Tony Parker


On board Ability with Andreas Panayiotou

Exterior view of Ability



The property developer and former boxer tells Risa Merl about his struggles with dyslexia and how his 42-metre Codecasa was the perfect boat for a Greek charter odyssey

“From the age of seven to my early twenties, boxing was my life,” says Andreas Panayiotou, owner of the 42-metre Codecasa Ability. The sport helped him process the frustration that came from struggling in school – a struggle that he would come to understand later in life following the realisation that he had dyslexia. He was in his thirties, in fact, when one of his daughters was diagnosed with the learning difficulty, and finding out more about what she was going through put his own educational challenges into sharp relief.

“The problem is, I’m 57 and if you go back 40-plus years, no one knew what dyslexia was,” he says. “I was struggling to read and write. I didn’t have the privilege of private schools and tutors, and teachers would just look upon you as thick.” The difference now, says Panayiotou, is that dyslexia is much better understood, so his daughter was able to get the support she needed and went on to be a straight-A student at university.

Ability from above



Now Panayiotou sees dyslexia as a superpower rather than a hindrance. “It’s actually a gift. Dyslexia makes you want to succeed because you feel like you’re failing at other things, so whatever else you get into, you put your all into it,” he says. “My frustration at not reading and writing was put into boxing, and I was a champion boxer.”

He still trains five days a week religiously, sparring and weight training. It’s this purposeful, pragmatic approach that has seen him flourish as an entrepreneur, in everything from residential property development and hotel ownership across the UK, Scotland and Italy, to managing successful charter yachts, all under the banner of the aptly named Ability Group.

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Ability's hotel in Liverpool
Ability's hotel in Dunblane

Ability Group’s hotels in Liverpool and Dunblane

His primary residence is in Athens, but Panayiotou travels between Greece and the UK, where the Ability Group is based. He grew up in east London, where his earliest boating memory was playing with a remote-controlled toy boat on the lake in Victoria Park. “My mother used to take us on a Sunday. She bought me the boat, and that sparked a lifelong interest in yachts,” he says.

View of Athens

ADOBE STOCKPanayiotou lives in Athens but travels to the UK

ADOBE STOCKPanayiotou lives in Athens but travels to the UK

Panayiotou’s parents came to the UK from the island of Cyprus with nothing to their name and built a business from scratch. “My parents started in dry cleaning and eventually had seven shops. Then my dad went into residential development, and I got involved at the very beginning when I was 20 years old,” he says. Panayiotou was thrust into the hot seat five years later after his mother’s untimely death. “My mum died at a young age, and my father went back to live in Cyprus, so I took over the business when I was 25.”

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A 54m CRN Ability
41m Baglietto



The family’s six previous Abilitys include a 54m CRN (left); the 41m Baglietto once owned by fashion designer Roberto Cavalli (right)

The Ability Group started with residential development in London, converting old hospitals and schools into loft apartments. From there, the company went into building hotels, bringing in brands like Hilton, Crowne Plaza and Club Med to manage them. But Panayiotou admits that he doesn’t like staying in hotels. “If I stay in other hotels, I can’t switch off. I just think about work and what could be improved,” he says.

Before moving back to Cyprus, his father started the family on the yacht ownership journey by purchasing a 17-metre Sunseeker and, later, a 28-metre Ferretti Custom Line. “After that, we bought steel boats, first a 45-metre CRN, then we sold that and ordered a 54-metre CRN,” the son says. The larger CRN was soon traded in for a different sort of vessel – a fast 40-metre Mangusta.

Dining area on deck of Ability



“It’s important to decide what you actually need a boat for. A lot of people focus on how many metres”

Then, six years ago, Panayiotou embarked on a refit project when he bought a 41-metre Baglietto named RC, originally owned by fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, which was, of course, renamed Ability. “Cavalli’s boat was famous because it had this colour-changing paint on the hull, but I decided to paint it black,” says Panayiotou. “We refurbished the interior – kept it very Cavalli in style but upgraded everything.”

This project planted the seed for taking on an even more extensive refit and he bought his latest yacht (a Codecasa this time) – the seventh boat to be named Ability – with the objective of refitting it specifically for the booming Greek charter market. “It had become extremely lucrative since Covid-19,” says Panayiotou. “I was scouring the brokerage market as I didn’t want to wait for a new build. When I saw this boat, it only had 1,000 hours on the engines. She felt brand new – she hadn’t been used much but had been well taken care of.” He believes it’s important to decide what you need a boat for. “That might sound obvious, but a lot of people focus on how many metres and it becomes an ego trip, rather than examining how you’re really going to use it,” says Panayiotou.


Black and white picture of Andreas Panayiotou

A drive to succeed is just one of the traits Panayiotou credits to his dyslexia.

“With dyslexia you don’t read words, you photograph them without realising it, and your mind gets trained over the years to have a photographic memory, which helps in every aspect of life,” he says.

“Individuals with dyslexia literally think differently and are often very creative and organised – a lot of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic.”

