Winter Berths: The New Superyacht Marinas

Posted: 23rd September 2014 | Written by: Daniel Shea

winter berthing night 300

Gone are the days when yachting was restricted to the crowded coastline of the Cote d'Azur, and France held the monopoly on impressive marinas.

As the marina industry develops, so too does the choice of attractive destinations for owners to berth their yachts.

With new marinas opening in Barcelona, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Montenegro and Croatia, owners are able to look further afield in order to find a suitable (and often more financially reasonable) home for the winter months.

“It’s just great that owners have options now and that there are value propositions out there in really interesting new developments,” says Kurt Fraser, the marketing and sales director for Camper & Nicholsons Marinas. “I don’t think you can say one location will or will not work for wintering. It’s a sort of different-strokes-for-different-folks type of thing.”

And while the South of France is certainly not in danger of losing its appeal, it seems that new marinas and new destinations are finally beginning to compete with the established ports.

For example, only 100 nautical miles from Monaco, Porto Mirabello in La Spezia has seen significant growth since it opened in 2010. Its proximity to France, along with its enviable situation between the shipyard hubs of both Genoa and Viareggio, has made the new marina a viable up-and-coming port. Meanwhile, it also has quick access to Corsica and other popular cruising grounds nearby.

winter berthing 3The marina has proved enticing, as all of its 30m berths have sold out, says Peter Murray Kerr, the director of MooringSpot, which, among other things, assists yachts in buying and renting berths. “It’s a telltale sign that over time these places are going to fill up,” he says.


Finding a winter berth

There are a variety of issues to consider when choosing a berth for the winter months, but ease-of-access and having shipyards nearby for refit and repair work are two of the most important considerations, says Robert Inwards, the director of Inwards Marine, which also deals in berths in the Med. This means there needs to be an international airport nearby with regular flights or, at the very least, within a reasonable drive of such an airport.

In addition, stakeholder interests must be considered, says Fraser.

“There are several stakeholders that go into that winter berthing decision,” he says, including captains, crew and owners. “We’ve got captains who’ve got families and social networks and, if they’re living in and around the South of France, then it will be very difficult to get them to go anywhere else, because it’s a real upheaval to their lives.”

Similarly, crew want to be in places where they can continue to develop their careers (and where there’s also some fun to be had).

However, there has been a shift in recent years, and Inwards says: “It’s more cost-driven than it was before.”

In the end, it comes down to budget, preference and how the owner uses the yacht during the winter months, says Kerr. If the owner uses the yacht regularly, then somewhere like Cannes or Saint-Tropez may make sense, although you should be fully prepared to deal with the waiting lists, the application process and the berth-booking agencies.

Port feature“That’s why lots of owners buy berths in France,” Kerr says, “because they know they want to winter in France because they know the crew is going to be happy, they know they can get to their boat all the time, and they know that, at the peak times, the French marinas will never be able to tell them to stay out. They’ll always have a home.”

However, the superyacht fleet has grown and the South of France can’t accommodate everyone. “More recently there has been a rise in searches for berths in more exotic locations further afield,” says Duncan Wilde, with UltimateBerths.com, a site which lists berths for sale and rent. “This is due to the increase in the number of yachts being built, putting pressure on the limited number of berths available in these traditional areas.”

Additionally, leases at marinas in the South of France are set to expire over a 10-year period – from 2016 to 2027. “All the marinas were built about 40 years ago and all the leases are coming to an end,” says Inwards. “The average lease is only about seven years and there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen once the leases expire.”

All of this has pushed some owners into new areas, even if their captains and crew aren’t exactly thrilled by the prospect.

“There’s often a contrast between what the captain wants and what the owner wants,” says Kerr.

And the influence captains have over the decision has waned in recent years, according to Jonathan Browne, the director of Power To Sail, another company that brokers berths in the Med. “I think captains have got less of a say now than they did before.”

“More and more it’s coming down to price and an opportunity to bring down the costs on the boat,” says Fraser. “And the captain and crew need to start to come to terms with that.”


