SAN FRANCISCO — What can you buy for $20,000? How about hosting a very special party?
For $20,000 you can rent a yacht for the night, fully staffed, of course: captain and crew, maitre d', chef, a pair of stewards, bartender, even a musician or two if you like.
They'll throw in a fantastic five-course dinner party for 40 of your dearest friends, and you may dine while cruising slowly around San Francisco Bay, perhaps slipping outside the Golden Gate for a last peek at the sunset.
And when you tire of being the ultimate cordial host, just tell your captain to head for Pier 39, bid your friends adieu and set off again for the Land of Nod.
Yes, you and your mate may have a nightcap as you glide away, then retire to the master stateroom for a good night's sleep. The yacht will dock for the night at one of several marinas in the Bay Area.
In the morning, at your leisure, have coffee and breakfast in bed, or you may choose to be served out on the deck in order to watch the day begin and the city stir to life.
State of the Art
All this takes place aboard the new luxury yacht Golden Sunset, the latest vessel in Pier 39's Blue & Gold Fleet.
The yacht was built in Westport, Wash., at a cost of $1.3 million, and another $400,000 was spent on luxurious furnishings and appointments. It represents the state of the art in everything from hull design to the built-in stereo and video systems, rosewood paneling and white brushed-suede walls and ceiling in the main salon.
The sleek 75-footer has three decks, an open-air wing bridge with wet bar, where the party generally begins, and a formal dining area and rounded teak bar in the salon. The lower deck houses a full-service galley, the master stateroom with Jacuzzi, guest stateroom and separate crew quarters.
Even before a party begins, maitre d' Alain Pierret goes to work to make the arrangements, and these can be quite elaborate. For a soiree scheduled next spring, he plans to rent a pair of elephants to transport the honored guests down to the yacht.
When Mayor Dianne Feinstein entertained Prince Gayendra of Nepal aboard the yacht in June (after the prince donated a pair of rhinoceroses to the San Francisco Zoo), Pierret found a Nepalese flag to hoist in honor of the royal guest.
"This really is more than just another party boat," said Moke McGowan, director of marketing for Blue & Gold Fleet.
"From the beginning design stages, our goal was to maintain the integrity of a yacht, to build as fine a vessel as you'd find in the Greek Islands or off the French Riviera, one that gives you the feeling of 'this is my yacht, a place to entertain my friends.' "
McGowan plans to list the $20,000 party in Neiman-Marcus' Christmas catalogue, the ultimate wish book.
Meanwhile, if $20,000 is a strain on your budget, the yacht is also available for a mere $700 an hour (minimum of three hours), but of course that's just the basic rate. From there, one works closely with Pierret to plan a menu, hors d'oeuvres, bar service, flower arrangements and so forth, all at additional cost.
A recent three-hour floating dinner party for corporate executives totaled about $6,000.
In keeping with the luxury yacht feeling, place settings are sterling silver, crystal and china. Guests are served by formally clad stewards.
One client insisted on, and was provided, 95-year-old Louis XIV cognac. Others have had fine wines imported from France, Germany and Italy, as well as the best of the Napa Valley.
Limousine Land Leg
Now for your $20,000 never-to-be-forgotten night, you will be transported to the yacht by limousine and you may have a photographer on board to record the excursion and give you a handsome album as a keepsake.
Your dinner party will feature fine wines, Dom Perignon champagne, a premium stocked bar, menus that you design in consultation with Pierret and executive chef Brant Good, your selection of floral arrangements, your choice of cruise route and the marina where you'll stay overnight.
The yacht may also be chartered for private weekend excursions in the California Delta or down the coast to Monterey, for executive retreats or corporate board meetings, and for any occasions that calls for very special treatment.
On an evening in mid-September, a wedding and reception for 90 guests was hosted aboard the Golden Sunset.
The bride's parents, Frank and Sally Graham of Cupertino, Calif., wrote a thank-you letter to the crew: "Every detail necessary for a memorable wedding day was attended to with great care. The service was lovely . . . the food was outstanding and elegantly presented. The wedding cake too was a work of art. Thank you all."
The staff has the impeccable credentials befitting a luxury yacht.
Capt. Patrick Morgan, 30, grew up living aboard a sailboat in Hawaii and has been sailing ever since, delivering yachts between California and Hawaii and studying at the California Maritime Academy. He joined the fleet in 1979, after earning his captain's license.