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Virgin Islands 27 years
 

Chartering a Yacht: Fine Romance

The first time Al and Jane Castleman showed their Royal Passagemaker 57 to anyone besides family and friends was January 2001. It was the Seattle Boat Show, which they had agreed to attend during negotiations to buy the Park Isle Marine build. She was less than a year old, the first new-construction yacht ever to leave the yard. They had no idea what their fellow Pacific Northwest boaters would think of her.


 
  Fine Romance  

And frankly, they didn’t much care. Fine Romance was their retirement home, a culmination of at least five years’ worth of thinking and dreaming about what they wanted their liveaboard to be. They’d accumulated several 3-inch binders bursting with clips from marine magazines, each highlighting designs and decors they found pleasing. They’d spent countless days at the yard, ensuring every item on their 36-point wish list was addressed. They’d forked over $700,000 more than their $1 million budget to get everything they desired, from a 4,000-mile range to top-shelf surround-sound systems.

 
Apparently, it showed. “We had to keep people from climbing over the gunwales,” Jane recalled. Word spread across the Seattle show like news of a debutante’s arrival: Have you seen the Park Isle boat? Don’t leave without taking a tour. It’s like a megayacht in there.

 
  You’d think Al and Jane might have seen the reaction coming. After all, when they’d welcomed friends aboard during the previous few months of cruising, their guests had thoroughly enjoyed the ambience, companionship and cuisine. A few even asked, as many Seattle show attendees would, whether the Castlemans offered Fine Romance for charter.

 
  “We thought, ‘Oh God no,’” Al recalled. “Until people started asking, it never occurred to us.” Then the Castlemans gave the idea some serious thought. Al had a 100-ton captain’s license, they liked having interesting people aboard, and they liked how much more they appreciated their time together after guests disembarked. Charter, they decided, could be their retirement adventure, something to keep them active and engaged as they attempted to realize their dream of circumnavigating. After booking a few charters on their own near their home base of San Diego, they set out for this summer’s Newport charter show, cruising just over 7,000 miles on the displacement hull from California through the Panama Canal and up to Rhode Island.

 
  There, in mid-June, they found themselves sandwiched among 100-foot motoryachts and epaulet-wearing crew, all battling for charter brokers’ attention. They figured they’d smile and get to know a few people while wearing their matching Hawaiian shirts, then take their baby up toward Maine to explore some more.

 
“Almost immediately after the show, we started getting calls,” Al said. “Oops!” As it turns out, Fine Romance turned more than a few heads at that boat show, too. Little did Al and Jane know the yacht they had created to fill their own retirement dreams would be seen as a perfect platform to do the same for chartering couples just like them.Al spent his career working to take companies public, and he and Jane can afford their lifestyle whether the boat charters or not.

  Yacht couple on the beach  
  Unlike owners who squeeze guests into spaces that resemble coffins just to get more of them (and their money) aboard, the Castlemans are focusing their endeavor on quality, not quantity. Fine Romance is, after all, their home, and they want her to be comfortable no matter who’s visiting.
 
  Though the boat has three staterooms, they only want clients who are a single couple, or a single couple with a child. Al and Jane take one of the two guest cabins, and the clients sleep in the master and, if necessary, the other guest cabin. The yacht’s two heads just wouldn’t accommodate more people comfortably, and they would rather have happy couples who return for years than more money in their pockets today.

 
  “There are plenty of people that are owner-operators in the Caribbean who have taken a sailboat, gone off across the horizon and then decided that they better do a lot of chartering” to pay the bills, said Ted from the clearing house for Fine Romance bookings. “Al and Jane have figured out that the experience is enriched when you share it with others.”

 
 

The few guests who have chartered the boat have been couples much like the Castlemans themselves: CEOs, attorneys and retirees who are middle-aged or just a bit more seasoned. They ask a lot of questions, Jane said, not only about boating and seeing the world, but about finding a second life after their first career.

 
  She and Al feel like they’re not only sharing the world of boating with these people; they’re sharing their own journey, their knowledge, their excitement about the post-work years to come.“These guys feel like they’re jumping off a cliff,” she said. “We can show them there’s something out there they can be jumping toward.”

 
  Fine Romance  

Al has spent hours sitting in Fine Romance’s pilothouse, inspiring guests by acknowledging that he and Jane aren’t lifelong boaters and had much to learn before setting out to finally see the world.Jane still fondly remembers serving her first guests dinner in that same pilothouse seafood skewers with baked papaya followed by a Fourth of July mousse topped with red and blue berries and eagerly sharing the recipe when asked for it.


 

“We’re doing it because we enjoy people and the relationships,” Al said. “If we weren’t, we’d raise the rates.”

 
  The boat’s price tag is $8,500 per week—inclusive. Even wine comes with the package, Al said, up to bottles in $30 range. That’s a nice change of pace from most crewed charter yachts, which tack on about 15 percent to their weekly rates for food, liquor, fuel, dockage and, sometimes, even fresh flowers.

 
  Sure, those boats take more guests who can split the cost, but the way Al sees it, more guests doesn’t always mean a better experience. On Fine Romance, the couple who charters the yacht is the only couple whose opinion matters.

 
  “They don’t have to share the decisions with four other couples,” Al quipped. “If they want prunes for breakfast, that’s what they’ll get for breakfast.” Fine Romance’s price may still seem a bit high for just one couple’s vacation, until you factor in the quality of the yacht. She’s one of precious few passagemaking motoryachts in her size range that offers crewed charter, and she has a standout, elegant décor within that select group. Those binders full of clippings that Al and Jane kept for so many years are filled with megayacht photos and articles, along with write-ups about high-quality trawlers and other passagemaking boats in Fine Romance’s size range. The Castlemans took their styling, design and construction cues from world-cruising stunners, as is evident in the photographs on these pages.

 

“These guys are certainly at the top of the mom-and-pop operations,” Ted said. “I was a little nervous about the price being too high, and now I think we may have to raise it.”

As long as Al is at Fine Romance’s helm, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. He and Jane plan to make Tortola their home base this winter after heading south from New England, and he said they’ll continue to offer their boat for charter not because it’s a new money-making career, but simply because they enjoy playing host to people interested in sharing this exciting chapter in their lives.

 

Fine Romance  
 

“Our long-term goal is to circumnavigate,” Al said. “I would love to develop a clientele of 15 or 20 couples that really like us, and we really like them, and they sign up for different legs of the trip. I don’t miss the job. The only thing I really miss is the people. And I’ve found another way to get involved with the same kinds of people.”

 

 

 

Kim Kavin, editor of www.CharterWave.com

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