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Why Private Yachting Is on the Rise, According to a Charter Captain

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 9/29/2020 Ashlea Halpern
a large body of water with a city in the background © Getty

Scott Macahonic is the captain of the 178-foot M.Y Spirit. The five-cabin luxury vessel accommodates up to 11 guests and 13 crew and can be chartered through Y.co starting at 255,000 euros per week ($301,000). Though some guests postponed their 2020 charters due to the pandemic, the company reported a modest 5 percent spike in demand this year over last. It also says yacht sales are through the roof, having sold five pedigree boats in August alone. We caught up with Macahonic, who's currently in Naples, to find out why private yachting is booming and what challenges the industry faces in the coming months.

A lot of boats spend January and February in the Caribbean, then cross to the Mediterranean in March, April, or May. But this year we planned to cross in late February because we were doing an interior refit in the South of France. COVID-19 really started blowing up when we were in the middle of the Atlantic. We got to France the day [President Emmanuel] Macron closed the borders. We’d been isolated for almost three weeks at sea, so nobody knew what was going on—just that everything was locking down. We showed up to the shipyard and did a maritime declaration saying that we were all healthy. They were like, “Welcome, tie up,” and then the shipyard closed.

a small boat in a large body of water: You can charter the M.Y. Spirit on Y.co, along with other private yachts like Gladiator**, above, which travels the Mediterranean and starts at $180,000 per week. © Courtesy Y.co You can charter the M.Y. Spirit on Y.co, along with other private yachts like Gladiator**, above, which travels the Mediterranean and starts at $180,000 per week.

France had a policy where nobody was allowed to leave their home except to go to the pharmacy, doctor, or other essential place. So we just stayed on the boat and kept working, overhauling the whole interior from mid-March to mid-May. Some yachts pared down to a skeleton crew and laid people off because they didn’t know what was going to happen, but we had good owners who made sure we were looked after.

I’m not really worried about the charter industry having issues. We have a very select group of clients: the 1 percent of the 1 percent. That market sees the advantage of being in its own little world. They’re not sharing this experience with 3,000 other people. Chartering a yacht is a way to get away from everyone, a bubble that provides people with a safe place to holiday. They have their own chef onboard and everything imaginable. The problem has been getting to this safe place. Many of our clients come from the U.S., Russia, and Asia, and they can’t get into the Med for their charter. Only people who were already in the E.U. could come.

We operate differently than some of the 100-meter boats, which may have 50 or 60 crew. When we have a group on board, they get to know all 13 of our crew. If there's an engineering issue, they talk directly to the engineer. They hang out with the chef in the galley. There's an interior team of five who are constantly working inside the rooms, or serving and bartending. And then we have our deck crew, outside doing water sports, driving the tenders, and maintaining the boat.

We always wear masks when we leave the boat and we have kits to test our crew. There are temperature checks onboard, but we don’t require our guests to be tested. And once everyone is onboard, we’re like family. It’s hard to keep your masks on all the time in such a small environment. It doesn’t make me nervous though because we don’t have exposure to a lot of different groups; we had one charter recently for a whole month. They came from Bermuda and were tested before they boarded the yacht. We wore masks until they were comfortable, and then we just stopped.

There’s no typical day for us. We cater to whatever the guests feel like doing, which is generally a lot of water sports, land excursions, sightseeing, or shopping. Some people want to relax and do nothing. Others might play on the toys: We’ve got a floating trampoline, Sea-Doos, stand-up paddleboards, and kayaks. Our deck crew is out there quite a bit, driving the jet skis and playing in the water with the kids. Anytime I can get on the slide, I'll take that opportunity.

We’ve spent the majority of our summer in Italy, and there haven’t been any additional testing requirements [to enter a port]. France has been quite easy, too, but it gets more complicated if you try to dock in Greece, Turkey, or Croatia. We usually spend winter in the Caribbean, but we’re not going this year. We decided to stay in the South of France instead and do an extended refit, taking advantage of what could potentially be a slower charter season.

I’m ready for 2021, and to just get on with our lives. As soon as people can start traveling again, the charter industry will bounce back. It’s a fantastic way to be self-sufficient in your own little bubble.

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