For the owner of 33 metre Benetti Odyssey III, every project is a team effort. Charlotte Hogarth-Jones travels to the 17th century Grantley Hall to witness one of his transformations first-hand
“I’m driven, but I’m quite a relaxed individual who enjoys what we’ve created,” says Richard A Sykes. “Although a lot of people wouldn’t agree with that,” he admits. The energetic owner of 33-metre, 1967 Benetti Odyssey III, Sykes has an extensive collection of modern and classic cars and owns numerous hotels across the UK.
His most recent acquisition was the 17th-century Grantley Hall manor house in Ripon, Yorkshire, which he bought with his mother, Valeria. Together, they transformed the tired, council-owned teacher training college into one of Britain’s leading luxury hotels – complete with 47 rooms, five restaurants (one Michelin-starred), a spa and a gym equipped with underwater treadmills and an altitude training room, to accommodate the world’s leading sports teams and athletes. Richard’s children, Thomas, William and Emily, are also heavily involved in the business.
His tenacity and business success, he believes, stems in large part from his upbringing. Leaving school at the age of 16, he went to work at his stepfather’s scrapyards in Barnsley. “The idea was that I was going to progress on to sales, but I didn’t get on particularly well with my [step]dad, so I went back to college and studied construction and engineering, followed by land economics,” he explains. “My [step]dad was unbelievably ambitious, but his barometer for success was financial. Mine’s not. I love time. I love choice. And if I choose to come to work 15 to 16 hours a day, that’s a luxury. If I need to be at work, well then, I’m not performing very well.”
After college, Sykes qualified as a chartered surveyor, working for others for many years before dipping a toe into the world of property with venture capital partners and eventually going solo.
“Over 15 years, we’ve had good and bad, the highs and lows of the property boom, and that’s made me quite robust in dealing with adversity,” he says. After that, he diversified, going into businesses such as window cleaning, ground maintenance and pubs, which became the gateway for him to enter hospitality.
“Hospitality’s not difficult – if you take the people out of it,” he laughs, although, as we walk around the impressive manor house together, he greets each staff member by name, recalling thoughtful details about their work and personal circumstances. He seems a natural people person.
“I’d like to think I am,” he says. “My mum brought me up to be very uncomplicated. I was state-educated and so were my children. We could have sent them anywhere, but we wanted them to be humble, normal people. We have a lot of respect for everybody.” He has a unique relationship with his mother, who has been closely involved in both Grantley Hall and the refit of Odyssey III.
“My dad left when I was only a couple of weeks old, so she was a single mum back in 1964. She found work by running a market stall with a little baby. I think that creates the foundations of that relationship,” he explains. “We’ve always remained really close, and over the years I’ve grown to respect the way she’s conducted her life under challenging circumstances. She got remarried and had a very, very hard second husband – but that gave us the knowledge and the discipline.”
Now 79, Valeria “loves a project”, he says, and has provided all the funding for the project. “The expectation with Grantley is that we’re going to deliver one of the best hotels in the world.”
When it came to buying a yacht, she was keen on something steel-hulled, owing to years spent on various Feadships. Sykes, meanwhile, had previously owned an 18.2-metre Sunseeker along with smaller, faster boats, including a 1967 Riva Junior that he still owns today.
“We wanted something that was more of a timepiece,” he says. “Mum and I wanted something to create new memories, following her divorce 10 years ago. Odyssey III is almost a gentleman’s cruiser – a Georgian house on the water.”
They were aware of the yacht for some time before actually buying it. It had been on and off the market a couple of times, and the steel hull, plus the “romantic” canoe stern, appealed to them both. “I’d lost track of it when it had gone to America,” explains Sykes. “We’ve got a broker on Mallorca called Darren Cooper – we buy, sell and refurbish Mustangs together – and we put him on notice as he’s also a yacht broker. He spent a couple of years just trying to find the right boat, and we looked at probably about 15 to 18 of them, but they just weren’t anywhere near the mark. They needed too much refurbishment,” he says.
Eventually Odyssey III re-emerged at very short notice. A German consortium was in the process of buying her, but the sellers were becoming agitated as, according to them, the new buyers hadn’t got their funding properly arranged. One of the yacht’s project managers was able to fill Sykes in on her condition, “and within literally two weeks of that meeting we bought the boat”, he says. “We were in the right place, at the right time.”
