Polish, Privacy, and 'Pirates'

On charter with the 124-foot motoryacht Destiny's seasoned crew

Agold-framed print in one of Destiny's staterooms echoes Monet's famous Japanese-style footbridge arching over a waterlily pond at Giverny. The modern artist appears to have dipped the original olive-green and blue-gray hues in water, let the wind sweep the brushstrokes dry and allowed the sun to sear some of the color into bubbly patches of white. The print is an instantly recognizable classic tinged with whimsy, much like this 124-foot motoryacht and her seven-member crew.

Destiny is well established in the charter business, with a reputation that helps attract and keep seasoned crew. Her captain, Steve Ernest, has more than 20 years in the business. First mate Jay Gochenour has worked aboard with him since 1994. Chief stewardess Jill Packer has experience on seven other yachts. Ernest knows their professionalism is invaluable in an industry that's seen an influx of larger yachts during the past few years, and Destiny's name puts him in a position to seek out newer hires, such as stewardess Rebecca Stoffer, who understand the yacht's character from the start.

"You have to be on the ball 24-7 to make sure people have a good time. This crew is prepared for that," said Stoffer, an enthusiastic young brunette who joined the crew in June after spending four years on other yachts. "Some boats dabble in charter, and they have the best intentions, but you rarely get the same service as a dedicated crew."

This team provides first-class dining, meticulous detailing and a steady composure that helps guests feel at ease with a veteran captain in command.

"It starts from the top down," said Gochenour, a Toledo native with narrow brown eyes who once considered becoming a police officer. "The wind can be blowing 30 knots with the current against you, and Steve's as calm as can be. Guests pick up on that."

So do crew members, and it's a big part of why they stay.

"You can always tell when you dock for the first time with a new captain how it's going to be," said deckhand David Poore, who joined Destiny, his third boat, this spring. "I didn't hear a peep out of him."

Ernest is a part owner of Destiny, which speaks to his passion for running her right. The robust, soft-spoken Detroit native has a gentle round face and certain hazel eyes that hint at his intelligent mind and adventurous spirit. He loved boats and planes as a child and spent time drag racing cars and running offshore raceboats. When it came time to choose a career, he figured with a plane, you get someplace and you're stuck. With a boat, he said, "you get there and the fun's just starting." He cut his teeth moving boats from the Great Lakes to Florida, across Lake Erie and down the Hudson River. After becoming a helicopter pilot, he began surveying cruising areas from the air to get a better feel for the charts. Today, he knows the waters from Nova Scotia to the Great Lakes to Venezuela. The friends he has cultivated along the way are particularly useful during charter in the Bahamas and Caribbean, where Destiny winters, and around New England, where she summers.

"In Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, I can get last-minute access at the docks," he said. "People appreciate that."

They also appreciate his straightforward ways.

"My secret is doughnuts," the captain said with a keen grin. "You can accomplish anything with a box of doughnuts."

The same could be said for fast food. Destiny's crew includes Gavin McMichael, a talented chef from Fort Worth, Texas, who piles Tex-Mex and Asian specialties high on the plate, but the yacht attracts much repeat business from Fortune 500 CEOs-men who spend months doing business over rich lunches and dinners. While on board with their families, they request franks and beans as often as beef stroganoff. Gochenour recalls one guest who had been out of the United States for so long, he was aching for a Big Mac. The crew knew where to find a McDonald's on Martinique and served the man his wish for dinner, still in warm-from-the-microwave paper, on a silver platter. "He just about lost it," Gochenour said with a smile.

Such extra effort is normal aboard this yacht, particularly because the captain welcomes charter with children. The boat's layout is excellent for families, with the master stateroom forward on the main deck and the rest of the accommodations belowdecks aft. The master has a king island berth and his and her baths separated by an en suite jacuzzi for two. The four staterooms belowdecks-two with queen island berths, two with twins and a Pullman apiece-all have en suite heads and identical entertainment centers and closets, leaving no room for children to whine about brother or sister getting a better room. The décor throughout the yacht is contemporary and neutral, with nice accent pieces you won't fret about kids handling and a pair of L-shape leather couches you won't hesitate to rest your feet on.

Many families enjoy the yacht's "theme nights," which the crew puts together for charters interested in that type of activity. Some favorites are the Lobster Boil, with platters of fresh shellfish and corn on the cob, plastic lobster bibs and "how to eat a lobster" paper place mats; 1950s Night, with macaroni and squeezable cheese, games of Twister and the crew in jeans and T-shirts; Italian Night, with pasta and painted mustaches; and Pirate Night, which starts in the morning as deckhands in the tenders shout, "Pirates are near! Pirates are near!"

"The kids get worked up all day with that one," Gochenour said. "We do the fake tattoos, eye patches, all that. You have to feel the guests out to make sure that one's going to go over well."

For more mature groups, the crew puts together event-based charters, using local knowledge to craft one-of-a-kind trips. During the Fourth of July week, Ernest started a charter in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After a bit of blackjack, guests cruised up to shop in Long Island's quaint Port Washington and later in tony Greenwich, Connecticut. They spent July 3 docked off Chelsea Piers on Manhattan's West Side and awoke to watch the tall ships parade off the bow. At nightfall, Ernest cruised across the river to a favorite spot where guests could watch fireworks frame the Big Apple. The rest of the week was spent touring West Point, about 40 miles up the Hudson, antiquing in river towns and tasting the Hudson Valley wineries' finest offerings.

The crew also respects guests who simply want to cruise quietly.

"A lot of people charter boats because they want to have privacy relaxing," said Packer, whose voice is like a whispered song. "We try not to intrude."

The yacht, built by Broward in 1989, is nicely kept thanks to Packer and Stoffer's conscientious work and Destiny's abundance of charter requests. "We can be selective in the charters we take," Gochenour said. "We don't take a lot of younger people because of all the late-night partying, where they can be a little abusive with things."

Ernest is particularly fond of several "gadgets" on board, including a cappuccino/espresso maker and a commercial-grade Belgian waffle machine in the galley, and a two-cylinder frozen drink dispenser in the sky lounge. Ernest will fill one side with mango or raspberry, the other with a chocolate flavor-a nice change from the usual rum punch.

Such special touches help Ernest and his crew keep their energy for charter high. After more than two decades on the water, he said, "It still feels like fun."

Contact: Northrop and Johnson Worldwide Yacht Charters, (800) 868-5913; (401) 848-5540; fax (401) 848-0120; njricharters@edgenet.net; www.nandj.com, or any charter broker. Destiny charters at $55,000 per week for 10 guests, plus expenses.