14 November 2017

Out with the New, In with the Old.

As morning sprays colours all around Bourayne Bay’s surrounding cliffs, a repeated call comes from afar. Hep...hep...hep... Yooo. Several low canoes are rowing all together towards a yacht and the call precedes the six men in the canoes switching the paddle to the other side each time. Locals teaching a visiting yacht about Va’a, a traditional Tahitian outrigger canoe, is just one of the many authentic cultural experiences available to superyacht guests in Tahiti according to Etienne Boutin of Asia Pacific Superyachts Tahiti. For yacht owners and guests alike, immersive authentic encounters are fast becoming one of the most popular aspects of a yacht’s itinerary when visiting a new country. For increasing numbers of superyacht guests, enjoying a unique and authentic cultural experience is the highlight of their visit to a new country.

Humans have been exploring the world by sea since prehistoric times, discovering and interacting with new countries and their people. Today nothing has changed and thanks to their transient nature, superyachts are able to gain unprecedented access to cultures around the world. Almost every country offers access to a version of its traditions but, with tourism such a major source of income for many, finding an authentic experience can sometimes prove a challenge.

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Luckily, connecting visiting yachts with these practices is a speciality for many onshore specialists and agents in cultural hot spots. As these are often highly personal and spiritual experiences, the agents working with boats will usually try and tailor them to be unique to the visitors, calling upon the right people and experts to bring the experience alive for them.

Hawaii is one example of a kingdom that manages to hold its place in the modern world as the fiftieth US state while retaining its ethnic roots. “The way of life here has been protected and preserved for centuries by its elders and it is still intact with the original language and stories of its past despite it now being a modern state,” says Chadwick Allenbaugh, founder of Hawaii Yachts/Global Ocean Club, which specialises in creating unique events for visiting yachts. “The authenticity of Hawaiian culture is still pure and true and Hawaiian cultural themes can be related to by anyone in the world; you can see the country as the first settlers would have.”

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Allenbaugh and his team, which includes specialist guides descended from Hawaiian royal families, are careful to make selections that will resonate with the individual yacht. “We base our plans on genuine aloha [love], giving a part of yourself to others in a real way,” he says. “The concept of aloha is still genuinely special here, there is magic in the island; the gift we give is the kind of experience where your hairs stand on end – a natural feeling of connection to the authenticity of the culture.”

Aloha is based on 19 traditional values including Ohana (family) and Kuleana (personal sense of responsibility). Experiences provided by the Hawaii Yachts team generally fall into three camps: ‘celebration’, ‘wellness’ and ‘adventure’. Activities include witnessing a traditional luau [dance and song], a Kava ceremony, or being taken to sacred spots by guides and learning about the celestial navigation that first led people to Hawaii.

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The South Pacific is a particularly popular destination for yachts seeking traditional encounters, as it too is home to many countries that still have their original cultures either intact or co- existing successfully in the modern world. Almost every island in the Pacific has its own interpretation of regional traditions with songs, dances and traditional food all on offer in a local setting. Watching and taking part in a Fijian Meke [traditional song and dance] is just one example of the experiences to be had, which can be as simple as attending a Pacific island church service, with guests actively welcomed to join and share in this pure and joyful form of worship.

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Undoubtedly there is no better way to do it than to meet and talk with the people of the country and learn their ways first hand. Having spent significant time in the South Pacific, New Caledonia is a highlight for Greg Palmer, captain of 30m Espiritu Santo. “Cultural diversity adds spice to New Caledonia’s special allure and there are plenty of anchorages where you can visit historic sites, see local art and dancing and get to know the people of the islands,” he says.

New Zealand’s Maori culture is alive and well within the country and has long been a pull for many visitors. “Our cultural itineraries are tailored to suit the needs of individual guests, whether it be an interest in art, history, food or the outdoors,” says Duthie Lidgard, managing director of Asia Pacific Superyachts New Zealand. With their team and guides being of Maori descent, it is this intrinsic knowledge that sets their offer apart.

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“Our experiences cannot be bought online,” says Lidgard. “We connect our guests with experts who help to immerse them in Maori culture.” Activities include a traditional hangi [underground oven] on a beach, or a journey to sacred tribal houses via waka [canoe] guided by tribe leaders.

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Like the South Pacific region, Asia is also rich with customs. Asia Pacific Superyachts Koh Samui owner agent, Captain Charlie Dwyer, suggests that a truly Thai experience is a visit to Thailand’s second largest island, Koh Samui, and the Gulf of Siam: “One way of learning the history behind some of Thailand’s customs is a visit to Wat Phra Yai, the ‘Big Buddha temple' home to a towering 12-metre seated golden Buddha sitting majestically on a small rocky island.” A local guide leads guests through the temple, explaining customs including the Wai [greeting gesture] and introducing them to monks for a personal reading.

With the advantage of water travel, many cultural sites around Asia can be reached with ease. A good example of living culture is Koh Panyee, a floating fishing village in Thailand’s Phang Nga, near to Phuket, which was built on stilts in the 18th century by nomadic Indonesian fisherman. Home to around 1,600 people, with a mosque and even its own floating football pitch built by local children, guests can dock up by tender and visit the village’s market. Adding to the appeal of a visit, near to the village is Khao Khien, a prehistoric rock art site featuring beautiful figures, including dolphins, monkeys and people, painted onto a cliff side. As always, this is enhanced by a guide familiar with the area’s history and traditions in order to give context and understanding.

For those willing to seek and learn, the opportunities for cultural interactions around the world, particularly for those far flung locations easily accessible by yacht, are endless. When looking for authenticity, the overriding advice is to seek out local experts who can help bypass the commercialisation of tourist hubs and in turn create a priceless memory.