Stews across the industry have felt what Chief Stew Jenny-lee Cecconi Watkins felt. Called upon time and again to hurriedly put together a beachside barbecue for guests, the crew was always forgetting something, forever chasing around plastic bags that were blown about on the beach, and occasionally breaking or scratching yacht tableware.
“On each yacht I’ve worked on, we always do beach barbecues with the owner and guests,” said Watkins, who has been in yachting more than six years. “Most of the time, nothing its planned; the owner decides at the last minute so all the crew are running everywhere on the boat trying to get everything ready on time. What a challenge.
“The captain always says ‘don’t forget anything’, and we always forget something,” she said with a chuckle.
It’s funny now, sitting in a coffee shop recalling memories, but it’s not funny when it’s happening, when the 10-minute tender ride out to the yacht and back means the guests won’t get the great cocktails you just mixed up.
There had to be a better way.
She began collecting all the items for picnics, but many of the items have other uses on the yacht and can’t sit waiting in a grab bag for the unannounced beach picnic. And even then, some items might get left behind. She wanted a padded bag, specially made to hold all the items she wanted to take ashore, and pretty enough to be seen by guests enjoying their private picnics on special beaches.
There weren’t any, so when her yacht, the 50m Feadship M/Y Sea Racer, came to Ft. Lauderdale for some refit work, she took some time to sketch one out herself. Now came the hard part, and likely the part where many stews with a similar idea before her gave up: finding someone to make it.
Growing up in Antibes, a career in yachting was inevitable, but Watkins has a bit more drive, or at least determination, than the average stew. She began reaching out to manufacturers to help her with a prototype.
One by one, manufacturers all across the United States refused. The job was too small, they said. They would only make 100 or 1,000 of them bags. Watkins wanted to start with just one to make sure it would work. And so she kept looking. Over a year, she reached out to 68 manufacturers, but she wouldn’t give up.
After having C-Worthy, a custom yacht canvas company in Pompano Beach, Fla., do some work on her yacht, she asked one of the installers if his company might help her with a prototype. He thought it would.
“It’s hard to find someone to prototype,“ said Carol Dykes, owner of C-Worthy Corp. “It takes a lot of time. Usually, what’s going to happen is you put the time into the design and then they send the manufacturing overseas.”
Watkins’ designs were different.
“I think that it’s custom enough, exclusive enough that we’ll keep manufacturing them for her,” Dykes said.
Watkins worked with Dykes and a stitcher named Charlene for a year, tweaking the designs, each time paying the C-Worthy staff to invest a little more time, a little more energy in making the bag the way she envisioned it. The final prototypes were ready just in time for the Ft. Lauderdale boat show in late October.
Watkins’ line of water resistant bags include three styles: one for cocktail parties with compartments for glasses and bottles for up to 21 guests, one for a picnics with compartments for entree plates, dessert plates, bread and butter plates, glasses, cutlery and napkins (one size for 6-12 guests, one for 10-18 guests), and an insulated one for the chef’s pans of food to keep them level and covered.
“Each item has its own compartment so that if any of them are empty, you know you’ve forgotten something,” she said. “At the moment in the market you can only find some picnic bags for two, four or six guests, nothing for 12 guests or more.”
She didn’t go into the project empty-handed. Although she won’t discuss how much she’s invested in her business, she not only paid C-Worthy but she’s patented all her designs with a lawyer and ordered professional-looking marketing materials. She’s marketing the bags not just to yacht stews but to wedding planners and caterers, too.
She has gotten lots of calls, she said, and three larger yachts are placing orders. But sales have been slow. On first blush, the bags are expensive, ranging from $2,500-$4,000 each, and they are made to order so they take a little time to deliver.
But they also come stocked with upgraded melamine plates in several design options and polycarbonate glassware that is unbreakable, doesn’t cloud and is dishwasher safe. Those items are always available so if one piece gets damaged or lost, it can be replaced without having to buy an entire new set, another problem she said her bags help stews solve.
Maybe beach picnic-specific bags aren’t a new idea, but Watkins put in the energy to bring one to life. And Superyachtbeachbags.com was born.
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.