A 2012 London Evening Standard article featuring Panayiotou led to people from across the UK contacting him to express gratitude for shining a positive spotlight on dyslexia. “I was grateful to be able to show that it’s possible to be successful and have a good life, and it’s not all about school and grades,” he says.

Dyslexia makes Panayiotou quick at spotting patterns and opportunities, he says, whether it’s knowing when to sell property or where the next hot charter destination is going to be. Six months before the 2009 global crash, he sold the majority of his residential investments.

The project took place at Atlas Shipyard in Greece, and included a new paint job, refurbishment of the exterior furnishings and shade structures and servicing the generators, engines and air conditioning. The interior was overhauled, updating the carpets, soft furnishings, curtains and furniture, from the main saloon sofas to the guest cabin headboards. Mirror finishes were added to the partition that separates the dining area and the cockpit and on columns set between the main saloon windows, with the reflective surface giving a sense of extended space. A new A/V system was added with touchscreen smart televisions.

“We spent more than a million pounds on the refit,” says Panayiotou. “It’s very sporty and aggressive-looking, with the all-black exterior, while the interior is very white, airy and fun with colourful artwork on the walls, so it feels luxurious, but also modern and fresh.” Panayiotou was extremely hands-on in the redesign. “Whether it’s our hotels, jets or yachts, I’m always very involved in the design myself. I give ideas to my design team within the Ability Group and they execute them.”

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Indoor soft seating area



Panayiotou was hands-on with the design, which aims to be modern, fresh and family-friendly

It was important that the yacht would cater to families as well as couples. Panayiotou understands this – he has seven children and three grandchildren. “When we go on board, it’s a big family event,” he says. To appeal to families, the yacht has a huge inflatable playground set-up that extends from the swim platform with a pool, slide, climbing frame and dock for Ability’s vast toy collection, including jet skis, Seabobs, kayaks, paddleboards and more. “The first people who get bored are the children, so if you entertain and exhaust the children, it gives more time to the parents!” he says, knowingly.

Indoor dining area

STUDIO RESKOSThe interior is very white, airy and fun with colourful artwork on the walls

STUDIO RESKOSThe interior is very white, airy and fun with colourful artwork on the walls

Visually connected to this waterfront playground is the main deck aft lounge area, which was redone to make it a hub for daytime fun rather than an afterthought, as many main deck cockpits can be. “In the islands, at least 70 per cent of your time is spent at the back of the boat, so it was important to have a big area that could seat 12 people for dining, which is rare for a 42-metre,” he says. “Understanding this sort of thing, where people really spend time on board, is where my 30-plus years of experience in boating comes in.”

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Exterior shot of Ability showing toy box



Shot of dining area on deck



Ability’s extensive toy box will appeal to charterers (left); Panayiotou describes the boat's finish as “very sporty and aggressive-looking”, with black on the hull and outside

This al fresco dining set-up is used for meals, complemented by a sunbathing area on the upper deck and a foredeck lounge with seating for 12, where lunches are enjoyed. “You can move around throughout the day and really enjoy the outdoors,” he adds. The switch from sturdy steel hulls to highspeed boats was precipitated by what Panayiotou thought would be most appealing for charter. “The boat is based in Greece, where we have thousands of islands, so charterers don’t want to spend hours travelling from one island to another,” he says. “You need to be able to quickly travel across the islands so that in a week-long charter you can cover a lot of ground.”

Powered by water jets, the yacht can travel quickly yet economically, burning just over 1,000 litres per hour at 24 knots. “I often call Greece the hidden paradise, because even just five years ago, it seemed everyone would just do the South of France and go from Monaco to Saint-Tropez and then do Amalfi or Sardinia. Everyone was doing the same thing,” he says. “But now Greece is more popular than ever, and there’s so much to explore – you can never visit every island, so you can keep coming back and discover new areas each time.”


Cyprus from above



1A good hotel comes down to the general manager, and a good charter yacht starts with the captain. You need a captain – like Ability’s Captain Michalis Boukas – who understands this is a service industry.

2Think of the whole family. When a client books, we find out the age of the kids, and research the best toy for that age and have it waiting in their cabin. When the kids are happy and the parents are happy, it’s a great start.

3The little touches matter. We film drone video and photograph guests’ experiences throughout the week and then the crew put it on the big screen in the saloon. Also, when the crew packs up suitcases at the end of the trip, we wrap their belongings with tissue paper printed with the Ability logo.

When Panayiotou uses the boat between charters, you can find him sitting in the lounge on the back overlooking the transom, enjoying his coffee while he gets some work done.

“I like to sit and have breakfast before everyone else has woken up – it’s very peaceful,” he says. “I’m always working, no matter where I am. I’d rather be on the boat or at the beach than in the office. Business doesn’t stop when you’re on holiday. People in the office will stop calling me because they know I’m on holiday, but then I call them to say ‘Why aren’t you calling me?’”

Panayiotou’s future cruising aspirations involve some long-range travel, spending months on board. “When I retire, I’d love to spend three months or more travelling. Not yet, maybe in another 30 years, when I’m 85,” he says. “But that’s if I ever finish conquering Greece!”

Ability is for charter with Athens Yachts, athensyachts.gr

First published in the February 2024 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.