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Personal touches by this husband and wife team from the Netherlands contribute to Jaguar's cozy appeal
By: Jamie Matusow
Jul. 20, 2004 12:00 AM
From day trips on a river in the Netherlands to luxury crewed charters in the Mediterranean, Jaguar's creative owner/operators have built their business by doing everything from designing the boat to handpicking the crew. Their grandest project yet is scheduled to launch by next spring.
When Claudia Rijntjes left her job as manager of a well-known restaurant in the Netherlands, the owner remarked, "Oh, she wasn't cut out for this business anyway; she isn't dedicated." As it turned out, she couldn't have been more wrong. Twelve years later, Claudia, a striking, genteel woman in her early thirties, and her husband Jan now run a highly successful charter business aboard Jaguar, a 125ft Zaandam "gentlemen's yacht." Claudia is the general manager and Jan is the captain. In fact Claudia left the restaurant job to join Jan in his charter business, and says laughingly that her former boss's comments were made because she was sorry to lose her - and they still keep in touch.
At the time, Jan had two small boats and was doing day charters on a river in the Netherlands. Every year he bought another boat, and eventrually he began to specialize in luxury parties for the banking crowd. In 1989 he came across Jaguar, which had sat in a shipyard as a hull for 10 years. He painstakingly finished her and in 1998, launched her into his day charter business. In 2000, Claudia and Jan took the plunge and brought her to the Mediterranean, determined to start a more ambitious charter business.
Their efforts paid off. Jan's sumptuous re-design of the classic-looking boat and Claudia's painstaking eye for detail were well received, and their business grew quickly. Although Jan does not sail on every charter, Claudia does. As we sat talking amidst the vibrant arrangements of fragrant lilies, ranunculuses, and orchids, sipping green tea and eating homemade chocolate truffles served in tiny delft dishes, it was evident just how much Claudia cares about her boat and her crew.
She feels that the crew are the most important part of Jaguar, and says that if they feel as if it's their own ship, they'll work well together. "I teach the crew to always be one step ahead of the guests," she says. "For instance, if we notice that one of the guests favors roses, maybe on her bag or on her clothes, we'll place roses in her cabin, or set the table with china decorated with roses."
In fact, Claudia and the crew take pride in always surprising the guests. Different table settings for lunch and dinner each day on the aft deck are one of Jaguar's specialties. "Often guests will ask me to repeat a favorite decorative theme," says Claudia, who executes all of the designs herself. Today's arrangement is a country theme complete with a mini wheelbarrow, potted plants, grass, cow plates, and chicken-decorated egg cups, sure to bring a smile to those on board.
This is just one of many gifts Claudia offers her guests. Every night she and her crew place traditional Dutch items on the guests' pillows - sometimes little candies, sometimes miniature hand-painted wooden shoes. "On one recent charter," says Claudia, "we distributed 134 presents!" On the last night, guests are presented with a special gift: often a sextant for the man and a beautiful piece of jewelry for the woman.
Claudia enjoys seeing everyone have fun and unlike some other charter boat owners, she welcomes children. "About two years ago", she says, "we had a group with four or five children who were rather quiet. The crew wanted to see some action so we arranged treasure hunts and got them involved in water sports. They let loose and had a great time!" she says satisfactorily. She has even created a fantasy cabin for children, complete with their own monogrammed plush terry robes and loads of stuffed animals.
Always looking for a way to bring an added element of lightheartedness, Claudia describes a scene in which she suddenly noticed that the windows in the saloon looked a little streaky. As the guests were relaxing after dinner at the time, she decided to be creative. She put on some music and she and the crew, cloths in hand, sang and entertained the guests in a routine that just happened to result in clean windows!
This is typical of Claudia's philosophy of providing five-star exemplary service in a relaxed way. "You have to do it with your heart!" she exclaims. "I like my crew to express themselves, be comfortable, and do things with a smile." As a result, she says the team on Jaguar has a lot of fun and the guests keep coming back. One customer has returned for the sixth time! "On their first trip," says Claudia," they planned the itinerary; now they don't care where we're going - they're just happy to fit into Jaguar's schedule!"
The crew, too, seems to feel lucky to be on board Jaguar. Rasa Mockute, the chief stewardess, proclaims,"I feel like I'm living in a postcard - all happy colors. We're like one big family." In fact, she reveals that when she's on leave, visiting her real family in Lithuania, she calls Claudia almost every day! Even Rasa's mother now loves Claudia and Jan and approves of her daughter's job after a difficult start.
Here's the story. As Claudia and Jan aim to build a crew that operates more like a tight-knit family, they handpick the members rather than use a crew placement service. When Jan first met Rasa, he was sure she would be a perfect addition, but it took some convincing - and her mother was very skeptical of his intentions. When Rasa finally acquiesced and took Jan up on his offer, she asked him what she needed to bring. "Just your underwear," he replied, much to her and her mother's astonishment! The deal was almost off until he could explain that he and Claudia provide Jaguar's crew with full wardrobes instead of standard crew uniforms!
Esmeralda Schrijver, Jaguar's chef, owned her own restaurant in the Netherlands before coming to work on Jaguar. She says Claudia and Jan give her the freedom to do what she wants, and that she still feels like she's running her own business. Her specialty is pastries, and she often leaves little midnight snacks for guests. She had planned to return to the Netherlands to reunite with her husband after this, her fourth season on board, but now she is changing her mind thanks to Claudia and Jan's new project.
The new project is Sherakhan, a post-modern 70m motoryacht now under construction in the Netherlands and scheduled to launch by spring of 2005. She will have a crew of 19, and Claudia hopes that all of the Jaguar crew will be among them. As Jan does with all his boats, he has designed the vessel and is coordinating the whole project with the architects. Claudia is doing all the interior decoration and at the moment is very excited about a white baby grand piano she has finally located and an enormous Italian chandelier she has just purchased at a design show in Frankfurt. "It looks like a giant bowl of spaghetti!" she exclaims.
Sherakhan will sleep 22 guests (not to mention relax them all at once in one giant jacuzzi or seat them at one awesome dining table), and will hold 140 day passengers, making her the ultimate venue for parties, weddings, corporate events, and festivals. She will be based in Monaco, but is capable of traveling to the Caribbean, and will charter for $50,000US per day.
As we say goodbye, Claudia rushes off to buy yet more presents - this time for Bas, the first mate who has always dreamed of becoming a captain. It's his birthday and the Jaguar family is going to celebrate.
Information: Jaguar cruises in the east and west Mediterranean for 64,000-68,000 euros per week.
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