Adventures for sail
A new fleet of luxury yachts is providing travellers with access to what were once unreachable regions, writes Tama Lung
When filmmakers Lorne and Lawrence Blair set out to document the remote atolls of Indonesia's Ring of Fire, the British brothers encountered starvation, near-drowning, erupting volcanoes and corrupt customs officers with little more than some Marmite, a first-aid kit and a bottle of Grand Marnier.
Forty years later, I'm reading of their hair-raising adventures while sipping my fresh pineapple and strawberry juice in the air conditioned comfort of the Alila Purnama. The 46-metre boat is anchored off the shores of Indonesia's Komodo Island, where we have just finished a breakfast of freshly baked croissants and cappuccino before speeding off to our rendezvous with the fabled carnivorous "dragons".
The Purnama ("Full Moon") - built by Indonesian fashion designer Tasya Ascobat Reza and managed by Alila Hotels and Resorts - is one of a new breed of luxury liveaboards offering travellers access to some of the most remote regions of the globe, while providing all the amenities of the finest resorts. Whereas the Blairs set sail with fierce Bugis tribesmen, who they were told "have a weakness for 'losing' their passengers", our friendly crew of 13 includes a talented chef, massage therapist, IT specialist and an Italian cruise director who is also a certified dive master and yoga instructor.
"Yachting offers the ability to switch off in total privacy and enjoy complete escapism in the most amazing places on earth, with the service of a seven-star hotel," says Charlie Birkett, CEO and founding partner of Y.CO, which specialises in luxury yacht charters and superyacht sales.
"Guests can follow summer around the world - they can be in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, or exploring last frontiers from the Antarctic and the Galapagos Islands to the endless archipelagos of Southeast Asia. There is no other way of seeing the world in such style and luxury."
It's experiences like these that drew the intrepid Blair brothers to Indonesia all those years ago, and will no doubt lead more travellers to pull up anchor on a liveaboard. "Discerning luxury travellers are looking for the unexpected and the unforgettable," Birkett says. "Exploring otherwise inaccessible regions by yacht is an experience that will create lifelong memories."
For these seasoned travellers, tailor-made programmes and customised services are a must, and few companies do it as seamlessly as the fully customised charters aboard South African entrepreneur Kirk Lazarus' superyacht, Told U So.
"I've chartered a lot of boats and a lot of them are beautiful, but the quality of the service or the food or the overall experience is not perfect. So I decided to build one myself," says Lazarus, who also created Molori Private Retreats after earning his fortune in the oil business.
The five-cabin Benetti - completely redesigned by Lazarus - features a master suite with private spa and walk-in closets, a blend of antique and contemporary furnishings, state-of-the-art technology and enough space that all 10 guests can be in separate areas at the same time.
"What we've designed is basically something for my lifestyle," Lazarus says. "We can do completely tailor-made adventures. In countries that are new to us, we will have our captain and then we'll take a local captain so we know all the hidden spots. And then we'll bring on different instructors. For example, I like tai chi and kung fu, so I'll bring a kung fu master on board."
Even for someone like Lazarus, who has his own aircraft, the total freedom of a luxury yacht is "indescribable". "What we found, especially in Asian waters, is that we were going to places that people didn't go to ordinarily," he says. "I wanted to dive a specific spot and it was five hours away from where we were in Thailand, so we travelled there, took a dive and then went from there to Malaysia. Even if you go with a helicopter or a private jet, you can't get to some of these places."
Rather than lose business to the high seas, a number of hotel groups have ventured into the charter business. Four Seasons Maldives takes guests - along with dive instructors, master chefs, a spa therapist and even a marine biologist - to isolated reefs and uninhabited beaches aboard its 39-metre, three-deck catamaran.
Aman Resorts has a range of boats at several locations - including an entire fleet of vessels at its flagship Amanpuri resort in Phuket, Thailand - for sunset cruises to four-day-long scuba certification courses. Options include a Chinese sailing junk, a custom-built dive boat and a 27-metre luxury cruiser with air conditioned cabins and a Thai-style lounge area.
Richard Branson's Necker Island hideaway in the British Virgin Islands offers its Necker Belle catamaran for island-hopping adventures. And next year, Soneva Resorts in the Maldives will launch its "floating villa yacht experience", Soneva in Aqua.
I, for one, will never forget my heart leaping at the end of our Komodo trek. We had finally come face-to-face with one of the massive lizards, who looked to be half-asleep until one of us dropped a wide-brimmed hat and he lunged to his feet in preparation for attack. Thankfully, the beast retreated - with the help of our guides and their trusty sticks - and we were left with a story I once thought could only be found in the pages of a book.
ISLANDS OF FUN
Since its launch in December 2012, the Alila Purnama's (above) most popular journey has been to Raja Ampat with its 600 islands - an "underwater Shangri-la" for divers. Guests can also request private charters and tailor-made itineraries. Activities include diving, snorkelling, watersports and trekking.
Handcrafted from ironwood in the traditional style of an Indonesian phinisi sailing ship, Alila Purnama is a unique blend of classic design and modern luxury.
The air conditioned and Wi-fi-equipped boat boasts five en-suite cabins, including a master suite with shower, bathtub and private balcony, plus a library, spacious dining and lounge area, and three decks for relaxation, spa treatments or yoga lessons.