Super Yachts Come to North Sound
by Claudia Colli
The Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, a household name for mega yacht owners in Porto Cervo, Sardinia has a new home in the Caribbean. The Aga Khan, who has made his flagship yacht club in Porto Cervo on the fashionable isle of Sardinia a must stop for Europe’s yachting elite, has brought his exclusive brand to Virgin Gorda’s fast growing North Sound.
“Our members asked us to look for a base where they could sail in the winter,” says Jan Pachner, the Secretary General of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS), “and we spent four years looking for the perfect destination.” A lengthy list of requirements included an area with good sailing grounds, steady winds, security and political stability. The Club looked at St. Barths, Antigua and other Caribbean hot spots, but the search ended when Victor International CEO David Johnson, whose North Sound Resorts, Oil Nut Bay and Biras Creek are among the many high end properties in the area, met with Pachner and the Aga Khan in Monte Carlo. When Johnson told the men of his plans to build a mega yacht marina in the Sound, it was a perfect fit for all involved. YCCS had found its Caribbean home.
The BVI has a lot of parallels to Sardinia,” declares Pachner. The waters are sheltered and there are many different islands in close proximity. The new marina had deep water that could accommodate the large boats that are the Yacht Club’s trademark. But the biggest asset, he says, is the BVI’s natural beauty something that he continues to appreciate after two seasons here.
For Johnson who describes himself as “a passionate boater,” teaming up with YCCS dovetailed nicely with his aspirations to make the BVI a world class mega yacht destination. “Everyone knows the BVI is one of the world’s greatest sailing areas,” says Johnson who lives at the marina for nine months of the year aboard his 130-foot power yacht Resolute. “But mega yachts which were based in St. Martin and Antigua would only stop by for a day. There are other great marinas in the Caribbean, but our focus was building a state of the art facility just for the super yacht and mega yacht business, so they would use us as their base to explore the rest of the Caribbean.”
Johnson’s 300 acre development, Oil Nut Bay, with its high end villas and exclusive amenities is just a short boat ride away from the marina and part of the new North Sound community. With its many resorts, excellent restaurants and fun beach bars, North Sound is an ideal spot for yacht owners and crews to hang out and enjoy themselves, says the developer who refers to the Sound as “his neighborhood.”
“They like to have fun and shop and go out for dinner. Having these yachts here is good for local business,” he explains. Jan Pachner agrees, saying that Porto Cervo club members during a week of racing are big spenders, pumping money into the local economy, and will do the same here as well.
A sleepy little backwater just a decade or so ago, known primarily to cruising yachtsmen in the know, North Sound is now the destination of choice for the rich and famous. It’s been a quick and dramatic change for an area that was once a refuge for pirates and yachties looking to get away from it all. Google co-founder Larry Page has a home on nearby Eustatia Island, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is frequently seen in the area aboard his 414’ mega yacht, Octopus and Necker Island, owned by Virgin Airways magnate Richard Branson, caters to Hollywood celebrities, moguls and rock stars.
These are the type of yachtsmen that the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, which has operated in Port Cervo since 1967, plans to attract to the BVI and membership in one club automatically includes membership in the other. “We are one club with two locations,” emphasizes Jan Pachner.
The Aga Khan, who is YCCS’s founder and president, takes a keen interest in both his clubs, noting that they are complementary. The Virgin Gorda locale, he says, “will give members entry to wonderful new locations for sailing and yachting as well as taking in the character of all the services that YCCS offers in its current home base at Porto Cervo.” The Club was His Highness’ vision,” adds Pachner. “It was his idea to internationalize the brand, he decided on the location and worked with government to help make it happen.”
Poised atop a meticulously manicured hill between Biras Creek to the east and the village of Gun Creek to the west, the Yacht Club commands a sweeping view of North Sound. With walls of white and cream, plush furnishings and expansive windows looking out at the Sound, the Clubhouse, says Pachner is like a private villa that’s open to the public. There is an air-conditioned and well-appointed lounge and private dining area; a casual outside tiki bar, a pool, boutique, gym, wine bar and a restaurant that can accommodate up to 150 guests. An Italian chef oversees the restaurant kitchen, giving the food “an Italian touch” and turning out the kind of pastas and cuisine one would expect to find in YCCS’s homeport in Sardinia. The Club plans to train local chefs from the H Lavity Stoutt Community College’s culinary school in the art of Italian cooking, says Pachner, who believes that the Yacht Club will create spinoff in the form of more high quality restaurants and services in the area.
Since its official opening in January 2012, the Yacht Club has been the hub for a number of glamorous and high powered yachting events including the prestigious Loro Piana Caribbean Super Yacht Regatta and Rendezvous. Covered by international media, the regatta was lavish and stylish – a place for international socialites to gather and be seen. Among the week’s highlights was the presentation aboard host yacht Icon of a “century in a bottle,” a 1912 Louis XIII cognac. Sponsor Loro Piana hosted a special Owners’ Dinner on the lawn beneath spacious tents which glowed like lanterns and featured music by R&B singer Amii Stewart and flautist Andrea Griminelli.
The 2013 Super Yacht Regatta was held from March 20th to 23rd and once again brought some of the world’s most exciting yachts to Virgin Gorda’s North Sound. This year’s event featured an impressive fleet of world-class racing yachts from the 155-foot F-Class “Firefly” to the 156 foot “Hyperion” – and many of the spectators who took part in the “rendezvous,” observing the race from a gleaming fleet of motor yachts, are expected back. Also held off Sardinia in June, the YCCS event has long been one of the Mediterranean’s most popular summer-time racing events.
As time goes on, big boat regattas are likely to become the norm in the North Sound. In December of last year, the Transatlantic Super Yacht and Maxi Regatta ended its 3,300 mile race in North Sound with the yacht “Rán Leopard” first over the line. The race which is organized by YCCS in collaboration with the International Maxi Association saw six maxi yachts and super yachts leave Tenerife in the Canary Islands on November 26. “Rán Leopard” broke the course record arriving in seven days, eight hours, 59 minutes and 12 seconds. Another big yachting event, the Rolex Swan Cup Caribbean, held its inaugural regatta from March 11-15 with YCCS and North Sound as its staging point.
Yacht Club Costa Smeralda has changed the landscape of Virgin Gorda’s North Sound bringing glamour, glitz and big boats to this once quiet corner of the BVI. It may never be the same.