YV&C News Desk
When you seek a warmer vacation than the ski slopes
Apr. 11, 2007 05:45 PM
Why in the world, you might well ask, is this yacht named Aspen Alternative? The idea is that instead of shivering in the Rockies in winter, you should be in her hot tub in the Bahamas, a frozen drink in your hand, the sun warming your soul.
M/Y Aspen Alternative is a 120’ yacht, built in 2002 by Sovereign with a sleek, swept-back exterior design by Ward Setzer. From her four cabins to her sun-kissed decks to her sound-proofed study, she is grand enough to make you feel like royalty, yet intimate enough for a highly-personalized, unforgettable vacation.
First Mate and Engineer Brian Finneran makes the very good point that communicating up front your heart’s desire for a charter helps the captain and crew to give you a prime experience. He says: “The more information you provide us through your broker and preference charts, the closer we can come to making your dreams come true. And we do aim to make them come true!”
You can sail the seven seas and you won’t find a more professional, obliging, knowledgeable and friendly bunch than the crew manning Aspen Alternative. Captain Dave Zimath, for example, has written a captain’s guidebook to the areas explored by Aspen Alternative, which are the Caribbean and the US coast from Florida to Maine.
An avid history buff, Captain Dave chats with guests seated in the comfy lounge area of the pilothouse. No matter where your charter might take you, he’ll have some plum anecdotes to enhance your understanding of the region. In the summer, Aspen Alternative tours the New England coastline, one of Captain Dave’s preferred maritime environments. He gives this enticing description. “The mouth of the Connecticut River is verdant, and not at all industrialized. Traveling upstream, you see magnificent estates with manicured gardens sloping down to the river. The estates are well-spaced so you have an impression of unspoiled New England beauty. In places there are dramatic, sheer cliffs meeting the water. We typically go upriver ten miles past Essex, an historic boating town, and then turn around and tie up at Essex for the night. I love visiting Hamburg Cove on the Eight Mile River off the Connecticut. Already in the 1700s it was an important shipping center, with schooners bringing rum, molasses and other goods from the Caribbean. Today Hamburg Cove is home to a delightful yacht club. Guests get enthusiastic hearing me speak about this area, and then when they see for themselves how phenomenal it is they are awestruck by it.”
Captain Dave is no less enthusiastic about cruising the Maine Coast. He says: “Below the Maine border, the forestation is predominantly maple and oak. Once in Maine, you still have those trees, but with an ever-increasing density of magnificent conifers, you know, pine and hemlocks. Long stretches of the Maine coast are completely unspoiled. Rugged, forested regions, they look much as they did in Herman Melville’s day. The natural beauty is breathtaking, whether you are around Acadia National Park, Penobscot Bay with its picturesque harbor, or Camden, where the hills literally come right up to the coastal cruising area. From Camden you can take a five minute ride and then be swimming in a pristine freshwater lake. In Southwest Harbor you have the Hinckley Company, known for producing the Rolls-Royce of pleasure boats. Cleaving Mount Desert Island is the wonderful Somes Sound, sometimes called a fjord but technically more of a fjard, which is a glacial inlet with freely-circulating water.” Having spent 14 out of the last 15 summers in New England, Captain Dave advises that the ideal month for yachting off the coast of Maine is August.
Many are the touches of refined luxury guests enjoy while aboard Aspen Alternative. The dinner service, for instance, is from Versace by Rosenthal’s “La Mer” line, with its apposite ocean motives. The head stewardess keeps everything shipshape and is a trained naturalist to boot. “Up in Maine this past summer we saw whales,” she says, “and as they are one of my specialties I could tell our guests all about the specimens cavorting before our eyes. I also love nocturnal observation on the yacht. We have underwater floodlights, so guests can dine al fresco as schools of beautiful fishes are drawn close to the boat.”
Chef Shawn Semmler is an accomplished artist who brings to her presentations a world-class aesthetic sensibility. She has a penchant for Asian cuisines yet is expert at producing theme nights during a charter. During a recent voyage, she included Mexican, Thai, Italian and other dégustations. She has a passion for finding the freshest local ingredients; when in the Bahamas she might serve coconut shrimp and cracked conch as an hors-d’oeuvre, while in New England the hors-d’oeuvre might be stuffed quahog, the mollusk whose shells Native Americans used as wampum. Shawn reports that the Aspen Alternative galley has everything she needs for the preparation of five-star meals. “I wouldn’t be without my Japanese mandolin that has some fine cuts that let me really shred up daikon, and others that let me make flower-like presentations out of vegetables.” I asked Shawn to imagine a guest’s request for crabmeat-stuffed red snapper in a champagne beurre blanc. The question is, what would she do to deliver the best ever version of that dish? “Ultra-fresh fish is key, and I know how to sniff out ultra-fresh fish, no matter where we are. Secondly, I would take due time attending to all details of preparation, rushing nothing. For the beurre blanc, for instance, you want to be sure of meticulously clarifying the butter.”
Brian, the First Mate and Engineer, says that in the morning after he preps the boat, and the toys to be used that day, he’ll check the weather as it affects snorkeling. His goal is then to show guests the time of their lives. “My objective is to show them something they’ll never see again, even if they go on another yacht. I like to get people interacting with marine life, with nurse sharks, for example, docile creatures that look like overgrown catfish. We recently had newlyweds aboard honeymooning in the Bahamas, and we made it our business to find for them that one perfect, isolated beach out of ten thousand beaches.”
I asked Captain Dave about his favorite, lesser-known spots in the Caribbean. “The Exuma Islands, at the center of the Bahamas, are just incredible. You’ve got gin clear, turquoise-tinted waters and the softest, whitest sand beaches; you feel like you’re the first one ever to set foot on them. The Exuma Land and Sea Park is an insuperable locale for snorkeling. It’s a protected area where you can’t fish and you can’t even take a shell. I swear you can feel the difference immediately in the reactions of the fishes; tropical marine specimens come right up to you. Then, it’s not that it’s unknown, but St. Lucia is one of the most magical places on earth. The cove between the Pitons, those spectacular two, forest-clad volcanic lava domes, is half-moon-shaped and half a mile wide; it’s a perfect anchorage, from which you see thousands of coconut trees fading off into a rain forest. To behold that glorious, lush land-and-seascape in person, with the sun shining down out of a cloudless sky, is to understand why it is a World Heritage Site.”
Designer Patrick Knowles talked to me about Aspen Alternative’s interior. “The design brief from the owner called for a very uptown, swank, clean looking interior with a fresh, uncluttered look. The dark wood found aboard the yacht is sapele pomele, a special, South American mahogany that has a dark brown rather than a red tone. Juxtaposed with the light, cream-toned wools, linens, and custom hand-painted silks we used, the sapele pomele makes for elegant and dramatic contrast. The stones you see aboard are Thosos marble and absolute black granite. All the furniture was custom made, as were the wall sconces and other light fixtures. The fine textiles used on this yacht were from prestige sources including Brunschwig & Fils. The bust in the main salon is from Turner Bay and many of the yacht’s accessories are from the Turner Bay Yacht Club Collection.”
Broker Tim Nelson of Seven Seas Yacht Charters says that the couple that recently honeymooned aboard Aspen Alternative wound up adding extra time to their charter. Another client who can only get away for a few days at a time in New England keeps returning to Aspen Alternative specifically because of the professionalism and friendliness of the crew. In my conversations with Captain Dave, he spontaneously said: “I feel as lucky to be in yachting today as when I got my first deckhand job.” Clearly, whether it would be your first ever yacht charter, or your one-thousandth, you will count yourself lucky to be in Captain Dave’s expert hands.