For a display of real opulence, look no further than the ports of Monaco and Antibes. The rows of huge yachts, presented stern-to, inspire awe, if not envy. They cost more to buy and maintain than even the most sumptuous residence. So what is the motivation of the billionaires who own them? The megayacht industry needs such rich-listers, who provide employment and scope for thousands of people on the Riviera and elsewhere, so criticism is not appropriate.
Owners can be graded according to their usage. At the top are those with State or Royal yachts – a surprising number that no longer includes Great Britain since 1997, when Her Majesty’s famous Britannia was sold by the incoming Labour government and turned into a tourist attraction in Leith, Scotland. The Queen has since had occasional use of the now sold yacht Leander of Sir Donald Gosling (Honorary Vice Admiral of the United Kingdom and esteemed serial yachtsman).
Famous Royal megayachts of today include the Prince AbdulAziz (Saudi), Katara (Qatar), Savarona (Turkey) and Pacha III (Monaco – Princesse Caroline), but many others have visited the Riviera, such as Libya’s Hannibal (ex Lac II), Iraq’s Qadissiyat Saddam (now called Basrah Breeze and serving as a research vessel) and yachts of most of the oil-rich Middle-East rulers.
Then there are the Explorer yachts with a purpose, like exploring the Antarctic seaboards or diving on coral reefs by scuba or with an embarked submarine. Or seeking (and finding!) the WW2 wreck of the biggest battleship ever built – the Japanese Musashi, which was sunk by American Navy aircraft in the Battle of Leyte Gulf (Oct 1944). This was the exploit in March 2015 of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, using the submarine based on his Octopus. And one much in the news this last year is the Phoenix, fully occupied rescuing migrants from drowning while attempting to cross rough seas from Libya, Turkey and now Bangladesh. The Reporter did call for owners to volunteer their big yachts for this humanitarian task (see Megayachts, Migrants & MOAS and www.moas.eu), but in vain! However, several yachts have been active in disaster relief in the South Pacific and elsewhere under YachtAid Global. Many are also built or adapted for lucrative chartering, where the market seems very buoyant for the coming season. One trick here is providing accommodation for more than the traditional 12 passengers, by building to stricter Passenger-Ship rules.
For others, it is just owning the biggest, fastest, latest, glossiest – in short doing more than keeping up with the legendary Joneses, and this is best served by keeping the boat in harbour on show, or anchored off the Croisette or Senequier.
Of course there is plenty of enjoyment in cruising or chartering a megayacht, but a much tinier boat will give as much pleasure. As for value for money, there is no yardstick for valuing yachts, although the sum total expended on designing, building and equipping a vessel would be a start. The price depends on the market and the motivations of seller and buyer. When price reductions of $6 million (for M/Y Solandge) are announced, one feels sorry for a buyer who just bought a similar yacht for that much more.
Well, most of us don’t have to face such a decision.