Leaves on the thick rows of trees lining the Penobscot River were just starting to blush, like rosy cheeks on a crisp morning, as Time for Us cruised south from Bangor last fall. Most of the other yachts that call New England their summertime home had followed the snowbirds to Ft. Lauderdale, so this 118-foot Trinity's only company along the glass-flat waterway were seals poking their heads up for a better look at her pretty lines.
"They like going up little rivers and breaking new ground, purser Kim Sandell said of the owners, who were just sitting down to lunch on the main deck.
This was definitely new ground, a nook in one of Maine's most spellbinding crannies. I kept one eye out the yacht's large windows and one eye on the grippy steps as I left the pilothouse to join the owners in the formal dining room. This was also new ground for them, and not just in the geographical sense. They had only owned the 1999 build for a few months, and it was their first yacht, bought after a single, monthlong charter along the ICW.
We spent much of lunch discussing their good fortune in having purchased such a well-built, beautifully crafted boat on their first try. But by the time we had finished our warm apple pie with fat dollops of vanilla ice cream, they were giving me the skinny on the best lesson they had discovered since they decided to get into the charter business.
"We learned that no matter how good the boat is, it's the crew that really make it work, the wife said.
"When you charter, your experience is defined largely by the crew, her husband added. "And these are the best.
As newcomers to the industry, the owners may not have met enough crew to know for certain that theirs stands out, but I have. I've known several members of this crew for a few years. This was my third charter with the captain and Sandell, his wife. The chef, whom I met for the first time in Maine, learned the art of charter from another captain I've known for years and consider a real pro. That Time for Us (formerly Chevy Toy) is one of the most recent motoryachts from one of America's finest yards is, of course, a big selling point, but to my mind, it's the people running her who make her stand out in the charter market.
"We've gone out with the good and the bad, Capt. Chris Young said. "Now, we've reassembled our team. I'd put our crew out there against anybody.
Young and Sandell previously ran the 122-foot Bon Bon ("Thirst for Life, September 2001). Before that, they ran the 110-foot Cookie Monster ("Come and Play, October 2000). Over the years, they've kept in touch with crew who went on to other jobs. The couple's hope was to find a boat where they could reassemble the team they liked most, with owners who would keep the boat in good condition and the crew happy.
The owners of Time for Us were a good bet, since they know the value of good staff and treat professionals as such.
"One of the requirements I had early was that the crew quarters be finished like the rest of the boat, the husband told me. "They are not second-class citizens.
The boat was a good bet, too. Her previous owner had a crew that was meticulous, a trait the new owners demand.
"I'm in the hotel business,'' the husband said. "One scratch may be okay, but if you get two, they're like rabbits. People expect perfection, and this boat will be perfect when they get on-and off, or they will pay the difference.
The best bet, though, is the one you know you can win, so the captain hired only crew members he knew were a sure thing. He called back chief stewardess Tanya Weremijenko and stewardess Rachel Hughes, both of whom had worked aboard Cookie Monster. Weremijenko was in the Med aboard the 167-foot charter motoryacht Big Eagle at the time; Hughes was acting as stew and nanny aboard the private 170-foot Oceanco Sunrise.
"They gained invaluable experience on other, larger vessels, Sandell said. "Now, we can offer so much more.
As first mate, Young hired a friend of Weremijenko's, Greg Paterson, who was as friendly during my time aboard as he was competent. We toured the Maine Maritime Museum (on the Kennebec River, another of the state's beautiful crannies), and he thrilled me not only with his knowledge of the sea, but with tales from his parents' 60-foot sailboat, which he had lived on starting at age 12.
With Paterson on board, Young was able to lure the first mate's friend, Vaughan Densham, a chef with an excellent reputation. Densham has the same laid-back personality as the rest of the crew, the kind of relaxed confidence that comes from working among friends who can be counted on to get the job done. He learned the importance of teamwork while aboard his first charter yacht, the 65-foot sailing catamaran Angel Glow ("Cat's Pause, September 2000). That boat's captain, Greg Urlwin, and the experience he offers guests are among my favorites in the business.
The proof is in the pudding, or in Densham's case, in the chocolate mousse. His version of the popular dessert was the first to leave me with the same feeling I get after taking an automated tour at Hershey Park's Chocolate World, where the scent of chocolate is pumped right into the ride. It saturates your mind and leaves you drooling for more.
As I contemplated licking my bowl, I noticed one of the owners eating a different flavor.
"You're missing out, I said, wondering whether the remaining dish of chocolate mousse might still be available.
"I prefer butterscotch, she replied, and dug into the mousse Densham had prepared specially for her.
Later, in the country kitchen-style galley (whose table is as big as the one in the dining room), I asked Densham whether he minded cooking separate meals for guests with separate tastes.
"The other night, I made four different dinners, he said. "One didn't eat meat. One didn't eat this, one didn't eat that. It was no big deal. "He doesn't stress about anything, Hughes said, giving him a hug. "He's the best chef I've ever worked with.
Combining that kind of talent aboard such a comfortably elegant yacht in ports other boats tend to pass by creates a charter package that's tough to beat.
"When, 10 islands away, the same T-shirts just have a different island's name on them, people start to get bored, Sandell said. "The charter clients we've gotten in touch with are excited that this boat is going to be in some new and interesting places, because they can see them but still be with us.
Also worth noting are the boat's new medical equipment (including a portable defibrillator) and toys. A treadmill is up top, next to the jacuzzi, and "environmentally friendly Yamaha Jet Skis are at the ready. The toys don't leave much room for sun worshiping, but the flying bridge is well designed for socializing.
I used it for just that as Time for Us pulled into the charming, brick-sidewalk city of Portland at the end of my stay, which was courtesy of the boat's owners. I chatted with them and their crew, all of us in windbreakers, our bellies warm and full, our faces turned toward the early October sun.
"Our goal is repeat clientele, the captain said. "We don't want one-hits. We want guys coming back year after year after year.
I asked, hopefully, when there might be another time for me.
Contact: Northrop and Johnson Worldwide Yacht Charters, (800) 868-5913, (401) 848-5540; email@example.com; www.northropandjohnson.com, or any charter broker. Time for Us charters for $55,000 per week, plus expenses, for eight guests; $60,000 per week, plus expenses, during Christmas and New Year's; and $75,000 per week, plus expenses, in the Mediterranean.