Luxury, on a Mission
Turquoise waters, favorable breezes, 24/7 pampering—and charitable acts, to boot—all have a place in this crewed- charter adventure. A feature from our December 2010 issue
After a bracing, early morning, 230-foot climb up to Fort Duvernette, just south of Young Island, off the southern tip of St. Vincent in the Windward Islands, I leap off a stern of the 75-foot luxury Privilège catamaran Matau and into the turquoise water to cool off.
Barely a whimper comes from me, yet stewardess Alice Morby hovers gently nearby, plush bath towel at the ready. Even more delectable is the proximity of shampoo, conditioner, and soap-gel dispensers installed inside the transom steps, inches, of course, from a handheld shower. Identical setups exist on both port and starboard transoms.
“Coffee?” Alice asks.
Having spent some years as chef and mate in the crewed-charter business in the Caribbean, I think I remember the routine aboard a high-end sailboat. Make breakfast and clean up. Sail, then anchor. Make lunch and clean up. Sail, then anchor. Make dinner and dessert. Clean up. Sleep.
Today a different voice rises up inside: Relax. You’re a guest.
Sunblock? Check. Swimsuit? Check. Fluffy towels and—soap-gel dispensers in the transom? Are you kidding me?
Having now ridden this self-indulgent streak to a former swab’s personal limit, I gently shoo Alice away and make my way up from the aft platform into the broad, veranda-like guest cockpit.
The beam on Matau— the name derives from a Maori expression for a highly stylized, mythologically significant carving of a fish hook—spans 36 feet, and there’s ample room in this area for a dining table, several settees, even a spiral stainless-steel staircase. At the top, out of the way of the entertainment arena, is the flybridge. At 20 feet above the waterline, it’s where the helm, the sail controls for the cutter rig, and the navigation panel are, flanked by an exposed sunbathing and lounge area that includes settees, throw pillows loaded with unobtrusive weights so they don’t fly off on a reach, a wet bar, a sink, a fridge, an icemaker, and a grill. By the end of the trip, I’d come to call this area, one that any guest might never bother to climb up to and explore, the garret apartment and tease Virginia Wagner, Matau’s captain, and Jamie Stark, the engineer and first mate, that they should sublet the space.
But having not yet thought about anything beyond my caffeine habit, much less sailing through the gorgeous Grenadines and delivering books and school supplies to island children, I push the button that automatically parts the double glass doors and step inside the boat’s modern, elegant, air-conditioned saloon.
Before me on a dining table is the morning eye-opener: a spread of coffee, juice, hot water, cream, milk, assorted teas, breakfast cereal, and yogurt. A hot breakfast of eggs over easy, tropical fruits, bacon, and scones fit for lumberjacks is an hour off, to be served alfresco by chef Christopher Cantrell.
A Charter Broker and a Cause
Seated at the table is longtime charter-yacht broker and fellow crewmate Ann-Wallis White, dressed in her flowing, diaphanous nightgown, her hair falling in wisps from a loose bun, and studying the world from behind owl-eyed glasses.
Piled high all around her and dwarfing the spread is her inner life’s work, the yield of volunteer hours far more significant to her than early morning hikes. There are books and more books, fiction, nonfiction, and reference, for kindergartners through young adults.
From such slender donated tomes as Indians of the American Southwest by Steven L. Walker to The Super Science Book of Rocks and Soils by Robert Snedden, it’s endless. There are books everywhere, in boxes under the table, on its surface, on the settee. Hello Moon, National Velvet, A Separate Peace. Used, donated, hardbound, and paperback.
Then there are boxes of Crayola crayons—64-count cartons, with the built-in sharpener, not the little boxes. Squeezed in next to the coffee thermoses, in stacks, are colorful bundles of pencils, multicolored plastic sharpeners, teacher’s kits, Palmer-method cursive-penmanship strips, you name it. I feel the shadow of my life as a grade-schooler tugging at me once again.
“Here’s something you can do to help,” Ann says, handing me a sheet of oval stickers. “Put these on the books you think they match. Find good ones for Murray and Olin.”
I grab coffee and get to work. The labels contain book-donation details and in-memoriam tributes to various acquaintances Ann has made over the 35 years she’s worked in the crewed-yacht vacation business. I poke through the books and have fun associating certain titles with late titans of the marine industry—Desmond Nicholson, Murray Davis, Olin Stephens II. I peel off the labels and smooth them on the covers.
Ann is either talking to herself or thinking out loud, reminding herself what needs to happen today and what schools we need to visit. Out pops this: “R-E-A-D is a four-letter word. We have to find a way to save these beautiful books from the recycling bin. I do not want them turned into paper towels for 10 cents a ton. The digital age may be upon us, but the children need these books.”
She’s a flurry of energy, a force of nature. Questions, phone numbers, emotions, imagination, memories of a privileged childhood in a highly educated family, tidbits from a well-traveled life, juicy networking stratagems, commentary, opinion—it all tumbles out.
And, still sitting right where I found her a few minutes earlier, she’s going to set me straight about my priorities during our time aboard Matau.
“On this trip,” she says, “we’re having this sybaritic wonderful time, but our pastime is to give books away. Because we’re both on assignment, the kayaking and snorkeling is the work part. The crew is coddling us like eggs, and they are so good at what they do. But our fun here is to give away the books.
“Life,” she adds with a bit of a huff, “does not begin and end at the Willy T!”
Her denunciation refers, of course, to the world-renowned British Virgin Islands steel-hulled trader-turned-watering hole, where thousands of charterers (and the paid swabs supposedly chaperoning them) have made an ill-considered pit stop, giving themselves over to such pastimes as body shots. I turn away so she doesn’t see me giggle.
What a relief, the swab in me thinks. The wine lists, the huge meals, the air-conditioning, the Jacuzzi in the master cabin, the mountains of pillows and fluffy towels. Someone else is making my bed. It’s killing me. Thank God we’ll be busy.
Good Works First
Why a luxurious crewed cat that goes out for $40,000 a week is raising its waterline by leaving books behind wherever it sails becomes less of a mystery for me as my time aboard passes.
Our north-south Grenadines sailing itinerary includes stops at St. Vincent, Bequia, Mustique, the Tobago Cays, and Union Island before our final destination of Grenada. Hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, evening beach barbecues, and yes, sailing, are the trademark attractions, eminently worthy of any vacationing sailor’s pursuit.
For the record, thanks to endless patience from the four onboard sailing professionals, we do pull all that off. But Ann is correct: Shoreside visits are really at the heart of this crewed charter. The plan, she says, is to donate books during visits to island schools that need help.
In more than three decades of devotion to the Caribbean, Ann has seen the irony in the world of luxury sailing. The sharp contrast of glitzy yachts bobbing among beautiful tropical islands whose citizens struggle to make ends meet in economies dependent on tourism and vulnerable to natural disasters isn’t lost on her. On St. Vincent, where monthly income is the equivalent of about US$300 and a paperback book costs about US$12, the government has expressed support for the existence of secondary schools and efforts to have at least one member of each family attain a university-level education.