Dick Cooper - July 2010


Saint-Tropez, the St. Michaels
of the French Riviera
Dick Cooper


Driving over the Oak Creek Bridge, I look out over the Miles River and see a sure sign of spring. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the first mega yacht of the 2010 season is riding at anchor just outside St. Michaels harbor.
Rising four stories over the river, the Kisses is a white layered wedding cake of a seagoing private yacht. Her 175 feet reflect the afternoon sun.
I don’t want to be a reverse snob, but St. Michaels is usually more of a Sea Ray and Carver kind of town. But over the years, the uber rich have found the charm of the village and drop in to pay us a visit. After all, we fit into that somewhat exotic rhythm of romantic place names: Saint-Tropez, Saint Barts, Saint Croix, Saint Thomas, Saint Michaels.
When my wife, Pat, and I moved here four years ago, some of our geographically challenged friends in Pennsylvania quickly spread the rumor that the Coopers had moved “to the islands.” One even asked, “How do you get there from here?” Obviously, she thought we had to load our belongings on a tramp steamer. She was very surprised to find that St. Michaels was attached, if just barely, to the rest of the United States.
It was after I began seeing the regular visits of these floating palaces that made me think my friends’ perceptions were not far from the truth. Over the years, these super toys have intrigued me.
As a yachtsman, I am familiar with the old saying, “no matter how big a boat you have, someone has one bigger.” These vessels always make me wonder, “How big is too big?”
One of the equally fascinating factors is that most of the yachts that come to town are plastered all over the Internet. Plug their names into Google and you are off on a guided tour intended to make you want to call the broker and book a date for a cruise.
One of the regulars is the Argyll, a 153-foot black-hulled beauty that ties up at the St. Michaels Marina when it is in town.
The Argyll has five guest cabins for up to 10 passengers. The nine-member international crew includes a U.S. Coast Guard veteran as captain and a culinary institute-trained chef, even the maid has a bachelor’s degree.
The vessel is based in Newport, R.I., in the summer and the Virgin Islands in the winter. Its local stops are usually when it is being moved between those ports.
“A private yacht charter would be similar to having your own fully staffed private luxury ‘home’ that moves to a new location when and where you want,” says Tim Nelson of Seven Seas Charters in Florida, a yacht broker who represents the Argyll and numerous other vessels.
“There are usually as many, if not more, crew members aboard than there are guests, so service is excellent. The chefs on these yachts are top notch. You will get five-star dining and the food is customized to your personal preferences; you won’t be ordering off a menu on one of these yachts.”
One of the biggest vessels we have seen anchored off Riverview Terrace is the Laurel. The stunning 240-foot vessel with a rich blue hull is reported to have been built at a cost of $139 million and is owned by a Philadelphia billionaire. Before arriving in St. Michaels last fall on its southbound trip, it was docked in Bar Harbor, Maine, for two months.
Power and Motoryacht Magazine ranks the Laurel as the 10th largest private yacht in America. St. Michaels joined a worldwide list of its ports of call in 2009. Web sites that report the movements of the great private yachts report Laurel sightings in Argentina, the Galapagos, Mexico, Alaska, Australia, Greece and France.
While the steel-hulled White Cloud, at 213 feet, is not the biggest yacht we have spotted off Parrott Point, it is one of the more impressive. The Bell Jet Ranger helicopter perched on its aft landing pad helps add to the intrigue, that and the onboard swimming pool.
The White Cloud has a cruising speed of 15 knots and carries a whopping 37,067 gallons of diesel fuel. Like many of the mega yachts that visit the river, the White Cloud is registered in the Cayman Islands, a country known for its favorable tax rates.
Some of the features of the mega yachts seen on the Miles River stretch the imagination of the average boater. The Blue Moon, for instance, a 198-footer owned by Chicago billionaire Richard “Dick” Duchossios and his wife, Judi, is featured in a photo display on a yacht charter Web site. The elevator, which connects the four levels, is a glass cylinder, lighted by a large skylight for that special “Beam me up, Scotty” moment. It can accommodate 12 guests and has a crew of 15. It has a full library and a 1,200-square-foot master suite with its own gym.
The list of toys on the Blue Moon includes a restored 1972 28-foot Riva Aquarama Italian speedboat with twin 420-horse motors, a 25-foot Chris Craft, a 16-foot inflatable tender, two kayaks, two waverunners, two windsurfers, bicycles, deep sea and light fishing tackle, beach umbrellas and chairs and six scuba tanks and gear.
The Blue Moon is reported to be heading for a summer of cruising in Alaska. In a drastic price cut to attract more charters, the weekly rental has been dropped from $525,000 to $475,000, plus expenses.
To paraphrase another old saying, “If you are wondering what it costs to charter a mega yacht, you can’t afford it.”
The base price to charter the Argyll for a week is a sweet $150,000. That does not cover food and fuel. Based on industry standards, you can expect to add 35 percent for provisioning, dockage and other ancillary charges. If you board the yacht, say in Florida, the state wants another 7.5 percent of the base as a tax. And don’t forget to tip the crew 15 percent.
Total bill for you, your spouse and eight good friends rounds off to $236,250.
The wonderful time you had together in St. Michaels, priceless.

Dick Cooper, a Pulitzer Prize -winning journalist, and his wife, Pat, live and sail in St. Michaels, MD. He can be reached at dickcooper@coopermediaassociates.com.