Head for the horizon
The exclusive world of yacht travel is becoming more popular than ever. We set sail for the Greek islands to reflect on how Covid-19 has impacted European yacht charter
When Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, the world stood still. Gone were any hopes that the disease would subside and in came the panic buying, online conferences, cancelled flights and isolation. Momentarily, life lacked the little luxuries so many of us had previously taken for granted but, for a select few, the high life continued, albeit out at sea.
“On a yacht, one can travel unfettered from the limitations and fears inspired by crowded spaces in a period of a pandemic,” says Yannis Vasatis, founder of charter company Spetses Cruising, named for the small Greek island upon which the company is based. “The environment is controlled and enables strict hygiene rules to be maintained without the limitations imposed by doing the same in larger, and more crowded settings.”
Despite ever-changing restrictions on travel since 2020, yacht charters and owner usage spiked the moment the world went into lockdown, as a fortunate few headed for their own private, floating bubble. With many vessels, like expedition yachts, able to host their occupants for long periods without needing to dock, many ships found themselves in constant use
“In 2020 and 2021 some owners temporarily withdrew their yachts from charter because of safety concerns and not wanting to expose themselves, their families and crew to Covid-19,” says Lucinda Rosen, charter broker at St James’s-based broker Cecil Wright and Partners. Although the demand for charters peaked in lockdown, as supply fell with some craft taken off the market, the trend of taking to the sea for an escape has proved popular well into the post- lockdown age.
After starting Spetses Cruising with his wife Veneta more than three decades ago, to share their love for experiencing the Greek islands from a private boat, Vasatis has found demand for his fleet of day cruisers has been at an all- time high ever since lockdown, as people continue to seek the solace of a private boat in uncertain times.
“Like we’ve seen with private jets, there has been a rise in the number of people seeking the privacy and peace of mind that a yacht experience offers,” he says. “Besides the obvious advantages during the pandemic, a bespoke boating journey offers the freedom and independence to explore and discover coves, bays and islands off the beaten track and to enjoy them at your own pace. This is the timeless advantage of the yachting experience and why we predict the trend will continue.”
With a fleet of capable and fully crewed craft available to charter, Vasatis’ boats usually find themselves hopping between secluded islands as part of a bespoke day trip, or acting as luxury water taxis to ferry guests from port to superyachts moored out in the Aegean sea.
With no tourists in sight and a friendly crew serving local delicacies while they impart their knowledge of the nearby coves and coastline, it’s easy to see the appeal of a holiday on the water. What was already an attractive proposition long before Covid-19 existed has taken on a whole new level of relevance in a post-pandemic age.
But, says Cecil Wright, the trend for escaping at sea isn’t just confined to day cruisers and island hopping.
“We’ve seen expedition-style yachts are gaining in popularity,” says Rosen. “They have ocean-going capabilities and can remain completely autonomous for long periods in more remote destinations. There’s also an emphasis on wellness. Clients like to really unwind and be pampered, so yachts with spa facilities are more popular than ever.”
After both Cecil Wright and Spetses Cruising enjoyed bumper summers with many of their charters constantly occupied, attitudes towards taking to the seas for a getaway don’t look to be changing anytime soon.
“Covid isn’t going away,” admits Rosen. “But the popularity of charters is ever-increasing.”