Private Travel: Virgin Territories
The 161-foot Feadship Teleost, docked at the 3-year-old Wharf Marina, cuts a distinct silhouette. In the Caribbean, this vessel would not appear particularly remarkable, but here she is the only megayacht in the only marina in the Seychelles that can accommodate boats her size, and she is 100 feet longer than any other boat at the docks. As a luxury charter vessel in this former hideout for Indian Ocean pirates, the $200,000-a-week Teleost is a rarity.
Only adventurous megayacht owners visit the Seychelles, a small African nation of islands located close to the equator within a triangle formed by Kenya, Madagascar, and the Maldives. Even after a second large marina opens late this year or early in 2008, the region will have dockage for only about a dozen superyachts at one time. The handful that do come regularly—including the 171-foot Amels Tigre d’Or and the 377-foot Lürssen Pelorus—share the scene with a few dozen smaller yachts without crews.
The island of Mahé in the Seychelles.
Of the few megayachts that cruise here, even fewer are available for charter: four or five per season at the most. “We’re the only yacht that has done two six-month seasons here,” Capt. Nigel Burnet says as he steers Teleost from the main island, Mahé, toward the inner islands of Praslin and La Digue, about a three-hour cruise northeast. “We use it as a base. The other boats tend to come through, maybe stopping on their way from Australia to Europe.” The yacht, which is managed by Fraser Yachts Worldwide, can accommodate 12 guests.
Teleost returns because her owner enjoys the scenery here more than that of almost anyplace else—and he has cruised the waters off Alaska, Central America, Mexico, New Zealand, the Bahamas, and Tahiti, as well as the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the South Pacific. He has outfitted the yacht so that guests can be comfortable and enjoy themselves even when they are in the middle of nowhere. The boat has a sophisticated stabilization system and holds an extensive supply of fishing and diving gear. Its executive chef, Stuart Dunsheath, creates dishes such as handmade sushi rolls, spiced crab salad, seared duck breast with roasted foie gras, and hot chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream.
The Seychelles offers an array of sights and experiences that you will not find in any other single destination. The region’s most famous beach, Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue, teems with fascinating rock formations and giant tortoises, including one named Esmeralda that is some 200 years old. The flora in the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, a World Heritage site, includes the coco de mer, which produces a seed that can weigh more than 60 pounds. Scuba diving near Whale Rock reveals an explosion of life, while the coves where Teleost spends its nights are delightfully solitary and remote. According to Burnet, the Amirante Islands, a day’s cruise away, offer angling that rivals even the extraordinary fishing grounds off Central America.
True North in Papua New Guinea.
The Lémuria Resort on Praslin—which has three 18-hole golf courses, three excellent restaurants, and a spa—is among the island’s luxury properties. Seychelles officials have tightly controlled the construction of high-end resorts as part of a plan to limit tourism. About 130,000 tourists visit the Seychelles each year, and officials hope to cap the number at about 200,000. “Our main asset is the environment,” explains Maurice Loustau-Lalanne, director-general of the Seychelles Tourism Board. “We don’t want too many people trampling through the Vallée de Mai. And we don’t want thousands of yachts in every bay.”
At the moment, this is certainly not a danger. As lovely as the Seychelles islands are, most yacht owners have yet to discover them. But as more do, charter guests will benefit, including those who take advantage of Teleost’s frequent visits. —Kim Kavin
In November 1961, 23-year-old Michael Rockefeller, the youngest son of then–New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, vanished while traveling in a remote Australian territory that is now the nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG). He was participating in an anthropological expedition, sponsored by Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, to study one of the region’s native tribes. He is said to have drowned while attempting to reach shore from a swamped catamaran, but journalist Milt Machlin, who traveled to the area in 1969 to investigate the mystery, has a different theory. Machlin believes that leaders of a village close to where the boat foundered killed Rockefeller in revenge for the murder of some of their people by a Dutch patrol in 1958.
A visit to this Pacific paradise is no longer dangerous, but it still requires a spirit of adventure. PNG, located just north of Australia, spans the eastern part of the island of New Guinea and 200-plus smaller islands in the Melanesian chain. (The western part of New Guinea is occupied by the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya.) The nation, which won its independence from Australia in 1975, consists of approximately 178,000 square miles of largely impenetrable jungle punctuated by volcanic peaks that rise as high as 13,000 feet. The country has only about 600 miles of paved roads and 21 paved airstrips, so the most convenient—and comfortable—way to navigate it is on a megayacht such as True North. This 164-footer, operated by North Star Cruises Australia, has 18 staterooms and 18 crew, including two chefs.