Barcelona: Marina Port Vell

winter berthing 7There’s been a lot of talk about Marina Port Vell’s opening over the past year, and it recently launched its first winter season with a discounted berth structure in which yachts looking to winter right on the edge of the old town of Barcelona can receive a 50-percent discount on long-term leases.

“They’re promoting it,” says Kerr, “because they’ve got a new marina and they want yachts.”

Port Vell isn’t the only marina looking to draw in new clients through promotional offers. Non-traditional marinas are offering incentives such as discounted prices, tax advantages and other methods of sweetening the deal, says Wilde.

Not only is Marina Port Vell new and modern, but it’s located near the heart of a vibrant city with an international airport and near the MB92 shipyard.

“It’s a fabulous marina on the doorstep of the old town of Barcelona,” says Fraser. “You’ve got fashion, culture, architecture, nightlife, a football club, etc. It’s a crewmember’s dream come true, but it’s extremely expensive.”

Even if Marina Port Vell is a bit too pricey, the area still has other marinas, like Vilanova Grand Marina, in Vilanova, and Port Tarraco in Tarragona, says Inwards. “So that’s quite a number of marinas in a small area, and Barcelona is quite a vibrant city.”

And, if the shipyards of Palma de Mallorca are more to an owner’s liking, there’s always the reduced rates in Ibiza to consider, says Inwards.

Marina Ibiza is quite keen to get winter rentals,” he says. “If you look at what Marina Ibiza charge at the height of the summer compared to what they charge for winter rentals, the difference is really quite incredible.”

For more information about Marina Port Vell, or to write a review, click here


Italy: Marina di Loano, Porto Mirabello

winter berthing 4Italy has been building new marinas for the past decade, and they’re increasingly designed with superyachts in mind.

“They’ve noticed that there are a lot more yachts, and they’ve been building them to equip larger yachts,” says Kerr. “Whereas in France you have marinas that were built in the ‘60s or ‘70s, with a minority of larger yacht berths, in Italy you have the opposite now.”

“That’s a solution for a lot of yacht owners,” he says, “because they can just rent and there’s no overwhelming demand yet.”

Two marinas within a relatively short distance from the Côte d’Azur have been picked out for their location, design and quality. The first is Marina di Loano, which lies between Imperia and Savona along the Ligurian Coast.

“That place is quite spectacular,” says Browne, noting that they have a large travel lift, a Michelin-star restaurant, and a beautiful clubhouse with a pool and top deck designed to look like a flybridge.

And best of all: “They’ve got fantastic toilets there, bearing in mind that I live in France and I know how bad toilets can be,” he says.

“Before you had the hotspots like Palma in Mallorca and the South of France,” says Inwards. “But now there’s other marinas that are offering much better facilities. I think it’s much more competitive within the marinas. Now they have to be a bit like five-star hotels.”

This points to the customer-service disconnect so prevalent around French marinas, says Browne. “The French marinas, you just don’t get any service,” he says. “They just say: You tie up there and come give us some money.”

Marina di Loano is also about equidistant from Genoa and Nice, each boasting sizeable airports. And if a boat needs to be shown, it’s not a terribly long trip to Cannes. This can be important for any yacht broker to have quick access, because, as Browne notes: “There’s only two reasons a boat doesn’t sell: It’s either too expensive or it’s in the wrong place.”

Similarly, Porto Mirabello in La Spezia has begun to develop a list of supporters for similar reasons, not least of which is its easy access to some of the best shipyards around.

However, Italian marinas can be difficult to navigate from a social and financial perspective. Most port staff only speak Italian, and it can be a chore to work with them, because nothing – not even the price – is set in stone.

“If they don’t know you, they’ll say: No, it’s too much work,” says Browne. “Whereas if they know you, they’ll say: Are you good for the money?”

For more information, or to write a review about Marina di Loano, click here and for Porto Mirabello, click here


Malta: Grand Harbour Marina

winter berthing 5

With the development of the Grand Harbour Marina in Vittoriosa, Malta, by Camper & Nicholsons Marinas, the area has quite the feather in its hat these days. It is located in a historic city with a rich and vibrant boating culture that means you can get refit and repair work done easily.

