The ultimate staycation treat - charter a £1m superyacht, and it's based here in Gosport
If holidays in 2020 were defined by the word ‘cancelled’, then it seems the word for 2021 would have to be ‘staycation.’
While the vaccine rollout in the UK continues on course to have all adults given at least their first jab by the end of July, and the number of cases and deaths continues to fall, elsewhere the picture is not so good.
It is currently illegal to travel abroad from the UK on holiday, although the rules may be relaxed on May 17, in line with the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. But this is by no means certain, and with cases still surging in many countries, it’s a risky proposition, and yes, vulnerable to cancellation.
So it is no surprise that Brits have looked closer to home for a well-earned vacation this summer.
With many hotels, B&Bs, campsites and holiday parks already booked to capacity for the summer months, it is no surprise to hear that research has revealed we are expected to spend £7.1bn holidaying at home this summer – a whopping increase of 22 per cent from 2019 when Brits spent £5.8bn.
For those with deep pockets, there is a new option. Based out of Gosport Marina, the £1m 82ft Sunseeker Chess is the largest boat of its kind operating along the south coast.
Her captain and co-owner David Goldie had planned to operate out of the Algarve this summer, but with that no longer realistic, he turned his attentions closer to home.
So from May 28, you can charter Chess, from £5,000 a day, all inclusive.
David has a 35 year career in the Royal Navy behind him (he is therefore entitled to fly the distinguished Blue Ensign), holding the rank of Command Warrant Officer of the Surface Fleet, reporting directly to the Second Sealord, by the time he retired. From there he worked as compliance officer for Carnival Cruise Line, before moving into the world of superyachts in 2012.
He bought Chess in May 2020 with a friend, and she was put in for a complete, four month refit down at Turnchapel, Plymouth.
‘We've had a lot of work done, as you can see,’ says David as we chat on the bridge. ‘There's been lots of things done, particularly for guests' comfort, all the showers refurbished, all new bedding throughout, all matching towels, full aircon system refurbished, engine serviced, gearbox, generators, just to give me confidence as the captain...
‘There's no point in being the best looking boat in the marina if you can't get it out there.’
‘For guest comfort, we completely changed the satellite system so we now have four external wi-fi aerials that gives us much more range for 4G and 5G – it's unlikely we'd ever go any distance from the UK coast where you don't still get full wi-fi on-board.’
An affable chap, David very much gives the impression of doing this for the love of the job.
‘It was a case of, I'm in a position to do a job that I want to do, not need to do. If you spend all your adult life at sea, then the opportunity to go back to sea as the captain of your own superyacht... The opportunity came up for me to do that.’
With Chess available to charter for as long as your budget allows, they have one, three, five or seven day itineraries to take you as far as Falmouth in Cornwall.
‘Hopefully we can tap in and provide a high-end service for the UK staycation market which is now the market we're looking for,’ says David, ‘family bubbles of eight or less, although we do have fixed itineraries, the charter is actually chartering the boat, so let's say for example, they've got a sister who lives in Jersey, or Dublin, that's where we'll take them.’
While they are committed to British waters this year, David is making no decisions beyond that.
‘We'll look and see how this season goes, and I don't just mean financially because I'm not in this for the finance side of it. But if it is profitable, enjoyable, and there is a market, then we'll seriously consider staying here.
‘What we've got to be careful of is if we go to yachting hubs like Palma or the south of France, we're suddenly not the largest yacht in the marina. At least on the south coast, we are the largest yacht available for charter. We would lose that if we went to Palma- we would just be another 25m boat, along with the 50 other 25m boats.’
Alongside David are the other crew, chef Nick Mayer, a specialist in French and Asian cuisine, and stewardess Sarah Watson, who are there to cater to your every whim while on-board.
Yachting service providers, West Nautical look after Chess.
Managing director Geoff Moore has extensive experience in the world of superyachts, both as crew, and on shore in management.
‘It's a very strange old-school sort of industry built on personal relationships, he explains.
‘It's an unpaid industry until you deliver. When we deliver, we get paid – it's like a no-win, no-fee situation.
