By Kim Kavin
Capt. Andrea Aliverti is about to commit blasphemy. After all, when you’re born in the shadow of Vatican City and raised in Italy, uttering a single bad word about Pellegrino is nearly akin to mocking the pope.
But Aliverti can’t help himself. His beliefs about fizzy water have become so ingrained that they border on personal religion.
“I cannot see a point in buying Pellegrino,” says Aliverti, standing in the salon of his 47-foot Nautitech sailing catamaran Nemo in Antigua and throwing his hands into the air, almost as if he’s seeking absolution from a long-lost god of logic. “Why ship Pellegrino all the way from Italy? You are wasting all that transportation fuel when you can make it right here, and it is delicious, and there are no bottles...”
Aliverti’s voice trails off as he points to Exhibit A in his sermon: the Sodastream that he recently installed in Nemo’s galley. He paid about $200 for the coffee-pot-sized machine and its starter kit of supplies, which let charter guests enjoy all the fizzy water they want by transforming it on demand from the cool stuff that flows out of Nemo’s faucets. Which, by the way, are connected to a seven-filter reverse-osmosis separator that makes water from the boat’s tanks not only drinkable, but downright tasty—while eliminating the need for about two cases’ worth of plastic water bottles a day. And that filtration system? It runs not on electricity from a fuel-based generator, but instead on power supplied by Nemo’s solar panels.
“We have so much sun in the Caribbean,” Aliverti says, as if pointing out to disbelievers that the world is, in fact, round. “It is simple. Why not make use of the sun?”
As recently as five or 10 years ago, many charter brokers would have patted Aliverti gently on the back, smiled lovingly at his eco-enthusiasm, and walked away. “Going Green” may have already been a trend on land, but it was taking longer to migrate into the world of crewed yacht charter than a crumpled plastic bottle takes to decompose in a landfill (about 450 years, according to the U.S. National Park Service). Sure, brokers thought it was nice when yacht owners and captains made an effort to charter in a more conservation-friendly way, but clients rarely asked about such things when deciding which yacht to book, so eco-features were far less important than king-size beds and sundeck hot tubs.
That mentality is now changing—and fast. The idea of being earth-friendly has finally migrated en masse offshore, and the race is on to see which charter yachts will emerge as the new leaders in the global fleet. Aliverti is no longer seen as an outlier so much as a visionary, one among a growing number of charter yacht owners, captains, and brokers who are realizing that going green can be good not just for the planet, but also for business.
Aboard charter yachts of all sizes and styles, eco-friendly features are becoming as much of a marketing hook as Wave Runners and zero-speed stabilizers. Clients are starting not only to accept, but also to request and even demand things like filtered water and reusable bottles. They are asking about motoryacht fuel burn rates and how to reduce them, either by booking a more fuel-efficient yacht or by making a carbon-offset donation. Some owners are going so far as to promote the ways that their yachts are being built, telling potential clients that they minimized environmental impact in the shipyard as well as in the materials used to construct the boat, which they then outfit with organic bed sheets and biodegradable cleaning supplies and food that is not genetically modified and, well, whatever else they can think to put into their brochure copy.
In other words, the bulk of the charter industry, all the way up to the superyachts, is now trying to adopt the plainspoken mantra by which Aliverti lives on his 47-foot catamaran.
“We are trying to provide the same level of service and comfort that charter guests expect of boats our size,” he says, “but in a way that is good for the Earth.”
Selling the New Standard
The low-energy LED lightbulb first went off above Trish Cronan’s head a few years ago, while she was standing on the docks in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. Cronan, who owns Ocean Getaways, had just registered for the annual boat show where charter yachts line up to show brokers everything that’s new onboard. Along with the paperwork and badge that she was used to receiving, a show organizer handed her an empty, stainless-steel water bottle. She looked at it for a few moments, perplexed, and then asked why it was in the welcome packet.
