Dock Master

Andrew Farkas wants to create "the ultimate luxury experience" in megayacht marinas.

Andrew Farkas knows a thing or two about megayachts; he's had a couple of them (a 106-foot Palmer Johnson and a 125-foot Palmer Johnson) and he's thinking about building a larger one. Also, as a self-described "chartering fool," he's spent a lot of time on a dozen others in the past decade or so. One thing he knows for sure is that there are many more megayachts in the world today-and many more coming down the pipeline-than there are places to keep them. "What most yachtsmen will tell you," Farkas says, "is that one of the greatest frustrations of ownership, other than the fact that there's always something broken, is that you can never find a place to dock it."

Since Farkas is also a real estate whiz, having turned a $5 million investment in 1990 into one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the world, he has plans to solve that problem. Indeed, his new company, Island Capital Group (Andrew Cuomo, the former secretary of HUD, is a partner), has nine marinas in the Caribbean and the Middle East right now and is negotiating for ten more. He just opened the $160 million first phase of his enormous Yacht Haven Grande marina in St. Thomas, with room for 50 megayachts, and he's starting to build 40,000 slips in Dubai (see Yachting, September 2005). And these are not just regular slips. Farkas wants to create marinas as upscale self-contained lifestyle destinations.

"It used to be about docking, about storage," he says, pacing around his conference table on the 18th floor of his offices at Fifth Avenue and 56th street in midtown Manhattan (where a life-size wooden statue of a pirate, complete with peg leg and sword, greets you near the elevators in the outer lobby). "Now it's about hospitality and entertainment. The marina should be run like a five-star hotel. We want to create the ultimate luxury experience for the yacht owner."

Indeed, Yacht Haven Grande, in a totally renovated section of Charlotte Amalie harbor near the cruise ship docks, will have 32 acres of dock space when it's finished, plus 13 acres of upscale retail shopping (Louis Vuitton has already signed on), four high-end waterfront restaurants, 12 $2-million condos, a conference center, as well as everything a crew needs to care for and provision a megayacht-fine food and wine shops, florists ("You have no idea how many flowers a megayacht needs," Farkas says), chandleries, pump-out, refueling and oil-change facilities at each dock, plus carpentry, electronic and engine-repair capabilities. As an owner and as a charterer, Farkas knows that keeping the crew happy is crucial. "A good crew can make or break the entire experience," he says.

Farkas, 45, has loved boats all his life. He was raised in New York City and went to Trinity School, but when he was young his family had a place in St. Andrew Bay in Jamaica, where he messed around in Sunfish, Hobie Cats, Dyers, whatever would float. It was a happy time. "We had our own navy and all the kids would try to drown each other," he says. When he was 11, however, his mother died, and when he was 13 he broke his neck trying to do a somersault in gymnastics and was bed-ridden for a while. As a result, he says, "I was a terrible nerd. When my friends started getting interested in girls, I didn't see the attraction. They were reading Playboy; I was reading Yachting." He then spent a lot of time on his father's 45-foot Fiji ketch, Robin Hood, in Mamaroneck, sailing on Long Island Sound.

When he was 16, long before there was such a thing as a PC, Farkas got interested in computers and started a database management company with some friends. He sold it for a small profit when he entered Harvard (Farkas was probably the only member of his freshman class who had already started and sold a software company). He left with a BA in economics and got a job with a real estate services company, but soon realized he'd be a lot happier working for himself. Borrowing $5 million from some friends, he started Insignia Financial Group. It grew to become one of the world's largest commercial real estate services companies when Farkas merged with CB Richard Ellis three years ago. He struck out on his own again with Island Capital.

Along the way, Farkas renewed his love for yachting. "I was just fascinated with boats, particularly larger sailboats, where art meets nature meets technology. They all sort of intersect." He took his first megayacht cruise in 1992, chartering out of St. Martin, "and I had pretty much the greatest time in my entire life." He chartered Perini Navis, Feadships, Royal Huismans. Then, working with Bill Sanderson at Camper & Nicholsons office in Palm Beach ("I consider him to be among the top brokers in the world," Farkas says), he bought a 106-foot Ron Holland-designed Palmer Johnson sloop named Shanakee; he renamed her Nipara and sailed her all over the Caribbean and along the East Coast.

Then in 2000, he says, "Bill called again and said 'I have your new boat, but there's one catch. You have to get on a plane right now and fly to New Zealand, because that's where the boat is.'" Farkas flew down that night and bought the boat, Nelson Doubleday's 125-foot Palmer Johnson pilothouse schooner Mandalay. He then spent "a couple of million dollars" in a major redesign and refit at the McMullen & Wing yard in Auckland, and had the boat shipped to Ft. Lauderdale. He renamed her Kaori, after his favorite Japanese sake, and sailed her that summer in the Nantucket Bucket races. He says that "Doubleday actually saw her there on the dock and said to the captain, 'This is a fabulous boat. What is it?' He didn't recognize it! It looked nothing like the boat when he had it." Farkas then sailed Kaori on both sides of the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Med. "One of the things I loved doing is going into about every imaginable port of call," he says.

But Farkas quickly saw the business opportunity in the lack of megayacht dock space. "Ten years ago a 50- or 60-foot boat was big. Now the boats coming out of the yards are 170 or 300 feet long and there aren't enough places to put them." Indeed, there are more than 6,000 megayachts (80 feet and up) in the world and another 650 are under construction. "There's a pent up demand for megayacht facilities," he says. "There's a shortage of parking spots. Good parking spots. The owners are demanding." And they need places to keep their yachts in various parts of the world. "In the megayacht world," he says, "there's a very complicated choreography. They have migratory patterns. They go from place to place with the seasons."

Farkas says the luxury development at Yacht Haven in St. Thomas is the prototype for his future marinas. "Every single thing you want for a megayacht venue is there. It's a yachting paradise."

Farkas sold Kaori a few months ago, and Sanderson is talking to him about building a 170- or 200-footer. "I loved owning my boat," Farkas says. "We'll see." One thing's for sure: When he gets his next megayacht, Andrew Farkas won't have any trouble finding a place to keep it.