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A new generation of owners is discovering the joys of cruising to faraway places.
We meet the man who gave explorer yachts the "X" factor. by Mike Edwardson
Few experiences in the modern world can compare with entering an unspoiled bay in a faraway island chain, where the captain is inching forward on the instruments, keeping a close eye on the sounder, hardly trusting the chart originally drawn before he was born – perhaps before his grandfather was born. There may only be the faintest echoes of Cook and Columbus in the activities of the modern explorer yacht but there is a world of difference between a coasthugging superyacht that operates up and down a sunshine state with successive charter parties, and a modern, go-anywhere explorer yacht.
For John DeCaro, owner and president of All Ocean Yachts, that difference is the passion that has driven his working life. "I created the first explorer yacht when I became frustrated with trying to find the right boat for some of my clients that wanted to go world cruising," he says. He’s taking us back 30 years, when apart from a small number of specialist exploration vessels there was nothing available for the modern-day Magellan. "I wanted to find them something safe and large, something very practical to upkeep and straightforward to operate, like the steel motor-sailer I had run and cruised in the South Pacific."In the early 1980s there were coastal trawlers and converted commercial vessels, along with North Sea fishing boats and lifeboats on the market. I was drawn to these vessels as conversion projects, but most had big drawbacks for leisure cruising because of their engineroom and watertight bulkhead layouts," he says. "I knew what was needed in terms of a layout, systems and support services for extended cruising." With nothing quite right on the market, there was only one solution: John would have to design it himself, and find a partner yard.
I had trained myself in the then fairly new drawing system Autocad and I started working with the Inace shipyard in Brazil. They’re a commercial yard that was starting to build new yachts, so I decided to take one of their basic proven offshore fishing boat designs and create a new utilitarian vessel with a practical yacht interior. I needed a name for it, because it was not a trawler, or conversion or a yacht! The Ford Explorer had just come out and it was advertised as an ‘off-road’ car. Since my design was an off-the-beaten-path boat, I created my first commercial advertising slogan – ‘The Inace Explorer – the off-road vehicle for the water!’"
That was in 1986, but John’s nautical thirst had come early in life. "My father instilled in me a passion for sailing and all things to do with the sea. Starting when I was three years old and living in Jamaica, the passion has never left me and ultimately led me to the Virgin Islands where I began my sailing career at 19, while I was studying business management the College of the Virgin Islands. The first paying job I had was cleaning the bottom of a 90-foot schooner. The boat had been sitting in Charlotte Amalia Harbour for a year – the lobsters living in the water under her were almost large enough to eat. So I can say I literally worked my way up from the bottom!" he says.
The practical lessons came thick and fast. "On one occasion I spent four days at sea, in a swamped 14ft dinghy, drifting between St Thomas and the north coast of Puerto Rico. I was 20 years old, with no food or water," he says. "That experience should have put me off boats and ocean voyaging forever! In fact, it just made me even more determined to continue doing what I loved. I spent 18 years, some as a crew member and then as a captain, and this allowed me to cruise the world. All of these experiences were a huge factor in creating the concept of the explorer yacht. I had to make sure my clients had safe, practical and seaworthy yachts to explore the world, just as I had done before.
"I was trying to find the right boat for clients to go world cruising"
After nearly two decades at sea, John decided to move into yacht brokerage, joining Fraser as a new yacht broker. "I was told by a manager that I was wasting my time, that it was much harder to create yachts than to sell existing boats. No one would want a commercial-looking boat with reverse windows, no teak and no fairing! It wouldn’t look the part down at the yacht club, it would never sell. My response was that these yachts are for sitting in exotic bays, not yacht clubs! I sold the first one about three months later, and ten years later as I was leaving to start my own company, the manager was good enough to say to me, ‘you saw this coming, John’."
It is much harder to create a world cruising explorer than a 'white' yacht
All Ocean Yachts started in 2003 based in a Fort Lauderdale office. "I started All Ocean Yachts because I wanted more control in creating the explorer yachts I was building. I needed to be able to develop a line of explorers, different models to suit the needs of different clients. I now have several models from working with two different designers, Jon Overing and Luiz de Basto. We cover a range of client requirements," he says. There’s a Luiz de Basto design concept for a 75-metre.
"One of my favourite explorers is the Jon Overing-designed 98-foot Boundless that I have just listed for sale. She is a more elegant design, more ‘yacht’ looking, but she is so wonderful at sea and all of the features that give her the yacht look are created by blending very practical designs and materials. On the other side is the 120-foot aft-house design Far Far Away by Luiz. She has a sophistication of design which you just do not see in any other aft-house explorers," he says.
"It is challenging to say the least to have a small, specialised company in these times, and there are a lot of companies and brokers working with expedition and explorer yachts now. It seems like every builder has slapped reverse windows on one of their models and called it an explorer, even if it has a 900-mile range and should not leave the sight of land!" he says. "I think all builders would agree that it is much harder to create a world cruising explorer yacht than to create just a ‘white’ yacht, or to find the right existing one to meet a client’s mission profile," says John. "It is really about putting teams together, and directing, inspiring and motivating them to surprise themselves and the client with what can be accomplished. The owner, designer, builder, project manager and surveyor all need to work in harmony and amplify each other.
"Unfortunately, I can’t lose the passion for explorer yachts – just as drifting in the ocean only made me more determined and appreciative of boats and all things related to the sea," he says. With more and more owners working up a thirst for cruising to parts of the world that few others have seen, for unique experiences John is well placed to satisfy the demand that he helped to create.
by Mike EdwardsonContact John to make your explorer yacht dreams a reality firstname.lastname@example.org.
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