Monaco’s floating wealth

The news from Monaco this spring (2014) has been very upbeat about the prosperity of this unconventional city-state. NO external debt, NO income tax (for most residents), NO unemployment, NO crime (relatively), NO riots (or water cannon!), NO illegal immigrants, NO beggars; and NO fog!

Yachts in MonacoBut Monaco is not just a success story ashore – it is also a safe haven and pole of attraction for a large number of mega-yachts, either home-ported or just visiting. It used to be extremely cheap when I kept my small boat in what is now a 50-metre stern-to berth (2014 daily rate high-season €916 TTC) but had sparse facilities and was very uncomfortable in southeast storms. Recent developments such as heavy-duty shore-power connections, water supplies, internet, Wi-Fi, TV and pump-out stations mean comfort for crews and passengers. But the main difference is provided by Quai Rainier III – the 352-metre floating breakwater constructed in Algeciras, Spain, and attached in September 2002 near the Yacht Club de Monaco with a huge 770-ton joint designed to give way in case of earthquake. The quay cost €150 million – a good investment to shelter Port Hercule, provide more large deepwater berths and park 400 cars, and surely one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World!

To match this dramatic improvement in berthing facilities in the Principality, the new generation of huge luxury yachts has arrived, and their owners want to visit Monaco more than anywhere else. There are plenty of events round the port to attract them, notably the Formula One Grand Prix and the Monaco Yacht Show. But the yachts themselves match all this, in size, speed, equipment and luxury. Fleet-owner Abramovich’s latest flagship Eclipse at 163.5 metres has just been neatly “eclipsed” by the Arab-owned Azzam – a full 180 metres (590 feet). There are few yachting ports which can accommodate these big beasts and their needs, but Monaco is one of them. Demand outstrips supply in summer, but these floating palaces can usually anchor outside. No more space is available for large yachts without reducing the berths for the “normal” small yachts, more my size.

Yet billionaires are still ordering their dreamboats: the authoritative 2014 Global Order Book lists 735 super-yachts (average length 37 metres) in build or on order, giving a total end-to-end length of over 27km! At an average of €20 million, they represent a staggering wealth, openly on display in Port Hercule, Monaco. But all along the Riviera they will face the same penury of slots as the much smaller boats.

Unlike France, Monaco has invested wisely in attracting these lucrative floating cities. And indeed also the Cruise Liners: 241 ships alongside in 2013, bringing in 249,806 passengers who have to pass through the X-ray machines of the new Gare Maritime on Quai Rainier III. A commendable success story.