|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2009
January 1, 2009
“There is much more to sailing than just playing around in big, white boats,” says Charlie Dana III, owner of Newport Shipyard in New England and longtime resident of Lyford Cay on New Providence in The Bahamas. “It’s a whole lifestyle.” And it is a lifestyle that Dana has been enjoying his whole life.
Having been bitten by the boating bug at an early age, Dana has spent his life ensconced in the yachting world, both here in The Bahamas and in the US. “I have been a boat nut since I was a small child,” he explains. “I can’t really figure out why I was so attracted to it, but it has never left me.”
Building his first 8-ft boat when he was a still a boy, Dana’s love affair with the ocean has been a driving force in his life. “Living on the water is what I’m attracted to more than any other aspect. To that degree, I’m a harbour rat!”
However, Dana’s passion for the ocean wasn’t something shared by his family who thought he was “nuts” to want a life at sea. Growing up in New York, Dana comes from a line of entrepreneurial and philanthropic landlubbers. His grandfather, who built the family fortune on shrewd investments, particularly in the auto-parts industry, set up the Dana Foundation—a private philanthropic organization with principal interests in brain science, immunology, and arts education. The foundation supports over 30 charities and organizations, as well as sponsoring events, workshops and school projects.
“My grandfather worked hard as a lawyer and politician among other things but never really enjoyed the trappings of success as much as he wanted to help others improve their lives,” says Dana.
After Dana’s grandfather served on the foundation for 25 years, the legacy was passed on with his father serving for 51 years, and himself for seven years so far. Dana’s grandfather and father were also catalysts for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
“My father and grandfather were pioneers of what we all know today as the ‘challenge gift’,” says Dana, referring to the method of donating whereby the recipient matches the amount given. “This was really born out of being a little thrifty—plus understanding the leverage potential of helping somebody help themselves. Make the organization invest along with you, and the steps forward will be greater.”
Although his predecessors were not seafarers, Dana’s love of the ocean is shared by the more recent additions to the clan. His son Eli is instrumental in running Newport Shipyard and is set to take over once his father relinquishes the reins of the business. His other sons Nick and Milo work on or with boats and his daughter Isabella lives in Nassau and owns a classic 1955 yawl called Thor, designed by Philip Rhodes and built by Abeking and Rasmussen. Dana and his wife, Rose, do frequent double-handed offshore passages, as well as cruising aboard their boat, Saint Roque, which spends half the year in Nassau.
The type of lifestyle which the Danas now enjoy is something The Bahamas, and more specifically, Nassau could use to promote itself, says Dana. “I was involved in helping to organize the [150th] America’s Cup Jubilee in 2001 in Cowes [on the Isle of Wight in the UK] when I was commodore of the New York Yacht Club. It was a massive event, the premier event in yachting history I would go as far to say. We had races and a social events calendar you would not believe. It was a veritable “who’s who” of the yachting world. If we can create something like that here in Nassau—maybe not as grand but an event with that type of glamour—then it would be a marvelous opportunity to showcase The Bahamas.”
Of course something on this scale would demand unfailing effort and dedication. Dana went to five years of meetings to help put on the Jubilee and he is quick to add that he is not looking for a job. “But I would be willing to be involved in organizing such an event to some degree,” he says. “I have been fortunate to get to know many of the rock stars of the yachting world and they could make this thing happen. I’ve worked with them in America’s Cup campaigns and in my business.”
The event is just one part of a much wider vision Dana has for yachting in The Bahamas. “Yachting provides a great backdrop for tourism. If you look at the most popular resorts on the Mediterranean they all have a strong yachting component. Not only does the yachting culture bring in a lot of money but it also raises the bar for tourism in general.”
The economic impact of improving the harbour facilities and the image of yachting in The Bahamas, he suggests, could be enormous.
To attract the right clientele, Nassau has to provide better services—something Dana knows all about through his business in Newport. “We created a hub in Newport, basically from nothing,” he says. When Dana and his partners took on the shipyard in 1998 it was run down and ill-equipped to cope with any serious yachting work. “Newport from a facility standpoint was lacking ten years ago. There was only one shipyard left and it didn’t have a single yacht in it, only lower-end commercial vessels. It was marginally operating in its third bankruptcy.”
But Dana had a plan. The megayacht boom had just got underway and more and more of these large luxury vessels were coming on line every year. If Newport Shipyard could provide services of a high enough standard to provide support for these $20- to $30-million vessels, then the market was there. Converting the shipyard from a dilapidated facility that was mainly equipped to service commercial and navy vessels to a purveyor of high-end services to millionaire yachtsmen was not going to be easy. Dana knew he had for provide an all-round service so that the bigger private boats and megayachts would stop there. “We had to build a world-class team from scratch” as well as invest enormous amounts to clean up the facility, says Dana.
It took many years before the yard started to return on the investment and the key has been providing top-notch service. “At Newport we now have subcontractors coming in constantly so that we have every trade available to tend to these exotic boats. My philosophy is that we are on the side of the customer and we need to provide the best possible service.”
Newport to Nassau
According to Dana, there are a few simple measures The Bahamas could take to improve the environment for the sailing community. For example, capitalizing on the opportunities arising from the operations of Dockwise Yacht Transport LLC, which provides a yacht transport service moving boats long distance around the world and is set to commence operations in Bahamian waters.
Most importantly, Dana suggests, the government should help foster companies that could provide maintenance services for megayachts and allow specialized mechanics to have a base here. “At the moment people come over here to play, but they go back to Florida to get the boats taken care of. Big yachts always have a work list and The Bahamas is missing a trick not providing better support for them.”
Now is a particularly good time to appeal to the boating fraternity, especially the megayachts. “Megayachting has been spared the worst of the global economic situation,” says Dana. “The cost of fuel has had a major impact on smaller power boats of 40-50 ft. But the bigger boat end is much more resilient. You will still see these boats in good destinations all over the world.”
Dana now divides his time equally between his New England home and his house in exclusive Lyford Cay where he has been coming since he was a child. His father was one of the first members of the Lyford Cay Club and brought his son with him to New Providence from a very early age.
“We were coming here when Lyford Cay was only just being built,” says Dana, who has continued his father’s work with the Lyford Cay Club committee and is also heavily involved with the community’s marina. “Nassau may not be as exotic as some southern Caribbean islands with rain forests and cascading waterfalls but it is the people here that make me want to keep coming back. And the incredible water of course, the best in the world. The Bahamas has an amazing and much under-used natural resource in its beautiful, gin-clear waters”—something Dana and the Bahamian yachting community would like to promote as a way of having The Bahamas capitalize on its finest natural resource.