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Built in 1999, Melimar is a 100-foot Azimut Jumbo, which is the model name the Italian builder gave her. In this case, it’s especially fitting, as the original owner wanted a whole lot more roominess inside than other yacht owners tend to include.
The reason is that the original owner used a wheelchair, so he wanted larger spaces where he would be able to turn around and have access to whatever was going on. To that end, there are wider hallways and seating areas that feel almost gigantic.
You’ll probably take most of your meals on the aft deck, where there is a lovely al fresco dining table that seats six people comfortably. (You could eat inside in the formal dining area, but why?) The main saloon, too, will likely be a favorite gathering area both for pre-breakfast conversation and post-sightseeing cocktail hours.
Capt. Jon Christiansen is an all-around great guy—if you’re into casual, plain-spoken types who know what they’re doing and aim to please. You’d be hard-pressed to find him in dress whites with epaulets, but that’s because he’s so busy leading guests on scuba adventures and water-skiing dinghy excursions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re old or young; Christiansen will help to bring out the kid in you.
“Most of the charters we’ve done have been families,” he explains. “We have a lot of water toys, and we get a lot of repeat business. We’ve had little kids to teenagers, and we have something for everyone.”
One of the best things about Christiansen is that he’s been boating in and around the Florida Keys since the 1970s. Talk about a guy who knows the best snorkeling spots and dollar bars ashore!
He also does an excellent job of demanding teamwork among his crew, which pays off in a higher level of service to charter guests like you.
“Everybody does everything, and everybody needs to know everybody else’s job,” as he puts it. “I’ve seen some boats where the guys are sittin’ and watchin’ DVDs and the girls are working 18-hour days. No way. We all do dishes here.”
Felipe Cuellar’s family ran a cooking academy in Colombia, so although he was born in Florida, he spent a lot of time in Central America, shuttling back and forth to learn the basics of what would become his lifelong trade. “All the other kids were playing with toys,” he recalls. “I was playing with 50-pound bags of flour.”
Eventually, he used his skills to earn a diploma at the Culinary Institute of America and even learned Kosher cooking under the supervision of rabbis at two Jewish temples.
Melimar is the second yacht he’s worked onboard, and though he is happy to cook classic dishes, he enjoys charter guests who are interested in trying new tastes. “When I looked at the preference sheets for this trip and saw that we had a vegetarian, I was excited,” he says. “I get to explore.”
He’s particularly good at meats and seafoods, and he prefers to talk with each guest individually to figure out exactly the right way to prepare them. “I can see the expression on their face,” he explains, “see what kind of a person they are, see how far I can push or if I have to stay within certain boundaries.”
A typical three-course meal includes:
• Baby artichoke stuffed with goat cheese and kalamata olives, poached in vermouth and leeks
• Chateaubriand with haricots verts, pine nuts, and roasted fennel served in a morel and white truffle infusion sauce
• Bananas foster served in iced pineapple and coconut shells with homemade coconut ice cream, roasted coconut shavings, and cinnamon
Melimar is actually built to take as many as ten guests, with a master stateroom on the main deck and four guest cabins (two with queen beds, the other two with twin beds) on the bottom deck. However, because the crew accommodations are limited, the yacht only offers charter for six guests, or eight if it’s necessary. They simply cannot provide an appropriate level of service with any more bodies on board.
The nice thing about this arrangement is that three couples splitting a bill on a charter will each have a sizable cabin of their own, with nobody feeling as though they got the short end of the stateroom stick. Or, in another option, two families with children could simply take over the entire bottom deck of the yacht, leaving the master empty altogether.
There’s no doubt that Key West is a cool place to start and/or end a charter, with all the hopping nightlife and colorful characters who parade in the streets come sunset.
But a half-day’s cruise to the west, you’ll find the lesser-known Dry Tortugas—and they’re every bit as much a must-see destination, albeit entirely different.
The Tortugas are incredibly picturesque, with a lot less boating traffic than the Keys and a lot more untouched natural habitats. The biggest draw is the former U.S. Fort Jefferson, which is now a national park whose former cells and gunnery posts you can wander through. The picture-taking here is gorgeous, if you can forget that you’re looking at a former moat that protected cannons.
If you charter in this area and are interested in a little slice of scenic history, the Dry Tortugas will leave you dazzled.