The Perfect 10: Chart Topper
What » A yacht charter through the eastern Caribbean, with stops in Antigua, Barbuda, St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla, and the British Virgin Islands.
Who » The London-based yachting company Burgess manages a fleet of more than 60 charter vessels, which range in size from 100 feet to 312 feet. Tom Collins, who has been working in the boating industry since 1976, is the firm’s Miami-based expert on the Caribbean. "This is a real inner passion for me," says Collins, who has arranged hundreds of yacht charters in the Caribbean. "I have always loved the water. I have always loved boats."
The Trip » "In the western Mediterranean, dockage reservations require the itinerary to be specifically preplanned," says Collins. "But cruising itineraries in the eastern Caribbean are generally conducted on a very impromptu basis."
For the Caribbean this winter, Collins recommends Va Bene, a 157-foot motor yacht with one master stateroom and one VIP stateroom (both stretch the full width of the boat) and four guest cabins. "Many people who could afford to do more come to a practical conclusion that a 160-foot boat is more than enough room for four people," he says. "Va Bene just emerged from Pendennis after a nine-month, £5 million refit. The owner spared no expense looking after this boat, making sure she has good equipment and a good crew."
A good crew, Collins adds, is essential to a charter’s success. "As lovely as it is to have a completely redone interior," he says, "we charter brokers have a great respect for the crew, because they are the magicians." Va Bene’s Australian captain, Phillip Long, is a proven performer. "When Phil did a charter for us in the Med," says Collins, "the client was just over the moon with him and his crew."
Long and his crew of 13 can meet Va Bene’s charter clients at the Antigua Yacht Club in Falmouth Harbour. "Antigua is loaded with beaches," says Collins, who suggests spending a few days exploring the island’s 60-mile coastline. At Mamora Bay, the St. James Club grants temporary membership to yachters, giving them access to the facility’s swimming pools and tennis courts.
In Barbuda, located 26.5 miles north of Antigua, "the turquoise water is gin-clear," says Collins, "and the reef snorkeling off the south coast is unbeatable." He recommends making lunch or dinner reservations at the island’s K Club, a boutique resort owned by Milanese fashion designer Krizia.
The trade winds will be blowing from the east, so Long will lead the clients northwest from Barbuda to St. Barts. "Gustavia in St. Barts is the only port of call that requires an advance booking," says Collins. Though not required, an advance booking is also recommended at the island’s Chez Maya restaurant. "It’s a St. Barts institution," says Collins. "[Maya’s] French, Creole, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes are second only to her famous chocolate cake."
After overnight stops on St. Martin and Anguilla, the guests will cruise to the British Virgin Islands, where Long will lead them to a shipwreck off Cooper Island. "The RMS Rhone lies on her side in 30 feet to 80 feet of water," says Collins, "so both snorkelers and divers have plenty to explore."
The benefit of a yacht charter, he adds, is that clients are free to explore wherever—and however—they choose. He worked with one person last year who wanted to bring his disc jockey on vacation; Collins chartered a second boat so that the DJ could ride alongside the larger yacht. "That’s the beauty of the private yacht-charter concept," says Collins. "Clients rule."
The Exclusive » Collins has arranged private fireworks shows and concerts featuring big-name entertainers for his charter clients, but one of his favorite recommendations is a simple mountaintop meal—with an assist from a helicopter. "There is a volcano in St. Vincent," he says. "It’s a long, rugged hike to the top, but with a helicopter the pilot can just drop you off at the peak with a picnic."
Price » From $238,000 per week plus operating expenses (typically 25 to 30 percent of the charter fee) and a discretionary crew gratuity (10 to 20 percent is customary).
Burgess, 305.672.0150, www.burgessyachts.com