Article by Sarah Forge
FROM LAST MINUTE RESTAURANT RESERVATIONS AND OPERA TICKETS TO YACHT CLEARANCE FORMALITIES AND BERTHING, SARAH FORGE MEETS THE SPECIAL AGENTS WHO WILL BE ASSISTING CAPTAINS AND CREW FOR ALL THEIR SPECIAL NEEDS IN THE COMING MEDITERRANEAN SEASON
Yacht agents are the neat little stitches that hold the fabric of the cruising superyacht community together.
Administrator, tour guide, party planner, technician, counsellor, the work of an agent is a dozen jobs rolled into one and even the most seasoned captains couldn’t bear to be without one.
But what qualities must a yacht agent display in order to be truly great?
“Working with yachts is a challenging job,” says Paola Musumeci of Elite Yacht Service in Sicily. “You have just a few days to ensure clients get what they need and the smallest details make the difference between an awful and a terrific vacation. On top of that, you often have very little time for preparation and planning. I believe the most important qualities are timeliness and 24/7 availability – both skills make us great problem solvers.”
Captain Raki Dragovic was in the merchant navy followed by ten years on megayachts before founding Montenegro-based DRM Maritime Services. He succinctly says, “Professionalism, honesty and timely performed service.”
Katerina Papageorgopoulou from 1998-established Kronos Yacht Agency on the Greek island of Rhodes comments, “We keep our clients, and you know how demanding they are, because we are efficient and always find solutions to problems. The captain doesn’t need to know how I did it, or the problems that were solved, just that his job is done and the guests on board are satisfied.”
“A yacht agent needs to be multilingual, extremely well organised and have a positive attitude – impossible does not exist,” says Christiane Thomsen, MD of Lunautica with offices in France, Spain and Germany. “Previous experience in the yachting, high-end cruise ships or the hospitality industry is a bonus.”
Maja Ban from MYS Yachting in Croatia agrees, “A great yacht agent must be honest, dependable and a brilliant multitasker. They must be a true people pleaser and be willing to work 24/7. Captains and crew depend a lot on us and the quality of their work can be directly affected by the work and info provided by the agent. Crew must have full trust in their agent and feel comfortable to contact them – regardless of the time or subject.”
“The highest quality of service and the highest level of support and services to be delivered onboard at any time – 24/7, and great communication with the local authorities,” asserts Elisavet Tsopanoglou from Naftilos Marine in Piraeus.
Bea Alonso from Evolution Yacht Agents, with offices in mainland Spain and the Balearics, adds, “In the superyacht industry, changes happen frequently at short notice. Yacht agents need to accurately assess the level of urgency and provide solutions accordingly, whilst being empathetic with the needs of crew and guests. We must be competent knowledgeable connoisseurs of the best local products and resources and respond to requests swiftly enabling captain and crew to do their job and hit their targets efficiently.”
Efficiency, effectiveness, speed, punctuality and 24/7 availability,” says Elena Giourtzidou from Yachtways in Athens. “The team in the office have a deep knowledge of the local legal framework, paperwork requirements and formalities, and the natural beauty that your country has to offer. Oh, and a warm welcoming smile, patience and passion for a challenge.”
Meanwhile, Paz Rodrigo from Dockside Services based in Palma de Mallorca, believes, “It is important not to limit yourself to only providing services. For us, the crew are like friends and the owners are special guests. Like when you have guests at home, you take care of all the details and do things with love and passion. Spain is our home, so we try to get everything perfect when they come to visit us. And, of course, it’s very important to be formal and polite.”
Whilst the ‘softer’ side of agency is undoubtedly valuable, steering yachts through tricky local bureaucracy is where yacht agents really become worth their weight in gold. Varied, complicated and ever-changing according to territory, it’s really only an agent who can accurately present and explain the local rules and regulations.
As Katerina from Kronos Yacht Agency says, “Anybody who supports the theory that the entry and exit formalities are easy, is mistaken. An agent must know the laws very well and must advise and protect the boat by issuing the right papers in order to cruise in the waters legally. And, we have our way with the authorities so that makes our job more efficient.”
Paola concurs, “We work mainly with superyachts, which makes our job a little trickier in terms of paperwork. Furthermore, changes in regulations every year doesn’t help either. Let’s say there are key differences between private and commercial yachts, EU and non-EU yachts, but also private and commercial ports. Each port has its own document requests, with commercial ones being stricter and more bureaucratic.”
Maja adds, “And, never assume that rules, products and services are the same in all countries just because they are part of the EU.”
Some paperwork is of a rather obvious nature – the yacht’s registration certificate, insurance certificate, the captain’s license, an accurate crew and passenger list – while some is slightly more obscure. Spain, for example, hasn’t always rolled out the red carpet for visiting charter yachts and has made entrance rather tricky – although the welcome is undoubtedly getting warmer.
