Is this the best way to test a yacht before you buy?

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Chartering the type of yacht you are thinking about buying may be the perfect way to test a yacht works for you before you make the leap

A typical first charter holiday, perhaps on a production boat in Greece or Turkey, holds a special place in most sailors’ memories, even if they go on to own their own yacht and sail further afield. A charter gives a taste of the responsibility, freedom and possibilities that owning a yacht might unlock.

The yacht you hire, though, is rarely what you’d choose to own. Charter yachts are often built with mass appeal in mind, packing in berths and cabins, and rarely geared for performance or living aboard full time. However, chartering the model of yacht you are seriously considering buying is very worthwhile, and something many don’t even realise is possible.

Swan is one company which offers charter as a ‘taste’ of ownership. Nicolò Telese, charter manager, says: “Chartering a Swan allows the client to explore a variety of destinations, but also is a way to start the sailing journey. Some of our owners start by chartering a Swan to then build their dream yacht.”

Spending a week or more on board can help you evaluate whether a yacht will fit your needs in the long term, and help specify it to suit.

Nautor Swan offers charter of yachts from 45-130ft across a range of models, both racing and cruising, in locations including the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Photo: Maurizio Paradisi

Changing customers

Victor Jeunemaitre, Outremer’s commercial director, notes that in a changing market inexperienced customers are putting less time into their decisions when commissioning builds. “As a company building high performance catamarans, it’s important to us that customers understand what they are ordering,” he says. “It is not purely transactional at all.

“Ultimately, our relationship extends well beyond delivery, so we want it to be a good relationship, and that means ensuring an Outremer is right for them, both when they sign the cheque and when they are halfway around the world. In some cases, customers have ordered on the basis of chartering another brand of catamaran a couple of times, but the adventure they have planned is much bigger.

“We find that even a good test sail highlights clearly how we are different to most catamaran builders on the market, but also what we are not. For example, we actively encourage a relatively simple specification, while others are keen for owners to specify many options. Our hulls are narrower than most. They are preferences not only leaning towards performance, but also because we know that a good bluewater adventure is often underpinned by a boat that is relatively easy to maintain far from home.”

Photo: Robin Christol/Outremer

Outremer does not have a dedicated charter operation, but instead relies on an ever-expanding network of loyal owners who charter to those that want to try before they buy.

“We don’t have yachts permanently available for charter, instead we direct customers to existing owners who perhaps charter for a few weeks a year. We have a wonderful family of owners who love their yachts.

“A little unusually, charters on an Outremer are always with a skipper on board, partly due to the performance they offer, but that’s a great opportunity to learn and immerse yourself in the boat and how it all works. Particularly, it’s an opportunity to get the boat going fast and to really see what it is capable of.

“Charter can also be invaluable once the contract has been signed to help with final specifications and to get you used to the boat before you even own your own.”

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Thorough evaluation

A similar case is made by Stuart Abernethy, X-Yachts GB’s general manager, based in Hamble. He explains they go to great lengths to encourage a charter:

“We say to serious prospective buyers that we can take them out for a few hours on the Solent, but to understand what an X-Yacht is about, a charter makes for a comprehensive chance to see if it is what they are looking for.

“Our offer of being able to charter at the yard in Denmark means a customer can see yachts in build and then experience a week aboard. It’s also invaluable for shaping the specification later. Also, a charter in Denmark does not always get perfect conditions, which is actually good; you get to see the yacht in the real world.”

X-Yachts Denmark’s charter operation is geared towards prospective buyers rather than the general charter market, meaning that the latest models are available.

The company also offers charters in Greece, which gives current owners the chance to sail somewhere different, or to experience a different model as larger X-Yachts are available.

“In general, the ideal would be to charter prior to purchase and then once the order is placed in order to help specify the yacht. In each case it’s going to make the customer so much more informed about what they are buying.”

A chance to experience sailing with pro crew. Photo: Oyster Yachts

Invaluable insights

Fiona McCarthy spent several years as a general charter broker, but now heads up the Oyster Yachts charter operation. Those considering buying an Oyster often charter first.

