I got my first boat, a Princess 37, with my father back in 1977. He didn’t take to boating much, but I took my Yachtmaster exam so I could navigate boats myself. Over the next 25 years there were 11 boats, seven of which were from Princess – and they just kept getting bigger.
I always had a hankering for a big superyacht, so in 2006 I had a Benetti built over in Viareggio, Italy. In 2012 we were busy – we sponsored the showjumping team at the London Olympics and my son got married – and there was no time for boating so I sold the yacht. But two years later I missed that boat, and I decided I wanted to sail around the world. I craved adventure rather than just cruising around the Med so we bought a 36.5 metre Benetti world cruiser with a steel hull. But in my heart of hearts, I knew I wanted to go around the world in a sailing boat, rather than a motor yacht. My fantasy was sailing into those beautiful little South Pacific islands.
Back when we were building our first Benetti, I would wander over to the Perini Navi shipyard and I sensed that owning a Perini Navi would be the epitome – they were the most beautiful yachts I’d ever seen. My wife Beverley remembers me saying back then: “One day I’m going to have one of these.” Then, in 2018, we were at our house in the South of France while the Monaco Yacht Show was on. We weren’t planning to attend but we were land-bound by strong winds, so I said to Beverley, “Come on, let’s go to the show.” And there she was – a lovely 37 metre Perini Navi. The rest is history.
While we were looking for a slightly bigger boat, we wanted to have as small a crew as possible. The idea was it would be an adventure for Beverley and me. What clinched the deal was that the boat had been around the world twice before, and she had three big, luxurious cabins rather than four small ones. We sent her into the shipyard in France for a nine-month refit, which ended up taking 18 months, by which time it was the spring of 2020.
We were ready to sail down to the South Pacific, with plans to go to the America’s Cup in New Zealand, when Covid-19 struck. We got the boat over to Antigua but one by one the islands shut down – so wherever you were is where you stayed. I remember being on anchor off Barbuda, having a barbecue on a pristine beach with so few other boats around – I felt like Robinson Crusoe.
While I am quite comfortable with navigation, I have a very good captain and I can’t wait to be his best first officer. On board I like the silence and the sound of the wind in the sails, and I’ve noticed that I feel much safer on a sailing boat than on a motor yacht. Once you get to understand the movement of a sailing boat, it is very soft and forgiving, whereas when a motor yacht rolls big, she rolls big. When you are sailing, you are doing what you were meant to do and the wind does its bit for you when you want it to, so you’re not completely dependent on an engine. If you’ve got sails, you know you can get yourself out of trouble eventually!