South Pacifc Coastline
Safety Briefings, Capt. Bruno Herregods knew, didn’t usually go this way before the tender ride ashore. He had anchored the yacht off Vanuatu, an archipelago surrounded by miles of Pacific Ocean between Australia and Fiji. The guests had gathered around for what, in other charter destinations, would have been a quick talk about whether the tender was going to land at a beach or a dock — the most pressing result being whether or not to bring sandals.
This time, the instructions needed to be, well, different.
“We warned them that the guy running around with a banana leaf wrapped around his penis is perfectly normal,” he says.
Vanuatu is in a part of the Pacific Ocean where most charter yachts don’t travel — but where Herregods will return with the 193-foot expedition yacht Seawolf for most of 2017. And he can’t wait.
“It’s what you imagine the Pacific used to be like,” he says. “We absolutely adore Tahiti and the islands there, which are simple and a dream to cruise through, but once you head a little west and get into Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu, it’s as basic as it gets.”
It is also where Herregods feels at home. Born and raised in South Africa, he grew up with parents who took him cruising — far out in the Indian Ocean to Madagascar, the Seychelles and the Maldives. He has already done two tours of the South Pacific, on a private yacht from 2008 through 2012. He started at Costa Rica, went through the Galapagos Islands and spent time in the Society Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, the Solomons and Vanuatu before going on to Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.
One of the reasons he was excited to take command of Seawolf is the owners’ plans to complete a four-year circumnavigation. Herregods wants another chance to see his favorite destinations and, he hopes, to find a few new favorites too.
Seawolf is built for that challenge. Originally launched in 1957 and later converted to a luxury yacht, she is a rare steel-hull, steel-superstructure charter option with true go-anywhere capabilities. She has a fuel capacity of more than 58,000 gallons, giving her a range of 18,000 nautical miles. She also has enough freezer space on board to stow two to three months’ worth of provisions.
All of which makes the crew’s life easier when Herregods sets course for some of the most remote islands on Earth. He is most excited to show charter clients the out islands that he adores, using Seawolf’s capabilities to stay in those archipelagos far longer than most other charter yachts that even try to venture there at all.
“These owners, they’ve done Tahiti before, and they’ve done Fiji, but they haven’t done New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Solomons,” he says. “The boats that do come through, they tend to rush so quickly through the area that it’s hard to catch them at the opportune times. To get a good boat there is very difficult.”
Seawolf is, by all accounts, a “good boat.” Herregods had her on display at the recent Antigua Charter Yacht Show, so brokers could verify that her systems, decor and all else were in Bristol condition. An added bonus: Seawolf’s chef took second prize in the superyacht division of the show’s culinary contest, where competition is always stiff.
A feather like that makes it all the more true when Herregods says Seawolf will offer South Pacific charters that combine international-caliber service with the away-from-it-all wonder of a place where people cover up with banana leaves.
“If you want to go charter and be seen and drink cocktails, that’s great, but we prefer giving people the off-the-beaten-path experience,” he says. “You get to do it on a seven-star floating luxury hotel.”
New Caledonia, he says, is an island where the locals are still excited to see yachts arriving. “These guys probably see four or five big yachts a year coming through,” he says, “so you can still find some tucked-away anchorages where you’re alone. There is great swimming, great snorkeling.”
In the Solomon Islands, Herregods says, he warns charter clients to be prepared for the locals to smile. It sounds funny to clients at first, but after they land on the beach, it keeps their first impressions of villagers realistic.
“Very friendly people, but it’s intimidating when you first meet them. A lot of people might feel awkward without the crew,” he says. “The people chew betel nut, and it stains their gums. It’s a drug. So they’re a little bit cloudy-eyed, and they stare at you like you’re on another planet. And when they smile, they have very few teeth. But they’re as harmless as can be, very nice people.”
Vanuatu is the island that Herregods talks about with the most romance in his voice, the place where he has had once-in-a-lifetime experiences pile up three and four to a day.
“We love the water, we love cruising around, but the real beauty is the cultural side on land,” he says. “If you go up to Ambrym island, north of Efate, you’ll find no hotels to speak of. The beaches are volcanic, so you don’t necessarily get the white sand and turquoise water look, but you go ashore, introduce yourself and do a gift exchange with the chief of the village. We present some rice, or we support YachtAid Global with supplies — maybe schoolbooks, pencils, soccer balls, flip-flops — it’s amazing how priceless flip-flops are in that part of the world. We bring bags and bags of them. And from there, we set up going ashore to the villages. They do cultural dances for us.”
You also get a chance to imbibe at a hut, or on a beach, or on a blanket spread across the dirt that passes for the local bar.
“We get judged in our own society in what we own and how we present ourselves. These guys don’t have much, but they live very well. They eat very well. They have a great way of life. And they’re content. Don’t worry about the fact that the guy doesn’t have a shirt. He doesn’t want one.” – Capt. Bruno Herregods, Seawolf
“Some of the world’s strongest kava is out there, so you have to have a bowl of kava, which sends you wobbling for a couple of hours,” he says. “Up in the villages and mountain areas — you can spend your whole time on the water cruising, snorkeling and diving, but if you want to see what real South Pacific life is about, it doesn’t get much more real than this.”
Of course, Seawolf will also offer charters in more popular South Pacific locales, like Tahiti and Bora Bora. Herregods can extend them to the nearby Tuamotus archipelago for clients interested in serious fishing and scuba diving. For some people, he says, an itinerary with a bit more attachment to modern society is ideal. Some charter clients love the water and beaches, but others also want to go shopping ashore now and again, or play a round of golf, or a have a massage at a shoreside spa.
He’s just not one of those people, and he’s hoping to find charter clients who share his sense of adventure.
“Most people are aware of Tahiti and Bora Bora, but for those who are really looking for a true cultural, off-the-beaten-path experience, I would visit Vanuatu, the Solomons and that part of the world,” he says. “It’s a true paradise.”
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