The decision to invest in a new yacht is so much more than just a purchase — it can be a life-changing experience. Yacht ownership is about the beauty of life at sea, making lasting memories, and joining a community of fellow yacht owners.
At Atlantic Cruising Yachts, we want our owners to begin this life-changing journey with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This past April, we welcomed new Aura 51 owners on a trip to La Rochelle, France to discover their new yacht, meet with Fountaine Pajot leadership, and explore the areas surrounding the Fountaine Pajot factory.
James Tiernan, president of Atlantic Cruising Yachts Texas, recounts his trip in this personal blog:
This past April, Fountaine Pajot invited Atlantic Cruising Yachts and their clients to a private preview event to celebrate the new Aura 51 in La Rochelle, France. The team at ACY took this exclusive opportunity and brought it to a whole new level, organizing a weeklong event for the new Aura 51 owners to visit La Rochelle and its surrounding areas. Throughout their trip, they had the opportunity to experience private test sails, private factory tours, owner events with the best French cuisine and wine, and even a trip to beautiful Saint-Émilion.
Here is a summary of how the week went:
Monday – Day 1 – Welcome Party
On Monday, everyone began to arrive at the hotel, La Monnaie, a beautiful little building in the heart of La Rochelle. As guests arrived, the ACY team was there to welcome them with a tasty glass of champagne or French wine to help them get settled.
The buzz to see the new Aura 51 was in the air, and everyone shared the same excitement. Eugenie, a member of the ACY team, planned a beautiful cocktail reception at the hotel’s little garden at 6 PM, giving everyone some time to rest and freshen up after their day spent traveling. As guests arrived, they were greeted with champagne, wine, and light snacks. It was great to see a group of 30 strangers mingle and hit it off immediately.
President Chris Bent gave a lovely welcome speech and Eugenie gave us a quick rundown of the week’s agenda, with the help of Kris Vereen.
As the cocktails flowed everyone began to break off into smaller groups. Each yacht consultant had their own group of buyers who were each treated to a private meal in different locations.
I had two awesome couples join me for dinner in Bar Andre, one of my favorite seafood restaurants in La Rochelle. We shared a lovely bottle of Sancerre, delicious oysters, sea bass, crème brûlée, Cognac, and some great conversation. Before this trip, we didn’t know each other. We all come from such different walks of life, so it was great to spend a few hours talking about everything and anything.
The group was full of people with all different kinds of backgrounds, including a couple from the airplane sales industry, yacht salesmen, a captain, and an IT guru and his lovely wife. Only a unique event like this one could bring us together, but we’re so glad it did! I know we all made friends for life on this trip.
Of course, we could not go to bed without a nightcap, so I and the two boys (clients) stopped at the hotel where we shared a lovely 21-year-old Cognac! Thanks, Matt!
Tuesday – Day 2 – The Aura 51!
Finally, after two years of excitement, we got to see the immaculate Aura 51. One of my clients had put an order in for this boat before we even knew any details, so this day was a long time coming.
Since our group was so large, we were split into 4 groups so as not to overcrowd the boat. Eugenie had organized for four beautiful Mercedes vans to pick us up from the hotel and transport us to Les Minimes where the 51 sat in all her beauty.
To say everyone was “pleasantly surprised” is a vast understatement. She blew us all away. Her size was one of the most notable factors. As we walked up to the dock, the freeboard must have been about 8’-10’, or so it felt. While standing on the dock, she really felt like a small 59 to us. While onboard she felt spacious and well laid-out but did not feel overwhelming. She felt like a true cruiser. Everything came together perfectly and felt like it was in the right place.
After exploring the boat, the captain quickly had us off the dock and out sailing. The sails were the beautiful, dark gray offshore sails. While we did not have much wind, she sailed surprisingly well in such light conditions.
Once we finished our test sail we had a great presentation and Q&A session with Fountaine Pajot. Our clients loved this (and we did, too)!
Then, another beautiful meal was prepared for us. Fountaine Pajot had organized the naval architect Berret Racoupeau to join us, which was a very special opportunity for our owners. Each individual owner had the opportunity to meet and talk with him, and even received a signed picture of the Aura 51!
The afternoon was then free for everyone to relax and explore the quaint, lovely town of La Rochelle.
That evening ACY had organized a group meal at the best restaurant in La Rochelle, Les 4 Sergents. At this point in the trip, our group was full of 30 best friends. Everyone was having such a great time. The food was delicious, the wine was great, and the conversation was even better. To top it all off, Mr. and Mrs. Fountaine even stopped by to say hello to everyone!
