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A 100-foot yacht,” says Jack Bredbeck, “is a toy on the water that you pour money into.” A tanned, crisply dressed 47-year-old ex-U.S. Navy boatswain mate, Bredbeck ought to know: he’s been a private yacht captain since moving here from Fort Lauderdale in 1999. Over lunch at the Hurricane Grill in Yaletown, he and another private captain, Australian-born Jaimie Wakeham, are chatting about the hard times that have befallen the private yacht market.
The last couple of years have been tough. When the economy went south in 2009, thousands of boats were put up for sale. Florida and California were hit especially hard. “Last summer,” says Bredbeck, “I brought seven boats up from California. Canadians were going down and naming their price, and people were taking it, no matter how much they were going to lose.”
Across the street, at the Quayside Marina, dozens of luxury boats are moored, bobbing gently in the breeze, costing their owners money. Yachts are expensive—not just to buy, but to fuel, crew, moor, and maintain. “Annual operating costs run 10 to 15 percent of the yacht’s value,” says Bredbeck, meaning a $30-million yacht costs $3 or $4 million a year to maintain. Just filling the tanks of a 110-footer costs about $33,000. At cruising speed, you burn about $400 of fuel an hour. “And fuel’s the cheapest thing you’re going to deal with.” There’s also crew, moorage, yacht club fees (thousands to join, hefty monthly dues), boathouse sheltering, moorage for the winter season, and the occasional refit (the sky’s the limit). As for a private slip, think Yaletown condos are expensive? A 120-foot slip at Quayside Marina sold recently for $1.2 million.
One of the boats moored at Quayside this day is the Hotei, the 115-foot craft Bredbeck often skippers for owner Jack Charles, of Arrow Marine. It’s for sale, listed at just under US$2 million, reduced from $3 million. It’s famous for having been leased out to Jimmy Pattison during Expo 86, when he hosted Lady Di and Prince Charles. Other guests have included Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. It’s often at Quayside; you pass it walking to the Aquabus stop. “If somebody wanted that boat,” says Bredbeck, “they’d get a screaming deal right now.”
Next to the Hotei is After Eight, owned by Don Wheaton, the largest GM dealer in Canada. The 151-foot yacht has three decks, designer furnishings, full-size Jacuzzi, even an elevator. It, too, is for sale. A Florida yacht brokerage has it listed for US$30 million.
If an owner is wealthy enough, of course, recessions don’t have much impact. Pattison, the third-richest Canadian (according to Forbes), now has his own yacht, the 150-foot Nova Spirit, which is often moored at Coal Harbour Marina. Pattison has hosted everyone from George Bush Sr. to Oprah, whom he showed around Desolation Sound in 2007. He’s not planning to sell anytime soon.
Nor is mining, shipping, and construction billionaire Dennis Washington. His current toys are the 223-foot Attessa III (seen in the movies Indecent Proposal and Overboard before he snapped it up, refitted, and renamed it) and Attessa IV, at 328 feet the largest yacht ever launched in North America. Named best rebuilt yacht at the 2011 World Superyacht Awards in London, Attessa IV is often moored at Washington Yachting Group, by Lonsdale Quay. You can’t miss her—just look for the helicopter on the top deck.
The boat Wakeham has skippered for the last seven years, Reward, is owned by John Zigarlick, whose company builds ice roads in the Canadian North. Wakeham calls the 103-foot craft “a giant golf buggy,” since Zigarlick likes to cruise from golf course to golf course. The name of the game is owner satisfaction. “When he says jump, we say how high,” says Wakeham. “It’s all about him and his enjoyment. You’re the captain, but the owner is the admiral.”
“As a captain, driving the boat is the easy part,” Bredbeck adds. “The hard part is making sure it’s drivable and presentable.” Captains not only keep the yacht turnkey ready and oversee refits, repairs, and maintenance, they also plan cruises, hire and fire crew, provide yacht management, book moorage, arrange tee times, schedule fishing trips, book rental cars, even buy the booze. “On top of everything else,” he says, “you’re a secretary.”
You’re also responsible for passengers’ misbehaviour. Illegal activity in the U.S. can lead to the yacht being confiscated and the captain thrown in jail. And you sometimes have to deal with obnoxious owners, like the prominent local developer who owns an 80-foot floating entertainment palace often full of drunken guests, a man who expects you to drop your life (both captains have kids) at a moment’s notice if he feels like cruising.
After lunch, the captains saunter off, Bredbeck to prep for a cruise and Wakeham to settle ship’s accounts. It’s sunny, with a light breeze—a perfect day for boating. Even though cruising season is relatively short in this part of the world, B.C. is a spectacular destination. “There’s twelve-and-a-half thousand miles of coastline,” Wakeham points out, “so if you like fjords, wildlife, fishing, beachcombing, wine tours, or if you like dining or shopping—it’s just amazing.” Adds Bredbeck: “The worst day at sea is better than the best day in the office.”
All you need is money, albeit less than previously. And if you want to take a test run before spending millions, you can always rent the luxurious 120-foot Spirit of Two Thousand & Ten. $100,000 a week. Captain included.