Cary Arms, Devon, UK


British businessman Peter de Savary takes us on a voyage, helping us piece together how water is the most significant motif in both his working and personal life

The affinity human beings have with water is something akin to a collective shared experience, where the emotions it stirs are reported to be the same. It’s why many of us elect to build ‘water’ into our lifestyles in some shape or form, be it a water feature in the back garden to a property quest where the only requisite is a view of the ocean.

For fewer people, the ability to capture this lifestyle can lead them to far-flung places around the globe, and onto new and rare experiences where culture and geography intersect. Rarer still, you have those like Peter de Savary, where the deep blue is a vortex-like force that brings all aspects of the above together, to create a rich and illustrious life story.

“The great thing about doing things on or by the water is that you can mix the different sensations that you might enjoy,” says de Savary – or PdeS as he likes to be known – as we settle down to talk to him on a breezy June morning. We’re interviewing de Savary for the express purpose of finding out more about his 30-metre river barge-cum-luxury yacht, Savvy Barge, which is on sale through Knight Frank (more on that later), but what develops over an hour-long conversation is something more wide-ranging, an erudite insight into what makes the man tick.

“People like me – we’re romantics,” de Savary states. Wistful notions as these typify the de Savary philosophy. “We live our lives by having enough romance, and enough adventure, and the opportunity to be creative and appreciative.”

‘PdeS’ is a British entrepreneur, hotelier, club owner, property developer, football club owner, shipping magnate, yachtsman – the list, it appears, is not exhaustive. This ability to stretch himself across multiple sectors in an operative capacity not too dissimilar to that of a one-man-band, has meant de Savary has carved a niche as one of Britain’s busiest businesspeople in a career lasting over half a century. Along with many of his high-profile domestic business pursuits – he once owned London-based football team Millwall F.C. and has owned several of the UK’s most popular luxury resorts – the de Savary name is probably best etched into the British public’s psyche for his 1983 Americas Cup Challenger tilt, who he led with the Royal Burnham Yacht Club's syndicate from Essex. The syndicate’s 12-meter yacht, Victory, was unsuccessful in its challenge to face the 1980 winners of the Americas Cup, New York Yacht Club's (NYYC) Freedom, after being beaten 4-1 by the highly controversial Alan Bond-funded Australia II, which would go on to win the 1983 edition finals in an even more controversial fashion. It was the first time in the competition’s 132-year history that the 'Auld Mug' had been won by a team other than the NYYC. “People say it was a very good challenge,” PdeS recounts. But his team's mark on the sport’s history is more indelible. Four-time Olympic gold medallist, eight-time world champion and one-time Americas Cup winner, Ben Ainslie, credits de Savary’s '83 challenge with inspiring him to take up the sport competitively, admitting in a 2014 episode of the BBC’s Desert Island Discs: “When I first saw [him in his boat], I was in awe. I knew then that's what I wanted to do.”

Skibo Castle, Scotland, UK

Now into his seventies, de Savary appears to be choosing to live life at a different pace. From being responsible for the success of 13 shipyards and established a significant international ship-refuelling company, as well as helming three oil refineries, the hard-nosed nature of his industrial portfolio has been tempered by an array of leisure- and hospitality-centred projects across the UK, US and Caribbean, including hotels, golfing resorts, branded residences and members clubs.

This means life is also taking a more existential turn: “The thing about getting old is if you've led an active, busy life with lots of challenges, taken risks and fought numerous wars and battles, if you're not careful, you can stagnate and go downhill, and lose your verve, your enthusiasm and all the things that have kept you going til this point.”

These “battles” include the following (but again are not limited to), all of which de Savary has emerged successful from: the worldwide St. James Clubs, which had premies in London, Paris, Los Angeles, New York and Antigua; and Skibo Castle’s Carnegie Club in Scotland, which provide the venue for the 2002 Madonna-Guy Ritchie union. His wife Lana is heavily involved with operating the UK side of the business, while two of his five daughters have been involved with the family craft in some form.

Past battles won also include: Glenborrodale Castle, Bovey Castle and Cary Arms, in the UK; Cherokee Plantation South Carolina, Carnegie Abbey Rhode Island, and the Vanderbilt Residences, Newport, in the US; as well as the Mount Cinnamon and Port Louis in Grenada.

This philosophy extends into how the immaterial – water – influences the material, and the feelings it can conjure. “Be it adventure, intimacy, getting adrenaline going, or just a nice chilled walk, these things evoke in people different sensations which they enjoy. Having the same connection with things, like I do with boats, sail boats, yachts etc, it’s not too dissimilar to having that connection with nature.”

