As with Oscar night, the Heisman Trophy presentation, and the presidential election, a certain amount of campaigning precedes the Nicholson Antigua Charter Yacht Show, a weeklong event that is the world’s largest industry-members-only charter boat show. From San Juan, Puerto Rico, it is only about an hour’s flight to Antigua, where the show occupies three marinas, but those charged with promoting the yachts that will star at the show never wait that long to begin stumping for their clients. Last year, one such pitch person who knew I was a boating writer tapped my shoulder while I was buying snacks from a San Juan airport vending machine. The year before, someone had tried to sell me on a yacht’s merits while I was in the ladies’ room at the airport. This year, as I prepared to board my flight to Antigua, a broker approached. “Coming to breakfast tomorrow aboard Passion?” she asked, referring to one of the yachts represented by her company, Fraser Yachts Worldwide. “You’re going to love her.”
Each December, about 250 brokers arrive from the United States, Europe, Australia, and beyond with one of two goals: to determine which yachts to recommend when clients inquire about chartering or to ensure that the vessels they already represent are recommended by other charter brokers. For the latter purpose, this show is crucial because brokers’ opinions are often formed by what they see and hear at Antigua. When touring a yacht, they take extensive notes on items ranging from crew personalities to vessel maintenance to the taste of the hors d’oeuvres being served. These factors can determine whether a yacht earns a spot on a broker’s A-list for the upcoming charter season.
However, perks completely irrelevant to any charter client can also influence what boat you will be sailing the coast or cruising the Caribbean in this season. This is because before a broker can cast a nay or yea vote for a yacht, he or she has to board it. This year’s show featured 135 sailboats and motor yachts ranging from 35 to 200 feet. To view all of them, a broker would have to average two or three boardings per hour for seven days straight. Hence, the scent of freshly baked blueberry muffins wafted from Passion’s aft deck on the first morning of the show, reeling in brokers before they could visit any other boat. Once they were aboard, the captain described to them how the 173-foot Swedeship, which can be chartered for just under $200,000 per week, had been recently gutted and rebuilt. As he led a tour of the vessel, the captain was careful to point out the new arcade-style video games.
Breakfasts such as the one hosted by Passion are a popular means of enticing the Antigua attendees. Extravagant parties are another. On my second night at the show, Blue Harem, a 138-foot Heesen Diaship represented by Koch, Newton & Partners, hosted a bash with a Chicago theme. Capt. Carl Zaniboni, donning a costume mustache and bow tie, handed each broker a sequined and feathered headband as he or she boarded the boat. The guests imbibed the gratis martinis and danced to a band that performed on the boat deck. During a booming rendition of “All That Jazz,” a longtime New England broker sidled up to me and declared, “How can you not book this boat?”
In addition to hospitality, brokers can also be influenced by a yacht’s placement at the marinas. One 150-footer was docked close to its three sister ships. As brokers toured each of the four vessels, opening closets and noting drawer space, they became confused by the similarities between the boats. “Wasn’t I just here?” one asked. Viewed separately, each boat would have seemed outstanding, but their proximity to each other made their features seem commonplace.
In contrast, the 164-foot …Is A Rose, the newest Perini Navi sailing yacht, was docked across the bay in Falmouth Harbor Marina, where its stunning lines impressed its guests. “She’s the sailing yacht to beat,” one broker opined as he walked through the galley. Similarly, Fraser Yachts, which represents the more-than-$300,000-a-week Paraffin, anchored the 197-foot Feadship away from the docks, making it accessible only via dinghy. Brokers returned from their tours marveling at the 12-guest yacht and its 400-bottle wine cabinet.
As the brokers’ experience with Paraffin demonstrated, regardless of how attention is drawn to it, a vessel—like a film, quarterback, or presidential candidate—must ultimately impress on its own merits. Such was the case with another Feadship yacht, the 170-foot Dream, which was docked alongside a number of other similarly sized vessels yet managed to wow brokers with its construction and craftsmanship, its crew’s professionalism, and its price. “Dream’s $100,000 a week less than Paraffin,” noted one broker. “I think she’ll be easier to sell.”
That night, a brokerage firm hosted a pirate-themed party aboard a 124-foot yacht that it represented. Despite the hosts’ enthusiastic efforts—the captain held court with a fake parrot perched on his shoulder, and his crew wore eye patches and referred to each other as mates and wenches—the hop ended quietly and early. Many of the visiting brokers moved on to a Fraser Yachts party, where the buzz continued to revolve around Dream and Paraffin, two names that undoubtedly you will hear frequently if you are planning a charter vacation this season.
Talk of the Show
After all the festivities concluded, three boats emerged as the brokers’ choices at Antigua: Dream, …Is A Rose, and Paraffin. Three other vessels that did not generate as much buzz among the brokers were equally impressive: Barbarina, Blue Harem, and Pangaea.
The 170-foot boat includes four belowdecks cabins, a bridge-deck VIP cabin, a main-deck owner’s stateroom, and a single-berth nanny cabin on the lower deck. Amenities include an elevator that services all four decks, a large Jacuzzi, and a sky lounge with a separate bar. Dream’s charter rate is $240,000 per week in the Caribbean and $255,000 per week in the Mediterranean, plus expenses and gratuities.
Fraser Yachts Worldwide
…Is A Rose
The 164-foot boat carries eight to 10 guests in four belowdecks staterooms, including a master with adjoining study that converts to a fifth cabin with a private head. The vessel includes indoor and outdoor main-deck dining, additional indoor and outdoor seating areas, and a main-deck study/game room. …Is A Rose charters for $110,000 per week in the Caribbean and $130,000 per week in the Mediterranean, plus expenses and gratuities.
Perini Navi USA
The 197-foot, 3-year-old Feadship carries 12 guests in five belowdecks cabins and a main-deck owner’s stateroom. Amenities include heated bathroom floors and mirrors in the master suite, laundry service, and a gymnasium with a juice bar, three treadmills, a StairMaster, and stationary bicycles, each with its own plasma television. Paraffin’s charter rate is $325,000 per week in the Caribbean and $340,000 per week in the Mediterranean, plus expenses and gratuities.
Fraser Yachts Worldwide
In 2000, Little Hoquiam, a commercial shipbuilder in Seattle, completed the 105-footer—the company’s first private yacht. Capt. Drew Avirett is a tireless host, avid fisherman, and certified dive master. Six guests share three belowdecks staterooms. Barbarina charters for a weekly rate of $36,000 in the Caribbean, Bahamas, and New England, plus expenses and gratuities.
Blue Harem has a classic interior, a fantastic chef, and a captain who emphasizes service. Ten to 12 guests stay in a main-deck owner’s stateroom and four belowdecks cabins that include queen beds and two twin beds with additional bunk-bed Pullman berths. Blue Harem charters for $80,000 per week in the Caribbean and $90,000 per week in the Mediterranean ($100,000 in July and August), plus expenses and gratuities.
Koch, Newton & Partners
Over the next two years, the 184-foot Halter Marine yacht is expected to cruise the waters off of Costa Rica, the Galápagos Islands, Mexico, Alaska, and the South Pacific. The boat accommodates 12 guests in five belowdecks staterooms and an owner’s suite. Chef Mitchell Davis placed first in the recent Antigua boat show cooking competition for the second year in a row. Pangaea charters for $175,000 per week in the Caribbean and $195,000 per week in the Mediterranean, plus expenses and gratuities.
The Sacks Group