Flagship: A charterer for all seasons
This summer’s charter season really did require a charterer for all seasons – much like the 1966 movie A Man For All Seasons. Charterers needed to be versatile, flexible and ready to cope with any contingency whilst delivering service appropriate to every occasion.
In the spring, Covid-19 and the resulting travel restrictions, quarantines and border closings meant the outlook for the summer charter season was bleak. Changes occurred literally day-to-day. Traditionally charter bookings are made well in advance. Every single trip made this year had to be reviewed one-by-one and either given the green light, moved to 2021 or cancelled all together. For superyacht charterers like Fraser Yachts it meant their broker teams working around the clock for weeks on end.
Frasers’ business development & marketing director, Mark Duncan, told Superyacht Investor the company had managed to successfully complete over 50% of charter bookings, whilst another 25% were rescheduled for 2021.
“We knew it was going to be an interesting time and, of course, it was. Nobody knew what was going on and nobody knew how to handle it or to what extent it was going to develop. We had a lot of bookings already lined up for the summer season like most companies. All of those had to be reviewed every single month until we realised either they could or couldn’t happen,” said Duncan.
Despite the difficulties in navigating virus restrictions to get charters on the water, Duncan said the demand from clients never faded. “The demand was always present. The real question was logistically how’d do you get there?”
‘Demand was always present ’
Perseverance and ingenuity may well be the watch words of 2020. We know the US yachting sector is booming as domestic travel becomes the only viable option for many. Fraser has been actively encouraging this move to domestic charter providing yachts to key areas like New England and the Bahamas. Driven by the virus restrictions, there is a definite shift in client charter patterns — temporarily at least.
Duncan explained: “We ran a huge campaign for our American clients. For the most part you’re not going to be able to make it over to Europe for your normal Mediterranean trip, so maybe it is time to rediscover America. I think people were so keen to get out of where they were locked down the demand never really went away once the season began.”
Superyachts have been seen as floating safe havens where the environment can be self-contained and kept Covid-free. That is definitely true of any owned yacht where the bubble can be kept unbroken. However, that comes with a caveat for charter yachts, Duncan told Superyacht Investor.
“If you have different charter parties coming on board the yacht, then you have to be more prudent and careful with cleanliness and hygiene. However, provided you maintain deep cleaning, good practice throughout and ensure testing is happening correctly, yacht charter remains a popular and possible option. For this winter season, we have three or four boats in the fleet that are full already.”
Thierry Voisin, is President of the European Committee for Professional Yachting (ECPY) and is also chairman of World of Yachting (WOY), which is amongst other services a charter broker. In fact, the firm based in southern France has made three additions to its charter fleet in recent months.
Numbers were below average
Voisin told Superyacht Investor that the Mediterranean charter season had been severely impacted this year. Due to restrictions meaning that clients, usually from the US, Russia, and the Emirates, couldn’t travel, so numbers were below average. This is despite prices dropping and the VAT lump sum reduction.
Worryingly, Voisin fears that the same could be the case for 2021’s season too unless something changes. “Charter will in my opinion come back to what it was. The question is when? In 2021 I do not think so I am more in favour to see a return to the 2019 situation the year after in 2022.”
The change Voisin refers to could come in the form of a vaccine revealed this week as being 90% effective against Covid-19. The vaccine is hoped to be ready around late springtime next year — arguably just in time for the charter season.
Superyacht captain, Joseph Bellamy, said the dual charter season this year was one of the busiest he has ever seen as a captain. The vessel he commands was booked right the way through a late starter of a season — running from mid-July to October’s end. With challenges everywhere, Bellamy summarised the season in three words “adapt, improvise and overcome.”
The captain said his crew were time pressured to ensure the vessel was deep cleaned and Covid-free which his crew managed to do remaining infection free across the season. However, this wasn’t the case for many boats which ended up impounded with virus outbreaks onboard. With that in mind, Bellamy believes the rollout of a trialled and tested vaccine would be a positive going into 2021.
“I think part of the commercial world is already used to this and I think the vaccine will become the norm. All seafarers already have a vaccination card or booklet issued by the WHO [World Health Organisation], I’m sure you will just have to present that like a passport,” said Bellamy.
A growing trend in charter and superyachting generally, is expedition using explorer yachts. A trend that looks to grow even further as the more sparsely populated areas of our planet grow in appeal as a safe haven from Covid-19. Damen-built, La Datcha, is a six-deck, 77m, ice class explorer yacht doing just that. She is currently on her way to Madagascar.
Marketing director, La Datcha, Dasha Tinkova told Superyacht Investor: “The yacht is now on route to the Indonesian Ocean, starting its very first charter there. Of course, Covid-19 has slowed things down, and delayed the journey for La Datcha. Nevertheless, some clients have seen chartering the vessel as an opportunity to self-isolate on it, as it is probably the best place to be during these times.”
The relative success of charterers this year reflected the perseverance of both broker and client, often at least a little bit of luck, And the willingness to change tack depending on the ever-changing situation as the pandemic developed or diminished. So charter organisations, in this most difficult of all seasons, really did need to employ charterers for all seasons.
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