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Friday 9th December 2011

Last Friday evening we attended the Pendennis Shipyard cocktail party held at Antigua Yacht Club to launch the Falmouth to Falmouth Rum Race to yacht captains and crew in Antigua for the Antigua Charter Yacht Show.  We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Ross Haerle, Captain of S/Y Bliss, who was pleasant and delightful and invited us to visit him on board Bliss at our convenience in the coming week.

Monday was rather rainy but Tuesday looked more promising, so we ventured down the Antigua Yacht Club Marina dock and were warmly welcomed on board Bliss by Captain Ross. and Engineer Pete.  Our first impression upon stepping on board, aside from the unusually warm welcome, was ‘Wow’!  Not so much ‘Wow, another lovely super yacht’, but much more ‘Wow, this is elegant, sophisticated and absolutely immaculate’.

Bliss was launched in 2009 so one might think that at only two years old, ‘immaculate’ might be a given.  But this is a yacht that was launched in New Zealand in November 2009, spent two consecutive summers sailing the Pacific between Tahiti and New Zealand and very recently completed the long upwind passage to the Caribbean from French Polynesia, arriving in Antigua in time for the 50th Anniversary of the Antigua Charter Yacht Show.  Clearly ‘immaculate’ is not something that just happens on a yacht that has done that distance in such a short period of time.

Ross welcomed us ‘below’ (which was only a few steps below deck level), organised a cup of coffee for each of us and invited us to sit down.  Quickly assessing the seating options, we indicated that we would be happy to stand but Ross assured us that the beautiful textured leather finishes on the furniture would spring back after we relieved them of our weight.  That is, provided that the interior of the yacht remains securely closed with air conditioning running to maintain the top quality leather finish.  Ross himself remained standing with juice in one hand and coffee in the other until Chloe, the newest member of the Bliss crew, arrived with coasters so he could set his drinks down while protecting the highly polished finish on the furniture that didn’t show a single finger print.

We sat in the saloon chatting with Ross for some time, delighted that he had so much time for us but wondering what had happened to all the yacht brokers who surely wanted to visit this spectacular yacht.  We stopped wondering when it was explained that the Welcome Party the previous evening had been a great success and therefore the vast majority of show participants were spending more time in the coffee shops than on the yachts on that cloudy (no pun intended!) Tuesday morning.

Ross filled us in on the history of Bliss including that he has been captain of the yacht since it was launched two years previously and his wife Sue has been the chef.  The other two permanent members of the crew since the yacht was launched are engineer Pete and his wife Emma who is chief stewardess.  It seemed unusual to us that a yacht would be successfully run by two couples but Ross said the concept had been a success.  Chloe, mentioned earlier, joined the yacht in the Pacific for a month-long charter and had remained on board for the trip to the Caribbean.

Built in New Zealand by Yachting Developments, Bliss was designed by Dubois Naval Architects with the interior design created by UK-based Design Unlimited.  We couldn’t help but be impressed with the ultra-modern, almost futuristic, design and sophisticated elegance of what we had seen so far – somewhere between an upmarket power boat and top of the line sailing yacht.  The carbon fibre mast and furling boom are by Hall Spars New Zealand and are complimented by over 8,300 square feet of Doyle stratis sails consisting of 50% carbon and 50% Vectron.  Ross mentioned that even after 30,000 plus miles on the original sails, sail makers had commented on the outstanding shape and condition of the sails.

When the coffee was finished, Ross offered us the grand tour beginning in the crew quarters forward and working our way aft to the master suite.  The first stop was the day head which we noted had only Dornbracht fittings, as did all of the yacht’s heads, and included an over-sized shower room.  On the way past, we were struck by the highly polished stainless steel door which looked like it led into a bank vault.  Ross told us that an innocent child on board for a recent charter had asked if that was where they kept the gold!  In fact, it was explained that it was the door to the engine room.  We didn’t get a peek inside so we can only imagine what secrets lay behind that door!

Our next ‘wow’ was the galley and crew mess where we met chef extraordinaire Sue hard at work.  Wow!  Most upmarket homes don’t have kitchens as spectacular as the galley on board Bliss.  Sue proudly showed us the walk-in fridge that is the size of the galley on most yachts, and pointed out the floor to ceiling freezers as well as the additional one below the floor boards.  She opened a couple of cupboards and we were envious of the level of organisation displayed there, but so essential to a yacht chef.  An exploration of the huge pantry followed – equally organised and immaculate – which only heightened our level of envy.  How the designers fit that galley onto a yacht just slightly over 120 feet can only be seen to be believed, but Sue explained that it had been specifically designed for very long ocean passages such as those in the Pacific.  Before we reluctantly moved on for a quick peek at the crew cabins, Sue proudly informed us that Bliss had won the Showboats International Design Award 2010 for Best Sailing Yacht Galley.

