I think I’m probably guilty of suffering from terminal ‘holiday hope’.
Holiday hope is basically just the denial of reality. It’s the self-held carrot of optimism dangled precariously in the face of experience and I often find that travel is just one long, crushed journey of tentative expectations. You hope you’ve remembered to pack all that you need. You hope the traffic won’t be so bad getting to the airport. You hope your plane will be on time and, when it is, you start praying it won’t be full. You hope the film will be one you haven’t seen, your book will be one you want to read, your luggage won’t be lost, immigration won’t be slow, your hotel will be totally idyllic and the weather won’t misbehave. Inevitably there’s a glitch. And the more ambitious one becomes and the more one seeks to find an unsullied paradise the harder it becomes to hold on to hope.
When I announced I was leaving London three weeks ago to spend five days exploring the Maldives on board one of Sultans of the Seas’ newly launched fleet of super-yachts (I was on the 001 with a crew of four at my disposal), I have to confess my primary ‘holiday hope’ concern was that I would manage to return without having totally alienated all my friends by going off in the first place. The FTSE was in free fall, listening to the daily news was like facing a firing squad, an economic armageddon was patently imminent and autumn was already starting to bite. Trust me, I could feel the shards of envy emanating from even my most hedonistic allies.
‘But it’s a ten-hour flight to Colombo,’ I explained, trying to imply that despite overwhelming evidence pointing to the contrary (the promise of the Indian Ocean, Hockney-blue waters inhabited by the entire technicolour cast of Finding Nemo, sandbanks, sunny skies, warm winds, palm trees, hundreds of deserted islands coupled with unadulterated, unsurpassed, sensuous, barefoot luxury on board one of the Sultans’ sleekest sirens of the seas) that this was actually a trip to Hades, not heaven. ‘Then there’s a two-hour stopover before I have to catch a connecting flight to Malle. And then,’ I continued — my voice going rather hushed at this point — ‘then I have to transfer to a yacht and then… .’ I think it was possibly at this juncture that I lost my audience.
I took close family friend John Reid with me because my poor husband can’t handle the effect boats have on his equilibrium. Reidy has been in my life for over 30 years and is the most perfect travelling companion. He’s like Rupert Everett’s character in My Best Friend’s Wedding — and getting to Malle passed in a blur of laughing and talking. Our stopover in Colombo included complimentary foot massages — so civilised — and then it was just a short hop to the capital. As we stumbled out of the customs hall at eight in the morning I (naturally) started hoping the car would be there to greet us.
It wasn’t. The yacht itself was. Docked literally less than 40 feet outside the airport with Captain Hadhee and crew on deck bearing huge smiles, cold towels and a welcoming glass of champagne. It was love at first sight. Ten minutes later we were speeding away from civilisation and the holiday had truly begun. The 001 is a state-of-the-art ultra-luxurious beauty. So often ravishing yachts are marred by their ‘gin-bling’ interiors, but this was decorated as though James Bond had sought counsel from Nina Campbell. Buttery soft leather chairs, deep sofas, flat-screen plasma televisions (well stocked with all the latest DVDs), Bose sound systems: the two master suites are spacious, comfortable and well-appointed, as are the two additional cabins. Boys’ toys include two sets of powerful jet-skis, pristine snorkel and scuba equipment and a jacuzzi for soaking in at sundown.
The true luxury of hiring a yacht is that you can go wherever you want to go and stop whenever you want to stop; you are unhampered by schedules. It buys you total and utter freedom. Feel like a coma-inducing relaxing massage? Head towards Soneva Fushi or Banyan Tree and have one. Aerial photographs of the Maldives remind me of hundreds of Petri dishes scattered across vast open seas. Photographed from on high they are green-centred blobs, circled by a ring of impossibly white sand and then a layer of bright turquoise water. They look just like unwrapped Christo coral islands. Seeing them from the deck of a yacht is magical; on our first morning I spotted one I liked the look of and within seconds the crew had zoomed off in the tender, setting up umbrella, towels, snorkel, flippers and an icebox full of drinks before returning to fetch me. I was totally alone on the island for two hours. It was a surreal and Zen-like castaway experience. I lay in the sun just tickling my toes in the sand before swimming around the entire island. The water is crystal clear and it’s as though one has been plopped down inside an aquarium. Reidy stayed on deck viewing me through binoculars. ‘I feel a bit like Onassis,’ he declared. Every morning we went fishing at dawn, plucking sizable tuna and jackfish out of the sea, and then sat down and ate our bounty for lunch. It was delicious, like dining at a self-catering Nobu.
Not that we ever cooked. On board was the most superb chef producing delicious feasts from dawn to dusk; surpassing himself one starry, moonlit night by setting up a ‘restaurant’ for two on a deserted sandbank. Surrounded by candles set in the sand and serenaded by the soft waves, we drank Dom Perignon and looked out in awe at the panoramic view. ‘Thank God in a moment of insanity you once asked me to marry you,’ I murmured. ‘This is such a romantic setting I might have felt slightly deprived.’ During the day we watched synchronised dolphins arc beside the boat, flying fish buzz across the wake and harmless sand-sharks glide beneath us.
The morning we left paradise and returned to reality, the yacht passed through a double rainbow en route to the airport. Even I couldn’t have wished for a better finale. Hope floats.
Sarah Standing travelled as a guest on board The Sultans Way 001 (an Azimut 98 Leonardo), one of three luxury yachts available for private charter from Sultans of the Seas. www.sultansoftheseas.com. The Sultans Way 001 can be booked directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone +9603320330 and fax +9603320440. Rates start at E14,000 per day including all meals and soft drinks, diving and water sports and four hours of fuel a day. Resort islands visited were Banyan Tree (www.banyantree.com) and Soneva Fushi (www.sonevafushi.com).