After dinner, some went back to the hotel for some rest, but some of us went across the street to a French bar called The Cave. The bartender, Julie, treated everyone extremely well, and the celebrations continued until close to midnight when both jetlag and alcohol started to kick in. What an amazing day!
Day 3 – Fountaine Pajot Factory Tour
Despite how many times I have been, this tour is still an amazing experience. It’s hard to really get an understanding and put into words how it all really works.
Once again, the Mercedes picked us up that morning and brought us to the factory in Aigrefeuille d’Aunis. This is where much of the core range is built. As we entered the gates to the factory an American flag flew high beside the French flag to welcome the American clients and guests. It was a wonderful welcome. We were greeted by the main FP people, including Laurent Fabre, Steve Geadeux, Alex, Ben, and Caroline.
We were given a lovely presentation and history lesson and then brought around the factory to see how everything is completed from start to finish. A special moment in my group was when one of my clients got to see his boat on the production line. Aura 51 #7, which is the first Aura for the U.S. Unfortunately, we could not take pictures inside the factory, but we have enough memories to look back on.
Fountaine Pajot then finished our visit by thanking everyone for coming and giving each owner a present of local Cognac samples.
That afternoon was free for the clients to explore, and ACY treated the team to the most amazing dinner I’ve ever experienced. I don’t think words will do it justice, but I’ll try. This was a beautiful, private event house (Mer 180) on the coast of La Rochelle. We were treated to great service and a visit with a famous French chef who once starred in the show Top Chef Johan Leclerre, Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF). Rather than attempting to describe the exquisite food and drinks, I’ll just show you.
This was a meal fit for royalty, and it’s things like this that help ACY attract the best in the business. Everyone works hard and an evening of appreciation like this makes us all want to work harder for such a great company. Thank you, ACY!
Of course, it wasn’t a surprise to see everyone back in The Cave to keep the party going where Julie was treating our clients like regulars. At one point, the French Clients sang the U.S. National Anthem, and the U.S. clients sang the French National Anthem. It was such a fun evening!
Day 4 – We Traded Boats for Wine
Chris Bent, president of ACY, planned a special excursion for us all early the next morning. Again, the Mercedes picked us up at 8 AM and drove us to Saint-Émilion.
Our first stop was a beautiful, famous vineyard called Clos Dubreuil. It is owned and run by the son of one of the most famous wine families in the world, Benoit Trocard. Even though Benoit is still involved in the famous family vineyards, this is his own project. It was interesting to see his twist of modern and traditional influences incorporated into how he ran the vineyard. I truly appreciated his passion as it was inspiring both to watch and to feel.
After the tour, we had the chance to sample his delicious wine. I made sure to stand beside the wine guru himself, Chris Bent, to listen to his comments. I’m a wine lover myself but have not gotten to the point where I can taste chocolate, leather, tobacco, roses, etc., so that was a learning experience for me. Benoit also walked us through the wines and gave a great presentation on each one.
Next, it was lunchtime! After the previous late night, early morning, and a few glasses and tastes of wine, everyone was ready for lunch and, yet again, Chris Bent knocked it out of the park. We were treated in Saint-Émilion to a lovely champagne reception lunch in an older, charming building. The food was incredible!
Across from the restaurant is a wine store that belongs to a friend of Chris Bent. After lunch, the group went for a walk to explore the beautiful village of La Rochelle.
Next up was a private wine tasting. Chris Bent’s friend, also named Benoit, pulled out all the stops. Everyone had an amazing time, and the group seemed to be having more and more fun as each bottle was opened and tasted. We were even treated to a taste from a bottle from 1953! It was such a fantastic experience. Thank you, Chris Bent and Benoit! I know everyone had an amazing time.
Right on time, the Mercedes vans picked us up and from there it was a two-hour drive home. I don’t think anyone kept an eye open the whole way home. It may have been the quietest the group had been all week!
That evening everyone was tired. Some went to a bar for dinner and drinks, but most relaxed. I chose to get some Chinese takeaway and watch a movie in the hotel room.
Day 5 – Time to Go Home for Most
On Friday, most people parted ways. Quite a few had plans to explore France a little more before heading home.
I have clients who have the first U.S. Aura 51 coming out of the factory in May, so I stayed in La Rochelle with them a little longer. We spent two days together, with the help of Ken Krasco, making sure everything he wanted was on track. The customers appreciated the extra time we got to spend there, and left feeling happy and excited.
Overall, between the amazing Aura debut, the reception from Fountaine Pajot, the extra mile Chris Bent and ACY went, the food, the wine, and the awesome company, this trip was certainly one for the record books! We left feeling enamored and with enough memories to last a lifetime.