British entrepreneur Andy Scott has an eye for a bargain, both in business and on the water, which is how he came to own his most recent project – 32 metre sailing yacht Elton.
There can’t be many yacht owners that put an offer in on a boat hoping it will be rejected, but that’s exactly how British businessman Andy Scott – whose portfolio of companies turns over around £40 million each year – came to buy his 32-metre sloop Elton. Since he already owned the 21-metre classic Sangermani Telstar, he wasn’t particularly interested in having a second boat. Besides, he thought her owner, who’d “fallen out of love with it”, wanted too high a price for the yacht, which was delivered in 1992.
Scott put in a “very cheeky” offer having looked at Elton for no more than 15 minutes, “prayed they’d say no”, and soon dismissed the whole idea. “Then the broker came back and said ‘The owner has reluctantly said yes,’” says Scott, “and I thought, ‘bugger’,” he laughs.
He describes her as “more than tired”; Elton hadn’t been used for four years and needed modernising throughout – from upholstery and furnishings through to more general maintenance. Not that she wasn’t a beautiful boat. Designed by Tripp Design and with original interiors by Donald Starkey, “she’s really light and airy and the volume is huge”, says Scott. “She’s a head-turner and is really fast. I travelled down to Palma from the UK with some friends, and we were really surprised that we were averaging around 11 knots, 12 knots through the Bay of Biscay. She’ll get you around like a racing boat but with the comfort of a bigger, uglier Turkish gulet.” A bit of TLC has paid dividends, and with a “great couple” heading up Elton’s new crew and a fresh new look, she’s already booking charters for Italy, the Caribbean, and potentially Miami and Cuba.
The fact that Scott bought her for a song is hardly surprising once you learn more about his background. “I started from nothing, so I’m always grafting, always looking for the next deal,” he says. After working on the doors of nightclubs from an early age, Scott tried university but decided it wasn’t for him, leaving and heading straight into the working world. “I grew up around very interesting market traders, so I’ve always loved that wheeler-dealer, buy-sell mentality,” he explains. “It’s served me really well.”
Elton isn’t Scott’s first rescued yacht either. He grew up on the Solent on the South Coast of the UK and had dinghies from a young age. “I’d hop over to Cowes on a little dinghy without any engine and have to get rescued by the lifeboats,” he remembers. “As an only child, I loved being on my own out at sea. It was a great experience.”
His first project was a nine-metre racing yacht owned by his mother’s friend, an ex-commander. It was called Olympic Flame “because it never went out”, and Scott did “a horrendous refit” on her and lived on her during his stint at university, having calculated that the marina fees were cheaper than on-site accommodation. “I put wallpaper inside, it had beautiful lines and I strapped an outboard engine to the back. It only had three feet of headroom and when you invited people back they’d ask ‘Where do I sit?’ I’d reply, ‘You can only lay,’” he recalls. “So that was very interesting.” Today, his undertakings are somewhat more professional.
“I’m not saying I’m the ‘we buy any boat man’, but over the years we’ve had five or six [yachts] where I’ve stepped in really quickly and bought them,” he explains. “I think people pick up the phone knowing that not many people will come in and buy something tomorrow.”
His other yacht, Telstar, is an example of this in practice. Scott was contacted as a dispute between the marina and Telstar’s then owner was flaring up. The yacht had sunk on its mooring lines and the owner was suing the marina; the marina, meanwhile, was threatening to burn the boat if their bills weren’t paid within a week. “I ended up taking it for the marina fees,” Scott explains, and then it was a three-year labour of love to restore her.
She’s had a black paint job, new masts and engine, the planks have been redone, and she’s just been flagged in Malta. Scott’s hope is that she’ll do well on the classic regatta circuit in Monaco, Cannes and Saint-Tropez. “She’s only eight bunks and two crew – so she’s more about the racing and the drinking probably,” he says.
