Western Mediterranean Charter: Four Aces
King of clubs. King of diamonds.
I return my Texas Hold ’em hand to its face-down position and glance across the table. Kevin Bonnie, managing director of International Yacht Collection’s Monaco office, is deciding whether to check or raise. This is a guy whose job depends on sniffing out bluffs at the highest levels, whose most recent sales listing is for a $54 million megayacht. Sure, we’re only playing for 10 euro apiece tonight, and everybody is feeling friendly after a three-course gourmet dinner aboard the 183-foot Benetti Four Aces, at anchor in Corsica’s Girolata Bay under an enchanting night sky — but the fact of the matter is that I have a killer hand. I’m up against a shark, and I want the glory of taking his chips.
Bosun Casey Burrows — who could have a career splitting pots in Las Vegas should her yachting career fail her — lays down the flop. Three of diamonds, seven of spades, jack of clubs.
I raise, but not so much as to seem anxious. Bonnie looks me over. He bites.
The turn is a two of hearts. I raise again, barely enough to raise suspicion. Bonnie deposits more chips in the middle. I try desperately to look nonchalant, which is kind of like trying desperately not to breathe. Burrows readies the river card with an intriguing grin.
And that’s when we hear the scream. We all bolt from our seats and rush to the stern rail, arriving just in time to see a pair of Four Aces guests leap from the bridge deck into the Mediterranean for a refreshing starlight swim. Howls of laughter continue well past midnight, with the wine flowing and the Kaleidescape system pumping out sing-along songs. It’s the perfect ending to yet another perfect day of chartering around the island of Corsica, alternating memorable tours of historic towns with the enjoyment of every possible modern amenity aboard Four Aces.
Today was doing water sports in Girolata Bay, zipping past a centuries-old fishing village on 70 mph Yamaha WaveRunners. Yesterday was standing atop the 900-year- old citadel walls of Calvi after a leisurely nap courtesy of the two-level master suite’s blackout shades. Tomorrow will be exploring behind the imposing cliffs of Bonifacio from the 33- foot Intrepid tender. This charter, I soon realize, is the perfect combination of natural beauty and manmade comfort. We are far from the South of France mainland, substituting flipflops for stiletto heels and replacing thumping discotheques with cobblestone streets. And yet, we have everything that a guest in a five-star hotel in St. Tropez would enjoy, not to mention zero-speed stabilizers, a sprawling sun deck with pool-size Jacuzzi and a drop-down swim platform that turns the lazarette into water-toy paradise.
The yacht’s amenities are among the reasons that Four Aces is such a popular charter option not just here in Corsica, but throughout the Western Mediterranean. At a time when other megayachts are struggling to book four or five weeks of charter each year, this $240,000-a-week beauty came darn close to completing 10 weeks during the summer of 2010 alone.
“We like to be on charter,” Capt. Will Keiser says. “I think it’s better than sitting at the dock, just paying marina fees. When a boat is moving, things are working. They’re kept up because they’re in use. That’s true of crew too. Having regular charters keeps us at the top of our game.”
And Keiser is a captain with serious knowledge of the charter game. Before moving to Four Aces with the yacht’s new owner in 2009, Keiser spent three years in command of the 156-foot CRN Azzurra II and many years before that as captain aboard the 156-foot Broward Inspiration, the 112- foot Westport Symphony II and the 118-foot Hatteras Nirvana. All of those yachts were popular for charter too, in large part because of repeat clients who followed Keiser and his team from boat to boat.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to bring all of our repeat clients to Four Aces because she’s in a substantially different price range,” he says, “but a lot of brokers who know us and trust us are sending us their other clients now, and we’re working hard to turn them into our newest repeat customers.”
Keiser is getting a strong assist from his crew. It’s a rarefied experience to be aboard a charter yacht in this price range, and given the comparable yachts I’ve spent time aboard in the past, I can enthusiastically say that the Four Aces team delivers at the highest level. That’s especially true in terms of professionalism and enthusiasm.
Chef Phil Darmon, an Australia native, particularly impressed me with both his approach to and his execution of varied gourmet fare. “All I do is the classics,” he says. “We’re in Europe, so I go toward salade niçoise, beef carpaccio, that sort of thing. If we were in Greece, I would offer souvlaki for lunch. In the Caribbean, I break out the conch. Every region has something wonderful to offer, and I try to share that with our charter guests.”
In Corsica, foodies won’t want to miss the local olives, fig spreads and chestnut-infused honey. Darmon’s plated meals are wonderful, but go ahead and request a buffet or two that lets you sample all that you can. His finale brunch for us included no fewer than nine options that combined traditional favorites with local delicacies: homemade waffles; fresh mozzarella and prosciutto; a platter of cheese, figs and dates; smoked salmon with capers; grilled lamb chops and bacon; rocket and tomato salad; grilled potatoes, portobello mushrooms, tomatoes and asparagus; poached and scrambled eggs; and make-your-own eggs Benedict. Oh, yes, and for those who still had room, there was sorbet freshly made from ripe mangoes.
As I looked across the brunch table from the waffles to the figs, I realized that most Americans will, as I did, feel instantly comfortable aboard Four Aces even while exploring the most historic corners of the Mediterranean. Keiser is an American who plays Grateful Dead classics in the pilothouse, but he’s been chartering here for years and knows the waters like a native. The chef prepares local delicacies, but in a way that makes sense to American palates. And Four Aces herself is large enough to fit into the glamorous West Med superyacht scene, but still of a size that lets her feel like a yacht — and one with a fun-loving crew, at that — like the bosun, Burrows, who spent a full day working on deck before dealing Texas Hold ’em hands for us into the wee hours simply because she enjoys the game.
That river card she turned over, by the way, was the king of hearts — giving me a formidable three-of-a-kind. I gleefully took that particular pot from Bonnie, savoring my small moment of victory, though he ultimately won all the chips on the table.
That’s just how things go with the best players at any game, be it poker or yacht charter. If you innately have what it takes to be the best, your winning nature will always shine through.
It’s a quality that Four Aces has too. In spades.
Four Aces is available for charter at the lowest weekly base rate of $240,000 with 12 guests and 14 crew. International Yacht Collection, 888-213-7577; www.iyc.com