“A lot of the boats had started producing their own filtered water,” she recalls, “and they were trying to show us that we didn’t always have to reach for a plastic water bottle.”
Today, Cronan is the president of the charter brokers’ association CYBA International, which has spent the past few years turning that moment into a movement. They did some back-of-the-recycled-envelope math and determined that during a single week’s charter, a catamaran with eight guests and three crew can easily go through 300 plastic water bottles. A superyacht with 10 guests and 10 crew can churn through 700, easy. “We started multiplying by the number of boats out there,” Cronan says, “and in the BVI alone, our best guess is that charter yachts are putting about two million plastic water bottles a year into the BVI landfill.”
CYBA International wanted to encourage more boats to adopt the reusable-bottle solution, and to reward the boats that did so by sending them more charter business. The group created an eco-questionnaire that lists about 30 different criteria, everything from having a filtration system to doing coral-reef education to creating digital, instead of printed, brochures. Any charter yacht could fill out the questionnaire, and every yacht that met at least eight criteria got a CYBA “Going Green to Save the Blue” ribbon. A space was created in the international booking database to show which boats had the ribbon, giving brokers an easy way to find them and suggest them to potential charter clients. But even that wasn't enough, based on the results that CYBA was seeing.
“What showed up on those questionnaires was amazing,” Cronan says. “There are some boats out there that met almost every criteria on the list. We wanted to really highlight the role models at boat shows, so at the St. Thomas, Tortola, and Antigua shows, we decided to give out awards for the most eco-friendly sailing and power yachts.”
Those first awards were handed out in late 2012, and they will continue to be handed out every year not only at those three Caribbean boat shows, but soon at additional shows throughout the Mediterranean and beyond—giving the boats, and the brokers, a new marketing tool for helping charter clients see which yachts truly are standouts in eco-chartering.
“The best way for anyone to find out if their yacht is eco-friendly is to ask a broker if the yacht has qualified for the CYBA Going Green to Save the Blue ribbon,” Cronan says. “This is something new that we never had before, and it should make it easy for clients to make sure they are booking boats that are trying to do the right things.”
The Carbon Conundrum
Mark Robinson plopped down into a chair at Marina Molo Vecchio in Genoa, Italy. Gray clouds moving in fast looked like they were about to burst, and he was seeking refuge beneath a MYBA Charter Show tent. It was the end of yet another day spent pounding the docks, going passerelle to passerelle, talking to captain after captain, pitching the message that even the most gas-guzzling superyacht can offer a more environmentally conscious charter experience.
“We’re getting them one by one,” says Robinson, who is managing director of London-based Yacht Carbon Offset, a service that lets charter yacht owners—or clients—buy into global projects that reduce carbon emissions, thus offsetting any emissions created by running a superyacht’s engines. “We are letting them know that they don’t have to do this, of course, but that if they offer it to their charter clients, the clients may want to do it, and more and more clients see it as a good thing that the yacht is offering.”
Fuel burn is built into the DNA of superyachting the way calories are packed into the richest of chocolate fudge; some of faster yachts, like the 120-footers that can push 20 knots, may burn more than 200 gallons of fuel every single hour to achieve those decadent cruising speeds. If a charter client cruises, say, four hours a day for a week on such a yacht, then the total carbon emissions work out to about 123,000 pounds.
To put that into perspective, the average car, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, produces less than 11,000 pounds of emissions per year. The math can make the stink from a belching diesel seem all the more rancid to eco-minded charter clients, which is why more and more yachts are offering the Yacht Carbon Offset solution and other services like it. The retail agency Boatbookings.com recently added a “carbon calculator” to its website, letting charter clients see not only how many pounds of emissions different charter yachts produce, but also what it would cost to offset those emissions as part of the total charter fee. (That 123,000 pounds can be offset for a donation of less than $500, according to Boatbookings.)