The vessel holds six aluminum tenders to take you to beaches, reefs, and fishing grounds, and it also carries a seven-passenger Bell JetRanger helicopter that can be used for aerial sightseeing trips or for speeding you to inland villages. (PNG is inhabited by about 5.5 million people from some 700 separate tribes.) This year, North Star Cruises will offer six eight-day trips to PNG in November and December, at rates beginning at approximately $12,000 per person.
A journey on True North might follow a 2.5-hour plane trip from Cairns, Australia, to Alotau, a village on the easternmost tip of New Guinea. Nearby you will find caves filled with skulls, evidence of a head-hunting culture that no longer exists in PNG—although it may have existed at the time of Michael Rockefeller’s visit. Once aboard True North, you might spend a few days a short distance to the northeast, winding your way through the D’Entrecasteaux Islands, diving, snorkeling, fishing, and cruising the area in the helicopter. PNG’s coastal ecosystem is among the healthiest in the world, and more than 500 species of fish inhabit its undisturbed reefs. Fishermen can expect a catch of tuna, mackerel, sailfish, or possibly the rare black bass, which can reach a weight of 100 pounds.
From the D’Entrecasteaux Islands, you might slip northward across the Solomon Sea at night, waking in tranquil Jacquinot Bay on the south coast of the large island of New Britain. There you can visit the village of Pumio, which resembles most other villages on the islands. The inhabitants of PNG survive largely on a subsistence economy of fishing and farming. Many wear shell jewelry and display body markings that indicate their status. Their hair, which often is quite fair among the children, prompted Portuguese explorers in the 16th century to give the islands the name Ilhas dos Papuas, meaning “land of the fuzzy hair.”
From New Britain, you can proceed northwest to the Bismarck Archipelago, passing coconut plantations on the Duke of York Islands, then anchor off the island of New Hanover, where a Japanese submarine rests in only 70 feet of water. Finally, you might travel to the northern coast of New Guinea, where the Madang Resort Hotel presents a series of handsome detached bungalows, some overlooking the area’s placid canals.
During World War II, New Britain was a stronghold for the Japanese, and its hills remain honeycombed with tunnels and bunkers, which are open to visitors. On the island, a local tribe carved out a treacherous, 60-mile trail called the Buna Road. Japanese troops, following their defeat at the town of Rabaul, were forced to retreat along this trail and were engaged there by Australian forces. Now known as the Kokoda Trail, the track frequently is hiked by students, teachers, and descendants of Allied soldiers.
Before the war, New Guinea attracted a young Australian named Errol Flynn. During a six-year stay, he carved out an existence as a pearl diver, copra trader, diamond smuggler, and gold-mine recruiter on New Britain and the nearby island of New Ireland. Flynn eventually left the islands and found stardom in Hollywood, and his time in Papua New Guinea became a footnote in his life story.
The Sea of Cortés, flanked by Baja California and Mexico’s mainland, is home to some 900 islands and a variety of marine life.
For Michael Rockefeller, the second of his two visits to the islands marked the end of his biography. He may have had a fatal encounter with headhunters. Paul Toohey, in his book Rocky Goes West (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2004), writes that Rockefeller’s mother engaged a private investigator to resolve the mystery of his disappearance. The author claims that the investigator went to New Guinea, where he swapped a boat engine for the skulls of three men whom the locals claimed were white. The investigator is said to have returned to New York and delivered these skulls to the family, convinced that one of them was Rockefeller’s.
The veracity of this story has been questioned, but no matter what you believe, the result is the same: The trail is cold. More than 45 years since Michael Rockefeller vanished, it seems unlikely that the truth ever will be known. Fortunately, PNG has transformed from a place where you easily could disappear into a reasonably safe refuge from life’s cares. —Barry Bailey
From a daybed on the deck of a Turkish gulet, the view of Los Islotes, a small island cluster teeming with sea lions, was pleasant enough. I could continue to watch the leóns marinos, or I could follow my shipmates’ promptings, fling myself into the clear water of Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, and perhaps meet one of the animals. I chose the latter and soon saw a large specimen speeding toward me, past parrot fish and schools of silver jacks. The sea lion caught my gaze, then flipped over and swam away. I came up for breath and dove, doing a flip of my own. An apparently flirtatious fellow, he approached again, fast, and then, just inches from my cheek, somersaulted and swam off again.
