On an August evening in a well-appointed country club on the island of Hvar, surrounded on all sides by the waters of the Adriatic Sea, I find William Wenkel in the midst of the working process. At the same time as the bright red sunset was hovering over the horizon line, the 33-year-old CEO of European Travel Ventures humbly delivers another 4.5-liter bottle of vodka at the guests' request from his personal table, at which today, besides him, an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, a musician from neighboring Los Angeles and several of his Swedish friends and business partners are sitting. Right next to us at this very time, some Turkish student sprays a bottle of champagne one by one into a raging crowd of about 400 partyers from all over the world. On the edges of the crowd about a dozen girls in tops and bikinis dancing on benches and other all kinds of surfaces on which you can only stand.
When Wenkel starts shaking my hand, he turns towards this crowd and then screams right in my ear: «Now imagine doing it for 12 consecutive weeks!»
Welcome to Yacht Week, a seven-day tour of selected coastal resorts organized by Wenkel all three months of summer in the Mediterranean Sea and then moving with the same offers to Thailand (December) and the British Virgin Islands (December and March). The whole idea is damn straightforward for people around twenty years of age, with certain interests and the necessary level of income, seems fabulous: a week with friends on a great yacht with a captain, a few beautiful ports with organized parties on site, all night long (as statistics show - usually also the whole next day). For around $750 per person, small groups of friends order their boat with the captain online and join this eternally celebratory armada of around 50 yachts filled with the same guys from around the world. What's important is that the number of men and women in the organizers are trying to keep the numbers roughly equal. The result is a crazy holiday, but not schoolchildren, but young professionals from all over the world with a good level of income.
In the eleventh week of the summer season near the city of Split, I joined the Yacht Week flotilla and got directly into the most popular part of the route - a tour of the southern islands of Croatia. The company manages several big events in Greece and Italy at the same time throughout the summer, but it happens exactly in the waters where Wenkel and his CEO Eric Bjorklund invented the business in 2005, when they both worked as captains and hired European tourists to sail around the Mediterranean Sea. «I really liked»the captain's job," says Bjorklund, a 32-year-old blond Nordic-looking man with hair in the wind. «You walk by sea around these beautiful places, but the clients are always families. I've always missed a few friends and like-minded»people.
As a result, he and Wenkel convinced their charter company to reserve 10 large boats for them and their friends. Both were then graduating from their home Sweden and were promoting the project all winter and advertising it to their university students. By spring they had already received 254 applications for the tour - these people would fit on at least 25 boats.«I watched €175,000 go through my personal bank»account," recalls Wenkel. A year later, the partners organized a tour of 57 boats, still considering it only a well-planned vacation.
But when in 2008 there were 95 boats in their armada, they finally realized that they had a great business in their hands.
Today their company, which has its headquarters in London, rents at once 1100 yachts for 9000 tourists a year, which brings them about $ 9 million. Almost half of their clients come from the U.S., and the rest - from about sixty other countries: Egypt, India, Chile (although from Sweden only 1.6%). The average age is about 27, and because such a trip costs a lot of money, all of them are well-off people: American young bankers, children from good families in South America, graduates of Oxford, former students of business schools and so on.
Wenkel personally founded two small companies and spent a year of his life as an artillery officer in the Swedish Navy before taking up the Yacht Week project. At the same time, Bjorklund worked as a manager for a large Swedish media holding company. They both love to focus on their past during business negotiations.«
It's very important for us not to become partners in "party organizers."»Wenkel explains by saying it in a much more English than Swedish accent.
But in general, it's very easy to understand why people on the outside might think otherwise. Their YouTube promo video, which was published back in 2009, is a few minutes of filming half-naked young people and girls who get away from the world of yachts, the sun and endless parties. In reality, this is what it looks like.
For the first night of my journey with Yacht Week the company chose a port club in Trogir. Despite the fact that the party lasted until almost morning, and one guy even got an ambulance (because he fell from a table on which he danced furiously), the organizers repeatedly convinced me that this will be the quietest part of the trip. And they proved to be right. The next day was marked by a sunset party on the island of Hvar, which continued the journey at two o'clock in the morning to a club on another island. There, the organizers moved all 400 parties to the deck of the old wooden frigate, where, despite the early hour, the loud party continued and the champagne shower.
Among the daytime entertainment at Yacht Week is something like jumping from the deck of a World War II submarine on Vis Island. Another popular pastime is using a rope fixed at the top of the mast for diving. When the boat starts to turn sharply, the jumper flies this rope into the open sea. On some days, all 50 yachts are tied together in one giant raft and their passengers pull wooden chairs out of their cabins or walk from boat to boat in search of the best party. Wenkel and Björklund, who have spent eight years organizing such public events, can take part in them, depending on their mood. Most often they take a separate boat with their friends and sail away from the general chaos.
But as their own views change, everyone sees the future of the business in a slightly different audience. For example, last year the company was able to negotiate a 25-year lease on Fort «George», a huge 19th century Croatian citadel built by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. On this occasion, Wenkel barely hides his almost childlike pride - the fortress is located on one of the highest points of the peninsula, from which you can observe two main beaches of Vis Island, one of the least developed in the country. European Travel Ventures has spent around one million dollars on a two-year restoration of their new property to turn the fortress into an event venue and cultural centre with its own chef, historian, wine cellar and numerous art exhibitions.
The Vice-Admiral of the British Navy even gave a speech at the opening of the fort in September, which continued with the same formal performances by his Croatian colleagues. Even the Croatian president celebrated the event. In general, the effect is exactly what a company known for bringing masses of young and hungry people to Croatia before parties. «Now they take us much more seriously because our activities are better aligned with the interests of the tourists they want to see in their country»," Bjorklund notes.
And yet Yacht Week still throws bedlam in the newly renovated fort exactly two nights a week every summer, filling the walls of the historic site with pulsating music and pounding bass.«
There is something in common among all young people in different countries»," laughs Wenkel. «They all say, 'Let's finally have a quiet and pleasant evening. But that never happened»once.