Uncharted Waters: Leap into Entrepreneurship with Erik Barreto of Rascal Voyages
A native of the U.K. who’s lived in Asia for a decade now, Erik Barreto is the embodiment of what must be the ultimate expat dream. Founder and co-owner of Rascal Voyages, a ‘barefoot luxury’ yacht charter that sails the remote crystal waters of the Indonesian archipelago, Erik has managed to turn his passion for tropical weekend sails around the region into a living.
We speak to the former analyst who was first posted to Singapore in 2008 for a gig in the O&G industry, and learn the secrets to his striking career-switch.
HNW: You sell beautiful experiences for a living. What’s the most beautiful moment of your life?
Erik Barreto: Seeing Rascal take her maiden voyage after a long build process. As our first yacht, it was a real triumph.
Why the name “Rascal”?
“Rascal” was conceptualised by myself and two other owners, Tom and Steve. We wanted a name that represented our collective sense of adventure—but most importantly reflect our desire to create an unpretentious, ‘barefoot luxury’ hospitality experience, and a departure from existing private-charter models.
You were an analyst in the O&G industry before making the leap into entrepreneurship with your partners. Is passion alone enough to sustain a business?
I think if you believe that you have a viable concept and the motivation to make it work, anything is possible. We’re lucky to partner with professionals who are the best in their field, and have a great team who share our passion and are able to bring their individual skillset to the team to make our dream a reality. It doesn’t always work out first time though, so keep trying and stay focused!
What are you thankful for, in terms of your success thus far?
My team, who are always pioneering, and do not give up. We have worked together for years and with all of us coming from the corporate world, I am grateful that we are able to make quick decisions and resolve any differences in opinion over a cold beer or game of tennis.
What has been the greatest challenge in launching and running Rascal Voyages thus far?
The build process was definitely the greatest challenge. It was our first experience building a boat, so we inevitably came across many unexpected hurdles, not least, translating the design of a Western superyacht with all of the modern conveniences we wanted to include, whilst still respecting the traditional phinisi craftsmanship.
Working in a foreign land with differences in language, culture and bureaucratic norms has proved too much for some would-be entrepreneurs.
It has been a learning curve. The development of Rascal took almost five years in total, so we had plenty of time to build strong relationships with the team and really get to know them. The Konjo shipbuilders we worked with do everything by eye and typically do not work from any technical drawings or plans. We spent a lot of time discussing our vision with the local team and trusting them to bring our ideas to life.
How ‘hands-on’ were you in the build process?
We’d constantly be travelling back and forth to the boat, during the 2-year building process: checking in with the team and trying to build a rapport with them whilst ensuring everything was going to plan. Rascal was built in Tana Beru, South Sulawesi, and it’s a remote fishing village, so the trips there alone were no small feat. The flying time from Singapore to Sulawesi is a total of 6 hours, and from the airport, it’s another hair-raising 5-hour drive to Tana Beru. One upside was that our driver Agus would treat us to rustic roadside delicacies whenever we stopped to stretch our legs along the way.
What is the appeal of sailing on a Phinisi boat?
The Phinisi yacht has a rich history, which spans over one hundred years, and possesses strong design features. Tana Beru, where we built Rascal, is home to a long line of master boat builders whose skills have been passed down through generations for hundreds of years. These craftsmen built the hull using hand-selected pieces of ironwood and use traditional methods of bending the wood over a hot open fire. With Rascal, we have taken the traditional design features and upgraded them, creating an elegant vessel that is sensitive to its stunning surroundings. It merges the traditional heritage of the phinisi with the modern conveniences of a Western superyacht.
Luxury yachts aren’t particularly known for having a positive environmental impact.
Rascal sails through some of the most beautiful, untouched waters on the planet, and we are dedicated to keeping it this way. Environmental consciousness is deeply embedded in our corporate mindset, particularly in terms of sustaining local communities and reducing the negative impacts of tourism in Raja Ampat. All our built-in furniture was handmade by traditionally trained, highly skilled local boat carpenters, and, where possible, all textiles and materials were locally sourced from Sulawesi, Lombok and Sumatra, and handmade brass hardware from Bali. This enabled us to remain economical in terms of our environmental footprint, in addition to giving back to local communities by purchasing from local craftsmen and providing employment opportunities.
What is your ultimate vision for Rascal?
Our vision is to carve a niche in the private charter industry by offering luxury experiential cruises to some of Asia’s most remote waters. We plan to develop a Rascal fleet, where we will introduce more phinisis in the region—namely the Indonesian Archipelago, Malaysia, Singapore and the Maldives. Each yacht will be built-to-order, taking design inspiration from their respective surroundings. We will offer luxurious cruises to magnificent, untouched locations, with unforgettable hospitality experiences—from pop-up island dinners to onboard cocktail parties.
Lastly, what is your best advice for someone who wishes to quit their day job and pursue a dream?
Stay focused, have a good support system and take the hard with the smooth—there were times in our early days when it got very tough, but it all paid off in the end.