Thinking big and fulfilling dreams in the glamorous world of superyachts takes special people as Lynn Fitzpatrick finds out by talking to those with that Midas touch.
If anything, Andrew Farkas knows how to build it big. Farkas went on a mergers and acquisition binge in the real estate services sector during the 1990s and early 2000s and morphed Insignia into one of the largest commercial real estate services companies in the world even before it merged with CB Richard Ellis. Recognising the explosive growth in the luxury yacht industry and the need to accommodate all of the superyachts that are being hatched every year, Farkas and his financing, development and management team at IGY are focused on providing the appropriate infrastructure and suite of services for the highly specialised mega yacht world, and they are assembling one of the largest portfolios of superyacht berths and attendant accoutrements worldwide.
IGY leaves it to the traditional marina industry to provide safe and secure docking for undiscerning owners and captains. Its marinas are in high profile locations and offer a balance of visibility, privacy and easy access. Whether its fuel, fois gras or a flutist for a private concert, IGY helps captains and crews satisfy every imaginable need of their owners and guests.
IGY has over 5,000 slips in its portfolio or under construction and another 36,000 slips planned. It is expanding its global presence to include waterfront marinas and resorts in the US, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. Complementing IGY’s international network of well-located, world-class marinas is a blend of mixed-use communities that include retail shops and restaurants, luxury hotels, golf courses, estate and single family homes, fractional residences and even town centres in close proximity to pristine snorkelling and diving waters, fishing grounds and deserted beaches and islands. ‘We’re committed to building a worldwide branded marina experience,’ says Farkas. ‘Ours is a highly specialised hospitality business in which the yacht owner expects to be well-maintained and fully supplied at all times.’
Captain Michael French has enjoyed the life on the water for as long as he can remember. As a teenager, he was one of the youngest at the time to earn his Royal Yachting Association’s (RYA) Yachtmaster Instructors certification. He chose Africa over a sailboat racing career path, but after being kidnapped in Somalia, he took advantage of his captain’s licence and returned to the seas. At the helm of various vessels, he navigated his way across oceans and along the coastal waters of Costa Rica, Panama, South America, Central America and even the Black Sea. Along the way, he met a kindred spirit who worked as a chef on various yachts, the purser on larger boats and eventually became his wife.
Together, Michael and Claire French have travelled the world and entertained heads of state, race car drivers and celebrities aboard the yachts on which they’ve worked. Michael puts the life of a captain into perspective: ‘At the very least being a captain was exciting. It can be stressful. It can be absolutely extraordinary with a good owner and exciting new destinations, but for me it hasn’t been all about the glamour of the job. Sometimes nothing can be more rewarding than walking the bridge at sunrise when it’s still and calm. Being able to share that life, those experiences and travels with someone has been fantastic.’
Michael and Claire have returned to land and take solace in their ‘photo collection that is second to none’, in raising their child and in introducing new crops of recreational and professional yachtsmen and women to the seas. Claire teaches an immensely popular hospitality course at International Yachtmaster Training (IYT) and Michael has recently become IYT’s Chief Operating Officer. They are based in the luxury yacht capital of the world, Fort Lauderdale, and are involved with the largest crew training school of its kind.
IYT recognised the need for a standardised global approach to yacht training several years ago and continues to partner with, open and license sailing and motoryacht training schools in 27 countries around the world including Australia, Western Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. Over 14,000 have availed themselves of IYT’s course offerings at 55 schools, which cover the gamut from the comprehensive, yet introductory STCW’95 certification to professional superyacht hospitality, small powerboat and RIB courses, navigation and radar, medical care on board ships, shipboard fire-fighting, business law, engineering and more.
‘There are so many boats being built that we are running short on newcomers to the industry,’ Michael French says. ‘We teach the basics all the way up through the MCA’s Master of Yachts 3,000 Certification. We intend to teach disciplines that are lacking in the industry including management, inventory control and employment law and have designed courses for those who want career paths in the industry. We also recognise the better qualified crews have often invested in themselves and in training.’ As the luxury yacht.
French likens the luxury yacht world to a million small businesses, yet it is without an owners association, common employment practices or standardized means of recruiting. He sees the need to return to core values of good seamanship and train people to understand and anticipate the priorities of boat owners and their customers. Speaking from experience, French knows that good yacht crews are invaluable to the yachting experience and that ‘one may have a good charter with a good crew on a bad boat, but not with a poor crew on even the very best of boats. He eyes the internet as one of the means of contacting and recruiting people who may not have been aware that there are exciting career paths available in this high growth niche. ‘It’s a tremendous opportunity,’ French says of his position at IYT and the yachting business in general, ‘and I want to be with IYT as long as I can.’
Reflecting on his decade and a half in the yachting industry, Captain Michael Lovely wishes that he had had the opportunity to work on more projects for a shorter period of time when he was just starting out in the business. Now a charter boat captain of a luxury yacht, Michael values the seamanship skills that he acquired and the characters that he has met along the way as the business has changed. Michael has been the top dog on over half a dozen vessels and says with conviction, ‘I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I love doing it.’
Offsetting the rewards of travelling, challenging oneself to learn and adapt to different situations, experiencing a high standard of living and interacting with interesting people and well-known entertainers are some cons. Michael cautions that ‘some charter guests may be able to afford $500,000 per week holidays, but that doesn’t stop them from being crazy as a loon or practicing inappropriate behaviour on board.’ At times, captains and crews may find themselves in compromising and stressful situations in what may seem like a ‘jail with gold bars’.
According to Lovely, ‘with the right owner, being a captain can be the best job in the world.’ Professionalism is expected of crews and captains who often work eight to 18-hour days in satisfying the high demands of owners. As the industry grows, every captain is challenged with finding and retaining good, ethical crew members. There is a lot of loyalty in the business. Word of mouth and references from a network of people who have grown up in the business together has been the standard for finding reliable talent. As in other businesses, consistency, branding and quality control are entering the world of luxury yacht employment and schools are teaching people to become industry professionals and appreciate the responsibilities that they have aboard yachts when it comes to guest satisfaction and safety.
From sailor to builder
One gets a sense of the camaraderie in the superyacht business when you meet John Dane III, Olym
Dane’s other business, United States Marine Inc., manufactures patrol boats for navies around the world. With a friendly arm over Dane’s shoulder an old colleague from the patrol boat side of the business recently asked, ‘When are we going to be seeing you at the patrol boat shows’’ Dane shook his head and grinned, ‘I hope the answer is ‘Never’, I’m having too much fun with the superyachts. I get to go to Monaco, Dubai, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and drink champagne.’ One can imagine how the conversation digressed.
The truth is Dane has one destination etched on his calendar that is not yet on the itinerary of many superyachts. It’s Qingdao, China, the sailing venue for the 2008 Olympics.