Guest Column: Phuket’s First Bareboat Charters
My personal voyage in Thailand began in 1989, when yachting and the concept of chartering in Phuket was just getting started.
Phuket’s First Bareboat Charter
A life filled with sun, sea, scuba diving and sailing seemed an excellent alternative after three years in Tokyo. Someone had told me to “just get on a bus in Bangkok and head south until you find paradise”. So I did, and got off the bus at the furthest point, which was a palm-fringed beach called Kata. In 1989, I became office manager of the first bareboat charter company in Phuket, Star Voyage, in Chalong, dealing with customer requests and the various problems that arose day-to-day.
I then began to work on yachts myself and cruised all around Asia and Australia. From a cook to deliveries of sailing yachts, to a position on my first “big boat”, a 70-foot Alloy Yacht in Indonesia. I worked as chief stewardess on the very first “charter superyacht” in Phuket, a classic 100-foot Benetti.
However, neither Phuket nor Southeast Asia had much growth in the number of large yachts (as in 100+ feet) and eventually I moved to Florida and the Caribbean. There were plenty of big and bigger motor yachts there. My experience as yacht crew has helped me greatly in my position as charter manager of Northrop & Johnson Asia. I can understand both sides of the charter industry coin.
It was still a steep learning curve to get familiar with international charter rules and regulations, internationally used charter agreements and charter procedures. Luckily, I had full support of the senior charter brokers and charter managers of our Northrop & Johnson offices in the USA and Europe. Northrop & Johnson Thailand opened in the Phuket Boat Lagoon in 2013. Our first charter yacht under exclusive management was a newly built, luxury 52-m phinisi.
We gradually acquired an extended portfolio of yachts under management in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. In 2014, Northrop & Johnson Asia became one of only two MYBA members in Asia. MYBA is the world’s foremost charter broker association and its “quality seal” certainly contributed to our success in the charter business.
Also, most of our Asia team attended MYBA Superyacht Broker training in Europe and we visit the MYBA charter shows in Europe and Antigua yearly. We stay in touch with our colleague charter brokers, inspect available charter yachts and remain up to date with any changes in charter procedures, tax regulations and so on.
Our charter business is two-fold. On one hand, we deal with requests for charter yachts in the Mediterranean and Caribbean for our Asian or Asia-based clients, as we do know many of the yachts available there. On the other hand, we cater to the American and European demand for luxury charter yachts in Asia. Clients as well as overseas brokers rely on us for an unbiased opinion and advice on charter yachts and destinations.
We have always had the natural assets in Phuket – and in Asia in general – to attract superyachts, but not many got here. Back in the eighties, Amanpuri and Mom Tri’s Boathouse were the lone luxury resorts on the island. Western food and a good glass of wine were difficult to find, and the fledgling yacht industry was dominated by live-aboard dive boats.
Now there are countless five-star hotels, villas and resorts, many trendy upmarket beach clubs, sophisticated restaurants, spas and golf courses and shopping centers that wouldn’t look bad in New York or Paris. And there is a wide range of luxury yachts, private and for charter.
In Phuket alone there are four marinas with outstanding facilities – two with berthing for superyachts of any size, and a full range of marine support businesses. Growing pains are inevitable but I think they’re offset by the sophistication of logistics and memorable experiences. Phuket and Asia caters to the growing number of locals and visiting yachts.
In 2013, Sytske and Bart Kimman, working with Lies, set up Northrop & Johnson Asia’s charter division, based in Phuket. Northrop & Johnson Asia now represents a portfolio of luxury charter yachts ranging from 65 to 140 feet.