How to document your superyacht holiday

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Making memories: Unique ways to document your superyacht experience

27 September 2021 • Written by Charlotte Hogarth-Jones

Want a unique momento to remember your superyacht holiday by? Discover some of the best ways you can document and immortalise a superyacht experience with the help of creative professionals trained to preserve your best moments on board.

Think back to your earliest yachting adventures and it’s likely you captured your trips – and, perhaps, subsequently bored friends back home – with a series of amateur snaps. Today, it’s a different story. Owners and charterers have a wealth of innovative professionals at their disposal to help them create a lasting memory of their experiences in a way that’s meaningful to them. From lino prints that capture the mood on board at the time, through to marble dragon eggs collected at stops along the itinerary, it’s fair to say there’s no memento you can’t conjure up and have made into a reality.

Portrait artist Alexandra Gould was invited on board DSSV Pressure Drop to capture life on board with owner Victor Vescovo.
Credit: Reeve Jolliffe EYOS Expeditions

Commission an artist

When entrepreneur and explorer Victor Vescovo embarked on a mission to dive to the deepest parts of each of the world’s five oceans, he enlisted portrait artist Alexandra Gould to help capture life on board. Working alongside photographers and other members of the media, she was invited to join the ship DSSV Pressure Drop at short notice, having expressed an interest to chief scientist Alan James about pursuing works to do with his research and climate change. “When I got the email inviting me I responded within minutes,” she says with enthusiasm.

Meeting Vescovo and the rest of the team for the first time on board in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific, Gould soon found that she had to adapt her normal working practices to suit life on board a hectic, fast-paced research vessel. 

“I thought I’d better take all these sketchbooks, pencils and charcoal with me because I hadn’t done it before, and there wasn’t a single other expedition artist who had done this before who I could relate to,” she explains. “When it came down to it, however, I realised the best thing I could do was just observe everything and use the camera. The few sketches I did commit to working on were a bit of a disaster – I was supposed to be in a welcome briefing meeting and I completely missed it because I was drawing! You have to just completely immerse yourself in the experience, and think about it afterwards.”

An artwork created by Alexandra Gould as part of her time on board DSSV Pressure Drop.

As an outsider, she explains, she was in a unique position and was able to observe the atmosphere on board – tensions, difficulties, joys, excitement – that others were too wrapped up in their work to perceive. “When the landers were coming on board, people were examining the specimens, and they were all very calm because that’s what they’ve trained for,” she says. “But I was just fizzing with excitement.”

Once back home after accompanying the vessel for two stints to both Tonga and Svalbard, Gould began creating a series of works – from linocut portraits of crew members on board to evocative, large-scale paintings of the vessel in action. “I did one piece of work that showed the submersible under the surface of the ocean, and I’m working on another one now where you can see the back of the support vessel with all these cranes on the horizon,” she says. “Some of these prints were a really nice way to make art more affordable for the rest of the crew, and meanwhile Vescovo, Triton (who created the submersible) and EYOS (who ran the expedition) have been very flexible in their expectations of me.

“I wasn’t anxious about whether the work would be well received because I’m confident that I can observe something accurately and represent it properly, but it was more a case of is there anything I’m missing? Is there anything that you wanted from this experience that I haven’t yet delivered? Art has this very special trait that it transcends time and captures emotion. It would be fantastic if more people took to the idea of [taking artists on board their yachts].”

Yacht artist Jess Douglas uses nautical charts as backdrops for her commemorative pieces.

For those who are less keen to host someone on board during their trip, yacht artist Jess Douglas also creates one-off commemorative pieces. Her work uses nautical charts chosen by the client – either brand new or one from a previous itinerary, complete with its original markings – onto which she then paints the chosen yacht with acrylic paint pens, using a photograph as reference. Her commissions have included pieces for the owner of Dilbar, the captain of Eclipse and the former owners of SuRi, who gifted the artwork to her new owners. Superyacht fans have also bought her work, including paintings of Sailing Yacht A and Tis – the latter bought by Instagram influencer The Yacht Guy.

“I was a proper boat kid,” she laughs, explaining how she got into the business. Growing up on a 10-metre sailing yacht in Ibiza, Douglas studied illustration at university, and when her family returned to Lyme Regis in the UK she soon found herself working as an assistant harbour master. Her passion for boats and art didn’t merge for some years, however, until a return trip to Ibiza where she was sitting and absent-mindedly sketching an impressive 30-metre yacht in black and white. “A stewardess looked over my shoulder and said she thought it was very good,” she explains. “Half an hour later she returned with the captain, who asked if I could come on board so they could photocopy it.”

