ON CHAR­TER

THE BEST OF COSTA RICA; MEET THE NEW SKIP­PER OF BRAVO’S ‘BE­LOW DECK MEDITER­RANEAN’

Yachts International - - Contents - By Kim Kavin

Ofer Ket­ter never imag­ined that yachts might be­come such a big part of his life, or his adopted coun­try’s tourism in­dus­try. The na­tive of Is­rael loves Costa Rica — he’s made it his home for 15 years — and for him, the draw has al­ways been the scenery, both un­der­wa­ter and above. He didn’t even know what a pri­vate yacht was un­til the 1990s, when he was a scuba in­struc­tor for dive boats off Co­cos Is­land, some 330 nau­ti­cal miles off­shore. A pri­vate yacht would show up once in a while, and maybe an­other the next year, with own­ers who needed a dive guide.

The owner of his scuba com­pany, the Un­der­sea Hunter Group, looked at the yachts and saw the fu­ture: “They made a com­pany that man­aged pri­vate sub­mersible dives at Co­cos Is­land,” Ofer says. “You could go down to 1,500 feet. It was a whole dif­fer­ent planet. It wasn’t just go­ing un­der­wa­ter. It was go­ing where no one has been be­fore. Way be­fore this be­came some­thing to see at the Monaco Yacht Show, we were the first to op­er­ate these deep pri­vate subs as a com­mer­cial tourism oper­a­tion.”

Fast-for­ward to 2010, when the sub com­pany SEA­mag­ine sold one to the owner of the 279-foot (85.2-me­ter) Lürssen Pa­cific. SEA­mag­ine con­tracted Ofer to run the tour oper­a­tion as the yacht’s live­aboard sub­ma­rine pi­lot.

“Then,” as Ofer tells it, “some­thing re­ally in­ter­est­ing hap­pened.”

Ofer, Pa­cific’s cap­tain and the owner cruised around the world. The owner wanted itin­er­ar­ies that no­body had ever done, in­cor­po­rat­ing not only the yacht’s sub, but also its he­li­copter and ev­ery other imag­in­able toy.

“Sud­denly we be­came this amaz­ing team,” Ofer says. “I would go ahead of the yacht, fly into a coun­try, scout it and cre­ate a cus­tom­ized itin­er­ary for the owner. The cap­tain would bring the yacht, and we’d do a dry run of the itin­er­ary. Then the owner would fly in with his fam­ily, and boom, we’d have a per­fect prod­uct.”

For five years, on al­most ev­ery con­ti­nent, they cre­ated the itin­er­ar­ies. Their way­points twice in­cluded Costa Rica, which is where Ofer got an idea of his own.

“I re­al­ized that no one was build­ing itin­er­ar­ies for yachts, and Costa Rica was the per­fect year-round cruis­ing des­ti­na­tion,” he says. “Un­less you want lux­ury shop­ping—that’s the only thing I wouldn’t put on the list—but ev­ery­thing else that yacht­ing clients wanted all around the world, Costa Rica had it.”

At the time, Costa Rica lacked su­pery­acht fa­cil­i­ties, but Ofer knew, from his global cruis­ing, that the ma­rina sit­u­a­tion would likely change with time. So he and his part­ners, all for­mer scuba guides, cre­ated Ori­gen Es­capes. They fo­cused in part on build­ing out itin­er­ar­ies that pri­vate and char­ter yachts would need once they had a place to tie up in Costa Rica.

“For peo­ple who are into this type of des­ti­na­tion,” Ofer says of Costa Rica, “the list of ex­pe­ri­ences they can have—swim­ming in a pri­vate wa­ter­fall or a hot spring ther­mal river or hik­ing vol­ca­noes or scuba div­ing with dol­phins or spearfish­ing or be­ing in a rain­for­est look­ing for ex­otic birds or ex­plor­ing the cof­fee cul­ture or the horse­back cul­ture or learn­ing how to free dive or white­wa­ter raft­ing or rap­pelling in canyons or sea kayak­ing or moun­tain bik­ing—the list of op­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences is long, and ac­ces­si­ble at ev­ery level.”

And his in­stinct about the mari­nas turned out to be cor­rect. To­day, on Costa Rica’s west coast, Ma­rina Pa­pa­gayo, to the north, is able to ac­com­mo­date yachts up to 220 feet (67 me­ters) long. The cen­tral coast­line is home to Los Sueños Re­sort and Ma­rina, which can take yachts up to 180 feet (54.8 me­ters), as well as Ma­rina Pez Vela, whose slips go up to 200 feet (61 me­ters). To the south is the newly opened Golfito Ma­rina Vil­lage, able to take yachts 350 feet (106.6 me­ters) and longer.

For ev­ery yacht that vis­its, Ori­gen Es­capes has itin­er­ar­ies at the ready. The team fo­cuses on three themes: beach, moun­tain and jun­gle, for novices straight up through ex­perts. From De­cem­ber un­til about April, they en­cour­age itin­er­ar­ies along the south­ern stretch of Costa Rica’s west coast, and from May through Novem­ber, they bring guests to the north, avoid­ing the sea­sonal rains and winds.

Since its found­ing in 2015, Ori­gen has worked with a num­ber of pri­vate-yacht own­ers, and Ofer hopes that as Costa Rica opens up for char­ter, more and more guests will want to en­joy sim­i­lar ad­ven­tures.

‘i re­al­ized that no one was build­ing itin­er­ar­ies for yachts, and costa rica was the per­fect year-round cruis­ing des­ti­na­tion.’ —Ofer Ket­ter, Ori­gen es­capes

Costa Rica’s coast is home to dozens of im­por­tant nest­ing beaches for four tur­tle species: leatherback, green, hawks­bill and olive ri­d­ley.

be­low: Costa Rica is home to some of the world’s most breath­tak­ing wa­ter­falls. bot­tom: A pod of charis­matic spin­ner dol­phins puts on a show for some lucky spec­ta­tors.

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