Cruising with a Cause

Sailing yacht Vivid loading up school aid for Komodo Island


Cruising with a Cause

Superyachts double as a pipeline for moving humanitarian aid thanks to YachtAid Global.

By Dominique Afacan | 1 March 2018

Late last year, as Hurricane Maria ripped across the Caribbean causing widespread destruction, the owner of Dorothea III was busy putting plans in place to help out. As a long-term friend of YachtAid Global founder Mark Drewelow, he was well aware of how vessels like his could be extremely effective in delivering aid after natural disasters. As incongruous as it might seem to see a yacht anchored up in such an environment, the size, capacity, speed and range of these vessels can make them ideal first responders.

Working closely with Drewelow’s team, Dorothea III agreed to help out in the Turks and Caicos, arriving in the archipelago just 72 hours after the devastating storm had cleared. As well as loading up with cargo including food, tools and medical supplies, the boat was also able to set up as a base of communications and operations for disaster management in the area.

Cruising with a Cause

YachtAid Global founder Mark Drewelow

It’s an extraordinary story, but one that is slowly becoming more commonplace, thanks to YachtAid Global, a non-profit organisation which was set up in 2006 to help deliver disaster relief or development aid to coastal communities worldwide. For the founder, Mark Drewelow, it was an idea that came about following over twenty years working on luxury yachts across the world.

“I was a captain on board a superyacht for ten years,” he says. “We would sail to really off-the-beaten-track destinations and I started to see first-hand the kind of help some of these places needed. Because of their isolation, they were not getting the same level of assistance as their neighbours.” Later in his career, Drewelow set up yacht services agency C2C, and started looking at corporate social responsibility projects to align with. “I wanted something that had a focus on those communities I had visited as a captain,” he explains, “but I couldn’t find anything.”

Cruising with a Cause

The crew and disaster relief team from expedition yacht Umbra at anchor off Ecuador following the 2016 earthquake

One morning, he had a lightbulb moment. “I suddenly realised that all these boats that were customers at C2C could become a pipeline to move aid to those people we wanted to impact,” he explains. YachtAid Global was born. As a yacht agent, the trust element was already there and Drewelow found that owners rarely turned down his requests to carry cargo to a destination in need. “All the customs work and logistics were done on our side and planned out before we even presented the idea,” he says. Pretty soon, there was a strategy in place and humanitarian aid was being delivered across the world.

The organisation has since attracted multiple yachts. Among them, expedition yacht Umbra, which anchored off Ecuador after the earthquake in 2016 to provide disaster relief and Katherine, which delivered aid to Anguilla in response to Hurricane Irma last year. Richard Branson’s Necker Belle also jumped in to assist after Hurricane Gonzalo back in 2015. The list goes on.

Cruising with a Cause

Superyacht Ice Bear delivers school supplies to Herradura, Costa Rica

The organisation has also attracted some of the industry’s best talent, including Tim Forderer, who was so moved by the mission of YachtAid Global that he is now a full-time volunteer. “Just like Mark, I’d been a yacht captain,” he explains. “Whilst I was sailing in Indonesia we were introduced through the local yacht agency and we had a wonderful chat.” Fast forward a few days and Forderer and his crew were delivering supplies to a school on Komodo. “The experience was so special,” he says. “All of the children put on a beautiful dance show for us. I remember seeing tears run down the yacht owner’s face as the children sang about their island.” As they were preparing to leave, one of the teacher’s pulled Forderer aside and told him about the school’s komodo dragon problem.

“She told me that about 50% of teacher time was spent teaching, and the other 50% was spent keeping the komodo dragons away from the children,” he explains. The world’s largest living lizards might be a big draw for visitors to the region, growing up to ten feet in length, but for this local school and its small children, they were presenting a real danger. One phonecall to Mark later and the pair were organising for a bamboo fence to be built around the school. “That experience proved that Mark and I shared the same passions and it’s been that way for the last nine years,” says Forderer.

Cruising with a Cause

The team from superyacht Katharine delivering aid in Anguilla following hurricanes Irma and Maria

The organisation has evolved over the years, forever making small improvements to maximise their input. Drewelow points to the purchasing of aid as an example. “Moving aid out of the US across international waters can be very difficult,” he says. “But what we ended up learning was that when we purchased aid in the countries we were trying to benefit, we were also stimulating the local economy – that was a really valuable lesson.”

Right now, the team has its eye on Cyclone Gita as it roars across the South Pacific. Drewelow has a trusted network in place, but he’s always hopeful that more yachts will join up. “The phones aren’t ringing off the hook yet,” he says, “and that’s the vision; that this becomes so second nature, so ingrained in our culture that people become proactive about offering up their boats.”