Small Yacht, Big Ideas

Salu's small yachts offer competition to larger models

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Captain David Slee writes that he "is open to any activity which inspires the body to produce copious amounts of adrenaline in a short space of time." He's referring to such charter-friendly activities as kitesurfing and wakeboarding, but I think managing a 98-foot build with four times the normal number of change orders probably qualifies as well.

Such was the case with the 98-foot Salu, whose light, airy interior is quite different from other Benettis available for charter, and whose features compete with 150-footers that are available at far higher price points.

"On this size yacht, 30 to 40 change orders is standard," Slee told me as we sat in this small yacht main salon. "In our case, everything that was not structural was changed. By the time we finished, we had made 160 to 180 change orders on this build."

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The reason dates back to 2000, when Slee was a deckhand aboard the 164-foot Benetti Amnesia-the first boat Salu's owners ever chartered. "They fell in love with yachting," he recalls. "The Amnesia boats are phenomenally successful for charter. This owner saw that business plan and thought it would be good to follow with a smaller yacht."

Like Amnesia, Salu would be a Benetti. The owners were ready to take the next available hull in the 30-meter Tradition series, but then got aboard another small yacht whose pale wood and sunny interior changed their game plan entirely. At the time, hull number 18 was about seven months from completion. They went with hull number 19 instead, hired Slee to help oversee the build before taking command in his first-ever captain's job, and spent the next 12 months making countless alterations to enhance the charter experience.

Stowage was a big issue. The owners wanted it everywhere: under window boxes, deep within staircases. "It was a thousand euros to get storage under these two sofas alone," Slee says. "But having it, having proper places to store things, ensures the highest possible level of service."

High-gloss finishes were eliminated to make cleaning easier. Kaleidescape entertainment systems were installed in each cabin, along with individual satellite receivers and iPod docking stations. WiFi was made available throughout the small yacht. Each guest cabin got a rain shower with waterproof music controls. Below, engineers installed Naiad zero-speed stabilizers-a feature typically found only aboard larger charter yachts.

They also got a crew whose résumés indicate they can provide the level of service such a highly customized small yacht demands. Slee says all the crew came from yachts at least 160 feet long, and that with the exception of the second stewardess, who was freelance, all the crew from Salu's first season of charter returned for 2009.

That includes chef Adam Aschner, who was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, and who reportedly makes some of the meanest chicken wings on the water. Southwestern cuisine is his specialty, particularly bold flavors such as smoked bacon, chipotle peppers, and Mexican chocolate. He's also a trained sushi chef who, at the time of my visit, had just returned from Chinese cooking classes in Hong Kong.

"I'm also learning molecular gastronomy," Aschner told me. "Think of a Snickers bar. Different food-based chemicals affect how a Snickers bar works, the way the caramel doesn't fall out when you take a bite, that kind of thing. I'm playing around with the same concept, only with caviar."

For guests who prefer more traditional tastes, Aschner says his carrot cake is a fan favorite. And it's always served with a smile, he quickly adds, as a compliment to chief stewardess Jill Taylor.

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She, like the rest of her crew mates, feels that Salu offers a lot of charter amenities for her class.

"We're a big boat condensed into a small size," she says. "This is 50-meter or 60-meter service, but in a 30-meter boat. That's a good deal in these economic times."

Salu takes eight guests at a lowest weekly base rate of 70,000 and is based year-round in the Western Mediterranean. Camper & Nicholsons International, (954) 524-4250; _www.camperandnicholsons.com_