Not all of his restorations have such happy conclusions. During the 2008 financial crisis, Scott lost his 38-metre schooner as his business at the time was crumbling and he could no longer afford the marina fees. To try and save money he decided to take the yacht to Tunisia. “It was horrible,” he recalls. “I couldn’t afford a skipper so I took it to Africa myself. I was about to run out of fuel and I didn’t have any charts, but I wanted to get the boat to safety so I chose a place called Hammamet. But I ended up in the wrong town – everyone came out to watch me and seven fishing boats ended up towing me off to Hammamet. It was very embarrassing.” It was an undignified end to a very trying period. “I also got run over by a taxi and broke both my legs in the same year,” Scott recalls. “It was a really terrible time.”
Another of his yachts – a 22-metre ketch that Scott had rescued from a charity that owned her and could no longer afford to run her – was part of a similarly dramatic encounter. It was 2009, Scott had been sailing her around the world with friends for the past five years and was making the crossing from Sri Lanka back to Europe. News came through that some of the yachts in the rally they were sailing in had been hijacked by pirates, so Scott decided to divert and stop in India without permission.
“We berthed just in front of the Taj Hotel, which I didn’t realise had experienced a terrorist attack a few weeks prior, and because we didn’t have a permit I got arrested,” he explains. “We all got deported and had a good joke on the plane, because we had these big badges on us saying ‘deported’. No one would come anywhere near us!”
While his adventures on board might sound rather chaotic, Scott is a businessman to the core. “I always look at the numbers,” he says. “If I can get them chartered for six weeks then they pay for themselves, and anything more than that is just a bonus.”
Scott believes that key to keeping costs in check is doing your own work rather than relying on shipyards, and he’s “potentially looking at options to get a kind of boatyard, or space in a boatyard, to do it myself”. He has had several bad experiences in the past with shipyards making unreasonable demands, saying he’s “learnt the hard way” throughout his restorations. He was once arrested on Christmas Eve in Barbados during a row with a yard who impounded the boat. “I always remember I called up my bank manager and told him, ‘I’m in prison, I need you to put £100,000 on my credit card so I can be released,’” he recalls. “He said, ‘Bugger off, Andy.’ He thought I was joking! I had to call him back and said, ‘No, really…’”
Restoring unloved or otherwise abandoned yachts comes naturally to Scott – it’s what he does with his businesses. “I messed up during the credit crunch,” he explains. “I had a group of hotels repossessed and from that experience I saw an opportunity, that these struggling businesses could be picked up and turned around. Now we work with a lot of people who are on the brink of failure, and I’m lucky enough to have 10 different companies that we’ve saved and turned around in a number of sectors.” Scott’s businesses range from everything from transport and chef recruitment companies to property – he’s built more than 500 homes over the past 25 years.
“I always say businesses don’t fail – people do,” he says. “There’s always a reason, whether it’s too much debt, or something like litigation or a separation. You can pick up the good guys and bring them into a larger group. Salesmen in particular just like to be free to go and sell stuff and do what they’re good at – they don’t want to be stuck at home doing boring accounting.”
His laser-sharp focus on the bottom line carries through both his business endeavours and his yachts. “I’m tight. I still think of myself as a builder from Portsmouth,” he explains. “When I was young I had no choice but to go sailing – I couldn’t afford the fuel. But you see people in the South of France burning €1,000 an hour, €2,000, on fuel – I still don’t get it today.”
Life on board is a no-frills affair. “Don’t wait on me,” Scott tells his crew. “I don’t need to be cooked for, and I can probably park the boat better than you too.” He’ll often be found doing night watches and mucking in. “But also I’m super chilled,” he says. “They’ve got a job to do, you don’t want an annoying owner barking orders… the crew have always become lifelong friends, which is really nice.”
His lifestyle is somewhat more sedate than in former years, although he still makes time for regular boxing sessions. “I get punched three times a week by people a lot younger than me who like punching fat old men!” he laughs. There was a time when Scott had “Ferraris, an aeroplane, and a lot of it was fuelled by debt.” But today, he’s more risk-averse, and has just sold his two-door Rolls-Royce to make way for something more suitable for his newly arrived baby. Naturally, his name is Elton.
Would he ever sell Elton, the yacht? “That would be criminal,” he says. “I’ve always planned as part of my retirement to have three vessels: a classic that I’ll keep in the South of France; a great mid-level charter boat; and then potentially look at a bigger one I could live on.” Perhaps someone, somewhere, has a wreck ready and waiting to become Scott’s boat number three…