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Lionshare— still going strong after 35 years

Why is the 40-meter / 130-foot Heesen-built motor yacht Lionshare so special? She is not a particularly big boat by today’s standards. And at 35-years old, she is hardly a new boat.  So, what is it that makes Lionshare so well loved by the families who have owned her; the captains and crew who have served her; and the repeat charter guests who keep coming back for more?

Over the years, Lionshare has clearly garnered a large number of fans. And the writer of this piece is one of them. Back in 2005, I was invited to spend a week aboard Lionshare in the Caribbean cruising from St Lucia to Petit St Vincent in the Grenadines. Captain Greg Havens and his crew made sure we experienced the quintessential Lionshare-style charter. Motoring close to exquisite coastlines, anchoring in tucked away bays, jet skiing, snorkeling in caves, kayaking, hiking on and exploring the islands, cocktails in the hot tub, fine dining, and a lot of laughter all made for a memorable time.

Havens handed over the reins of his captainship to his first mate Graham Lloyd about five years ago. Havens was the captain for American owner Stuart Roffman for 15-some years. Lloyd jokes that Havens was in danger of becoming a fossil on the yacht. ( Havens now works on G3, a 44-meter/ 144-foot Heesen).

In a recent conversation to Captain Lloyd, I learned that Lionshare is, in fact, one the most successful charter yachts around. It appears she has all the right ingredients.  “She simply works well,” says, Lloyd. She can sleep 12 in five cabins and has what amounts to two equal -size master staterooms, which is always a plus on a yacht. She sports a clean uncluttered feel both on deck and in the open salon. “We did 26 charter weeks in one year, says Graham, which is a lot by any industry standard.” While it’s important that a yacht be commodious and comfortable for guests, it is a known fact that the key to the best charters is having a fabulous crew. Graham says that Lionshare’s crew has longevity, many have stayed for several years, and a few have left and come back again. This is a strong testament to both the owners of the yacht and the captains.

Former owner, Roffman, whose astrological sign is Leo, named the yacht, and it has stuck. Roffman explains why he loves Lionshare. “She has the Heesen pedigree. She is extremely well built and has a lot of volume for her size.”  He also remarks that Heesen was ahead of its time. “Their designs were way more contemporary than their competitors, he says, “If you go aboard other yachts of Lionshare’s vintage, they  look like grandma’s parlor.” Now that he has sold the boat, Roffman is considering moving up in size and has been talking to Heesen about a larger yacht.

Lionshare has had several refits and refurbishments since she was launched. During the one in 2004, Roffman worked with France -based yacht designer, Clifford Denn who is currently designing new Heesen models.  “We changed the stern, says Denn, “and opened up the interior so that the salon and dining area are all one. You can now see all the way down the main deck master from the salon. We added hardwood floors and did a basic refresh on soft furnishings. We also added a hot tub on the sundeck. The outside exterior upper deck is enormous for this size boat. During the refit, they removed the davits that  held the tenders to free up deck space. Denn adds, “We also lowered the bulwarks on the decks to have more visibility outside.” A new passerelle was also incorporated. “The yacht feels very modern and fresh.” says Denn.

The current owners, the Willners, are first time yacht owners. “ We used to charter,” says Jeff Willner, “So we got a taste of what yacht ownership would be like.” Canadians, based in Toronto, Willner and his wife are both CEOs of large companies and presumably could have any number of yachts, but they have chosen Lionshare and could not be happier with her. “She is a perfect yacht for our family, and she also works well as a charter yacht,” says Willner.” The Willners have three teenagers and often teens do not often want to go on vacation with their parents, but Wilner says, “ Lionshare trumps all. Our kids love being on the boat, there is so much for them to do onboard.”  He adds that during the Covid-19 pandemic, the yacht was a perfect refuge for getting away, feeling secure, and enjoying family time.

Buying Lionshare appealed to the Willners because they knew she had a track record of being a highly  successful charter yacht. “I was told no one makes money from charter but having a chartering helps defray running costs and keeps the crew active.” Willner  is founder of Kensington Tours, a high-end travel company. He is well apprised of five star hotel service, and he has imparted the same ethos of excellence onto Lionshare.  In 2020, the Willners added new furnishings on deck and updated the soft goods and art in the interior and replaced carpets in the staterooms. He also upgraded and enhanced the crew quarters. “She is as clean as a newly shined penny,” says Willner. “We have all the amenities of a luxury resort, including a massage therapist and certified dive instructor. The yacht has a full retinue of water toys, beach sets ups, and we tow a 32-foot Intrepid.”

Kensington Tours has now expanded its offerings to offer yacht charter to its client base  with its division called Kensington Yacht. Willner feels that his charter guests will be able to take advantage of his company’s expertise. Edita Kara, the director of Kensington Yacht says, “with Lionshare we are bringing the best of sea and land together as we book the yacht for our Kensington clients together with luxury accommodations and unique experiences. She is mainly focused on families, so our land product matches the clientele in terms of arranging cooking classes, family fun active tours etc. along with luxury accommodations before or after their charter.” The Willners enjoy sharing their yacht with others. Willner is on the board of the Royal Ontario Museum and has offered time aboard Lionshare for fundraising auctions for the museum.

“We did 8 charter weeks to repeat clients last year,” says, Graham. “We are pushing to get back up the 20s in terms of weeks.” Lionshare is in the Caribbean in the winter and in the Mediterranean in the summer. She has done more than 30 Atlantic crossings on her own bottom, which is impressive.  Lionshare is a work horse and judging by her continued success— even over Covid—she is most definitely  standing the test of time. Lionshare is a testament to a well built yacht, a good design, conscientious owners, and an excellent captain and crew.

Written by Jill Bobrow

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