Heesen Charter Yacht Aurelia

True Colors: The 122-foot Heesen Aurelia is proving that bold is a beautiful concept for luxury yacht charter.

Heesen charter yacht Aurelia
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

Capt. Guy Booth is in a marina on the Turkish coast, where vacationers are scampering down the dock toward the 30 or so day boats lined up and idling like city tour buses just after sunrise. He watches from the aft deck of the 122-foot Heesen Aurelia as the crowd races past the other motoryachts, noticing the standard white hulls about as much as the puffy white clouds in the sky. He grins as they inevitably stop short, one after the next, occasionally bumping into one another as they point and whisper in his direction. They take out their cellphones and cameras to snap a photo before carrying on, trying to figure out what they've just seen.

"Then, in the afternoon, they come back in to take more photos of this boat," Booth says, intrigued, as always, by how few people ask him about the bright blue and orange hull paint. "Everybody asks, 'Why the number 10?' And they ask who Aurelia is. They think it's a girl's name."

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

Aurelia is a yacht that stops industry insiders in their tracks too, because her exterior bears far more resemblance to a go-fast Cigarette than to a typical megayacht. She unapologetically stands in brazen defiance of the charter industry mantra "neutral, neutral, neutral," making her the type of yacht whose brochure a lot of brokers might toss aside as too tough to sell. Aurelia is bold, she is racy and, well, she's just not for everybody. Her looks are the opposite of what brokers typically encourage if you want to cast a wide net for potential charter clients.

Maybe, though, the time has come for the industry to start thinking more like Aurelia's owner. A funny thing happened during the yacht's first season of charter in 2012: She booked 11 weeks, according to management company Ocean Independence. That's more than double what most charter yachts book in an entire year, and Aurelia did it in five months. As of this writing, the yacht was on track to do the same or better for summer 2013, crisscrossing the Med with bookings from the south of France to Greece.

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

“We’ve had charter clients who are Russians, Arabs, Germans, Belgians, English, and now we’re starting to get Asians and Americans,” Booth says. “Every charter guest who gets on loves the ‘look at me’ factor. … It does make you stop and look.”

When Booth and his crew step off the boat to answer onlookers' questions, they explain that Aurelia takes her name from Lancia Aurelia, which, long before the popular Porsche 911, was the first GT (grand tourer, or gran turismo) car in the world. Gulf Racing, which today has cars competing everywhere from Le Mans to Dubai, sponsored that first GT with its trademark blue and orange colors. The rest of Aurelia's paint job — that standout number 10 — comes from the yacht being Hull No. 10 in Heesen's 37-meter series. She launched on the 10th day of October, which of course is the 10th month of the year. The owner was forced to choose a number to fulfill the race-car-inspired styling, and 10 just felt right.

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

Mark Cavendish, sales director at Heesen Yachts, says about half the builds coming out of the Dutch shipyard these days have colored hulls. Most, though, are tints of light or dark gray, an order of magnitude different from what Aurelia's owner conceived.

Cavendish says he would like to see more owners making similar choices, including on megayachts bound for the charter market.

“I really, really, really don’t subscribe to the theory of neutral boats at all,” Cavendish says. “If you look at hotels, five-star hotels do not make themselves neutral. Most will define themselves with a particular style. In London, where I live, you have some modern, contemporary hotels as well as the old, grand, traditional hotels. People like that. I would highly promote anyone who is bold enough to go out and do something that isn’t boring.”

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

That's exactly what the charter marketing team at Ocean Independence is doing with Aurelia: educating potential charter clients about the story behind her looks instead of trying to downplay them (as if they could). The company entered Aurelia into Europe's largest charter show almost immediately after her launch, also using that opportunity to display the yacht's Bannenberg & Rowell interior, which — while also race-car-inspired — is far less flashy than the exterior paint.

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

In fact, if you didn’t know to look for them, you might not notice the racing-inspired elements in the decor. The carpeting looks contemporary with repeating geometric shapes. You have to think about the patterns to realize you are seeing designs inspired by tire treads. The carbon fiber detailing on one salon wall looks artistic. You have to stare at it before you realize it is reminiscent of a dashboard. Even the door handles are a surprise as you enter the staterooms. It takes a minute, and then you see that they resemble gearshifts.

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

“Once people understand that, and they are walking around the interior, and they see the links to that concept, you can see the penny drop,” Booth says. “You can see people say, ‘Aah, now I get it.’”

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

What charter clients also get — and what should continue to bring charter demand — is a 122-foot yacht that rivals many 150- and even 175-footers in terms of onboard experience. There are four cabins on board instead of five, each feeling large for a yacht of Aurelia's size. Aurelia is the first Heesen ever fitted with a Seakeeper gyrostabilizer system, which Booth says has kept her stable enough at anchor for the owner to sip coffee while standing on the aft deck in a 6- to 10-foot swell. Aurelia's crew has decades of combined experience aboard charter yachts in the 165- to 230-foot range, and they bring that level of service to this yacht's far more economical package. (That includes award-worthy meals by chef Shane Burke, who took first prize in the chefs' competition at the 2010 Antibes Yacht Show.)

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

Aurelia's owner liked the yacht's original 17-foot Castoldi jet tender, but he recently replaced it with a custom Pascoe 30-foot sport boat — painted to match the mothership — that does close to 50 knots. The Seabobs and the brand-new Sea-Doo were also given paint jobs that match Aurelia's. The latter is "the fastest, most powerful ... on the market," Booth says. "The boss said, 'I want it sexy and shiny and fast and custom.'"

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

Other recent additions to Aurelia's program include an inflatable water slide, a full-on teak beach club off the swim platform where the lazarette used to be (with a custom stainless-steel and glass foosball table on order) and a communications system that supports Ka-band VSAT. "It is much, much faster than all the boats that have Ku-band VSAT," Booth says. "It's the next generation. ... The satellites are going up into the sky in the next couple of months, so when the changeover happens, we'll already be in position to throw a switch and be online."

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

And there are more upgrades on the way, Booth says, not only because of the owner's desire to be state of the art, but also because of Aurelia's looks. A dozen equipment suppliers have called to ask if they can use Aurelia's exterior photos in their marketing, specifically because the yacht makes people stop and look. Some of the offers have included everything from extended warranties to upgrades in exchange for the pictures.

Heesen Yachts
Heesen charter yacht Aurelia.Courtesy Heesen Yachts

“It’s because you can see this boat on the horizon and know exactly what it is,” Booth says.

Aurelia is available for charter during summers throughout Europe (including at the Monaco Grand Prix) at a lowest weekly base rate of approximately $140,000 for eight guests.

Ocean Independence, +33 4 92 91 26 26; oceanindependence.com