They say the cure for everything is salt water. That phrase has never been truer than when it comes to yacht charter during the COVID-19 pandemic. Quite a few owners have been moving their yachts to farther-flung destinations—everywhere from Alaska to French Polynesia to Southeast Asia—in what is essentially the luxury version of a global social distancing challenge. The result is that as island groups and nations reopen, some fantastic charter yachts are already in position to offer truly remote getaways. And the crewmembers on board have had time to dream up new ways to enhance those experiences for guests in need of a physical, emotional and spiritual reboot.
“It’s perfect,” says Fleur Tomlinson, yacht-charter director for 37 South, which has bookings available across the South Pacific. “People need to rebuild their immune systems and get really healthy and really fit in the middle of nowhere.”
One of the yachts in her fleet is the 121-foot Vitters Dardanella, which has created an entire wellness itinerary in French Polynesia. A day on board can include sunrise yoga or journaling, scuba diving or surfing, and a massage. All of it takes place amid the beauty of the islands, in the warm sunshine and fresh salt air.
“They have a woman who is part of the crew, and she does massage, and she puts together things like yoga and Pilates, and she can put together a diet plan for people if they want to do that,” Tomlinson says. “She can structure the entire charter as a health retreat.”
Similar thinking about creating unique guest experiences on board the yacht—with no need to go ashore or interact with strangers—is happening aboard the 152-foot Admiral PetraTara. The owner is planning to base it in Malaysia, with charter itineraries that also include Thailand.
“The whole idea of this destination is to get off the beaten path into complete seclusion. It’s the perfect place for social distancing,” says Heather Hatcher, charter-management director at IYC, which manages PetraTara. “She has a Thai chef who is formally trained and has worked on yachts, so she can specialize in the local fare. You can get that local food experience on board the vessel, so there’s no need to go ashore.”
Also part of the IYC fleet is the 240-foot Delta Laurel, which is hoping to offer itineraries in the remote parts of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Capt. Roy Hodges cruised there several years ago with the yacht’s owner and says that even prior to the pandemic, they rarely saw anything other than gorgeous scenery and incredible wildlife.
“If you get on the boat near Cabo and go north in the Sea of Cortez, you probably aren’t going to see anybody,” Hodges says.”It’s nice, calm bays, so we just put all the toys in the water every day. And the diving there is phenomenal with lots of big sea life. We had guests swimming with whale sharks just outside of La Paz. The seals all around Espiritu Santo—there’s just a lot to see around there. Wherever you look, there’s life.”
Similarly exhilarating encounters with nature await in Alaska, which is where the 138-foot Holland Jachtbouw Fabulous Character plans to base for summer 2021 as part of the Camper & Nicholsons International charter fleet. The owner of the yacht also co-owns the Golden Horn Lodge, a private fly-fishing retreat within Wood-Tikchik State Park, which is about the size of Delaware. Capt. Thomas Tanner says the idea is to offer charter clients the same experience the owner enjoys, including use of his Global Express 5000 jet to collect charter guests in the United States, deliver them to the yacht in the fjords near the Kodiak archipelago, and then take a private seaplane to the lodge. All told, it’s a 10-day to two-week itinerary in some of the most remote parts of the Alaskan wilderness.
”Very few yachts go up there. It’s far and away,” Tanner says. “We have a local guide from Seward. He’s fantastic. He knows the hotspots—where the whales are. There’s bears, eagles, sea lions, heaps of fish, and the Sewards are amazing. The fjords, they’re basically a gorge in the mountains weaving up through them with pretty impressive elevation, right to the edge of the water.”
The itinerary can also include Katmai National Park and Preserve, where Tanner and the yacht’s owner have had some close encounters of the unforgettable kind.
“That’s where the bears are,” he says. “You can go and watch them feed in the waterfalls. I think the last time I was there, there were 14 of them. They’re catching the salmon as they try to jump up the waterfall. Any other time of the year, you can’t walk through there, but when the salmon are there, they’re just not interested in you. They’re busy.”
Additional charter yachts are now putting similarly remote programs together in Fiji. Tomlinson says the 110-foot Kingship Relentless and the 128-foot expedition yacht The Beast are both likely to head to those islands in the upcoming months. The Beast launched in 2019 with a mission statement of taking the owner to remote locales; the yacht carries an amphibious tender along with a custom 42-foot sport-fishing tender, for zipping to spots where nobody else is in sight.
“It means you can go into really remote locations,” Tomlinson says. “That boat is all about adventure, exploration and remote places.”
Planning for itineraries in these distant locales also has yacht captains thinking about how to ensure that guests will have all the comforts of home while cruising in the middle of nowhere. Tanner says Fabulous Character just upgraded its VSAT domes to ensure better internet connectivity up in the Alaskan wilderness. Hodges says Laurel did something similar, so no matter whether the yacht is in the Sea of Cortez or the out islands of the Bahamas, where Laurel most recently chartered, there should be online access. “Guests can work from our boat,” Hodges says. “We had people doing videoconferencing from the boat on our last charter. We just increased our capabilities because we know it’s going to be the way of the future.”
Tanner says Fabulous Character also recently added a 39-foot Invincible center-console tender to its program, giving guests the ability to explore all kinds of remote nooks and crannies at speeds up to 50 knots. That’s the fun of getting away from it all, he says, and Alaska is a great place to do it.
“It’s about as remote as you can go without having a fully planned Antarctica expedition,” he says. “There is no COVID up there. We’ve done this the past couple years. This is the real thing.”