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Arts & Music

Megayacht visits Tampa for maintenance

Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 11:00 AM

One of the ships lining the edge of Tampa's port this week wasn't quite like the others.

Most of the ships would fit in at virtually any port in the country: working-class freighters, tankers and cargo ships.

The Grand Luxe is different. The $40 million private yacht, built to be a high-end art gallery where the fabulously refined enjoy lavish dinners, is getting the once-over at the International Ship Repair & Marine Services.

"I call it a shave and a haircut," said Capt. Craig Matthews, who is supervising the renovations during the weeklong visit to the Port of Tampa's northernmost berth. On the outside, the bottom will be scraped and repainted. On the inside, everything gets a cleaning.

U.S. Coast Guard inspectors also will visit the boat and perform their once-every-two-year check of the vessel, Matthews said.

The majestic bow of the 228-foot megayacht can be glimpsed by motorists driving along Adamo Drive and commuters on the Selmon Expressway.

The Grand Luxe, operated by SeaFair out of Bonita Springs, is the fourth largest private yacht that sails under a U.S. flag.

The main function of the vessel is fine art, with the Grand Luxe functioning as a floating, mobile art gallery.

Lining its decks are 28 separate galleries. Artists and brokers come from near, like Miami, and far, like Paris. The galleries include paintings, sculpture, jewelry and more.

"We provide the venue and marketing," the captain said. The Grand Luxe sails as far north as Boston and as far south as Miami and up to Sarasota along Florida's West Coast.

The ship hasn't made it to Tampa yet, except for repairs, but there is a chance it could make an art-loaded visit here sometime in the next year or so, Matthews said.

Artists and brokers pay for the space aboard the boat. Patrons sometimes pay to come aboard, with fees generally in the $15 to $20 range, Matthews said.

Typically, 10,000 people come aboard during a five-day stay in any given city, he said.

Patrons come to look at and sometimes buy the art and are treated to sumptuous meals and fancy cocktails in the yacht's many restaurants and bars.

The sleek vessel was designed by internationally acclaimed yacht designer Luiz De Basto. Construction started in 2005 in Seattle and was finished in 2007 in Miami, Matthews said. He has been the only captain the Grand Luxe has ever known.

"It's a unique boat," he said. "She's not fast, but she handles great."

At 2,800 tons, the Grand Luxe is perhaps the largest ship that can navigate the Intracoastal Waterway, though it has and has a draft of only 6.5 feet. This allows the vessel to dock at small yacht facilities in central city locations rather than large commercial ports, he said.

"You won't see another boat this size running in the Intracoastal Waterway," Matthews said.

The yacht is home to a crew of eight, but before the Grand Luxe gets to its destination city, calls are made to hire up to 70 locals to help with ticketing, waiting tables and such, he said.

Matthews of St. Petersburg said he has been a captain for 30 years and has commanded everything from tug boats to casino boats. At 56, this probably will take him into retirement, he said.

But for now, Matthews said, he's hooked on commanding the Grand Luxe.

"I'm enjoying the ride on this boat," he said. "We are like the circus. We come to town, set up our tents, put out the red carpet and at the end of the week, break everything down and sail into the sunset."

kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760