“They're what distracts me from all the other worries and responsibilities I have in the world and give me a sense of complete peace; my mind is emptied of all other things. I see boats as a form of art, as much as objects of pleasure, enjoyment and satisfaction.” Perhaps it’s this sense of adventure that compelled de Savary to consider the not-so-compelling proposition of owning a barge.

Built in steel (to Lloyds 100A1 standard) by Dutch yard Hakvoort, the Savvy Barge was delivered in 2004, and was designed to “combine the tranquillity of a lovely river barge with the facilities of a fine motor yacht”. De Savary took ownership of Savvy in 2016, after begrudgingly accepting the invitation to see it in Holland by a yacht-broker friend.

The upper decks of Savvy Barge

“I really wasn't interested at all,” he recalls. “As a yachtsman, a barge sounds an embarrassing thing to even think about, let alone entertaining the notion of owning one.

“It just had no appeal at all, but I thought ‘OK, I fancy a weekend in Amsterdam’ as I know the city and country very well. When I saw the barge, I was completely convinced. I realised there was something of real intrigue for me.”

But there is much to be impressed with by Savvy Barge. Its 29.75-metre length and 4.9-metre beam offer roomy quarters for up to six people, with a full-width master suite with en-suite bathroom, and a further two en-suite twin cabins, one of which converts into an office area. It can also accommodate a crew of four in two cabins, which can use their own separate entrance, galley, dinette and bathroom.

Interiors we’re created by leading yacht interior designers H2, with its upper decks furnished so passengers can luxuriate in sun or shade. This space includes a more formal seating area, sun-lounging space, dining area and jacuzzi.

“The Savvy Barge is a two-for-one opportunity,” de Savary states. “So, instead of having to buy a yacht and a pied-a-terre, you get both. It’s really clever because it fulfills the kinds of things that attract a yachtsman like me to boats on the water, it is mobile and can go anywhere.

“You can get all of the pleasures from this thing, and all of the satisfactions, that you would get from any motor yacht, but by the same token, you get all the satisfactions and more that you would get from any charming little pied-a-terre that you fancied having in Paris, London or New York – wherever it might be. It’s actually better than any pied-a-terre because it's mobile!”

De Savary says he is not aware of any luxury yachts of a similar size that are as environmentally friendly as Savvy, either, thanks in no small part to its Diesel Electric ABB 110kw engine, which only consumes fuel to start the generator – carbon emissions are therefore nominal. There is no sound pollution either, meaning those abroad can enjoy being up on deck with only ambient noise to soundtrack their trip. A recent £25,000-refit of the batteries mean it has at least 15 years of life before they have to be changed again.

Similarly, the barge’s range means it can be motored at speeds of up to 14km/h and for a range of 1,537 kilometres. Its relatively flat draft means it can voyage up some of the world’s most shallow of waterways, while also being capable of ocean faring – it’s been sailed across the English Channel in calm waters several times, as well as up other European coastal passages. Savvy is currently moored at Cadogan Pier off Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, overlooking the verdant scenes of Battersea Park.

Boats are what distracts me from all the other worries and responsibilities I have in the world – they give me a sense of complete peace

PdeS has since made his last voyage on the Savvy.

The next adventure is a 100-year-old Dutch sailing barge restoration he will be recrafting from the hull up – almost a salvage of sorts, but one where you sense it would be an exercise in opulence, as if one were rebuilding the Titanic on a smaller scale.

De Savary is no hoarder, either: “To have both the Dutch Barge and Savvy makes no sense. Let someone else enjoy it.” That prospective buyer may proscribe to the purchasing requisites fast shaping the yachting industry, those that mirror wider luxury consumption behaviours, such as the desire to buy green or circular.

Passing it on would give de Savary a sense of fulfillment not too dissimilar to that he finds when he speaks to those visiting a hotel, resort or club of his. An artistic sensibility defines his sense of success as much as the next great businessperson will point to shareholder dividends or the accrument of wealth. It’s necessary the process of creation flows into perfect function as formlessly as water, and this ideal is evident in any success he has enjoyed of a long, varied and busy career.

“If for some reason I was in a position where I had to reflect on my life and I knew this was it,” he muses, as we wrap up our conversation, “I would feel a great peace and a satisfaction knowing that I had left behind tangible things that would give other people as much pleasure as they'd given me, and they would be there for the next generation or two to enjoy.”

Words: Matthew McEvoy Images: Peter de Savary/Andy Hurtel-Hymans


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