Jess Douglas' Sailing Yacht A artwork.

While there, he talked her into leaving her job as a harbour master and becoming a deckhand, but after less than two seasons Douglas had to return home as her mother was in poor health. “I had artist’s block, I just wasn’t inspired to do anything at all,” she says, but yet she was moved to paint a brand-new fishing boat that was arriving at the harbour.

“Within two days I had seven people [who had seen it] contacting me about work,” she recalls. “Then I had a month-long waiting list, then six months, then nine, 12...” Today the queue of people waiting for her pieces is incredibly long but, she says, on occasion she does make special exceptions – providing she has a minimum of six weeks to receive the chart and supplies. 

The pieces take anywhere from three to seven days to complete, depending on how detailed the yacht is, and are available in large (42 by 60 centimetres) or extra large (60 by 84 centimetres). Price-wise “it’s very difficult”, she says – really, it depends on the complexity of your boat.

Tahiti-based Rodolphe Holler makes specialist underwater films and has created movies for more than 130 superyachts.
Credit: Rodolphe Holler / Tahiti Private Expeditions

Create a bespoke film

Today “deckhand with GoPro experience” is often found on job descriptions. With so much easily usable tech available – not to mention editing software and online tutorials – is hiring a specialist film-maker for your trip really worth it?

Absolutely, says Rodolphe Holler. “Every single boat has a crew member who makes a movie of the trip. But they don’t have the skills, they don’t have the experience, and they don’t have the time to make a movie.” Based in Tahiti, Holler has been making specialist underwater films since he was just 16 years old thanks to his diving instructor father, and today he’s produced films for National Geographic, worked on James Bond movies and created movies for more than 130 different superyachts, Octopus, Maltese Falcon and Motor Yacht A to name just a few.

Shelton DuPreez, who worked his way up from deckhand to bosun to first mate before going into film-making for yachts full time in 2018, can attest to the limits of crew-made movies from first-hand experience. “I’ve done the dual role thing, so I know what [crew are] capable of,” he explains.

Holler has worked on numerous yachts including 126m Octopus.

“Crew members can grab GoPros, then jump in the water, go down the slide, film a bunch of stuff, and put a montage together of that plus some drone footage and some music. Sure, it’s a good product but if you want candid moments, nice audio and conversations between people that actually make you feel emotional and make you laugh out loud, it needs to be a full-time commitment. I run myself harder than I ever did working on deck.”

For underwater shots, specialist equipment is also a must. “There’s a reason why my camera cost $25,000 [£18,000] compared to a $500 GoPro,” explains Holler. “It’s a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV that can film 4k video and has strong lights to bring back the colour. Plus I have 360-degree cameras, drones, and of course GoPros.”

DuPreez prefers to travel light, using a Sony a7III mirrorless camera. “There’s a saying that the best camera you have is the one you have in your hand,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of yacht crew buy Sony a7IIIs, but do they use them? Not really.”

Film-maker Shelton DuPreez captured images and video footage of 77m explorer Legend during a charter in Antarctica.
Credit: Shelton Dupreez

Rather than just produce an often-repeated medley of shots against a soundtrack, professional film-makers, they point out, can work to a brief completely tailored to you – however unusual that might be. “When there are kids I also make short fiction movies,” says Holler. “For example, I was in Komodo in Indonesia and we were on this classic wooden local-style boat. The crew all got dressed up like pirates and there was a pirate fight on board, [and we had] a little script.”

On another trip to Guadeloupe Island in Mexico, Holler had a client who wanted to dive with – and be filmed with – great white sharks. “We had a whole team building a custom cage that he could get out of depending on the behaviour of the sharks,” he explains. “Even for production, this is complicated stuff,” he goes on, but the client had an unlimited budget for the film and Holler’s team had the freedom to do whatever they thought would work.

Dupreez's work on board has involved spending time with marine animals to catch them on film.
Credit: Shelton Dupreez

Of course, having a videographer means losing a valuable berth on board, but don’t underestimate the value they can add to a trip. “I typically like to deliver a handful of nicely edited photos at the end of each day after dinner, and put the photos on display on the television,” says DuPreez. On the final day of the trip the movie is shown, and “there’s always laughter… and typically a few tears are shed”, he says. Not that editing hours of footage is an easy task. “I’ve noticed there’s three stages – the first third of the trip I get seven hours’ sleep, the second third I get six hours’ sleep, and by the last third I’m down to four or five hours of sleep per night,” he says with a laugh. “People might be shy at first but they get into it really quickly, especially once they’ve seen the first batch of photos.”

