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Fine art takes to the high seas

A 228-foot megayacht will serve as a floating art and antique gallery, hosting clients in various ports of call

A 228-foot megayacht will serve as a floating art and antique gallery, hosting clients in various ports of call

David and Lee Ann Lester’s next yacht will be a 228-foot fine art and antique gallery, a megayacht that the Robb Report has included on its list of the top 20 new luxuries for 2006.

The Lesters, who have operated art and antique “fairs” in cities around the country, decided to take that business nautical after spending 18 months cruising the East Coast aboard their personal 94-foot luxury yacht, Fortunata. David Lester says that when they stopped in ports during their cruise, they met many of their wealthy customers, inspiring the thought of a floating art and antique fair.

The $20 million yacht, under construction at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland, Wash., will be named Grand Luxe and will house their business, Seafair. Grand Luxe will host up to 26 galleries on its three decks, and will include a Cordon Bleu restaurant and an open-air restaurant. By January, he had recruited 80 dealers and secured about 65 percent occupancy for the yacht’s first cruise along the East Coast.

While there are some doubters in the world of dealers, Lester says his concept is just what is needed in the post-Sept. 11 era, when gallery traffic has fallen 30 to 40 percent. “Traffic is down in almost all galleries in the United States,” he says. “People are waiting in the galleries, and nobody’s coming.”

Showmanship is a large element in Seafair’s approach, Lester says. He says the last business he and his wife owned had a “Barnum and Bailey type of atmosphere,” with art dealers crammed into huge temporary tents. “This requires colorful, aggressive marketing,” says Lester, who doubts that the wealthy clients his dealers will court are too sophisticated for that approach. “You have a giant, five-story beautiful superyacht that comes to your town. You can only come by invitation, with a Cordon Bleu restaurant. Who wouldn’t come? That’s what the very wealthy want. They want exclusivity and the best in the world, and that’s what we offer them.”

Seafair has scheduled its first tour to begin in Miami Beach in December. After spending the winter months in various Florida ports, the yacht is scheduled to spend April 2007 in Georgia and the Carolinas, May on Chesapeake Bay, June on Long Island Sound, and July and August in Newport, R.I., and the Cape Cod islands off Massachusetts. Grand Luxe would finish the summer in Boston in early September beforereturning south.

Grand Luxe is the first of two mega-yachts the Lesters say they expect Seafair to operate. The second would tour the GulfCoast, and the Mississippi and Ohio rivers as far north as Pittsburgh. A second route would take dealers along Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway to the Great Lakes.

For more information contact Seafair, BonitaSprings, Fla. Phone: (239) 949-5411.