In addition, Malta has one of the most temperate winter climates in the whole of the Med, making it a nice place to actually spend time during those months.

“With the increase of low-cost airlines, accessing these areas is much easier,” says Inwards. Malta is a prime example of this.

“It’s right smack in the middle of the Mediterranean,” says Fraser. “So, ease-of-access to get to and from, and a very experienced sector for refit and repair yards. It’s not for everybody, but it’s a very, very good, practical choice.”

“We’ve certainly seen a big increase in winter berthing in our marina in Malta,” he says.

“I really think that if you were to look at everything all around,” says Fraser, “ease-of-access in and out with international flights; plus English language spoken predominantly; some of the best weather in the world in winter, history, culture, architecture, outdoor living – Malta stacks up all day long.”

For more information about Grand Harbour Marina, or to write a review, click here


Turkey: Palmarina Bodrum

palmarina nightTurkey has become a popular cruising ground in recent years and the Palmarina Bodrum, which sits in an idyllic area along the southwestern coast of Turkey, has made it a plausible wintering destination as well.

In fact, Palmarina is better located and closer to the rest of yachting than Cyprus, and it’s easily accessed and offers a large refit facility, says Fraser.

“That’s a really viable option,” he says.

For more information about Palmarina Bodrum, or to write a review, click here


Cyprus: Limassol Marina

winter berthingThe newly opened Limassol Marina in Cyprus offers some of the same qualities that make Malta attractive – temperate weather and beautiful facilities – however, it suffers from a few drawbacks.

Most notably: A lack of quality refit and repair facilities and its distance from the yachting hubs to the west.

“I think when you’re looking at Limassol, in Cyprus, they don’t have the repair facilities and I think wintering there, you may have an owner with a business association there or maybe have a home in Cyprus, and he may choose to keep the boat nearby,” says Fraser. “Otherwise, it doesn’t make practical sense from a wintering perspective.”

For more information about Limassol Marina, or to write a review, click here


Montenegro: Porto Montenegro

Aerial2While Montenegro has been vying to turn itself into a year-round yachting haven, some believe the winters are getting in the way.

“We’ve seen take-up in winter berthing for smaller yachts with skeleton crews in Montenegro,” says Fraser, “although Montenegro is very quickly becoming known for being a great place to be in the summer but a really bad place to be in the winter.”

In addition to this, Fraser says, there is poor access in and out by air in the winter, and the city largely empties out, leaving the crew with little to do.

However, Matthew Morley, the senior brand and marketing manager for Porto Montenegro, disagrees. He describes winters in Montenegro's Bay of Kotor as "mild," with two or three months of wetter weather between December and February. In addition, he says, there are three international airports within 90km, and while airlines offer fewer flights in the winter, the airports all offer good connections.

Mountains

The port has also gone to great lengths to make the destination attractive for crew. The Crew Club offers resident crew a calendar of activities, from wine tastings to mountain biking trips. And it also maintains a complimantary ski chalet in Kolasin, a ski resort that's a three-hour drive.

"These activities are also either partly or fully subsidized by the marina," Morley says.

Finally, Morley notes that the marina village boasts over 50 retail stores, amenities and restaurants. The hub of crew activity tends to be The Clubhouse bar at the five-star Regent Hotel, and a nightclub called MyCrew operates year round.

For more information about Porto Montenegro, or to write a review, click here


Different strokes, different folks

As marinas develop and diversify to attract the roving yachting dollar, yachts seeking practical and cost-effective berths are increasingly moving away from the traditional Mediterranean hotspots. 

With all of these diverse new options, there is a winter berthing arrangement to suit every yacht owner, while ports are also striving to create an enjoyable winter home for crew.  The Mediterranean yachting map is changing. 

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Photos provided courtesy of Camper & Nicholsons Marinas, Marina Port Vell,  Porto Mirabello and Porto Montenegro.

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