Official word came yesterday that longtime charter broker Rikki Davis had died at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, following a chronic lung illness caused by mycobacterium. Her close friend and fellow charter broker Shannon Webster notified much of the industry via e-mail, stating, “She fought a great fight until the very end, and I for one am very proud of her for never complaining even once about the fate that had befallen her. We will all miss her smiling face and the graciousness that could be felt when in her company. She was a true princess.”
Rikki was a legend in the charter industry, a veteran of the times when much of what we know as the industry today didn’t even exist. She spent more than 30 years booking charters and rose to prominence at a time before the large management companies began to corner much of the business. Rikki was a tough, smart, international-caliber businesswoman who was trusted by many of the wealthiest people in the world, and she is one of precious few charter brokers to have had her business bought out by a mainstream company, Churchill Yacht Partners. Without question, Rikki helped to carve the path that many younger charter brokers walk today.
She also helped to set me on my way in the marine journalism business. Rikki and her husband, Jerry Vurpillat, were with me on the first-ever yacht charter that I did as an editor with Yachting magazine back in 2000. We were aboard the 65-foot Privilege sailing catamaran Angel Glow in the British Virgin Islands, and I didn’t know a spinnaker from a ham sandwich. As the daughter of two public schoolteachers, having never vacationed anywhere but Walt Disney World in my youth, I felt very much like an impostor aboard a private yacht, but Rikki advised me to put my head down and claim my place. “You belong here just as much as anybody else,” she told me, no doubt echoing words she had told herself back when she, too, was just starting out.
Over the years, I was fortunate to cruise with Rikki (and often Jerry, too) during a number of articles. We sailed together aboard Mare Nostrum in Turkey (that’s Rikki touring the Turkish ruins with broker Missy Johnston in the above photo), we cruised in the Bahamas a couple of times aboard the motoryachts Joanne and Coco Loco, we spent time in New Zealand aboard the motoryacht Askari, we did a golf-and-cruising charter in Nova Scotia aboard the motoryacht Destination Fox Harb’r Too, and we were together during a charter in Fiji, where my favorite Rikki Davis memory of all time took place.
She was comfortably ensconced in a beach chair, and I was about to lug my camera gear up the side of a mountain to get a photograph of the yacht in the harbor below. “Oh,” she said, “I’d love that photo, too”–and then handed me her camera to take with me on the climb. Only Rikki could pull off that move in a way that made it seem downright charming.
My other favorite memory of Rikki was at the Marmaris charter yacht show in Turkey. It was a slow day, and I had wandered into the bazaar to look around. I bumped into Rikki and Jerry at a shop where they were having leather coats custom-tailored at prices a fraction of what you’d find in the States. “Oh, I was just thinking about getting a silk scarf,” I said, counting the pennies in my wallet. Rikki would have none of that, telling me, “Coming to these places is special. You may never get here again. Treat yourself.” Which is why, hanging in my closet today, is a custom-tailored leather coat that often gets compliments from total strangers when I wear it out to restaurants. In fact, I often wear it with the pink silk scarf that Rikki got me as a surprise gift during that same trip. Her generosity was as great as her desire to enjoy every bit of what this world has to offer.
I had learned during the middle of last week that Rikki was in intensive care and struggling, and I overnighted her a letter to try to lift her spirits. I’m told that Rikki actually laughed out loud a few times and snatched the letter to keep next to her, under the covers in bed, holding those two flimsy pieces of paper in a way that no nurse could dare take them from her hands.
It gives me some solace, knowing I was able to give a few moments of comfort to a woman who taught me so much about what the yacht charter industry represents: living life well. Rikki Davis was one of the greats, and she will be missed.