Bea from Evolution takes the issue of crew clearance in and out of Spain as an example, “There are different protocols depending on whether the previous or next port of call is within or outside of the EU. And, even though all EU customs zones have the same rulebook, there are different interpretations – there are even some variations from local immigration offices depending on the port.”
Krisjanis Lamberts from Iberian Yacht Solutions adds a warning not to anchor on protected poseidonia seagrass, “Instructions have been given to local authorities to strictly control this and the fines might be severe.”
Christiane, who worked for shipbuilders Lürssen for seven years before setting up Lunautica in 1996, says, “Germany probably asks for the most comprehensive documentation, including a full inventory of all high taxable goods on board as well as weapon and art declarations and cash declarations for any amount equal or above 10,000 euros.” One suspects that Germany isn’t alone.
Another facet that unites all these hand holding agents is that they are fiercely proud and protective of the territories they oversee – as you’ll gather from these ‘elevator pitches’. Championing Montenegro is Raki, “It may be a small country but we have a very nice coast with lovely beaches while restaurants and nightlife are at the high end. Montenegro occupies a convenient geographical position between Greece, Italy and Croatia making it a superb embarkation point for charters. Porto Montenegro is one of the best marinas in the Mediterranean and we have very friendly laws for yachts, including duty-free fuel.”
Maja fights next-door neighbour Croatia’s corner. “Captains will be able to offer an itinerary encapsulating natural beauty, clean water, numerous islands and islets, rich history, a growing gastro and wine scene as well as music festivals and events, something for everyone.
However, Croatia isn’t to see and to be seen. We don’t have resort-style marinas or the shopping that one can find in the Western Mediterranean, but that’s what makes Croatia different and interesting. From an operational perspective, we have a few quality shipyards and almost everyone speaks English.”
Speaking for Sicily is Paola, “Sicily is a safe Mediterranean destination which is geopolitically secure. It also offers untouched landscapes, centuries of history and a unique culture.”
Yachtways’ Elena votes Greece, “Greece has approximately 6,000 islands and islets which makes it one of the top yachting destinations of the world. It has amazing beaches, waters, archaeological sites, culture, cuisine, endless sun, nightlife, music, dance and most importantly warm, smiling, outgoing hospitable people.”
Bea flies the flag for Spain, “Spain boasts a full spectrum of experience for yachts and their guests. As a summer destination, the Balearic Islands offer pristine natural land and seascapes. Each island has its own tradition, culture and character. Mainland Spain allows guests to travel through time and space from Malaga inland to Seville and as far north as Tarragona, Barcelona and the Costa Brava – all accessible by yacht. Due to its appealing climate, Spain is also an ideal winter destination to enjoy downtime in sophisticated superyacht marinas or execute work and maintenance periods in the excellent shipyards.”
Another Spain exponent is Paz, “Our weather, clear waters, it’s not dangerous, you can take a walk at any time, friendly people and good restaurants with fresh fish, fruit, olive oil, and many other ingredients that make our cuisine one of the best.”
As is Krisjanis, “One of the must see places is the Costa Brava, the area which stretches from the French border until the Spanish town of Blanes. Translated, Costa Brava means the Wild Coast and it’s an endless sequence of rocky shores and picturesque bays with white beaches and crystal blue water.”
Christiane from Lunautica has a slightly trickier task, covering everywhere from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe. “Any larger yacht can easily cover both worlds within one European summer season. The Northern countries offer the amazing long ‘white nights’ during May and June, making for almost ‘around the clock’ activities and excitement. Yacht visits into Hamburg, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm offer guests a whole new cruising experience.”
Needless to say, it’s not just the scenery and sunshine that adds up to a magical cruising experience. It’s those extra touches that can send yacht agents into a frenzied whirl.
The music industry has grown accustomed to diva-like riders from its artists, but let’s just say that superyacht patrons give these A-listers more than a run for their money. The tales you read in the tabloids are not invented, guests do indeed ask for bagels to be flown in from New York and for their dry-cleaning to be sent to Paris by Learjet – just ask the yacht agents, they have the grey hairs to prove it.
Bea from Evolution says, “We have had so many, we rarely raise an eyebrow anymore. We were once asked to organize a Mercedes S Class to take the owner’s dogs for a drive, and to source one square metre of natural grass for another owner’s canines. Staying on the pet theme, one owner wanted to gift his friend a talking parrot in an ornate cage, the yacht was in Palma but the parrot had to be able to speak Russian or, as a next best option, French. More logistically challenging was the time an owner wanted to change the colour of his vessel whilst berthed in Ibiza one night – we sourced and set up industrial lighting from the dock with yellow light bulbs.”
