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Melinka on charter in Antigua

Melinka under sail, very cool

Melinka under sail, very coolWe only had time for one night onboard this classic gentleman’s sailing yacht, but it was enough to convince us that she’s quite cool.

The 80-foot Melinka is a proper gentleman’s sailing yacht–staffed by an enthusiastic crew that’s ready to have fun all over the Caribbean and beyond.

By Kim Kavin

So often these days, the first thing people ask before chartering a yacht is: “What kind of television is in the master cabin?” That query is quickly followed by, “How many different DVDs are onboard?” And that question usually leads to, “And how about a Sony PlayStation or an Xbox?”
      The first thing I noticed when I unpacked my bags onboard the 80-foot sailing yacht Melinka was that the flat-panel television inside the master cabin was smaller than the ones found in most American kitchens. It was tucked into bookshelves brimming with titles like Chapman Piloting & Seamanship, J.C. Beaglehole’s The Life of Captain James Cook, and C. A. Marchaj’s Aero-Hydrodynamics of Sailing. On the other side of the room, flat-mounted into the bulkhead right next to my pillow for nighttime monitoring, were a Brooks & Gatehouse wind meter, synchrometer, depth sounder, and knot meter. In between the instruments and the books hung an original oil painting of a racing sailboat bashing through the waves, done by T. Buttersworth Jr. circa 1820.
     All I could think was: Who needs an Xbox when you can live the reality of a proper gentleman sailor?
     That’s what Melinka is all about—and just one reason why she is one of the best-kept secrets in the worldwide charter industry for anyone who wants to sail in style.
     The yacht was built in 1981 as a 76-foot Swan, and then was extended to 80 feet long in 1995 by her second owner. Her third owner, who bought her in 1995 and still keeps her today, named her for an island in Patagonia near his native Chile. He sails her quite regularly, is a full-on member of both the New York Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron, and allows just a handful of weeks of charter each winter in the Caribbean to keep the crew busy when he can’t be onboard.
     “It travels, but it hasn’t been used hard,” Capt. Forrest Shropshire, an American, told me as we sat down to dinner on Falmouth Harbour in Antigua. The table gleamed as if brand-new, and the leather seating showed not a single blemish.
     Shropshire then began to explain how the yacht itself is organized for gentleman’s club-style charters—think men with cigars chatting about land deals in between broad reaches off an island’s coast—but he soon drifted into how much he and the rest of the crew were looking forward to having some fun under way with future charter guests.
     “Melinka is for people who are sailors, who like sailing,” he told me. “We have more books than movies. We do have a sea kayak, a 14-foot dinghy, and we could get water skis if somebody wanted them, a wakeboard in a heartbeat. We could rent a windsurfer for any charter. I’m an avid fisherman. We do celestial navigation if they’re interested in that…”
     And they sail. All three crew members, including Antiguan mate Jace Hector and American chef/stewardess Sam Gordon, gush about their love of cranking the sails and riding the seas. Hector has been onboard for 2Ω years, but Gordon and Shropshire just joined Melinka in November 2006 after working together for three years onboard a 95-foot private motorsailor called Valkyrie. They met Melinka with Hector onboard in Camden, Maine, just a month before I met them, and brought her down to Antigua, which is the new home base where I found them in December 2006.
     They couldn’t wait to get a few charter bookings and take off as far as the clients would allow.
     “We’d be happy to go to Grenada or the Virgin Islands,” Shropshire said. “Anywhere. I think one week here is way too short. My preferred 10-day trip would be Antigua to St. Lucia, one way. Sail a day, stay a day. Sail a day, stay a day.”
     He paused for a moment before adding, “Or we can go sit in St. Barth’s for a week. Whatever the guests want to do.”
     This crew’s attitude is flexible, and though their yacht is designed for subdued relaxation, their hearts are clearly in sailing and enjoying active fun on the water. They’re not interested in having any children younger than 8 onboard, and actually prefer to have adult couples when given the choice.
     They can cater to the most discerning of tastes, too, as evidenced by Gordon’s first charter experience as a chef. “They were gluten-free, dairy-free, no red meat, no shellfish, no night shades people,” she told me, explaining that “night shades” meant a ban on dark-colored vegetables including eggplant and peppers. “I made fish, free-range chicken, whole-wheat pastas, lentil burgers… It went fine. I prefer doing healthy food.”
     Which should suit adults onboard just fine. In my opinion, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a child onboard anyway, what with the all the lovingly maintained woodwork and sailing equipment on deck and classic oil paintings hanging throughout the yacht. I’d be much happier with my fellow adults enjoying the atmosphere this yacht’s owner has created, one that’s perfect for reading a good book with the wind in your hair while a happy crew keep you moving downwind at a steady 8 to 9 knots after a healthy lunch of fish and salad.
     “For one week, you can be a gentleman yachtsman,” as Shropshire put it. “This is New York Yacht Club, Royal Yacht Squadron. That’s our owner and our boat.”