Eric Benson, casually dressed in a freshly ironed sky-blue linen shirt and white trousers, looks as if he stepped out the pages of Gentlemen’s Quarterly.
The quintessential yacht owner, he looks tanned, handsome and relaxed. His girlfriend, Valentina Coghlan—all smiles and captivating dimples—looks perfectly exquisite simply clad in a T-shirt and yoga pants. The striking Coghlan is thoughtful, intelligent, and every bit as unassuming as Benson. I caught up with this charming couple just before the Monaco Yacht Show to find out how their summer aboard their new yacht went and whether Satori lived up to their expectations. Their unbridled enthusiasm is refreshing. Their personal adventure of “big boat” yachting has proven an unparalleled experience, which they are gracious to share.
Benson, who is from the Midwest, grew up with anything but a “big yacht” heritage. His love affair with boats had modest beginnings aboard Sunfishes and Hobie Cats on inland lakes around Michigan. Raised with the typical American work ethic, he maintained odd jobs on weekends and after school and then worked his way through college. He has been in the construction and steel industry for nearly 25 years. While he remains chairman of the company he founded, a year ago he stepped aside as president and CEO, happily leaving the day-to-day operations “in the capable hands of others.”
Ready to reap the hard-earned rewards of his perspicacious work life, he has made a conscious decision to take the time to “smell the roses.” Among the things he always wanted to do was build his dream yacht and go cruising.
“I figured I had worked long and hard enough. A lot of my friends thought I would have difficulty staying away from the office, but there are so many places to go and things to do. Being geographically far from headquarters helps suppress any urges I may have to check in at the office. We have just done 15 weeks on the boat and roughly 7,000 nautical miles,” he says. Coghlan pipes in, “We were recently away for nine days and when we got to Monaco, we had to suppress the urge to run back to the boat!”
Life aboard Satori proves hard to resist. Both Benson and Coghlan extol the virtues of their chef. While they have partaken of numerous Michelin-star restaurants up and down the Med, their favorite dining, hands down, is aboard Satori. One would wonder how this couple stays so fit and trim with such delectable food on board. The answer is healthy, fresh, market food and plenty of exercise. There is fitness equipment on board with a very popular rowing machine that has spawned many a rigorous and humbling competition among the guests and even the crew. There are plenty of toys that encourage exercise, such as paddleboards, kayaks and SeaBobs. Also, there are numerous active onshore outings, where hiking, walking and running are involved.
I asked what Benson enjoyed most about his boat, and his unconditional answer was: “Sharing it with family and friends. It has been our greatest pleasure to open our hearts and share this experience with our friends. We have had boatloads of people all summer; some business associates, longtime friends and family. Few had previously experienced life aboard a yacht such as ours. At the end of their stays, they all exclaimed it was an amazing time and some said it was the best vacation of their lives.”
Benson and Coghlan credit their impeccable crew with making life on board seem like a dream. It is not easy to have guests 24/7 for a week or longer. “For a new boat, everything has worked remarkably well since we took delivery. We are proud of our boat and proud of our crew. The boat is always clean; the crew always looks sharp; everything is shipshape, and as protocol would have it, at sunset our flag comes down. I judge the quality of our crew by how much fun my guests are having. And thus far, everyone who steps aboard Satori becomes transformed.”
Benson underwent a transformation of his own. Despite late nights during the Grand Prix, midnight dinners in Ibiza and occasional Mediterranean club life till the wee morning hours, both Benson and Coghlan are relatively early risers. Their morning routine includes coffee, a workout for Benson and yoga for Coghlan, then breakfast with their guests. Yet, the pace aboard is very relaxed, something that Benson had to learn. Coghlan encouraged him to relax into a Mediterranean pace and not stress over schedules or dinner time.
On a private tour of the Picasso museum in Antibes, Benson heard what Picasso said about life in Antibes and what he liked about it. “It is not Antibes itself,” the artist purportedly said, “it is the Mediterranean lifestyle.It brings joy to people; there is no place else in the world like it.”
Benson agrees. “Have you ever noticed that no one asks for a coffee to go here in the Med? They simply sit and drink one at a café…for hours,” Benson says. “What is not to like about lunches at Club 55 in Saint-Tropez, or at Juan y Andrea in Formentera, Ibiza? The coastline of Sardinia is fantastic,” he adds. Coghlan pipes in, “Yes, and what about Croatia and Montenegro?” The two agree: They liked it all.
In addition to all the fabulous destinations Satori allowed them to discover, Benson and Coghlan are very pleased with the way the boat flows inside and out. While the interior is beautiful, they admit they spend most of their time outside and have had the vast majority of their meals on deck. The upper deck is wide to facilitate conversation flow. The stabilizers keep the boat calm for mealtime.
“There is a fabulous freedom being on a yacht. Maybe I’ll get tired of the life, but I don’t think so. We are already planning to use the boat much of this winter in the Caribbean,” he says.
Coghlan excuses herself to change into something simple and white. White is the theme aboard Satori and perhaps it is the underlying theme of the pure pleasure on board the yacht. The word “satori” is the Japanese Buddhist term for individual enlightenment. It is a flash of sudden awareness and the first step toward nirvana. Moreover, satori is a deep or lasting realization of the nature of existence. Some say satori is the raison d’être of Zen. Eric Benson and Valentina Coghlan have Satori. Now, let’s see where it leads them.