Life on a superyacht: Romance on board

1311

My passion for sailing had taken me throughout the Mediterranean and the waters of the West Indies, Malaysia and Thailand, and from Australia to Singapore, before I embarked on what many thought to be a voyage of madness – I was going to design and build my own superyacht and, as the ultimate romantic gesture, marry my long-suffering lover Jilly on board. 

EASIER SAID THAN DONE
I chose Turkey for the construction, since we enjoyed sailing the turquoise waters of the southern coast as well as whiling away the hours at anchor, and we set about conceiving the yacht on paper napkins and vine leaves in the local taverna.  But after a frustrating, ice-cold winter in Istanbul attempting to design and plan the project with Turkish specialists, I came to accept that I needed an English architect who would understand both my dream as well as my language, coupled with a shipyard with an open mind in a warmer climate.

I WAS GOING TO DESIGN AND BUILD MY OWN SUPERYACHT AND, AS THE ULTIMATE ROMANTIC GESTURE, MARRY MY LONG-SUFFERING LOVER JILLY ON BOARD

I was fortunate to find an architect who had the right experience and ability to patiently explore my whims and turn my ideas into a sleek hull with a powerful sailing ketch rig, with accommodation for ten guests and four crew; but my choice of shipyard was something of a mixed blessing.

 SHIP AHOY

The southern coast of Turkey is renowned for its hospitable and silver-tongued salesmen. This is fine if you want to buy a carpet but not so good if you want a shipyard that normally builds coastal gulets to construct a superyacht to the stringent standards of a commercial passenger vessel code.   But I was always a sucker for a good salesman.  The deal was done – I would supply the plans, technology and know-how and the shipyard would supply enthusiasm and traditional skills, creating a marketing showcase for the yard.

I named the yacht Spirit of the East as a compliment to my hosts for the next two years, a celebration of the joint venture and of our love for Turkey – and what a two years they turned out to be.

The arguments were as heated as the summer sun, the delays as consistent as the call to prayer by the Imam. But throughout 24 long, exhausting months, we managed to finish each work day with a slap on the back and a glass or two of appalling Turkish raki.

THE ARGUMENTS WERE AS HEATED AS THE SUMMER SUN, THE DELAYS AS CONSISTENT AS THE CALL TO PRAYER BY THE IMAM 

TRADITIONAL THANK YOU
Needless to say, the goodwill and the raki ran dry upon completion of the yacht, when the shipyard made its request for the traditional ‘thank you’ for a job well done. I assumed a firm handshake would be more than adequate, but they assumed a €250,000 tip would be nearer the mark. Two days of heated arguments ensued, a fracas which my bride-to-be ignored, as she concentrated on the critical task of locating an English-speaking Christian priest to perform the long-awaited wedding ceremony.

We settled on €20,000, more appalling raki, and Jilly found a priest propped up in the local bar.

We stood on the slipway, champagne bottle in hand and waited for the launch…and waited…and waited…and waited some more. Eventually, things started moving but at the last minute I was told there was one more traditional payment due to the gangmeister who controlled the slipway: “No cash, no splash,” he announced. When he was €200 better off, which doubtless helped him swing his mighty sledge hammer, the chocks were away and so were we. 

FREE SPIRIT
Spirit eased down the boiled lamb fat-greased slipway and with gathering momentum she lurched slightly – in time with my heart – and then elegantly slipped into the water. Would she float?  The terrifying thought crossed my mind as she parted the waves for the first time.  Absolutely – as the engine burst into invigorating life, and swept her into a beautiful ellipse around the bay.

I was in dually love and the Spirit was free.

Due to a technical hitch with Spirit of the East, our wedding actually took place in a stunningly dilapidated Greek chapel in Turkey with wonderful views over the bay (and of the superyacht).  Around the chapel we planted bougainvillea in honour of Jilly, of our guests, and to commemorate most memorable wedding day imaginable. They still flower today. 

LOVE BOAT
For our three-year honeymoon on Spirit of the East we set out to circumnavigate the Mediterranean, exploring eastern Turkey, leisurely island-hopping through Greece, weaving our way to Venice via Montenegro and Croatia, lingering through east and west Italy and her islands.  We meandered around Malta, were arrested in France, fell hopelessly in love with Sicily and rode camels in the desert in Tunisia.

Recession led to economic depression but, fortuitously, a buyer was found for Spirit. It’s not always true that a sailor’s happiest day is when he sells his yacht but – then again -we’d lived our dream of fantasy and passion and sailed the seas while tasting Europe at its best. In short, we had romanced the superyacht.

Peter Burnet is currently building Spirit of Chelsea, a luxurious 23 metre houseboat moored on London’s River Thames, available for charter during the Chelsea Flower Show, Wimbledon and the 2012 Olympics.

peterburnet@yahoo.com