We proceeded to the guest cabins aft, starting with the master cabin, and once again we were in awe.  The full-beam king master suite features his and hers ensuite bathrooms, an office area and a very comfortable relaxing area.  Ross showed us where a wall could be pulled out to create a three-quarter master cabin with ensuite bathroom and an additional cabin suitable for children, a nanny or a PA, with pull-out double bed and Pullman berth that could be raised or lowered, also with an ensuite bathroom.  The two superking guest cabins port and starboard appeared to be exceptionally comfortable with beds that could be converted to two twins if required and each with well-appointed ensuite bathrooms.  Bliss can accommodate up to 10 guests on charter and of the three charters they have done so far two have been with families, both of which want to return.

Attention to detail in the master and guest cabins is exceptional with shagreen-wrapped panels, textured leather and custom paint finishes including Porsche metallic brown.  It seems the crew must visit its automobile dealer when interior touch-up paint is required!  The quality of workmanship throughout the yacht is outstanding, largely as a result of having been built by New Zealanders who love sailing and are passionate about producing the best quality yachts available anywhere in the world.

After viewing virtually the entire interior of Bliss, our overall impression was that the design was minimalistic and yet incredibly comfortable with every element designed with function and form in mind.  Bliss has modern clean lines and colours that are easy on the eye including blue, silver, white and highlights of burnt orange and chocolate.  The luxurious fabrics are by Sahco Hesslein, Jasper Conran and Jab International.  The only wood we noticed on the yacht was the wide-planked wenge flooring (a hard, porous African hardwood) which exhibited a highly-polished finish on which our feet didn’t seem to leave any prints.

Other show participants were slowly coming to life and climbing on board so we decided to return to deck level and have a quick look at Bliss from the exterior.  Ross didn’t give up on us at this stage but completed the tour, explaining that he had first visited Antigua in 1999 and had spent much of his career since that time working on different yachts, many of which were frequently moored at the Catamaran Marina.

While Ross loves Antigua and the Caribbean, he has a new-found respect for the Pacific and encourages all suitable yachts to include the south Pacific in their future plans.  The businesses operating in the area are highly skilled and Ross would love to see them continue to be supported in the future.  The distances involved in a trip to the Pacific are so great that Ross doesn’t see the region as a threat to the charter industry in the Caribbean.

Ross’ greatest concern in the Caribbean region at the moment is the level of pollution created by super yachts and the need for everyone in the industry to take responsibility for becoming environmentally friendly and do whatever they can to create a cleaner, healthier environment.  Bliss constantly works towards becoming more environmentally friendly in fairly simple ways such as not serving bottled water to guests and ensuring that not only black water but also grey water (which usually contains cleaning chemicals) are processed in the on-board sewage treatment plant prior to being discharged back into the ocean.

After the Antigua Charter Yacht Show ends, plans for Bliss this season in terms of racing include the Caribbean Superyacht Regatta & Rendezvous to be held at Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Virgin Gorda, BVI from March 14 to 17 and the St. Barths Bucket Regatta from March 22 to 25.  We threw in additional suggestions such as The Superyacht Challenge Antigua from January 27 to 29 and the Yachting World Round Antigua Race to be held in advance of Antigua Sailing Week on the 28th of April.  Both suggestions were well received by Ross who said they just may fit into his calendar!  Following the Caribbean season Bliss will be heading to the Superyacht Cup Cowes in July which is planned as part of the many events taking place in the UK next summer in honour of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Bliss was now attracting considerably more attention so we decided to allow Ross to escape to his more important guests while we headed towards the gang plank.  On the way past the very inviting lounging area, though, we were tempted to forget our plans for the rest of the day and instead spend it lounging on the aft deck of Bliss.  Ross welcomed the idea on the condition that we would have to don our bikinis.  So that settled it . . . off we went to proceed with the day as originally planned!

At 121 feet long, 27.4 feet wide and with a displacement of 153 tons, Bliss is one of the largest composite sloops to have been built in the southern hemisphere.  She is a very sophisticated, high-performance sailing yacht combining style, comfort and speed which make her ideally suited to luxury chartering and super yacht racing.  After our morning’s experience, the weekly charter rate of US $98,000 per week during the high season seemed very reasonable!  If only we had it!

Thanks to Ross and the entire crew of Bliss for their warm welcome, for their time and for sharing their lovely yacht with us!  Ross leads a very professional crew that is clearly proud of the yacht they have the honour of being responsible for on behalf of a very lucky owner!

Check out the official yacht website at - as stylish as the yacht itself.

To view the Bliss photo gallery, please click here:

Article by Kathy Lammers, Editor of Antigua’s Yachting Insider
with Alison Sly-Adams, Managing Director of Antigua Nice Ltd. and Publisher
Photos by Alison Sly-Adams

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