When Damen Yachting’s SeaXplorer 77 expedition yacht La Datcha first launched in 2020, it did so with a promise. The yacht would, the Dutch yard said, be capable of visiting the most remote corners of the world and enduring sustained periods at sea with storage for provisions and fuel to last 40 days between ports. Once there, La Datcha’s guests would make use of an extensive inventory of on board equipment, including two helicopters, a dive centre and two tender garages. Since delivery in November 2020, La Datcha has wasted no time proving its mettle, departing the Netherlands and making its way through the Suez Canal before cruising the Seychelles, Maldives and Singapore. It then headed north through the South China Sea for Japan and, its ultimate destination, the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia.
A Russian self-made billionaire and keen adventurer, owner Oleg Tinkov has always been transparent about commissioning La Datcha as a surfing, diving and heliskiing charter platform. Now, Tinkov has taken his place as the driving force behind La Datcha’s charter itinerary, which has seen the yacht based in Kamchatka for the summer season. After extensively skiing in the area himself, Tinkov saw “an opportunity in the market”, according to La Datcha’s captain Alistair Reid. “He saw that there is a desire to visit the region but knew you needed a yacht to reach it,” Reid says. And Tinkov was onto something. The yacht’s charter schedule has been jampacked with visitors keen to visit Kamchatka. Not only is La Datcha fully booked this year, with “not a spot left”, according to Reid, but next year is already filling up too. “It’s a completely untapped location, which is such a rare thing in yachting,” Reid says. “There is a real market here”.
La Datcha is a purposeful charter platform and nowhere is this more evident than in the yacht’s accommodation configuration. La Datcha is equipped with two master cabins and four VIPs, a layout that allows two families or a group of friends to split the cost of a charter. This layout, which was specifically stipulated by Tinkov, was a “clever recognition” of the charter market, Reid says. “While chartering a vessel like this is within the reach of a considerable amount of people, it’s still out of reach for a lot of people to come and visit a place like this.” This arrangement however allows both parties or families to have a master suite with “no feeling that one party is getting more for their money,” Reid says.
Alongside accommodation for 12 guests, La Datcha can hold 21 full-time crew and an expedition staff of six, although during the inaugural charter season this has been pushed up to nine, to include helicopter pilots, two ski guides, technicians and fishing guides. Carrying this amount of expedition staff is a direct result of the charter guests’ keen appetite to take full advantage of La Datcha’s range of excursions. “The guests spend a huge amount of money on this experience, and they want to take as much advantage of it as possible,” Reid says.
The star of the excursion show is undoubtedly heliskiing, which has been “incredibly popular” with La Datcha’s guests. It is, Reid emphasises, a truly “unique experience”. “Nobody has ever skied these areas before – they were completely untouched before,” he says. “We really are the first to do that.” It’s even a new experience for La Datcha’s ski guides. “The regions are so remote and inaccessible that even our guides haven’t skied them before,” Reid says.
While the idea of heliskiing may conjure up images of treacherous slopes and extreme conditions, the skiing fields of Kamchatka cater for a range of abilities and ages. “The options for where we can ski are numerous and the degree of difficulty is vast, so we can find the easy slopes as well as advanced ones,” says Reid. “It’s definitely changed all the preconceptions I had about heliskiing”. Alongside skiing, guests have been partaking in cold water scuba diving, jet-skiing, wakeboarding, and fishing, as well as visiting the Kuril Islands. La Datcha’s recent guests even enjoyed a barbecue on top of a volcano, while a “whole whale skeleton” sat washed up on the beach below them. “I’ve never seen the number of whales before that we’ve seen here,” Reid says. “There are huge pods of them every day.”
Despite this season’s charter success, Reid is open about the “challenges” it took to get here, with endless administration and unpredictable weather being the biggest hurdles. “There is considerable administration to operate a vessel in these areas,” he says, “no-one has done this before which means it’s very foreign and alien, not just to ourselves but to the authorities who are dealing with it too.” When it comes to the weather, Reid and La Datcha’s guests must be more flexible. “The weather is a real factor,” he says. “I sit down with the guests and look at the forecast and plan out the day.”
With the summer season drawing to a close, La Datcha will soon be putting the snowfields of Kamchatka behind and travelling down to Antarctica, with the first winter guests arriving on King George Island on December 4. While Reid admits there is “a huge amount to do” in preparation for chartering in the region, La Datcha will be in waters increasingly familiar with superyachts. “Antarctica is much more popular with yachts than it has been previously,” Reid says. Additionally, regional experts such as EYOS Expeditions will be on hand to help with the tedious administration duties. Looking back on the La Datcha’s relentless charter season and with no downtime in sight, Reid’s enthusiasm remains undented. “It’s been an experience of a lifetime for me personally and to have it I feel very lucky and blessed.”
Click the links below to listen to our BOAT Briefing podcast with Alistair Reid, captain of the groundbreaking 77m Damen La Datcha:Listen on SpotifyListen on Apple