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Yacht Charters: Article

On Board for the Cannes Film Festival

The best accommodations in town are in the harbor

With more business than sailing taking place at the most famous film festival in the world, private yachts serve not only as luxury quarters, but also as floating offices and entertainment centers that may never leave their berths.

George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt arrive on the Riviera on May 21, 2004

In May, the now legendary red carpet was ceremoniously rolled out on the steps of the Palais des Festivals to welcome the stars and the world's movie industry to the 57th Festival de Cannes. From May 12, for 12 star-studded days, the buzz and action was as addictive as ever as I mingled with the excited crowds that hit the streets of this small port town in the south of France.

This was my third time attending, and it never fails to woo me with its dizzying and invigorating concoction of movie magic in the elegant setting of the Riviera. Cannes has been synonymous with class, style, and stars since the early part of the 20th century, and the film festival has cemented its destiny. Since the '50s, luxury yachts have favored this perfectly located port on the Cote d'Azur, a term coined for the deep azure blue color of the Mediterranean Sea.

 Everyone is here to catch a piece of the action and bask in the shade of the limelight. And when not rushing around in pursuit of celebrities, you can relax over a glass of rosé starboard side and soak up the ambiance of this unique event where Hollywood has its rendezvous with Europe. All seems possible as you float along on the parfum of fame and fortune. Parties, movie screenings, aperitifs, champagne, invitations, security guards, and French cuisine are de rigueur at Cannes. It is also a festival for the public, and an international melting pot of French, American, and particularly this year, Asian visitors, who converged on the hotspots to catch a glimpse of the rich and famous, relishing the anticipation. Entrances to the luxurious four-star hotels such as the Martinez and the Carlton, that dot the Croisette, Cannes' classy boardwalk, were constantly swamped with eager tourists several feet deep.

It is difficult not to get swept up by the euphoria of the crowd as a barrage of cameras flashing signal the arrival of the stars. It is that irresistible blend of Gallic and American movie magic that makes Cannes so special and continues to attract the top stars. This year Brad Pitt, accompanied by wife Jennifer Aniston, attended for the premiere of "Troy," along with fellow co-stars Sean Bean, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom. Cult director Quentin Tarantino was ubiquitous throughout the festival in his capacity as this year's President of the Jury and for his movie "Kill Bill Two," whose star Uma Thurman was in top form. Other attendees included Michael Moore, who scooped the coveted Palme d'Or (Golden Palm Award) for "Fahrenheit 9/11."

 However, Cannes is a working festival and behind the glamour is the entire multi-billion-dollar movie industry hard at work making deals and contacts. Producers, directors, screenwriters, and financial brokers are all there to work, and the precious badges around their necks allow them to do so. Surprisingly, it is not all done in the corridors of the Palais but on board the luxury yachts that are indiscreetly moored alongside the Palais at the old port. It is the sheer size and number of these immense yachts in such close proximity that makes the port of Cannes seem like a hotel for yachts.

British writer and director Kirk Weddell, who chartered a 15-meter yacht from Nice Moorings, told me this was his second year chartering for the festival. He was attending Cannes to present his latest 35-minute short movie called "Dutch Bird" starring David Kelly. He was surprised more companies didn't charter for the festival because at the 2,000 Euros a week that he paid "it works out to be less expensive than paying for hotels during peak season on the Riviera. And our mooring fee was very reasonable at 160 Euros a day." Of course that rises to nearly 2,000 Euros for the superyachts. Another thing to consider: if you are using your charter yacht to conduct business during the festival, you are obliged to pay commercial insurance. A couple of years ago the French government tried to slap a tax on foreign yachts mooring at Cannes, but the yachts retaliated by boycotting Cannes during the film festival until the tax was abolished.

Bareboat or Crew
You can keep your costs down if you charter bareboat, but if your budget allows and you are doing some heavy-duty entertaining, selecting a good crew is essential to ensure that you provide five-star treatment to your clients and guests.

Perils of Mixing Business with Pleasure
"Don't step into the Jacuzzi with your mobile phone in your swimming trunks!" advises Pat McEnallay, who ended up with a very soggy piece of high-tech equipment as a result of doing just that. It is easily done when you deal with business clients in a leisurely environment.

 But it is exactly that ambiance that encouraged Pat's potential customers to visit his yacht. President of Lee Lighting and in association with Panavision, he chartered Free Spirit, where he hosted dinner for the producers of "Harry Potter Two" and the latest James Bond movie. "With that caliber of client and the huge budgets they are talking, you need to offer them something different. Even though it is business, they feel they are taking a break from the film frenzy once they step on board."

Advantages of Business on Boats
A private dinner on board eliminates the worry of restaurant reservations and allows you to linger in comfort within easy reach of your bunk. Although the location and food is superb in Cannes it is a small town and gets crowded at night. "My captain and crew are excellent and dedicated to our needs. They take care of it all, so I can concentrate on business," explained Pat.

Cuba Gooding Jr.

All the other yachts I visited provided big screens so the clients could view their movies in a private and relaxed atmosphere. Many yachts have extra tents on the top deck or on the quay to cater for soirées on board or for use in the event of rain; however, this year the sun shone brilliantly as is the norm for Cannes during the festival.

Don't Bet with Your Broker
In order for all to run smoothly, Pat advises that you choose your broker carefully. Now in his ninth year chartering for Cannes, a few years ago he hired from a captain turned broker that he knew. Unfortunately the broker disappeared with the money and Pat found himself with no yacht a few days before the festival. However, what impressed him was how the other captains in Cannes rallied to his aid and were scathing of that person's behavior.