Maja from MYS Yachting has been tasked with finding small dog diapers for the owner’s pooch and a professional croupier for a midnight poker party near a small Croatian island, but insists that the most ‘standard’ requests are often the hardest to deal with, such as technical issues and getting hold of not-so-easily-available food and drink.
“We had to source the sheet music of a Jimmy Hendrix song ready for a Saturday jam session between famous musicians onboard a client’s yacht in the South of France,” says Christiane. “And a last-minute trip to a small village in the French Alps to mark the arrival of the Tour de France, including heli transfers.”
Paola from Elite Yacht Service recounts, “Each and every year we are ready for the strange requests that come our way. One client asked for beds, mattresses, pillows, bed linen and a baby seat to be delivered within two hours. Our team was completely unprepared so we drove frantically around the city before delivering everything on time at port. Others asked for two professional KTM off-road bike instructors. We were also asked to plan a cycling itinerary across Mount Etna from Taormina to Portorosa, sounds ok, except when you’re asked to pinpoint stop-offs in trendy bars in what is essentially a rural area.”
“I was asked to organise a surprise on¬board birthday party, but the guests hardly ever left the yacht,” says Dockside’s Paz Rodrigo. “We managed to tempt them into a guided tour of the area and as soon as they departed we came with two van-loads of balloons, deco, and a giant cake with candles. When the birthday ‘boy’ came to breakfast the next morning he was greeted with a pianist playing his favourite songs and his family waiting to see his reaction. Truly memorable.”
Tags: Superyacht Agents
Katerina is a real-life miracle worker having planned a same-day wedding in just a few hours, flown in Harley Davidsons and Jeeps from Athens, and arranged a 3am heli¬transfer for a crew member suffering with decompression sickness from diving – her quick reactions helped save his life.
Elena tops the tables with this bizarre trio, “A captain once asked for eye surgery while he was waiting for the owners to arrive, while an owner took advantage of his time in Greece to have liposuction. The weirdest was from a bride-to-be who wanted to dress the wild geese of the island with big red bows for her wedding. Needless to say this didn’t go ahead.”
Krisjanis says, whilst the outlandish requests create the biggest adrenaline rushes, little details can make the most lasting impression. “When trying to reach for the stars, don’t forget that the simple things can be even more important. One of our best clients will always fondly remember us for parking a cycle rickshaw next to his yacht after he admired one from his flybridge in Barcelona. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it meant the world to him.”
So what does the 2018 season have in store for superyachts? For some territories it’s business as usual, while others will see some changes – good and bad.
Greece is perhaps the most interesting. Elena explains, “Greece is in the process of making some important legislation changes including the requirement to obtain a charter licence for Greek waters. If all goes well, and we have no more ‘political surprises’, I believe that this season will be the first of many successful yachting seasons ahead of us for Greece.”
Katerina believes, “It will be a little harder for Greece this summer. The law changes continuously and we must be very careful to avoid the penalties. Nonetheless I try to be optimistic and believe it will still be a good season.”
Elisavet from Naftilos Marine is more positive, “Greek territory will always be the greatest choice for summer vacations.” Maja says, “In the yachting business, we only know one thing for sure and that’s that nothing is sure. That said, rules are very simple to follow for both commercial and private yachts and Croatia’s authorities are very cooperative when it comes to making it all a simple and fast process for charter yachts. The only news to pass on is the new rate of Sojourn, or tourist tax, and captains should inform themselves accordingly. In recent years, Croatia has invested a lot in promotion, so we believe the season will be busy again.”
Raki from DRM Maritime Services is looking forward to the summer opening of both 176-berth Lustica Bay for yachts up to 35 metres and 238-berth Portonovi which is able to accommodate yachts up to 120 metres. They will join well-known award winning Porto Montenegro.
Paola enthuses, “In recent years we have seen Sicily become a preferred yachting destination, and we are proud to have been working with some of the most luxurious yachts berthed here – many returning twice in a row. We expect a busy season and warm weather right from May until October.”
Paz believes Spain’s season is starting earlier, despite the questionable European weather, and predicts a busy season.
Bea from Evolution has similarly high hopes, “We are already expecting many returning clients, and are ready for another busy summer. Additionally, with Barcelona hosting the MYBA and LYBRA shows this spring, we are receiving enquiries from newcomers wishing to make the most of their visit to Spain and start their season right here.”
Christiane from Lunautica concludes, “We are definitely seeing increased interest in Northern European destinations, widening opportunities for charter yachts and their clients. If you’re arriving after an Atlantic crossing, a trip into Seville could be something special for guests but, beware, air draught is limited to around 40 metres due to the various bridges along the Guadalquivir River.”
Whichever waters you decide to navigate, do yourself a favour and pop a yacht agent on speed dial.