Such encounters are not uncommon in the Sea of Cortés, the body of water between the Mexican mainland and the long peninsula of Baja California. “Mexico has ample coastlines that remain relatively unexplored,” notes Francisco Ortiz, who grew up roaming islets and coves in the area (also known as the Gulf of California). Last year Ortiz established Barcos Que Cantan (Ships that Sing), a charter company that operates four gulets in the Sea of Cortés. The boats are available for one- or multi-day expeditions that depart from the towns of La Paz or Los Cabos at Baja California’s southern end.
Novia Mía is one of four Turkish gulets operated by the charter company Barcos Que Cantan in the Sea of Cortés.
Ortiz first sailed on a Turkish schooner three years ago, while vacationing in the Mediterranean. Until the mid-1900s, Turks built the wooden, twin-masted gulets primarily for fishing and transporting cargo. Then the vessels, which use both sail and motor power, became popular with recreational sailors in Turkey’s bay of Bodrum, which now hosts about 5,000 gulets. Their broad hulls and high headroom make for a comfortable voyage, particularly when the boats also have polished wooden decks, cushioned areas for sunbathing, and shaded alfresco dining and lounge areas, as Ortiz’s do.
Ortiz plans to increase his fleet of Turkish-made vessels to 10 over the next three years. The four that he now owns are named after popular Spanish-language love songs. Cielito Lindo (Heavenly Beauty), Novia Mía (My Girlfriend), Tu Enamorado (The One in Love with You), and Besame Mucho (Kiss Me a Lot) range in length from 80 to 96 feet. Each includes six modest, air-conditioned cabins with private showers and is tended by four crew members, including a chef and an English-speaking captain. If requested, Ortiz will arrange for a naturalist or marine biologist to come aboard. The day rate for one of these vessels ranges from about $4,100 in the low season (April through September) to approximately $5,400 in the high season (October through March).
The coast of Baja California Sur has few luxury resorts, restaurants, or vacation homes, and is volcanic in origin. The Sea of Cortés’ some 900 islands, islets, and coastal areas are ringed by white-sand beaches that remain almost untouched. Activities at these anchoring spots include kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, and hiking, sometimes to high coastal cliffs with spectacular views.
The 4,500 species of marine invertebrates that live in the Sea of Cortés inspired John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, an account of his 1940 expedition to collect marine specimens, and prompted Jacques Cousteau to call these waters “the world’s largest aquarium.” The area is also home to nearly 40 percent of the world’s species of marine mammals—some of them rollicking beasts, if the sea lion that made my acquaintance near Los Islotes is any indication. —Jennifer Hall
Pushing the Limits
Hundreds of charter yacht brokers can book cruises to exotic destinations. Some work for yacht management companies, while others run independent agencies. Any broker can book any yacht. The best way to determine whether a broker is reputable is to check for his or her name on the membership lists of the world’s four main professional associations:
American Yacht Charter Association, www.ayca.net
Charter Yacht Brokers Association, www.cyba.net
Florida Yacht Brokers Association, www.fyba.org
Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association, www.myba-association.com
Some brokers have more experience than others in booking yachts to particular destinations. The following brokers are among those familiar with the Seychelles, Papua New Guinea, or the Sea of Cortés. Each of the companies has chartered large luxury yachts to one or more of these areas.
Camper & Nicholsons, 954.524.4250, www.cnconnect.com
Island Symphony, 843.727.2556, www.islandsymphony.com
Sunreef Yachts, +48.58.763.14.54, www.sunreef-yachts.com
Windward Islands, 954.873.2003, www.windward-islands.net
Papua New Guinea
Adventures in Paradise, +675.984.1301, www.adventuresinparadise.com.pg
Flagship Charters, +61.2.9555.5901, www.flagshipcharters.com.au
The Imajica Experience, +61.7.4053.7764, www.theimajicaexperience.com
Inter Yacht Charter, +44.207.1933.889, www.interyachtcharter.com
Sea of Cortés
AdventureSmith Explorations, 530.583.1775, www.adventuresmithexplorations.com
Exclusive Charter Service, 631.737.3381, www.exclusivecharterservice.com
Regency Yacht Vacations, 340.776.5950, www.regencyvacations.com
—K.K. and Oliver Slosser