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M/Y Solemates - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's Favorite Charter Yacht
Captain Chris Andreason's duties go way beyond navigating the boat
By: Jamie Matusow
Apr. 28, 2006 03:15 PM
On a charter vacation aboard Solemates, the unmatched level of service offered by the captain and crew plays as great a role as the destination and the opulence of the boat.
One of the reasons that Solemates, a magnificent 171ft motoryacht, commands a premium charter rate of $260,000 a week (plus expenses) is because it's a Feadship, considered to be the Rolls-Royce of yachts. The unsurpassable construction and palatial decor that includes a hand-carved three-story limestone foyer (that reportedly took three years to complete), a sky lounge with entertainment area and mosaic bar, marble bathrooms with gold fittings, extra-large cabins, and a fitness room are only part of the decadent experience. The real pampering begins the moment you enter a limousine at the closest airport and Captain Chris Andreason devotes himself and his crew to fulfilling your every whim.
"I make all arrangements personally," says Andreason, "so nothing gets left to chance. "Basically, anything can be achieved. All it takes is time and money," he says.
"For example, at 2pm, anchored off the beach in St. Tropez last summer, one of my passengers suddenly approached with a request for a helicopter booking: 'Captain, I need to be in Monaco in an hour.'
"'No problem, sir,' I responded. 'I'll be back to you in a moment...'.
"Ten minutes later I was taking the client ashore to Club 55 on Pampelonne Beach by tender where we were met by the shuttle bus to the Port Grimaud Helipad. Ten minutes after that, the client was in the air and on his way to Monaco!"
Andreason stresses that nothing is too much trouble to arrange because he maintains a very comprehensive and up-to-date card file for every region he visits.
He was able to make the spur-of-the-moment helicopter arrangements because he had previously used the same helicopter company when the owner of his last boat wanted to travel from Port Grimaud near St. Tropez into the French countryside to land on the lawn at the Bastide de Moustiers, one of Alain Ducasse's restaurants, and then be collected after lunch to return to the boat.
In the Caribbean, Andreason needed to accommodate clients who were desperate to watch an NFL game. He was able to book the TV lounge in a casino so guests could go ashore to watch the game, but then managed to show it on board through a very long cable hookup!
It's All in the Details
"With a trained crew, everyone knows his or her role and responsibilities; however, I have a mental checklist that I run through, and always make a point of visiting each department to ensure that nothing has been overlooked," says Andreason. "I always book the vehicles to pick up the guests, and use my trusted favorite companies wherever we are. I know these people will always be on time, with a clean vehicle, and able to help with any local queries. "
Once the guests are on board, Andreason assists with any initial questions or problems, then leaves the interior staff to help the guests settle in. It's the role of the chief stewardess to put the guests at ease and ensure that their first requests for drinks, etc., are met quickly and accurately. The captain meanwhile books restaurants for the evening as discussed perhaps in the vehicle on the way to the boat, or makes last-minute adjustments to the itinerary.
"Most guests like to get underway soon after arrival - a perfectly sound decision in my book," he says. "So I normally have the anchors cleared by divers earlier in the day if we are in port and berthed stern to the dock to enable us to get away smoothly and in a professional manner. Nothing would be more embarrassing to me than to be stuck with a hooked-up anchor with guests wondering why it is taking three glasses of champagne just to exit the harbor!"
Solemates runs with a crew of 13 and normally carries 10 guests, a very high crew-to-guest ratio. The interior staff ratio allows for around-the-clock flexibility, with one stewardess and either of the chefs available should the guests return hungry after a night in town.
"The more specific guests can be about their food and beverage requirements, the better we can provide service," says Andreason. "Though we will always manage to fill every request, it can be difficult finding Cristal champagne when anchored next to a desert island. I would always carry at least six bottles whether it was asked for or not, but sometimes demand can outlast supply...."