Fuel burn rates are coming up in other conversations about which yachts to charter, too. At Camper and Nicholsons International in Monaco, senior charter manager Carine Zanotti says charter clients are becoming educated about fuel efficiency out of pure economic self-interest.
“Fuel efficiency is definitely a selling point now for charter, especially because some bunkering places in Italy and France will not give duty-free fuel anymore to some boats,” Zanotti says. “Duty-paid fuel is almost twice the price of duty-free, so the lower fuel-burn yachts are very attractive.”
Zanotti says that within the Camper and Nicholsons charter fleet, the 142-foot Eurocraft Baron Trenck in particular has been pushing fuel efficiency as a charter benefit. Cruising at 10 knots, Baron Trenck burns just 26 gallons per hour.
“If a boat is in the South of France and the client wants her in Sicily, then she can do the delivery for the cost of the fuel, which in some cases is eight times less than other boats in the same size range,” Zanotti says. Other megayachts that Camper and Nicholsons has been marketing for charter based on fuel efficiency include the 138-foot Cizgi E&E, which burns fuel at about the same rate as Baron Trenck, and the 118-foot CBI Navi Metsuyan IV, which can burn just 53 gallons per hour at some cruising speeds.
At 53 gallons per hour, the cost to offset emissions for the same four hours of cruising per day during a week’s charter drops to about $125, according to the Boatbookings.com calculator. As Robinson puts it: “It’s a matter of educating people that the cost is not really all that high to make a difference.”
The Future of Eco-Charter
Capt. Walter Wetmore stands at the helm of the 129-foot expedition yacht Safira, a 2013 launch that, at full throttle and 12.8 knots, burns just 60 gallons of fuel per hour. He looks out over the bow into Newport Harbor and beyond, well past New England in his mind’s eye, thinking about all the places that the yacht’s biodiesel fuel mix will take charter guests in the coming years.
“The owners wanted to raise awareness that yachts could be more eco-friendly,” he says, explaining how they took four years to build Safira in the United States with everything from granite and wood remnants from other projects to recycled glass countertops. “The owners are very aware of climate change.”
Charter clients would never know Safira was built differently just by looking at her; she is every bit as luxurious as any other charter yacht in her size range. That’s the future of eco-friendly charter, and it’s being seen in more and more builds coming out of the shipyards—builds of all sizes and styles whose owners are proving that eco-friendly charter can be downright elegant.
At the top end of the scale, the renowned Dutch builder Royal Huisman launched the 190-foot Ethereal, a $60-million sailing yacht that has a sea-powered lithium battery system, hybrid diesel and electric engines, and even windows and hatches that turn opaque in the tropical sun, helping to minimize the heat being brought inside the yacht and requiring air conditioning.
More in the midrange of the global charter fleet is the 147-foot Aquos Big Fish, a motoryacht that launched from McMullen and Wing in New Zealand with outdoor decks made from machined granite so that no real stone or teak had to be harvested from any forests. All of that yacht’s lighting is low-energy LED, and hot water is created by recirculating the flow from the generator coil around the freshwater tank. A second hull of similar design, the 164-foot Big Star, is now under construction at the yard with an asking price of $30 million.
At the smaller end of the charter scale is that 47-foot Nautitech sailing catamaran, Nemo, with Capt. Aliverti still standing onboard, preaching conservation to anybody who will listen. He’s in a decidedly different price range—Ethereal and Big Fish charter at a weekly rates well above $200,000, while Nemo commands less than $20,000—but the message has permeated all levels of the industry just the same. A lot of Aliverti’s ideas are now being designed into new builds in all size ranges, along with the ideas of more and more similarly minded people around the world. And Aliverti is still trying to lead the charge, thinking of additional ways to make charter more eco-friendly. He recently updated Nemo’s website to let potential charter clients know that all yogurt is now being made onboard without plastic cups, and that all dish soap and shampoo is not only biodegradable, but also “cruelty-free.”
“These things are not hard to do,” he says, “and look at the difference it can make.”