Holler has a tried-and-tested trick to convince reluctant owners. “I say to people, ‘I’ll come on board for a few days, film, and then show you what I’ve done. If you’re not happy with it, I’ll pack my stuff and leave,’” he says. It goes without saying that he hasn’t been booted off yet. Today, 50 per cent of his job is overseas, often meeting clients on dive trips in Tahiti who then ask him to accompany them for the rest of their journey.

“I’ve worked with a family in Holland for the past 12 to 13 years,” he goes on. “And what the owner says to me is: ‘You can offer me a Maserati or a Ferrari and it won’t have any effect, because I can pay for it. What you give me is emotion, and that doesn’t have a price.’”

Based on a True Story designs and manages fantastical journeys that make a trip uniquely memorable.
Credit: Based on a True Story

Search for cryptic mementos en route

It’s nice to have something to remember your trip by when you’re back on land, but what about basing a whole itinerary on these lasting keepsakes? It’s something that’s increasingly popular, says Niel Fox, founder of travel company Based on a True Story, which has offered the service to a few clients. For a royal couple on honeymoon, for example, a creative team based the whole concept of the honeymoon on a round-the-world romantic journey that culminated on a superyacht, and focused on the number nine – something which symbolises love in Christianity and the “perfect being” in Islam.

A story was created along the lines of a young emperor, who had commissioned his master craftsmen to create nine “dragon stones”, each embodying a specific element of family life – patience, love, respect, trust and so on. On their wedding day, the couple discovered a cryptic meteorite rock that led them to their first clue, which they then followed to discover the different stones. “These would ultimately take their place in a special box, and when finally together, a compartment would reveal a special message,” says Fox. “The marque we designed for them subtly incorporated nine dragons and was also utilised in many ways – from cufflinks to crystal glass, wax seals, cigar wrappers, uniforms, livery and a beautiful necklace.”

One of the maps made by Based on a True Story for a royal couple's honeymoon.
Credit: Based on a True Story

For another client, he explains, the company combined their initials to form an elegant symbol which formed an X. It was then applied to items including 22kt signet rings and “a stunning antique map of the Caribbean, which had an ‘X marks the spot’.”

During the first day of their cruise the captain navigated to a bay in St Kitts where their symbol pointed to. Onshore they noticed their logo was also being used by a street vendor. “When they quizzed him about the symbol the vendor said he was the custodian of ‘the sacred stones’ and if they could prove it was theirs he had something for them. They showed him their signet rings and he was pleased to pass on a small purse of diamonds which also contained another map.” The client discovered other jewels, including emeralds, at different stops on the trip, and later had a single piece made combining all the stones discovered during her experience.

Based on a True Story requires six months’ notice to create experiences like this, although they have created trips as little as two months in advance. “The more time we have, the better we can be,” says Fox of the company’s dedicated creative team. “All of our special projects require a thorough reconnaissance – which is where we are at our most effective creatively – and where we can fully realise the possibilities and full potential.”

Another treasure map created by Based on a True Story for a Caribbean adventure.
Credit: Based on a True Story

Geordie Mackay-Lewis, co-founder of yachting travel company Pelorus, has likewise noticed an increase in clients asking for unusual mementos – in his experience, owners and charterers often ask for pieces as a way of allowing them to connect with local communities. In Greenland, for example, locals made yacht guests sealskin boots and “giant slippers with leather laces” that they wore for the remainder of the trip. On another journey, the master carver on an island created personalised wooden puppets of guests, which were gifted to them on the beach.

Not only are such souvenirs unique, they can also mark a shift in the way that we travel, believes Fox. “In the case of the nine dragon stones, the creative concept inspired the couple to seek out locations – to think about a culture, to challenge, and to inspire them to travel further or deeper,” he explains.

Ultimately, of course, it’s the memories made along the way that are the souvenir. If you do fancy something extra, however – whether it’s to mark a significant occasion, gift something to new owners, or give crew, guests and friends something different to remember their experiences by – there’s certainly no limit to what you can create.

Charter guests on board U-Boat Navigator have access to the yacht's submarines.
Credit: Fraser

Get under the surface

Want to up your movie-making game? U Boat Navigator, currently for charter with Fraser, is a documentary-maker’s favourite. Available as a standalone charter, or as a support vessel for a principal charter or your own yacht, guests have 30 hours of access a week to the bespoke Triton 3300/3 submersible – perfect for investigating everything from shipwrecks to sites of geological interest – as well as a single-person Triton 3300/1 at your disposal to film adventures as they unfold.

This feature is taken from the August 2021 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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