But they weren’t able to enjoy her immediately. Sykes chose Pendennis for the refit, which they estimated would be “a 30 per cent facelift” and “ended up being an 80 per cent job”, he says. “We knew what we’d bought, but getting it to a level that mum and I were happy with was three times the budget.”
Some changes came as a bit of a surprise. “We didn’t realise how thin the steel on a hull like that is. Twenty per cent of it was less than 2mm thick. We were like…what? That was an eye opener,” he says. “We were very lucky that we went with Pendennis, who did a great job educating us.”
The engines were removed and rebuilt, as was the whole sundeck to improve access around the spiral staircase on the top deck. Staff and crew quarters were made more hospitable, while some structural changes were made to the flybridge, “to make it look less like a fishing trawler, a bit more elegant”.
“One of the downsides of an [older] boat like this is accessibility, so one of our biggest expenses was to put in a really nice drop-down passerelle, so whether you’ve got a tender or you’re by a berth, it’s fantastic to get on and off,” says Sykes. “It’s the single thing that transforms the boat from an old vintage thing to one you can actually use. We’ve got zero speed stabilisers too, which also help.”
Odyssey III took nearly three years to complete, but it was a process the whole family enjoyed, says Sykes, with himself, his mother and three children regularly making trips to the yard together, and each overseeing different elements of the yacht’s transformation. “There was never a cross word,” he says. “We’ve all got quite different perspectives, but we’re not totally different, and we found a natural balance. Mum, for example, loves to be at the front end of the design side of things. So that was what she focused on.”
Pendennis also went out of its way to ensure the visits were enjoyable. “It was exciting to go down there,” says Sykes. “They are brutal when it comes to detail, but the team is a unique team. I like to think they enjoyed it too.”
For now, Odyssey III will be based in the Balearics where she will also be available for charter. Having lived in Mallorca before, Sykes is a big fan of the area. “It’s such an underrated island,” he says. “You can go to the same 15 places at different times of year, and they’re all different. You don’t need to go anywhere else.”
A typical day on board for the family involves an early start at 5 or 6am, so that “by breakfast you’re somewhere totally different”. Then it’s “lunch somewhere on land – a lovely turquoise bay and a bottle of red, then back to the boat for a bit of a sunbathe”. Evenings, says Sykes, are tranquil and focused on watching the sunset. “It’s about not really trying to overdo things,” he says.
One thing his family doesn’t share is his love of bad weather. “I love the challenge of it,” he says with a laugh, “but my wife doesn’t. I think the adventure and excitement of the ocean is something quite romantic. I could see myself living on a boat. I’m 57 now, but looking about 10 or 15 years in the future, I can see a time.”
Not that Odyssey III is totally off the market. “You have to have an open mind. The boat is always for sale, always on the market for charter,” he says. “If someone wanted to charter it for 12 months, they probably could. You might get attached to something, but that never ever closes the door on something new.”
Could a new hotel like Grantley Hall be on the cards? “I think my wife would want a divorce,” he laughs. “She’s only just started visiting now after six years of it being the centre of our world.”
Perhaps another yacht could be a possibility, however. “I’ve always fancied something that was more of an explorer. That wouldn’t be what mum would like, and probably not the family either, but I think to combine a project like that with a team of people going to the Arctic or the Antarctic – I could get quite excited about that.”
There might be little time for a new project, however, as Sykes’ hobbies also include collecting and racing classic cars, golf, mountain biking with his wife, Lynne, and “a caravan in the lakes that we like to disappear to”. When it comes to cars, his approach is non-flashy. “I’ve always liked cars for my own driving pleasure, rather than trying to impress anybody,” he says. “A Jaguar E-Type is a good example. It’s not a really expensive car, but it drives beautifully. I’ve got a range of cars that do different things for different seasons, short trips, long trips…” A favourite is a Mustang GT500, which “ticks all the boxes”. “It’s a big American V8, four seats and it’s got a bit of type-A personality – you have to drive it enthusiastically,” he smiles.
“I love cramming things into my life, I like being busy,” he says. “Sometimes it can be tiring, but everyone will tell you – I’m someone who always tries to get a pint out of a half-pint glass.”
First published in the August 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW