On the southwest corner of a small Greek island called Symi, there is a harbor surrounded on two sides by wild brush and on the third by a sprawling monastery. The ornate, 18th-century complex is dedicated to Michael, the island's patron saint and protector of sailors. The faithful say the harbor is where all of the world's waters lead, and they have washed-ashore bottles stuffed with handwritten notes to prove it. There are dozens of them, with more arriving all the time—offerings, if you will, from boaters who accept the nature of things and are simply looking to make the best of their time on the water.
I discovered this place while onboard the 52-foot power catamaran Phoenix, a unique, crewed charter boat that just happens to be the culmination of legendary yacht designer Ted Hood's quest to make the best of all our time on the water.
Most recently known for his Little Harbor WhisperJet line, the 80-year-old Hood designed some 200 sailing and powerboats between 1959 and 1999, when he sold Little Harbor and went off to think about powercats during quasi-retirement. He thought cats had great design potential that wasn't being realized, and he had an idea for one in particular, the Portsmouth Marine PowerCat 52, that he wanted to see built and used by people who could appreciate the lifetime of boating knowledge he'd put into it.
Luckily for Hood, he's friends with a New England couple who were willing to take a chance on his vision and a shipyard in Istanbul, Turkey. And luckily for me—for all of us, really—the couple has an extensive history in the international charter industry. Today Phoenix is not just one of only two Hood-designed powercats in the world, but she is also the only one available for charter. Anywhere.
I caught up with Phoenix as she was beginning her final season of cruising in the Mediterranean, specifically as she made her way from mainland Turkey across to Greece's far-eastern Dodecanese Islands. It was an appropriate cruising area to be onboard this particular boat, I thought, as the destination seems to be evolving into a more easily accessible charter area based on decades of lessons learned.
While there are no legal barriers preventing charterers from cruising a Turkey-to-Greece itinerary, historic tensions between the two countries have settled into personal resentments that—until just two or three years ago—were known to cause customs backups if, say, a charter yacht started out in a Turkish seaside town like Bodrum before cruising into Greek waters. The Dodecanese Islands are in plain sight of the Turkish mainland, so a boat coming in to clear customs on a Greek island like Symi might have been pegged for “additional clearance fees” or held for an extra day's time simply to make life harder for her Turkish captain.
International charter organizations have worked hard to resolve these issues in recent years, and I'm pleased to say that we had no trouble at all cruising directly from Turkey into Symi (onboard a U.S.-flagged boat, no less, in a part of the world where Uncle Sam has fewer friends than he used to). A few years ago our itinerary simply would not have been practical. But now, perhaps in the spirit of cooperation, the fates are on the side of charter clients.
I'm thankful for that, as Symi is one of the precious places along the Mediterranean Sea that hasn't yet succumbed to mass tourism—the kind of place you can often see only by charter yacht. It has no international airport or high-rise hotels, it does not receive cruise ships, and it lacks the crowds that typically sprawl across more popular Dodecanese islands like Rhodes and Kos. Symi's walkways are filled with the sweet smells of fresh-picked fruits and vegetables, and the taverna owners are low-pressure, simply available to cook for you instead of goading you to come inside.
I felt quite comfortable walking around Symi, but not quite as comfortable as I did onboard Phoenix, where I was in the capable hands of Capt. John and Amanda Cushen, a Kiwi couple who have served as the yacht's crew since the boat launched in 2005. Most of the charters they do are for friends of the owners, but they take the job of making all their guests happy quite seriously. In my case that included sneaking a peek at the birth date on my passport and then surprising me with a birthday cake and a lovely shell necklace during my first night aboard.
Phoenix, too, made me feel at home in an instant, sort of like entering a private cottage instead of stepping onboard a boat. Hood designed an incredibly spacious feel, with a 23-foot beam and headroom of well more than eight feet in most interior rooms. The expansive windows surrounding the saloon, plus multiple overhead hatches in the main guest area, made me feel like I was outdoors all the time.
And the multiple portholes in addition to the four—count 'em, four!—overhead hatches in my cabin provided more natural light and fresh air than I've experienced on any other 52-footer. As Capt. Cushen put it, “This is an ideal boat for a family or for three couples who want to be on the water but not do hard-core sailing or be cramped the whole time.” I wholeheartedly agree.
Falling asleep each night with a natural breeze after a day of cruising from Symi to other tiny islands in the Dodecanese chain, I felt an unusual attachment to the fresh sea air, a feeling I typically get on sailboats instead of powerboats. This was no doubt thanks to Hood's longtime experience as a sailboat designer. But I had the benefit of motoryacht luxury and space, to be sure, not to mention a crew who handled the boat beautifully in between preparing traditional Eastern Mediterranean and Kiwi meals to satisfy my belly as much as my soul.
The Cushens are explorers themselves, the types who might write a message in a bottle to St. Michael, asking for fair seas and calm winds as they make their way onward. I hope they find all that and more as they move Phoenix into the Bahamas and New England for the upcoming 2008 summer charter season, when she is sure to get noticed not just for the lovely charter experience she offers, but for the opportunity she gives guests to experience what a legendary American designer feels is the sum of his decades of learning about boats.
I, for one, hope to get back onboard for another charter as soon as possible. And I have a note saying so in a bottle headed to St. Michael, just to be sure.
Phoenix takes six guests with two crew at a weekly base rate of 15,500 EUR, or about $21,400 at presstime, plus expenses.
Northrop & Johnson Worldwide Yacht Charters
This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.