It’s 7:30 am on a Wednesday. It’s early; the sky is overcast, and the sun has barely peeked over the horizon when I arrive at the tender dock at the port of Beaulieu-sur-Mer in the south of France. I’m meeting the crew of SYNTHESIS 66, a heritage Feadship that has recently finished an extensive three-year refit with Monaco Marine to enter the charter market for the first time. Her charter manager, Zelda Swindell, is with our in-house video team, who are planning to shoot a walkthrough, and me.
My goal for today is to get a feel for her, to understand what a vacation on board would be like for charter guests, and to meet the captain and crew that call her home.
Her tender, ELEMENT 66, arrives right on time. Her crew, much more awake than us, smile and help us on board. “Ready?” her pilot smiles at us. “We’ll be there real soon.”
It’s a quiet, calm ride out of the port, but the second we’re in open water, she picks up speed, beelining towards a classic superyacht on the horizon. When we arrive, we’re greeted by Captain Neil and his crew. Introductions and pleasantries are exchanged as we step on board, and our program for the day is firmed up. But first on our agenda: caffeine and something sweet.
Zelda and I nurse warm mugs of fresh brew over an incredible breakfast spread the interior team had set up on her open-air sun deck. The table is covered in sweet, fresh fruit, warm pastries and baked goods, eggs benedict—hard to find in the south of France, so this dish is very well received—and enough cheese and charcuterie to feed our team twice over. Here, over the soft sound of gentle waves lapping the hull, Zelda tells me a bit about SYNTHESIS 66’s history. She was built in 1982 in The Netherlands by the Royal Dutch shipyard Feadship. After decades of private use, the works began to convert her spaces for charter.
Today, her most notable feature is her sun deck.
“It’s just fabulous,” Zelda says, pointing out her two huge flatscreens that swivel and hide away at the touch of a button. We sigh at the sight of her full Jacuzzi—it’s too cold for us to indulge today. “Just look at all this space. This is the best spot on board for me. Imagine being together with family and friends out here.”
As a senior charter manager, Zelda has spent plenty of time on board superyachts, so I’m surprised when she tells me that SYNTHESIS 66 is her favorite.
“I probably shouldn’t say that,” she grins. “Don’t tell anyone.”
SYNTHESIS 66 is beautiful. Her artful mix of classic-modern interior design (thanks to talented Monaco-based Daniela Boutsen) complements her heritage exterior lines, and it’s evident that whoever signed off on her refit has exceptional taste and an eye for detail.
But what makes SYNTHESIS 66 stand out is how she feels. A common refrain within the charter industry is that the crew makes the charter, and I can see why that’s the case. The crew here is discreet but warm and friendly. Georgie, Chief Stew, quietly slipped me an extra mini blueberry muffin with a surreptitious wink when I told Zelda it was the best I’d ever had (no exaggeration—it was), and when I watch them at work, it’s obvious they have a genuine affection for each other—something that, I think, means they work extra well together.
This is common on charter yachts. After all, the crew often live on board in close quarters, so it’s only natural they become close. But here, as a guest, I feel like I’ve joined a small family at home away from home, and this warmth is almost tangible.
“It’s a family on board,” Georgie says. “Especially on a yacht of this size. We’re a crew of eight, and I feel it’s the perfect size for that little community.”
But a team’s culture usually comes from the top, and I ask Zelda what she thinks it takes to build that warmth into a team of professionals.
“It’s the captain,” Zelda tells me. “You need to talk to him.”
I meet Captain Neil in the wheelhouse, working alongside his First Officer, Mani. An Australian sailmaker by trade, Neil grew up by the sea and has been a captain since his 20s. He began his career on sailing yachts before moving onto bigger motor yachts like SYNTHESIS 66. He prefers chartering over anything else, and from his many years of experience, he knows what it takes to create a culture of warmth and familiarity.
Neil himself is witty and quick, always ready with a quip or joke. The hint of an ever-present smile up-tilts the corners of his mouth as he often pokes fun at himself, and while you can tell he takes his job seriously, he tells me the key to a successful charter yacht—and a successful charter crew—is fun.
“If it’s not fun, forget it,” he says. “As soon as I stop enjoying it, I’m going home. You have to enjoy it. It can’t be so stiff. That can be really boring.”
That goes for the crew too. If they’re having fun, guests will have fun.
“We have fun, yes, but also, the crew here complete each other,” explains Mani. “Different people know different things. It’s all very relaxed here but still professional.”
“There are so many beautiful bays around there. Lots of natural reserves, UNESCO Heritage, the water is stunning… The architecture and the wildlife always blow people away. It’s a special spot.”
That’s all very well and good, but I want to return to that blueberry muffin, the work of Chef Brayden. Superyacht chefs are known for being at the very top of their game, often coming from Michelin-star establishments and trained by the best.
We take lunch at SYNTHESIS 66’s new bar on the main deck, close enough to the galley below deck where the sounds and scents of Brayden’s cooking fill the air. The large windows give us a pretty backdrop of the Côte d’Azur, and I watch on as our video team film a tour. When he wraps up the scene, David Seal sits to read through his notes and tells me he’s particularly impressed by her.
“She really is an extraordinary vessel. It’s not just the spaces, although they’re obviously impressive, it’s what you can’t see in my videos—that fresh perfume that hits you when you step inside.”
In truth, this is mainly due to the Jo Malone Lime, Basil & Mandarin diffusers on board, but David points out that it’s also a reflection of the yacht’s cleanliness, which her crew keeps in pristine condition from the bilges to the mast.
Much to my disappointment, the day draws to a close shortly after lunch. The superyacht is hard to leave, but with a hug from Georgie and a firm handshake from Neil, we disembark to stunning views of the Principality.
On SYNTHESIS 66, I have no doubt you’ll embark on a voyage beyond your expectations. With a crew that takes care of every meticulous detail and who are passionate about bringing your dreams to life, don’t miss the opportunity of the adventure of a lifetime.