share their local knowledge and expertise with their guests.” oceanindependence.com
Great Barrier Reef Aboard Monsoon
LOA: 54’ / Staterooms: 3 / Guests: 6 / Lowest weekly base rate: $17,500
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is a bucket-list destination for snorkelers, scuba divers and fishing enthusiasts alike. It is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, with more than 1,500 species of fish as well as whales, sea turtles, sharks, stingrays and more. An afternoon of exploration here is like being inside a never-ending aquarium. (Well, almost never-ending, with the region spanning more than 130,000 square miles.)
For yacht charters, the base of operations heading out to the reef is Port Douglas, which is north of the airport at Cairns, in far northeastern Queensland. A car takes guests for the hour-long drive along the waterside Captain Cook Highway, which in and of itself offers some spectacular views of the piercing blue Coral Sea. At Port Douglas, day boats and charter yachts are tied up to the pilings, ready to take guests out to the Great Barrier Reef.
Monsoon is one of those boats, with a cruising speed of 15 knots that makes her well suited to day trips as well as charters of a few days out on the reef. She is a 2009 launch built in aluminum specifically for reef exploration. Snorkeling equipment is provided, and scuba diving gear can be arranged. For fishing enthusiasts, the yacht comes with bait, rods and reels, and the crew can schedule itineraries for light-tackle or serious sportfishing.
“This is by far the most popular yacht for private group day trips to the outer reef,” says Cameron Bray, managing director in Australia for Northrop & Johnson. “There’s a private chef experience, and private snorkeling excursions away from the tourist boats that carry hundreds of people aboard crowded pontoons.”
That kind of local knowledge is key not only to avoiding the masses, but also to finding the best coral reefs and underwater life. Monsoon’s crew is always on the lookout for beautiful snorkeling spots that are still thriving and healthy. northropandjohnson.com
The Tuamotus Aboard Askari
LOA: 107’ / Staterooms: 5 / Guests: 10 / Lowest weekly base rate: $85,000
The most famous of French Polynesia’s archipelagos are the Society Islands, which include Tahiti and Bora Bora. About 250 miles from Tahiti is a lesser-known archipelago called the Tuamotu Islands, which are more natural and bursting with fishing and diving experiences. The area is also home to a motoryacht whose crew have been gathering local knowledge across the South Pacific for years.
Askari is a 107-foot Sermons that, because of her exterior profile, is one of the best-kept secrets in the region. People looking for a crewed charter yacht tend to choose more modern builds than this 1971 motor launch, but as Fraser Charter Broker Diane Fraser says, “Don’t let the yacht’s exterior profile deter you.” A new interior and mechanical upgrades were done in 2011 and the upper deck was refitted in 2014. Perhaps even more important for a crewed yacht vacation, Fraser says, is that Askari’s team won an award for Best Crew Under 40 Meters at the 2016 Monaco Yacht Show.
“I consider them to be beyond excellent,” Fraser says. “They know the Society Islands and the Tuamotus like no other crew because they base year-round in Mo’orea. I will put this crew up against any other in the West Med.”
That’s a high bar to reach in an area with so little civilization, the kind of place that feels like it only recently has been discovered. The low-lying islets are sunken volcanoes with sandy beaches where bonfires and barbecues are allowed, and the two main atolls—Rangiroa and Fakarava—have lagoons that are calm and ideal for using Askari’s paddleboards, kayaks, snorkeling gear and other water toys.(There’s even a Laser on board for those who like to sail.) Compared to the Society Islands, Fraser says, “the Tuamotus offer vastly more living, healthy coral and vastly more fish, especially pelagics.”
Getting there from the East Coast requires a flight to Los Angeles, and then an eight-hour nonstop flight to Tahiti. “It’s truly the edge of the South Pacific,”
Fraser says. “It’s remote and, in the same breath, is easy to get there when you fly. It’s not so easy to get to by boat, or everyone would do it.” fraseryachts.com
The Exumas Aboard Giovannino
LOA: 52’ / Staterooms: 3 / Guests: 6 / Lowest weekly base rate: $19,500 (inclusive of meals, ship’s bar and most expenses)
Massachusetts native Ted Hood knew a thing or two about boats. He skippered Courageous to an America’s Cup win in 1974, opened Little Harbor Yachts to sell hulls from 38 to 78 feet, and spent his life watching other boatbuilders produce more than 1,500 of his designs. In 2003, a decade before he died, he took delivery of a 52-foot power catamaran. He wanted more stability and creature comforts as his body aged.
“It’s a typical sportsman’s boat,” says Kathleen Mullen, who owns Regency Yacht Charters and offers Hood’s boat, now called Giovannino, for charter in the Bahamas. “It has easy water access. One of the things about catamarans is that you can get up and down and in and out of the water if you’re heavier or older. It makes it a lot of fun.”
Giovannino’s interior looks nothing like modern fiberglass catamarans. It’s filled with cherry woodwork as well as teak-and-holly soles, in keeping with Hood’s sensibilities about New England styling. Design-wise, the raised saloon has 360-degree views, possibly thanks to the days that Hood spent hunkered down in dark cabins during heavy-weather passages. And there is indoor as well as on-deck dining, so charter clients can be comfortable on warm and cool nights in the Bahamas.
Giovannino bases in Nassau and cruises along the Exumas archipelago, a favorite locale for crystal-blue waters and white, sandy beaches. “Chartering in the Exumas can provide first-time charter guests with the perfect combination of town life and offshore exploring of reefs and beaches,” Mullen says. “Although Nassau is the most familiar with large resorts, numerous marinas and a full range of shopping options, there are several smaller cays with small airstrips for the short hop from Florida. So the itinerary can be very flexible and designed around your preferences.”
And there’s the chance to experience it all while spending time aboard a boat that Hood designed for himself. Every detail, every feature can be fodder for the charterer’s own dream retirement boat. “If you’re looking at liveaboards,” Mullen says, “catamarans are something a lot of people are choosing.” regencyvacations.com
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue.