/Excellence III/ is unquestionably one of the best charter yachts in the
world—an elite group that can be counted on your fingers.
A great yacht charter is, in many ways, like an award-winning Broadway play. As they depart afterwards, both charter guests and playgoers have no idea how much went on behind the scenes. What appears at a glance to be casual and offhand is, in fact, carefully choreographed, rehearsed and perfected.
DATELINE, St. Maarten: Yachting’s Group Publisher, John Young, and his wife, Kathy, were on their way to join Rhea and me aboard Excellence III, when, as their jet slid down into St. Maarten’s Queen Julliana Airport, they glanced out the window. There, lying abeam just off the runway, waited Excellence III, their home for the next few days. Chance? Luck? Coincidence?
None of the above. It was the result of careful planning on the part of Capt. Ray Shore.
First, he knew the exact minute of their plane’s arrival. But with first mate Alec waiting at the terminal to greet the Youngs, Shore also was in radio contact so he could know of any delays.
Taking a 188′ yacht out of its slip is a bit more difficult than hopping in a Zodiac, but Shore eased Excellence out, squeezed through the tiny opening from Simpson Bay Lagoon with only inches to spare, and settled just off the airport. He could have anchored, of course, but it wouldn’t have been quite the right angle.
With one eye on his watch and a hand on the bow thruster controls, Shore kept Excellence perfectly aligned while waiting for the Youngs’ jet. And so it was that they saw her, with the tropic sun flickering off the dark blue hull and the chrome sparkling. Staged? Certainly. Perfect? Absolutely.
To name a yacht Excellence requires a certain chutzpah or perhaps even hubris. In the case of Excellence III, however, it is simply an understatement. This better-than-new 188′ Abeking & Rasmussen is Herb Chambers’ private yacht-except when it is being chartered by a few very lucky people each year. In mid-January, I was one of the lucky.
Chambers, whose name is ubiquitous on car dealerships throughout the Northeast, was not actually looking for another yacht after having owned a pair of Feadships. But Jim Wallace of Camper & Nicholsons tipped him off to the uncompleted 188-footer at Abeking & Rasmussen and, after sending Shore to evaluate the yacht, he stepped in at a point when the machinery was done and the interior was still a blank palette.
Don Starkey, who did the original styling, returned to finish the interior as well-and the result is quietly spectacular, with flame-grained mahogany, creamy leather, and marble, granite or onyx accents.
The upper deck is where the crew greets new arrivals with Louis Roederer’s best, a chilly bottle of Cristal Champagne from Herb Chambers’ personal stock, plus a table laden with fresh fruit, croissants warm from the oven, strawberries in cream, and other delights to ease the jet lag. This is also the usual breakfast nook, especially when lying stern to the quay at St. Barths, where I’d recommend the superb eggs Benedict or the incredibly thick French toast which, like the croissants, comes from onboard ovens.
Once you’ve finished the Champagne and strawberries, you’ll find that the master suite on the main deck spans the full beam, with an office to ease those dreary work-a-day chores, a gymnasium (to combat French toast), and huge floor-to-ceiling windows. The master head is finished in a honey onyx that is pure butterscotch sundae, with a spa tub and separate dressing areas.
The bridge deck had our VIP suite, with muted leather and fabric bulkheads, a pleasant view, and more of the granite and marble that marks all the heads. This put us close to the lounge with its immense projection and flat-screen TVs, an elegant bar, and an unusual circular seating area.
The main deck also has circular seating in the saloon, with an exquisite coffee table of flame mahogany and onyx. Guests gather here for cocktails, followed by formal dinners at the equally striking dining table that seats 12.
Every meal aboard Excellence III is one that would give a Michelin-starred restaurant an inferiority complex. Though geared to individual tastes of the charterer, each meal has a superb presentation and is accompanied by a carefully chosen vintage wine. Start with a salad that combines tastes and textures in clever combinations, with gorgonzola cheese, strawberries and nuts as accents. Then move to lamb chops on a bed of creamy risotto or filet mignon with a tangy bÈarnaise, but always–always!-leave room for dessert.
The upper deck became the de rigueur gathering place at night for our merry foursome. We would loll in front of the water jets, sip bubbly and gaze into a night sky pinpricked by millions of stars.
DATELINE, St. Barths: A dying storm had left a dowry of big swells as we settled for lunch. In spite of immense stabilizers flippering away somewhere underwater, we were clearly rolling down to St. Barths. Then it suddenly seemed to change. As even the queasiest guest quickly realized, something was different.
What had happened was that Capt. Shore was hand steering Excellence III. Most captains would have dialed in the heading on the autopilot but Shore was playing the yacht like a racing dinghy: easing her up in the big seas, letting her bow off in the troughs. The course changes made all the difference.
Excellence III is unquestionably one of the best charter yachts in the world-an elite group that can be counted on your fingers. But what makes a yacht worth $31 a minute? Without being sacrilegious, God is in the details.
The crew of 14 know your name from the minute you step aboard and, after that moment, it is clearly its goal to satisfy all of your wishes. Your glass will never reach the point of nearly empty because someone invisible refills it. Merely think about a snack, and a tray of goodies appears. The staff is always anticipatory, but never intrusive.
DATELINE, on-board Excellence: Strolling through the lounge, the captain spotted my wife curled up in a corner with a book. Without glancing at his watch, he said, “Must be after 2 p.m.-that’s your spot!” After just a day, he knew that my wife, like a cat, chooses several places around a yacht for her private time with a book.
Yes, I know that the crew has probably staged a buccaneer-themed lunch before, and the Hawaiian luau as well. But when we saw the hula dolls and leis and coconuts on the table and the Hawaii Five-O theme came pumping over the stereo, they made the moment seem spontaneously fresh and fun.
As were the lunches, which, by the way, are on par with the dinners. Shrimp skewers, salmon croquettes with mango chutney sauce, crab claws, teriyaki steak. The pirate lunch, for example, was tender and juicy jerked chicken with couscous and a spiced rum punch.
But the impeccable details don’t stop with the cuisine. Fresh and beautifully arranged flower arrangements appear each day in guest cabins and public areas. On arrival an Excellence III goodie bag greets guests on their berth-in our case containing embroidered jackets, plus Excellence polos and T-shirts. The next day, another gift bag brought us Cartier key fobs, courtesy of the Cartier shop on the Gustavia waterfront.
When it comes to water toys, few yachts can challenge Excellence III, whose fleet includes a duo of powerful tenders for waterskiing, windsurfers, Waverunners, kayaks, towables, dive gear-an endless stream that seems to pour from the transom garage as soon as the anchor hits bottom.
DATELINE, St. Barths: We were enjoying the dusk, as the lights twinkled on the villas above the harbor. On the smaller yacht to starboard, there was a dreadfully off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.” It wasn’t until the next day when we saw the birthday boy, who had been the worst singing offender, as he went ashore. It was Rod Stewart.
You know you’re living well when Rod Stewart’s yacht is smaller than yours.
Contact: Camper & Nicolsons at (954) 462-1462 or email [email protected].