First Time Lucky?
Dominique Afacan recalls her day on board Alexa of London with owner Mark Denning, as he sailed in his first ever St Barths Bucket.…
It was a blisteringly hot day when I jumped on board Alexa of London on the final day of the St Barth’s Bucket. Owner Mark Denning had kindly invited me on board, assuring me that his boat was the most fun in the fleet – despite the fact that she was finishing in last place every day. On board, I had to agree, the atmosphere was electric, with champagne corks popping every few minutes and music blaring out of the speakers. Everyone on board seemed to be having the time of their lives, and in fact, Alexa deservedly went on to win the Spirit of the Bucket trophy. As for me, I fell in love with this majestic 36m sailing yacht and was lucky enough to grab Mark Denning for a quick half hour chat on board to find out more.
Mark Denning and crew with the Spirit of the Bucket trophy
This was Mark’s first Bucket, but it was quite clear he was already a fan – and not at all fazed by the boat’s languorous performance in the regatta, “We’ve had a fantastic time,” he told me. “To be honest, she’s sailed beautifully, but she’s a classic yacht and not built to race superyachts with all their carbon fibre. We’ve got steel everywhere and lots of ropes and pulleys.” Beyond the regatta, it seems this Caribbean island has struck a chord with him too. “St Barths is the most amazing place, I’ve not been here before – it’s an upmarket St Tropez. There’s a great ambience, nice people, good hotels. Normally I go to places and am disappointed but I haven’t been disappointed here at all.”
As we sip champagne in the cockpit, watching as the likes of S/Y Unfurled whizz by, Mark tells me how he spent the first 20 years of his life in Malaysia and has travelled extensively in South-east Asia, including multiple liverboard trips out of Indonesia. Before buying Alexa of London with his friend Tim Hall, he’d also chartered a fair amount, on both motor and sail, but when he saw Alexa, it was love at first sight.
Elizabeth Meyer takes the helm
“We bought her in 2007 and the buying process was actually very easy. I’m not really a sailor but Tim – the co-owner – has yachting knowledge. The one thing that disappointed us was we had a major survey done on her and it didn’t spot any of the problems that transpired about six months later. So she came out of the water for what was meant to be a short refit and it ended up taking two years. We invested an awful lot of money in her – and then when she came back she looked exactly the same! Anyway, she now has all new electrical systems, generators, plumbing and a new deck – so she should be good for a long time.”
The boat is based out of Mallorca, somewhere Mark clearly holds dear. “We take her all over the Med – but we come back to Mallorca and go ‘why did we move?’ Palma is a fantastic city. It’s a hop and a skip to Ibiza and Menorca. Ibiza is much busier – everyone is out in Formentera, Mallorca is bourgeois and Ibiza is avant garde – it’s like the Bali of Europe. Palma has good food, a great lifestyle offering, and one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. It’s become the centre of yachting.”
When it comes to the ongoing expense of ownership, Mark explains that having a partner to ‘share the pain’ with helps, as does charter. “We charter a decent amount and she has all the Balearic licenses which is unusual so that takes the edge off. I think she appeals to anyone for charter. She has all the toys, she’s very comfortable, and when you’re at anchor in the Med everyone is coming up to look at you. There are two dining positions and massive open areas for sunbathing – all the important stuff! With the big tender, we can be anchored somewhere miles away and be in the port in no time at all. “
As we roll over the finish line, endless bottles of champagne down and music blaring, I ask Mark if he sees himself trading up to a bigger boat. “Never say never, but for now I will stick with this boat. I am happy with Alexa, I love her. I have no dreams of anything else really.” Having spent the day on board this wonderful boat, I can definitely understand why.
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