Confessions of a boat syndicate owner: It’s a kind of magic

David Vandyke’s decision to enter a boatshare syndicate was fuelled by his longing to reignite the wonder of childhood. Did it succeed, or did the reality of luxury yacht ownership bring him back to earth with a bump?

When I was five years old the world was magic. I was certain my father could remove half his thumb and return it into place at will. Colour TV was unimaginably fabulous and my world was full of wonder; bird song, lightning, cars, the cinema – they were all magical experiences to me. As I entered education the magic began to whittle away.

I was told not to be childish, to stop daydreaming and be responsible. By the time I was halfway through school the magic had gone, never to return. Sure, there were snippets of it, but the sense of wonder had been educated right out of me.

Most people would think this a good thing. Reality is what we live in. To exist any other way would be asking for trouble. But can’t we balance this a little better? Can’t we hold onto magic for as long as we can and only return to reality when absolutely necessary?

The answer to this conundrum is yes! And it stares at you from the pages of MBY every month.

Magic circle

It’s not what’s in the magazine that is the magic (although it’s pretty damned fine); it’s the promise of the lifestyle it evokes. I was contemplating these thoughts when my wife and I took our first journey of 2023 on board Freedom, the Azimut 58 we own a 1/8th share of.

It wasn’t even a particularly nice day. The sky was a gunmetal grey, the wind was blowing and there was a chill in the air. We were motoring towards Pollensa for lunch when it hit me. I no longer needed to search for magic because it was here, on this boat, moving about on the water.

And it wasn’t a five-minute movie sequence or a three-minute song; it was days and days of it. Therein lies the essence of boating. Despite the irritations, it draws us back because there’s nothing like it.

There’s something about being on the water that penetrates the soul. Perhaps it’s our watery beginnings – perhaps we really do need the sea. Someone once said, “I don’t know what magic looks like but I know it when I see it”. I don’t just get to see it on our boat, I get to live it. For several weeks of the year, I’m five again.

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New beginnings

This all helps explain the sense of excitement I felt as we traipsed along the pontoon, although this time it was tinged with a hint of trepidation.

If any boat has had as much attention as Freedom over the winter, I want to see it. Our new, and very business-minded boat manager, set about making Freedom the boat we all wanted it to be. Over €100,000 later (€40,000 on the engines alone) we were now waiting to see what difference it had made.

Even divided by eight shares, we had each splashed out a significant sum, but what would we find? I could see two sparkling Fairlines right in front of me, and beyond them another very white, very shiny-looking craft I didn’t quite recognise. It couldn’t be ours because ever since I’ve known her, Freedom has been a creamy shade of off-white.


Freedom was gleaming white and barely recognisable after her winter glow-up

But as we walked closer and saw our boat’s name proudly displayed on the stern, it soon became apparent where the money had gone. She looked resplendent! Inside was quite different too, with new carpets, new monogrammed sheets, towels, cushions and clean leather.

Even the engines had a fresh coat of white paint to match their refurbished mechanicals. All the troubles of the past year had been sorted. When I bought my share at the beginning of 2022, part of the attraction was the low monthly running cost of £400.

No other shares in boats this size had running costs this low. At the time, and in my naivety, I thought this a positive thing but we ended up having to pay extra to get the things fixed that needed doing. Those one-off payments really hurt.

Using the tender to head ashore for a lazy lunch was part of the lifestyle the couple had dreamt of

Far better to pay more per month and keep a positive cash-flow, so our new £650 per month costs were actually very welcome. It’s important to stay ahead of the game because you will have issues.

For example, on our second day out, the generator wouldn’t start. We left our captain to sort it out while we swanned off for another four-hour lunch but he couldn’t
get to the bottom of it.

A marine engineer sorted it out the following day but it was still two days lost without air-con and coffee, and when you only have a week on board, this really eats into your holiday. This is why I think some people get fed up with boats.

Photos: Angelika Flach-Vandyke and Gavin Pryde

I get fed up with it too. But if you learn to expect these difficulties, then you also learn to live with them and focus on the many pleasures of boating instead.

Curve ball

All that said, sometimes life throws a googly at you. When I first mentioned boat share ownership to my wife she wasn’t particularly keen on the idea. To be frank, I also had my two brothers in mind when it came to getting the best use of our six weeks on board.

With three robust boaters, we could have some real adventures together. And this year was going to be the start of those adventures. But, to cut a long story short, that is no longer possible.

One brother is suddenly too ill – terminally so – and the other was never that robust either thanks to a chronically bad back. That has left my wife and I choosing to use Freedom as a day boat.

I’m not sure who else uses a 58-foot Azimut as a day boat but there’s a strong chance the term oligarch might come into it! So my boating life hasn’t quite worked out how I envisaged it.

Of course, in the circumstances this doesn’t matter a jot, as my brother is now my only concern. But I am going to have to abandon the dream of a liveaboard boat. My wife wants to continue boating but each night will be spent in a hotel, so a smaller day boat is now my only alternative.

The experience of co-owning Freedom has been both magical and challenging

What this will allow is a bigger share in a cheaper boat so we can spend a few weeks at a time enjoying it. The dream of the gin palace may be gone but it has vanished for the right reasons. So I will move on and hope that my next experience is even better.

Now that I have lived for a few weeks as a child again, it is not something I wish to give up! Quite where, when or what shape it takes isn’t yet clear, but I’m already looking forward to it.

Go for it

To reiterate. Boat syndication is a fantastic way to own a larger, more expensive boat than you could afford solo.

My only advice would be to get a good boat manager; pay more than you would like on a monthly basis; get the biggest share you can afford (two weeks at a time is so much more relaxing than individual weeks here and there), and be realistic about the chances of things going wrong. But above all, don’t wait.

If you think syndication might be for you, go for it. As my brother said to me recently: “The future is a gamble. I lost”. Don’t make the same mistake.

First published in the November 2023 issue of MBY.

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