Different World, Different Woes

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Can you put your feet up and join me in a different world with its own different problems for a few minutes – just to refresh our brain cells? The entire boating world is changing. There are 2000 mega-yachts today over 120-feet long and 200,000 people jumping up and down to buy one. There are impatient people in that waiting line that are willing to buy an interim yacht simply to wait with. And the waiting line is expected to grow dramatically as it is like a virus in Russia. I know it doesn’t feel like it to you or to me but there is an incredible amount of disposable money in the world at the moment.

Many of these superrich people are from Russia, the Ukraine or India and the five largest mega-yachts are owned by Middle Easterners: The “Dubai” is 531.5 feet. The Russians are catching up with more new-builds than any other country and Roman Abramovich is said to own the brand new “Eclipse” and it is 531.5 feet too. Oneupmanship sparkles in the boat world but it appears that nobody has won the “mine’s bigger than yours” race as of now. The rumor circuit says the most talked-about new yacht coming down the chute is an amazing-looking 387-foot ship designed by Philippe Starck — some say for the two heads of Google – others say the linens have a big “A” initialed on them and it is really another Abramovich boat. I hear that it looks like a cool copy of the navy’s $100-billion stealth combat ship – without the guns. It tickles me to think that maybe the Google lads and Starck are way out in front with a completely new approach to boat design at a time when the Russians and Middle Easterners hold the oil cards (a boat’s greatest expense these days is fuel). But Abramovich is gutsy and knows boats! Another rumor has it owned by the owner of a Latvian bank! Boats like these can cost $250 million.

Massive boats are like private cruise ships — 250- to 500-feet long. They have infinity pools (some have two), gyms, spas, complete theaters, stunning bars, submarines to play with as well as sailboats, helicopters to view the world in, newspapers printed from anywhere in the world and the largest Sonys on the walls for news, huge party platforms, private owner’s apartments with custom-designed walk-in closets, cars, tenders that are really serious boats – some of them are air-conditioned.

You know, big isn’t always comfortable. Many of these mega-yachts are really business yachts or ego yachts. They cram as much as they can for as many people as they can into them and the objective is not necessarily good boat design. The boats get taller and taller with more layers and rely more and more on stabilizers for stability. I have been on them and even with all the stabilizers they can rock-a-bye-baby all through dinner.

The purpose of the mega-yachts has changed from the day when there were few boats over a hundred feet and people went out on them as if on a glorious picnic. Everybody actually swam in a clean sea, then stretched out in the sun and allowed the sailing boat to dry them. There were no submarines on boats, no movie theaters – people enjoyed the beautiful clean coves to swim in and they enjoyed lounging, reading books, talking, feeling healthy and fresh and good in the beautiful world. It was a world of peace. They felt safe then — safe from Jet Skis, safe from jellyfish (which have multiplied drastically in dirty seas), safe from the sun – the new boats are being built with more and more shade. And they felt safe from attack. Some of the biggest yachts provide a high degree of privacy and security and, with the huge improvement of electronics, technology and the reliability of engineering, people can run a business from them. The independence factor has great appeal when you are conducting mega-business or are a megastar.

The world looks more beautiful from a boat, although the mega-yachts are too big to get into the prettiest ports like Portofino. Gianni Agnelli was clever – he had two boats, equally beautiful: a sail boat with rust-colored sails for racing and a matching motor yacht for living aboard. Together they would be the size of a mega-yacht but in two parts they could go into almost any port, side by side.

But a lot of mega-yachts aren’t interested in being in port or leaving the boat for dinner or shopping. The point of the trip is often a mix of delicate business and political maneuvering with a lot of privacy — plus a scoop of pleasure — and so mega-yachts have every possible business aid, medical aid, comfort and entertainment on board. They are built to accommodate all that. They are not designed, as a classic, to ride smoothly or to look beautiful – and a lot of them don’t.

It’s not that long ago that Paul Getty and Loel Guinness and Aristotle Onassis and Bill Levitt and Charles Revson and Malcolm Forbes had the big boats, and most entertained straight through the summer. The new big-boat owners are a different breed. It is true that Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle, and David Geffen, the Hollywood executive, stream famous guests onto their 454-foot “Rising Sun” but there are many more mega-yachts crisscrossing the Mediterranean and other seas hopefully unwatched, unnoticed and without parties in mind.

Women tend to choose classic yachts. Songwriter and philanthropist Denise Rich has owned a few yachts – her latest is a 157-foot classic a little like mine. A busy yacht designer told me that the women who build yachts tend to be entrepreneurs and live on their yachts as homes, rarely charter them to strangers and tend to think mega-yachts are strictly for male egos.

I do love classic comfortable-sized boats and I miss those peaceful years when there were very few big boats in the bays; when lots of families and their dogs were swimming way out with no thought of being run over by a Jet Ski; when I was brown as toast and proud of it; when I thought that the world was clean and the seas sparkled around me and felt so right. I can close my eyes and feel it now.

I worry some days that as those monster cruise ships are getting bigger — and there are more of those too — we are going to run out of sea! But I do get a kick out of the occasional streak of major creativity in boat design: Tom Perkins’s “Maltese Falcon” with its spiritual sails, Philippe Starck’s design for “Wedge Too,” Stefano Gabbana’s (of Dolce and Gabbana) lavender metallic playboat, the terrific Wally and now Philippe Starck’s new Sigma is cutting through all traditions — it is supposedly as radically free-flow inside as out — jaw dropping I would think.

But somebody always comes along and surprises me when I worry about what is happening to boat life. Barry Diller has just completed building the world’s largest sailing yacht, “Eos,” 305 feet. It is supremely beautiful. It is a classic. I think it will set the standard. It may be 305-feet long but it is not an ordinary big mega-yacht. So there’s hope.

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