“I was a bit hesitant at first, not knowing what it would be like to have physically and mentally challenged servicemen on board. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was really special and pretty exciting,” explains Captain Will Keiser of One More Toy, who has headed one of Operation Cruise’s charters on the superyacht.
The programme is available to wounded Special Operations Force (SOF) soldiers and their loved ones. And the charters aren’t just a chance to recover from serious physical and mental damage as a result of their line of service but are also an opportunity to let their hair down and have a bit of fun. So far, the cruises have hosted, among others, an SOF soldier who was shot seven times on a mission, died twice on the operating table and was undergoing rehab to return to his SOF group and another SOF soldier who, while trying to resupply his unit in the middle of a firefight at night, fell 30ft out of a helicopter when it came under fire and broke his neck. These soldiers still serve in the Special Forces today.
“In today’s world, heroes don’t wear capes, they wear dog tags, and each one of them has a significant other who has braved the storm with them and is just as strong, or stronger in certain respects, not only supporting their special operator but often single-handedly raising a family on their own,” explains Jeff Hudson, executive director of Operation Cruise, who is also an ex-SOF solider and past participant of the programme.
These brave people are not your average charter guests. While most captains and crew will be familiar with the ‘typical’ charter client who isn’t phased by luxury and service, and actually expects it, those stepping on board for the Operation Cruise charters are a completely different – and refreshing – type of guest. “Most of them were from a lower-to-average income background, so being able to get this treatment was pretty special to them. They were really wide-eyed and just absolutely in awe of the whole yachting experience. Then to be able to give this to them as a gift, they were just so appreciative and it was nice to see,” explains Captain Keiser. “Most of the time we have clients who are very wealthy and are used to being pampered in that respect, so it’s different having people on board for whom it’s an absolutely tremendous lifestyle change.”
Highlander has done one Operation Cruise charter so far, though the owner is looking to do more, and for Captain Nord, as with Captain Keiser, it’s the guests’ astonishment at this industry – that for us has become so familiar – that took the charter to a new level. “It reminded me of chartering in the old days, when nobody had experienced these boats. People were on them for the first time and they were really excited, really happy and very interested in having a good time, and they made sure they did. And that’s the way this was.”
Visit the Operation Cruise website.
Find the full article in the Monaco Yacht Show issue of The Crew Report (Issue 75), out mid-September, and available at The Superyacht Owner stand, QE9, at the Monaco Yacht Show.