‘If David doesn't have a good season, then we've failed in our job, and we haven't got a penny. So you put as much effort in as you can to deliver.’
This is a world which very much depends on building trust with your clients.
‘Unlike a lot of holidays, a yacht is super-personalised because the itinerary, what you do, when you do it, is completely up to the guests. There's really no other holiday like it. You, your family – your bubble – would be on the yacht, and you can eat and drink what you want, but you've got to tell someone what you want.
‘That broker is knowing the ins and outs of your family, if your child's got an allergy, or your mother-in-law only drinks this particular thing, that takes a lot of trust.
‘If I'm good at my job, I know that this customer like a mojito at 6pm and his wife wants an aperol spritz, so when they step on board, their favourite drinks are there waiting for them. They know the kids' names, they've got Paw Patrol ready on TV because they know they like that.
‘When the custom's at this level and it's a bespoke service, they want the impossible, and they demand the impossible. But for us it can't be the impossible - we've got to deliver it.
‘They deserve that attention, they want it, and they get it.’
When asked if there have been any really out-there requests, he diplomatically demurs: ‘Many, but not many I can repeat... It's when people expect the impossible, well, not the impossible, because we make it happen. And that's the problem, the better you are at your job, the more the impossible becomes possible, and the demands go up and up.
‘It's something silly like being in the middle of nowhere, a deserted island in French Polynesia, and it's February 13, and they go: “I need 250 red roses tomorrow for Valentine's”. Look where you are, I can get you a pineapple, I can get you a coconut... But you make it happen. It will cost a lot to fly them in, but if they're happy with the price.
‘The impossible is possible, within reason. With anything we can control we have to deliver it because that's what the client demands.’
Providing a luxury holiday option at a time when demand is high, should stand Chess in good stead.
‘The staycation market this year has boomed, which is great for the wider tourist industry, if you look at boutique hotels, all hotels, campsites, whether its for a tent or a luxury motorhome, everything's booked. Everyone wants a holiday after the year-and-a-half we've been through, and what's great for Chess, it's that they're new to the market – the availability's there on a first come first served basis.
‘We should be absolutely fine, there's no flights involved, there's no pandemic passports, or whatever, we should be able to guarantee their dates happen.
‘You've got the luxury elements – all other luxury options are totally booked, every spa hotel is rammed all summer, all villas and house in Sandbanks are completely booked all summer, this has the availability, so it's really well positioned in the market.
‘People just want to get away and do something this summer. We've got people who've booked Chess already this summer, they've had foreign cruises booked for this year, but which have now been cancelled.
‘The money's come back to them and they've looked at what else is available...’
For more information, go to westnautical.com.
My experience on board Chess
As you board Chess you are politely asked to remove your shoes.
It nicely sums up a lot of what you are getting on Chess – it is a boat that you definitely don’t want to be sullying with your dirt from on shore.
You are literally stepping into another world – a world where your every (realistic) whim is catered for – and so it should be at five grand a day. Everything reeks of the highest quality.
Although she is 16 years old, the recent top to bottom and inside out refurb means you’d be hard-pressed to know Chess hadn’t just been put in the water for the first time. This is five, six, however many stars you want to give it, luxury.Low ceilings are often a problem on yachts, not so here, even captain David is fine at 6ft 4in.
And the cabins are nicer than our bedroom at home – complete with ‘his and hers’ sinks in the en suite, the softest of towels and monogrammed dressing gowns.
Meanwhile the bridge’s array of controls and panels makes ground control at Nasa look antiquated.
While you’re out on the water, should you want to go kayaking, paddle boarding, water skiing, or just fishing off the stern, Chess is equipped for that.
If the weather refuses to co-operate, the technology guarantees you still have broadband, so can access Netflix et al.
But chilling out up on the top deck, in the sun, with a glass of prosecco – this is definitely the life for me.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford Chess, good for you.
The rest of us better get busy saving those pennies – or hoping for that lottery win!
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
You can subscribe here for unlimited access to our online coverage, including Pompey, for 27p a day.