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Setting sail with luxury Have yacht, will dance

Setting sail with luxury

Businessman waited for right time to pursue dream

Posted: Aug. 17, 2007 -

Businessman Sets Sail
Click to enlarge Photo/Mark Hoffman

Curtis Crain boards his 77-foot charter sailing ketch, Altair, at McKinley Marina. The $3 million yacht has accommodations for eight guests in four staterooms.

Click to enlarge Photo/Mark Hoffman
For Crain, captain and owner, the dream began 25 years ago

Click to enlarge Photo/Mark Hoffman

Curtis Crain's 77-foot luxury vessel has a main salon that accommodates 12 people for business meetings and catered meals.
From the deck of his 77-foot sailing yacht, Curtis Crain has a view of Milwaukee that he figures is worth $500 an hour.

This summer, Crain started a charter sailing service aimed at corporate executives and others willing to spend more than $10,000 for a weekend excursion on Lake Michigan.

His sailing ketch, named Altair, is a $3 million yacht with accommodations for eight guests in four staterooms. The luxury vessel has a main salon that accommodates 12 people for business meetings and catered meals.

It's a way to impress out-of-town clients with something they couldn't find in most cities, said Crain, a 55-year-old painting contractor.

With a growing number of affluent downtown residents, Crain thinks that Milwaukee is ready for a luxury charter yacht.

"The lakefront is a jewel that's been overlooked forever, in my opinion," he said. "For a city with a 360-degree view, we have only been using 180 degrees of it. If you look back at the city from the water, day or night, it's breathtaking."

Altair was built in New Zealand in the early 1980s and has a steel hull typical of larger motor yachts. The boat's interior is adorned with polished mahogany and a teak and holly floor. The galley has leaded glass cabinetry.

A weekend cruise, costing between $10,000 and $15,000, could start in Milwaukee and take in much of the Door County Peninsula.

"From Sturgeon Bay we could sail up the coast to Fish Creek, Nicolet Bay and Chamber's Island," Crain said. For another trip, the boat could sail from Milwaukee to Chicago.

Crain is Altair's captain and owner. Since June, he has taken about a half-dozen groups out on the lake for a variety of trips.

One client proposed marriage to his girlfriend on the boat. A couple celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary onboard, and a group of physicians from Ukraine used the boat for sightseeing.

Crain had wanted to start a charter service here 25 years ago with a 42-foot motor yacht. But for a variety of reasons, including a lack of lakefront development, the timing wasn't right.

Now there are $2 million condominiums downtown and a construction boom that's brought more prosperity to the area.

"Everywhere you look there's building going on, from the lakefront to the west side," Crain said. "When you come into the city at night, it looks light a Christmas tree all lighted up with construction lights. I think the focus of this city is getting stronger."

With a $500 to $600 hourly excursion rate, Crain understands that Altair won't be booked every week of the summer. A couple of charters per week are realistic, he said.

Business and more
For the winter, Crain might take Altair to the Caribbean where the boat could garner $20,000 a week for all-inclusive cruises. He's also planning to use the boat for non-profit purposes such as getting kids out on the water for free.

"This is not supposed to be pigeon-holed just for someone with deep pockets," Crain said.

Altair is strictly a business venture, rather than a tax write-off for his own personal use, Crain said.

Milwaukee has other charter boats, including a 34-foot sailing vessel operated by Seadog Sailing LLC.

The Seadog boat, named Blue Chip, isn't as luxurious as Altair. But it's not as expensive, either.

"I can earn $900 in a day with about four trips," said Bob De Vorse, Blue Chip's captain and owner.

About 85% of Blue Chip's patrons are visitors to the Milwaukee area or local families entertaining guests.

"Typically, I am taking out the family of four from Iowa," De Vorse said. "My customers aren't in the market for cruises costing thousands of dollars."

In Chicago, a 77-foot schooner named Red Witch charters for $550 per hour weekdays and $675 per hour on weekends.

But while Altair carries a maximum of 12 passengers, Red Witch will carry up to 49 people.

Red Witch owner Bruce Randall says time will tell whether Milwaukee can support an expensive charter yacht like Altair.

"In Chicago, there's not a question it could be done. But we are in Chicago, not Milwaukee," he said.

In his fourth season, Randall does about 10 charters per week.

Rating the rates
Randall doesn't quibble with the rates that Crain charges.

"Look at it this way: If you want to stay in a private suite at a mansion, it will cost you a lot more than a regular hotel," he said.

There's a growing number of companies in the Milwaukee area that spend tens of thousands of dollars on special events, including entertainment for out-of-town clients, said Dave Fantle with Visit Milwaukee, the area's tourism promotion agency.

"Under the right circumstances, the money is there . . . and I think a sailing yacht showcases an aspect of the city that a lot of other cities don't have," Fantle said.

Visit Altair on the Web at

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