Yacht lifestyle for the opulent


The docking yard for most yachts in Mtwapa, Kilifi County. PHOTO | SIAGO CECE | NMG

I stare at the sea from the yacht. These are luxuries that only money can buy. I watch the sunset far away sinking into the ocean.

It is evening and I am cruising the coastal city of Mombasa on a gorgeous yacht, a unique way to unwind as the year comes to an end and as a way to explore the city.

Welcome to the yachting lifestyle.

Mtwapa Yacht Rides has brought private yacht fantasies to non-yacht owners. In most clubs in Kenya, sailing is only restricted to private members and yacht owners.

Inside Vuma’, the name of my yacht or rather the one I am sailing in, you dine and pop champagne on deck, jump off the back of the yacht for a swim if you want, sleep on the bed as you listen to the ocean waves hit hard or just sit on the cushy seats as the wind blows off your chiffon sarong.

This experience comes at a small fee.

Swaleh Ziro is the captain of one of these yachts and also the man behind the yacht leasing business.

He saw an opportunity during the pandemic as the vessels floated on the Indian Ocean on Mtwapa Creek.

The yachts were idle on the ocean, following the lockdowns and restricted travel. He engaged the yacht owners and partnered with them. He is the lead captain.

In 2020, after getting a go-ahead from the yacht owners, the 31-year-old created social media pages to market and sell the yachting idea.

“I started marketing the yacht rides on social media in 2019. But the business picked up in 2020 during the pandemic. We would receive a family who would provide us with a Covid clearance certificate, indicating they were free of coronavirus. They would come with their drinks and food and we take them on the yacht rides for hours,” says Mr Ziro.

“They referred me to their friends and families and that is how the business grew.”

Soon he started getting customers looking to celebrate baby showers, birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, and those in love with deep sea sport fishing. The market has since been roaring.

They charge between Sh10,000 and Sh35,000 a person for a one-hour sailing, depending on the size of the yacht. On his sailing list, guests also include people looking to do dolphin and whale watching.

“The yachts were just sitting there idle and owners incurring expenses of maintaining them and also paying employees. I thought of the lockdown and how people were restricted from attending public places including hotels and bars. That is when I thought there is a way we can turn this into a business venture. I came up with the idea of watching rides. I sold the idea to a few people. Today everybody is looking to buy a yacht. It has become one of the most treasured luxurious investments,” says Mr Ziro.

Most of the guests are Kenyans and tourists from Africa.

“We mostly receive local tourists from Nairobi. Most coastal people were born here so they see no thrill in the ocean. But Nairobians see this as a new experience. The age group is between 18 and 65 years old.”

Of late, he has seen increased bookings from Ugandans, Nigerians, Moroccans, Sudanese and a few tourists from Europe.

“Most of the European tourists who come are married to Kenyans who nudge them. This is because the international tourists are more into dhows,” he says.

The yachts have a minibar, a refrigerator, a sleeping area, and a washroom and for privacy, the windows are tinted.

The small yacht accommodates eight people while the big one holds 15 people.

The exterior of one of the yachts managed by Swaleh Ziro in Mtwapa, Kilifi County. The yacht has three compartments including the captain's area, a dining area and a sleeping area. PHOTO | SIAGO CECE | NMG

On a good day, he says, they do five to six hours and other times an overnight trip.

“For a birthday, I charge Sh15,000 for the small yacht and Sh50,000 per hour for the big one. Under this package, we provide the decor, birthday cake, a bottle of wine, and a shoot from a professional photographer,” he says.

Being a captain of the yachts and selling the rides has been a plus because he is in a better position to understand the client’s desires.

Are there challenges to the yachting business?

“Challenges are there, like during the rainy season we do a ride for only one hour. Sometimes we go a whole day, whole week even whole month without clients,” he says.

Sunset rides

There is also drunkenness on board. Some customers, he says walk into the yacht sober and drinks themselves into a stupor that the staff are forced to take care of them.

Mr Ziro says sunset rides are the most booked.

“We do not go in deep waters. However, I have taken yacht owners from Mtwapa to Zanzibar, Lamu and Mozambique. Such jobs I am hired to take the owners but not the clients,” he says.

Most of the yachts, he says, are owned by Kenyans but from outside the Coast.

“We coastal people have an idea that we own the ocean, but we cannot afford to buy it. Hence most of the yachts are imported,” he says.

The owners work with Kenya Maritime Authority, which licenses them to operate on the ocean, carry out inspections and issue insurance.

As demand for yachting activities on the Kenyan coast rises, Mr Ziro has trained 15 people and employed five so far.

His memorable moment, he once took a president for a ride on a yacht.

“I will not mention which president it was but it was a Kenyan one,” he says.

His worst memory, a 21-year-old capsized at sea.

Mr Ziro urges the government to support them by marketing yachting as a tourist activity, in addition to the beaches.

Tourist numbers have picked up as Kenya focuses more on experiential tourism and outdoor activities.

International tourists surged 89.1 per cent to 723,630 in the eight months through August, according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, compared to 382,619 in the same period last year.

As the holiday season starts, numbers are expected to go higher.

Captain Swaleh Ziro poses at the place where he steers the yacht. He uses social media to get customers majority of who come from Nairobi. PHOTO | SIAGO CECE | NMG

“We have clients every day and some have already booked for December. In Mtwapa, we are the only ones doing private yachting. We get clients from Watamu, Malindi and Diani,” he says.

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