Riding high

08 Feb 2018
4 min read
From carbon fibre efficiency to colour-changing exteriors, the super rich are blowing a fortune on their superyachts, by Julia Brandon.
Savvy sailing

In the world of the super elite, there’s no such thing as ‘standard’. They don’t opt for a middle of the range Lamborghini, or lust after a second rate penthouse. But even for the most savvy of ultra high net worth individuals, there is one weak spot that brings out both the boyhood passion for one upmanship as well as a careless disregard for safe investment. An Achilles heel that once indulged in is rarely discarded: the superyacht.

Defined as a luxury yacht over 30m in length a superyacht is one of the few remaining accolades that can impress those that usually want for nothing. The number of superyacht owners in the world—estimated to be around 2,000—is comparatively small alongside the 200,000 ultra high net worth individuals, who by that very term are deemed to be worth at least £20 million each. But when you consider that the average sales price of a superyacht stands at a substantial £10-30 million, and at the extreme end of the spectrum can rise to an incredible £390 million, it’s easy to see that this boy’s toy is often out of reach for even those packing a hefty fortune.

And then of course there are the annual running costs to consider. Consuming on average around 500L of diesel an hour, the operating costs of a superyacht usually add up to 10 per cent of its initial value once crew salaries, dockage, maintenance and repairs and vessel insurance have also been taken into account. And much like driving a Ferrari off the forecourt, a superyacht depreciates in value faster than you can pronounce its name.

So what is the attraction to owning one? “Most people would say I’m crazy!” says Charles ‘Buddy’ Darby III, owner of 47m sailing yacht Andromeda la Dea, and developer of St Kitt’s-based luxury resort and marina Christophe Harbour. “But it’s just a beautiful and very fortunate way of being able to travel around the world—a self-contained environment that is six star in every way.”

While a sailing yacht may not boast all the contemporary features and toys of a motoryacht, the latest offerings are certainly proving to be as innovative in design and comfort as their motorised cousins. Italian shipbuilder Perini Navi is the only shipyard that also designs its own yachts. Specialising in sailing yachts, its latest delivery, Perseus, is a 60m sloop with a towering carbon fibre mast of more than 75m.

“The design of Perseus has been significantly optimised for performance and represents a decisive technical step forward,” says Burak Akgul, managing director for sales marketing and design at Perini. “For the first time ever on a Perini, Perseusis equipped with a carbon bowsprit. The larger downwind sailing areas gained by this feature together with her 75m carbon fibre mast and carbon fibre standing rigging allow her to set some of the largest downwind sails in the world.”

The ultimate status symbol in size and design, many of us are only ever acquainted with the untouchable superyacht sphere via the media and its fascination with the rich and famous. Retail tycoon Sir Philip Green is often papped on his beloved 63m motoryacht Lionheart, which he used as the venue to host his 60th birthday bash welcoming Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Campbell and Gwyneth Paltrow among his guests on board. While Roberto Cavalli’s yacht, originally named Roberto Cavalli, boasts a special colour-changing paint on its exterior that can look dark blue in the morning and gold come the evening, and even matches the paint work on both his car and helicopter.

But for most owners the superyacht is their sanctuary. It provides a safe haven away from prying eyes where a level of normality that so often eludes their day-to-day life can resume. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s vessel Eclipse is entirely bullet and bomb proof, and is rumoured to be equipped with an ‘anti-paparazzi shield’ that is activated by camera flashlights. It held the title of the largest yacht in the world for an incredible three years before it was literally eclipsed by the Emirati royal family’s 180m yacht Azzam, launched in 2013 by German shipbuilder Lürssen.

Both these yachts are at the acute end of the scale, but it’s not always all about size. Mark Cavendish, marketing director of world-leading Dutch shipbuilder Heesen Yachts, renowned for its aluminium fast displacement hull design which can see yachts of up to 70m cut through water at top speeds of almost 30 knots, says many owners are interested in high speeds and fuel efficiency, but it’s how owners are now choosing to use their yachts that is driving a demand for a higher level of customisation.

“Yachts are becoming more like floating beachside real estate,” he says. “You’ve now got owners who want a much closer connection with the sea and modern technology allows you to do that—bigger glass windows for instance gives you more connection with the world around you.”

Senior designer Catherine Parker at superyacht design firm, Ken Freivokh Design, agrees: “Owners want to see innovation and have a desire to push technological boundaries on-board their superyachts.They also request that the design ensures privacy, but at the same time the market for large wide-open and panoramic views from the saloons is strong, brought about by the advancements in glass technology, and there is a wish to access the sea easily, with large beach clubs full of state-of-the-art tenders and toys.”

Both Steven Jobs’ family yacht Venus (which is run using iMacs) and Steven Spielberg’s yacht Seven Seas exemplify the advances made in glass technology. Venus features a large pane of special glass that runs around the ship’s side and bow to look like an Apple store, while Seven Seas features a projector which will throw an image onto the glass wall of an infinity pool acting as a make-shift cinema.

And the same now applies to audio and visual advances too. Will Faimatea, owner of Bond TM, a technology management and consultancy, says communication developments have improved so greatly that owners can now operate on their vessel in the same way that they would when ashore.

“The largest potential impact on design is the flat panel array which has been promoted for the last several years as the ‘holy grail’ for mast design and communications. We do find ourselves in the ‘function vs. form’ arena and this is something we always have to work with, but I cannot ever see myself explaining to a client why his performance is less than the smaller yacht (with a traditional dish) next to his, but at least his mast looks good!”

So when it comes to understanding the appeal of owning a superyacht, the limitless opportunities and endless levels of luxury built to your own customised specifications make it an obvious no brainer in any millionaire’s book. Just don’t spend too long weighing up its investment potential.