Yachting for daredevils
From underwater exploration to death-defying activities on land, there’s more to chartering than simple cruising.
Sailing on the Med may make for great photos but there’s a whole lot more to do on a charter than wine, dine and relax in the sunshine. From polar diving with icebergs in the sub-zero waters of Greenland to careering down a mountain peak on two wheels in British Columbia, adventures aplenty await on the modern-day yacht charter. Here, five self-confessed daredevils reveal exactly how adventurous it’s possible to be on a yachting expedition.
Away from the tropics and its swarms of tropical fish, diving takes on a whole new life under the ice caps of the Arctic. When you’re contending with deep depths and sub-zero temperatures, diving in the polar regions becomes a challenge for the body and the mind, but with eye-opening rewards.
“Very few people have ever had the chance to explore underneath Arctic ice, which really is like a world of its own,” says Henry Cookson, founder of Cookson Adventures. “Particularly in the winter months, the waters you’ll dive in will be crystal clear, often with visibility of up to 70m. It’s both eerie and staggeringly beautiful.”
Eastern Greenland is Cookson’s top spot for polar diving. “It really is a blank spot on the map for most divers,” he says. “The region’s fjords and bays are home to historic shipwrecks and unusual plant species. Plus, the ice formations are ever-changing. What you’ll lay eyes on may never be seen again.”
And of course, specialised dive guides will ensure divers of all experience levels have a good trip. “We invite along world-leading polar and wildlife experts who bring the environment to life in the most enriching way possible,” says Cookson.
If carving down untouched glaciers miles away from civilisation seems like your idea of fun, a yacht charter can facilitate this adventure.
“The polar regions offer skiing unlike any other place,” says Doug Stoup, ski guide at EYOS Expeditions. “It may not always have the best snow or the longest slopes, but to be able to get up into the mountains where very few humans have ever been and descend into this untouched wilderness is magic.”
One of his fondest memories is standing on the 500m summit of King George Island before skiing down to Admiralty Bay. “All of a sudden on the other side of the fjord I heard and spotted seven orcas breaching and frolicking in the bay. At the end of the day, the client told me, ‘That was the best day of my life.’”
“With a yacht, you can venture to places that are otherwise completely inaccessible, and after a long day skiing, still enjoy the comforts of a hot tub and a glass of champagne on the aft deck. It is the ultimate après-ski,” adds Stoup.
Another high-octane sport best enjoyed by dropping in via helicopter is heli-biking – essentially mountain biking in extreme and far-flung destinations. “Heli-biking offers the perfect way to escape the crowds, and, from a yacht, total exclusivity,” says Geordie Mackay-Lewis, co-founder at Pelorus. “Being able to access super-remote locations in the comfort and safety of a yacht is one of the greatest benefits of yachting. In addition, you have the perfect platform to move your logistics and guides to where the best riding is and have the entire area to yourself.”
Mackay-Lewis has been a keen heli-biker ever since he discovered the sport while testing out some remote trails for a client. “One of my earlier memories was being dropped off at the top of a mountain in British Columbia surrounded by glaciers. We rode across one of the highest bike trails in North America with utterly breath-taking views and an exciting descent,” he says.
As for where to ride, he advises Alaska, British Columbia and New Zealand: “They all have a high number of helicopters, amazing trails and superb mountain conditions to ride.”
Motocross, or dirt biking, is an extreme of off-road motorcycling that’s not for the faint of heart. Unlike normal motorcycling, which requires a smooth surface, the rougher the terrain, the bigger the thrill becomes.
“Dirt biking embodies exploration like few other sports; endurance, adrenaline, skill, and a true sense of ‘go anywhere’ which can lead you to the most unexpected, beautiful places,” says Mackenzie Turton, marketing and trip designer at Cookson Adventures. “It is not about the speed of the bikes. It’s the terrain – loose or challenging surfaces create the thrill and challenge. And by overcoming those hurdles, over significant distances, you’ll often reach a destination that’s otherwise inaccessible.”
She cites Madagascar as her favourite place to ride. “The low density of the road network has led to the creation of an immense track network that crisscrosses the country, connecting towns and villages. You could ride uninterrupted for hundreds of kilometres if you so wished. And the views you’ll be rewarded with? They’re close to unimaginable,” she says.
Madagascar may seem like an unusual superyacht destination but travelling by yacht is perhaps the best way to explore the country. “Although it has a wealth of landscapes and endemic species, the country currently does not have the infrastructure to connect it all together, thus a yacht adventure with a helicopter on board would provide unprecedented access to some of the least explored reserves in Africa,” she says.
Yachts already open up the globe in terms of where you can travel, but submersibles take you below the ocean’s surface where a whole new underwater world awaits exploration. “Once you have a sub on board, you have a lot more opportunity,” says Rob McCallum, founding partner at EYOS Expeditions. “Modern subs have transparent hulls which means you have amazing all-around visibility. You can literally sit in a comfortable leather chair and effortlessly descend hundreds of meters in complete comfort and safety.”
McCallum has been lucky enough to join some incredible dives, including to the wreck of the RMS Titanic at a depth of four kilometres. “Yes, it was terrific fun and a great dive but more than that, it gave our clients a glimpse into a rich and diverse world right beneath the keel. It was a life-altering experience,” he says.