There are also extra crew berths so Solemates can carry a masseuse, beautician, or bodyguard if required. In addition, guests can take advantage of a personal onboard divemaster. If requested, Solemates can also carry a diving instructor, and Andreason says he hires deck crew who are "particularly keen" on diverse watersports. This is especially important, he says, for the Caribbean season, which tends to revolve more around beach and watersport activities. Although summer charterers in the Mediterranean also enjoy watersports, the captain finds that guests like to sightsee and venture ashore more in Europe.
"This should be considered in the same light as the briefing given by a flight crew before any takeoff," says Andreason. "Most of the guests I have looked after have never before been asked to do any of this, even, in one case, after having chartered for over 10 years, and not once have I had a complaint about having to undergo these short drills."
In fact, the captain says there have recently been big changes in the introduction of new safety regulations for yachts - long overdue and very worthwhile - to protect passengers and crew alike. "I was pleased to make the conversion on my last yacht to conform with the regulations, and Solemates was built with the new rules in mind, so we have nothing to do here, other than train the crew to the correct level on completion of the refit (see sidebar, "Logging Time in the Boatyard: Refitting a Fine Motoryacht").
And then? "Part of the fun of the job is not knowing what you will be doing every day for the next years to come," says Andreason.
I did, however, get him to divulge his favorite destination of last summer: "The best area was undoubtedly the east coast of Sardinia - not the usual stomping grounds of Cala di Volpe and Porto Cervo, but farther south in the Gulf of Orosei, with beautiful clear water, white sand, grottoes, and not another large yacht in sight."
There goes that secret itinerary! After all, the captain always aims to please. "Recently," he said, "I described my role to someone thus: as Captain, one is meant to be Navigator, Accountant, Father, Social Worker, occasional Marriage Counselor, Butler, Food and Wine Expert, Doctor, Chief Negotiator, and Diplomat!"
Captain and Crew Close-up
"On the other hand the most difficult decisions I have to make generally concern crew," he says. "Knowing that someone isn't working out, and in spite of any personal likes/dislikes, I sometimes have to make changes in order not to let one bad apple spoil the barrel."
This season's crew is:
"This boat is very 'English-heavy' on crew at the moment," says Andreason. "It's not deliberate, but the way it worked out. In the past, I have been the only English crew member."
But don't worry if English is not your first language: the captain speaks fluent French, good Spanish, and conversational Norwegian.
Logging Time in the Boatyard: Refitting a Fine Motoryacht
Solemates is currently in a heavy shipyard period in the south of France, where Andreason is heading the retrofit of the grand yacht for its spring/summer season in the Mediterranean. Although annual requirements are made through classification societies and most yachts will have four to eight weeks downtime per year for dedicated maintenance, every five years, in order to stay in "class" with one of the classification societies (regulatory bodies that ensure the vessels conform to many rules, particularly concerning maintenance and pollution prevention) every vessel, not just yachts, must undergo a survey where all major machinery is overhauled. The surveyor is primarily concerned with ensuring that engines and generators are serviced according to manufacturers' recommendations, and that propeller shafts, tanks, and overboard valves are in good condition, both to prevent breakdowns, and the chance of oil or waste fluids entering the sea.
"Almost anything that turns, burns, compresses, or has water or other fluids passing through it, is being serviced or replaced," says Andreason. Much of the work is done by contractors or specialists (for example, the local CAT dealer is responsible for the main engine and generator servicing, and Vosper Thornycroft, the stabilizer manufacturer, sent their representative to oversee the stabilizer service). This is mostly to ensure that the work is warranted.
The crew has many tasks to complete alongside the shipyard staff particularly maintaining working areas, and other engineering servicing jobs that do not warrant bringing in an expensive outside contractor.
"It is quite typical for the captain to be heavily involved in the boatyard period," says Andreason. "It is essential to be aware of the day-to-day progress, and to keep a weather eye on the financial management. The chief engineer and chief mate also have vital roles to play, as they monitor their staff and the contractors daily, and regular planning meetings with the yard project manager are crucial to ensure projects proceed logically and don't get in the way of one another." -J.M.
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