Page 1 of 3
At a half-million dollars a week, the 228-foot motoryacht Sherakhan is a super-size star on the worldwide charter stage
By Kim Kavin
We don’t have a reservation for one of the coveted marina slips in Gustavia Harbour on the Caribbean island St. Bart’s, not because we couldn’t get one, but because, at 228 feet long, our charter motoryacht Sherakhan is simply too big. She’s one of the biggest charter yachts in the world, in fact, big enough to make an impression on people who see yachts all the time. As we lower our anchor in the harbor and prepare to go ashore, I notice the crew onboard 120-footers at the dock craning their necks for a glimpse at us.
Now there’s something that doesn’t happen every day on charter.
Onboard Sherakhan, we had just finished breakfast (our daily Volkswagen-sized buffet of everything from fresh crepes to smoked salmon). The day’s itinerary would include all the things that have drawn celebrities and wealthy vacationers to St. Bart’s for decades: shopping, sightseeing, and lunch at the famed Eden Rock resort's restaurant on St. Jean Beach.
We’d have a wonderful time that day, but to tell you the truth, I would have been happy to eat every meal and spend every day aboard Sherakhan just the same. The yacht is just that comfortable and impressive.
She is the work of a man named Jan Verkerk, whom I first met some years before this cruise. I remember sitting with him in the sky lounge onboard his previous owner-operated yacht, the 124-foot Jaguar, looking out at the cityscape of Genoa, Italy, and listening to him excitedly explain how he saw a hole in the charter market for what would become today’s gigayachts: super-size boats built to international construction standards so that they can take more than the typical 12 charter guests while still offering yacht-level service and appointments.
He realized his vision by evolving into an owner-operator on a scale that dwarfs most boaters’ imaginations. He’s not Sherakhan’s captain, but he does live and work among the crew, taking his turn on everything from cleanup to anchor watches. And he shifts seamlessly into the role of dinner host during charters, if guests are interested in learning the history of the yacht. I imagine the conversations go much as the one did the night he dined with our group in Sherakhan’s stunning, two-story dining room (see the photo below at right). Several of the guests complimented him on just how beautifully Sherakhan had turned out, citing things like plush carpeting and curved glass accents. “What you’re seeing,” Verkerk delicately answered, “is the last five percent of the boat, the interior. Ninety-five percent of the boat took three years of my life.”
She started out as Princess Margaret, a hulk of an abandoned commercial ship destined to rot in Holland. “I’d seen it many times before,” Verkerk recalls, “and I said, ‘Oh, Jesus, that’s a lot of work.’” She looked better to him after September 11, 2001, when the worldwide charter industry suffered a downturn and his income aboard Jaguar no longer supported his custom construction dream. His 4-year-old daughter christened the rebuild Sherakhan, after a character in Disney’s The Jungle Book.
The tiger-inspired Sherakhan logo now graces the main guest foyer, near a portrait of the woman Princess Margaret—a reminder of the yacht’s past as well as her current, stately air. What a striking woman the princess was, and how fitting, perhaps, that her portrait is located near the stairs that lead to Sherakhan’s onboard beauty salon.
I’m not typically one to visit such places onboard a boat, but I admit, after my time aboard Sherakhan, I do appreciate what it means for a yacht to be able to offer virtually everything a guest might desire, all in complete privacy. And that, for those traveling in circles where a weeklong vacation costs a half-million dollars, most definitely includes pedicures.
It also includes more memorable extravagances, things like beach barbecues organized by a half-dozen crew members to include not just a long table with chairs on a private stretch of sand, but also chaises for lounging with champagne while snacking on hors d’oeuvres. Sherakhan’s crew arranged this for our group one day on Prickly Pear Island, going so far as to hail Verkerk himself to bring more bubbly by tender when our initial cooler-full ran dry. He delivered it with a smile right there on the beach as the yacht’s sous chef kept the grill going and the stewardesses laid out countless salads. We stayed until the sun dipped down, and, I think, would have gladly stayed forever. The place was all ours.
That’s not to say it’s hard going back to Sherakhan at the end of any given day. Her sheer size affords incredible interior volume, and that includes the guest cabins. I was in one of the smallest, with twin beds (see the photo at right), and my bathroom was bigger than an entire cabin on some 40-footers. My clothes barely filled one-quarter of my closet.
I might have felt Lilliputian if not for the fact that Sherakhan’s size engenders the opposite sensation: of being larger than life. The chaise lounges on the Portuguese bridge, right in front of the wheelhouse, for instance, are a solid three stories above sea level. Every harbor we entered, every yacht we saw, we towered above. I can see how movie stars might get used to this vantage point.
It’s true that Sherakhan—from vision to execution—had me star-struck well before I even stepped onboard (as you already know if you read my First Impression review back in 2006). But in the end, it is the onboard experience that must be outstanding for guests to come back at a weekly base rate of more than $500,000—and they do come back, nearly half of them, including one repeat client who booked a four-week-long charter.
If I had to quibble with anything, it would be the yacht’s lack of zero-speed stabilizers, which are now a given aboard charter yachts in this price range but which, I’m told, would be ineffective onboard a yacht of Sherakhan’s shape and draft (the depth she extends below the waterline). Though she is big and heavy, she pitched like other yachts in the six- to seven-foot swells we encountered. A few of the ocean’s messier afternoons had us rolling good and hard, and I, being prone to seasickness, had an unfortunate half-hour or so during one morning's cruise. Two other guests, neither used to being on the water, had the same sensation of queasiness.
At the same time, the gentle motion in sheltered harbors at night was as relaxing as a hammock on a 30-foot sailboat. And I think this last bit is a large part of what makes Sherakhan at once so formidable yet comfortable as a charter yacht.
She is built to be one of the most impressive yachts in any destination, the kind of yacht where everyone is dying to get inside if only to see who is there, and what they are doing.
What the guests are doing, though, is the same thing every other charterer on every other yacht is doing. “Going to sea,” as Verkerk says, “can be like one big yoga lesson. No calls, no e-mails, just books and rest and peace and quiet.”
And a staff of 18, a private library, a sauna, an on-demand masseuse—well, these things don’t hurt. Maybe next time I’m aboard, I’ll try the indoor gym. That’s one way to work off the chef’s incredibly delicious homemade apple pie.