The broker must ensure that your mooring place is authorized. The 30-meter yacht Tradition, was due to host an international press conference and cocktail party to showcase luxury Italian products on the first Saturday of the festival, but the Port Authority did not approve their berth until Sunday morning. As a result, all the events were cancelled, the host was embarrassed, and the clients and press were irritated. Ideally a request should be submitted the previous September or at least six months before the festival starts, to avoid disappointment. The Port Authority in Cannes accepts the paperwork and the Chamber of Commerce in Nice allocates the places; approximately 60 yachts can moor.

Repeat Business
Once a client finds a yacht that suits, he or she is likely to charter again. Anne and her captain-husband own and charter their boat, a 22-meter motoryacht, Bayview. "This is our fifth season and our third year chartering to the same client for Cannes. He is based in England, and works in the movie business. He is very happy with the service we provide and delighted that he can deal with us in English. Basically, we offer a floating hotel with the added advantage that our clients can dictate when they eat, drink, and entertain clients and friends. Our client works very long hours at the festival and needs to be able to treat the yacht like home and office."

David Carradine with girlfriend Annie

Not quite the life of leisure with breakfast at 8am, meetings all day 9am–7pm, and usually dinner with clients into the early hours. But then sunrise on the Riviera is a sight for sore eyes. Many clients chartering for the film festival stay on a few days to take the yacht out to sea once work is over as they are often moored for most of the festival.

The Art of Partying
It's easy to get into the festival party mood with the gentle sway of the boat accelerating that giddy tipsy feeling even before you put the champagne glass to your lips. And the wonderful thing about dining on a yacht here is that you are a mere gangway away from the action but a world apart from the crowds. Basically, the yacht offers you exclusivity, a calm island in the middle of a bustling sea of people on land, where you can have a private dinner and the crowds won't interfere, because they do stroll along the quay to peek. But come, dusk quite often the action is on the yachts with bands playing for private parties so don't expect to sleep much, as your neighbors may be partying all night. Superyachts Pegasus and Solemates this year were providing entertainment for a list of celebrities, whose identities were well guarded by discreet crew.

As for dress code, anything goes, from super-sized style to careful casual. Consequently, it is difficult to distinguish the vrai from the faux and you can easily mistake the jeans-clad multimillion producer for a "nobody" and get diverted by a beautiful lady dressed to kill but not quite star quality. Rampant were stories of exorbitant bills for parties and evenings in the old part of town, Le Suquet, while thousands of Euros were spent to keep champagne and French wine flowing freely on board.

Vet the Visitors
Many people try to board yachts uninvited, assuming incorrectly that once they are there for the festival, they have the right to attend any party – and that could include your private charter. The larger yachts have 24-hour watch on the passerelle. One charterer told me that last year uninvited guests came on board legitimately looking for Ivana Trump's party, but often they are just well-dressed freeloaders and hangers-on, so beware.

Views of Big Eagle yacht chartered for Alicia Keys' private party during the 57th International Cannes Film Festival
May 14, 2004 in Cannes, France.

Taama, a deckhand from New Zealand on Free Spirit, told me that some guests treat their host's yacht like a free hotel; one guest demanded to use the telephone to call America the moment she stepped on the yacht – an unreasonable request with satellite calls so costly.

A necessary expense for some yacht owners who are hosting celebrity guests is to have a fleet of cars, usually limousines, to maneuver the narrow Cannes streets and whisk them comfortably back to their hotels. One yacht owner was paying 20,000 Euros just to have a fleet of cars on call 24 hours a day for the week he was moored at Cannes.

High security will probably be a requirement if you host a party that includes A-list celebs, or at least be prepared for their own security team to scan your yacht.

A not so critical problem but diplomatically challenging all the same is the irritated reaction from some women and even some men when asked to remove their stylish footwear. Image is critical at Cannes and losing part of the glamorous attire and maybe several inches can be detrimental to the desired look.

People Watching
Certainly it doesn't come easier than sitting on deck and watching the beautiful people stroll by at the festival. Kirk was thrilled that his berth was right at the end of the quay of the old port, where at any time of the day or night the stars docked from yachts anchored privately out at sea in Golfe de Fréjus.

Parlez-Vous Français?
The advantage of Cannes is that it is international. Like the movies presented at the festival, the town is pretty much bilingual. You are usually asked which language you prefer to speak. So along with choosing your wine, you can switch between English and French to suit your palette. I heard conversations where one badge was talking to another badge in English and being answered in French; each speaking their native language and understanding each other perfectly! And with Italy just a couple of nautical miles away, you can practice your Italian as well. In fact, the Riviera is littered with a string of beautiful ports such as Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, Genoa, San Remo, and Portofino, a favorite refuge of the jet set over the border in Italy.

Party Time
Evan Matthew, from Santa Monica, covering the festival for Star magazine, told me that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen was there on one of his yachts and threw a party for the cast and crew of the French animation film "Shrek 2," where invited guests such as Cameron Diaz were reputed to have belly danced to the tunes wafting from Antonio Banderas's guitar, to the delight of the other guests who danced on the massive disco floor. Earlier, the famous guests escaped the glaring eye of the paparazzi by switching their docking point from Cannes to Golfe Juan farther down the coast, from where they were helicoptered out to the anchored yacht.

Singer Alicia Keys also threw a party; her yacht had a plush white carpet throughout, so she provided hundreds of dainty slippers for guests.

American film producer Larry Kostroff, of "Romantic Comedy" fame, who attended this year, summed up the experience of Cannes perfectly when he told me that, "Cannes is the king of festivals because Cannes is sexy." Add a yacht to the equation and you have the perfect formula for a vacation to see the movies.

More Stories By Paula Farquharson

Paula Farquharson is an editor of The Riviera Times newspaper. Originally
from Ireland, she worked in New York and is now based in Nice, France,
where she learned to sail.

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