“Clients who charter with us that are thinking about buying are generally at two different stages. Either they are thinking broadly about buying a yacht, or they are about to sign –or have perhaps just signed – a build contract with us,” she says.

A charter presents an opportunity to evaluate the reality and what they might like to do with the yacht, as well as get a week or more of insights from a professional captain.

“I had a client quite recently that was considering buying an Oyster with a view to doing the Oyster World Rally. However, their sailing experience was limited to sheltered waters, so they chartered for two weeks in the Caribbean. It gave them the chance to sail in stronger winds, with some offshore conditions, while learning a lot from the crew about the size and model of yacht they were planning to order.

“They left able to make a much more informed decision,” says McCarthy.

For other clients it’s an opportunity to sail a larger yacht than they have before, and prove to themselves they’re up to handling a bigger yacht. “One client chartered a 575. They spent the whole week actively sailing,
improving their boat handling skills and by the end of the week were sailing her on and off anchor; helping them make the step up to a bigger yacht,” she adds.

“Also, when it comes to stepping up to a fully crewed Oyster like the 885, charter can demonstrate how a yacht with entirely separate crew accommodation provides the privacy they seek, giving an experience of what the dynamic will be like on board.”

Those chartering with a view to buying are aiming to get a lot out of their time; it is not just a holiday. McCarthy says that getting the most out of it is down to sharing as much information as possible.

“The more you tell us, the more we can plan a charter that’s right for you. We’re well versed in matching the right boat, the right crew and the right itinerary to a prospective purchaser. One real advantage is that our crew know the yachts they run very well, so they have lots to pass on and are passionate about what they do and are happy to share it.”

Magnus Tallqvist ordered an Outremer 52 after chartering multiple catamarans to compare

A try before you buy case study

Magnus Tallqvist recently took delivery of the first Outremer 52, but his journey to signing the build contract involved a lot of chartering to learn exactly what he wanted.

“We were originally monohull sailors, with a 40ft Saare here in Sweden – a great boat. But with a plan to sail further in warmer climes, and eventually to circumnavigate, we started to look more broadly. That included chartering catamarans.

“What really opened our minds to the idea was an article about the Outremer concept, though it would in fact be a while before we sailed one. We started by chartering through Navigare Yachting, who owned quite a lot of different types.”

Tallqvist set up charters in a variety of locations for one to two weeks. “We sailed Lagoons, Nautitechs and Catanas, each for a week or more, often off season. As soon as you are living aboard you start to really learn and figure out if you can see yourself aboard long term. Some of them simply wouldn’t go well to windward.

Less than perfect weather can actually be a positive as it’s a more realistic experience. Photo: Outremer

The Nautitech Open 40 however was a good compromise of space and performance.

“Some had stowage high up in each cabin, which isn’t up to holding the volume or weight you would have when on board long term and easily breaks as the boat gets into heavier weather. On one we found that when it rained the cockpit got soaked because of the way the roof was moulded. These are all things we wouldn’t have learned from a day sail.”

Tallqvist and his wife were weary of hearing existing owners’ views of why their choice was the right option. “Very few people, having spent so much money, are likely to call themselves out for making the wrong decision, or to highlight faults with what they have chosen. There is no perfect yacht and so much about what you choose is down to you personally.

“The Outremer is geared to performance, not internal volume, nor is it as luxurious as many other catamarans in terms of kit on board, so it too is probably not the right yacht for everyone. While the Outremer we ordered was in fact hull No1, we made sure to sail the 45 and 51, finding a builder that made something that was right for us. We had confidence the 52 would be as good or better.

“For anyone thinking about buying, I’d really encourage them to charter as it’s a lot of fun and you learn so much along the way. See it as part of the process. The range of what’s available on the market is huge and it’s hard to differentiate and figure that out without putting the time in to get it right.

“A boat show is a somewhat artificial environment in that sense and, having now sailed quite a few catamarans, there are some I wouldn’t take across the Atlantic. A charter gives you an idea of the range of the market in terms of quality and the level of confidence they do or don’t inspire.”

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