There is something utterly bewitching about padding barefoot across the hand-finished teak deck of a brand-new, 131ft, £20 million yacht.
Jane Fryer barefoot on board the 131ft £20 million Sunseeker superyacht in Poole, Dorset
Just brushing against all that soft white leather and gleaming chrome, or sinking into the deep cream carpets below deck as you touch up your lipstick in the bespoke mirrors above the marble washbasin, or seeing the uniformed crew hovering, poised to please, is enough to make you start acting differently.
To feel grander, special, chosen. And to imagine you’re one of the world’s uber-rich who, last year, snapped up a record number of superyachts. And who then, on top of the astronomical purchase prices, spend millions more personalising their toys with infinity pools, lifts, ice chambers, wine cellars and art galleries. After all, why have any old bog-standard superyacht, when you can have one customised to suit your own flamboyant taste?
Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s £1.6 billion, 533ft yacht Eclipse has two helipads, 24 guest suites, two pools, three launch pads and a mini submarine.
The Aviva, a 323ft monster owned by British businessman and major Spurs shareholder Joe Lewis, has its own indoor tennis court. And the Elandess, owned by Travelex founder Sir Lloyd Dorfman and his wife Sarah — named after their initials! — has a 26ft swimming pool.
The late shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis went rather further with his boat Christina (named after his daughter), a decommissioned warship he bought in 1954 and spent £4 million fitting out with an onyx and silver staircase and a marble pool that, at the touch of a button, became a dance floor.
He also had 12 guest suites, and ordered footrests made from whale’s teeth and bar stools upholstered with the foreskin of minke whale. Yes, really.
Pure luxury: The yacht is owned by Pierre Kruse, 59, a self-made Danish fashion mogul, who bought his first yacht when he was 31 for £29,000
Pierre and his wife did up his eighth yacht with the help of the designer who created the BA business-class interiors, and included yards of American walnut, a wine cellar, two Jacuzzis — one for them at one end of the boat (pictured) and one for their four kids at the other
Sailing in style: British-built yachts are ending up around the world — roaring across the Atlantic, bobbing in St Tropez, moored up in Mallorca and pootling about in the Caribbean.
‘Personalising your superyacht is the most amazing thing you can imagine,’ says Pierre Kruse, a self-made Danish fashion mogul who bought his first yacht when he was 31 for £29,000, and is kindly talking to me by phone from the deck of his 116ft Sunseeker Fleur, anchored outside a small cove in Mallorca.
‘I’ll be in Palma tomorrow. It is wonderful not to be tied down.’
Pierre, 59, and his wife did up his eighth yacht with the help of the designer who created the BA business-class interiors, and included yards of American walnut, a wine cellar, two Jacuzzis — one for them at one end of the boat, one for their four kids at the other — and his wife’s pride and joy, a vast master bathroom with underfloor heating, electric curtains and an enormous rainforest shower for two.
It is sleek and beautiful and relatively low-key for a superyacht. Pierre doesn’t even have a gym — though the couple did take a yoga instructor on board their last boat.
If I had a superyacht, I think I’d be tempted to follow suit, with a few tweaks — perhaps a stylish infinity pool. And maybe a discreet gym and an open-air cinema and a wine cellar and a meditation room and, of course, a ‘snow room’ — the new thing these days, where you can chill down after a day in the fierce Mediterranean sun.
Plush: A living area on board the Sunseeker complete with dark blue and white furnishings and complete with marble cabinet
A place to relax: A top deck sunbathing area to soak up the rays. Pierre said: ‘Personalising your superyacht is the most amazing thing you can imagine’
I wouldn’t want to be showy. But perhaps I’ve missed the point.
Because in the hierarchy of toys for the uber-rich, the superyacht is up there with private jets and private islands. So maybe it is fun to have the whole thing painted pink, blue, silver, leopard skin (all of which have been done) or even black.
More and more owners are opting for the latter, despite being warned that such a dark hull can absorb so much heat from the sun, it can become too hot to touch. And that the warranty may not apply when bits of it start to melt.
According to Antony Sherriff, CEO of Princess Yachts in Plymouth, one customer became so bewildered by the myriad paint colours on offer for his two 30 and 40-metre yachts that he bought his six-year-old daughter to the factory and handed the choice over to her.
A glamorous dining area seated for eight guests with stunning art features and unique ornaments. The yacht features yards of American walnut
A decadent master bathroom on the yacht with plush white towels, marble and enormous rainforest shower for two to enjoy after a long day in the sun
‘She chose turquoise!’ says Antony. ‘For two boats worth £25 million! And it looked absolutely stunning.’
Not that he’d complain if it didn’t. Princess Yacht sales have been going bananas lately. Last year, they sold 270 for a total of £340 million. Over the three years between 2015 and 2018, sales went up a staggering 70 per cent.
Up the road in Poole, Dorset, Sunseeker — a vast and incredibly professional operation employing more than 2,600 mostly local staff — sold 147 boats last year for £300 million, up about 19 per cent on 2016, and figures for this year look to be even more impressive.
The increased demand is driven by two things. First, all the money now sloshing about thanks to there being more ‘high net worth individuals’ than ever before. Second, the quality of British boat-building.
His wife’s pride and joy: The bespoke bedroom leading onto the vast master bathroom with underfloor heating, electric curtains and rainforest shower
Futuristic: The helm of the yacht complete with navy leather seating and walnut features. Mega-yachts — also known as ‘Citadels’ and favoured by Abramovich, fellow Russian oligarchs and the troubled Arcadia tycoon Philip Green — are another level up. Most are festooned with security systems, because with great wealth comes great paranoia
‘We are the best boat-builders in the world,’ says Bryan Jones, marketing manager for Sunseeker. ‘We should be really proud and fanfaring this, because we lead the charge.’
So British-built yachts end up around the world — roaring across the Atlantic, bobbing in St Tropez, moored up in Mallorca, pootling about in the Caribbean.
Mega-yachts — also known as ‘Citadels’ and favoured by Abramovich, fellow Russian oligarchs and the troubled Arcadia tycoon Philip Green — are another level up.
Most are festooned with security systems, because with great wealth comes great paranoia.
The Russians, particularly, have embraced yachts that are fire-proof, bullet-proof and communication-proof with a radio shield around them, their own radio frequency and panic rooms. For those from troubled regimes, a boat is also a moveable asset. Trouble at home? Simply power over to the safety of Europe.
Of course, different owners want their yachts for different purposes. Onassis used the original superyacht to entertain celebrities from actor Richard Burton to Winston Churchill. The Chinese often turn theirs into casinos and, never big sunbathers, tend to demand that the entire deck be enclosed.
A bright and airy living space at one end of the boat leading to an outdoor seating area to entertain and overlook the picturesque views
(There’s a story doing the rounds that one owner asked for a boat with no windows because his wife hated the water so much she couldn’t bear to see it.)
Some double up as mobile art galleries, boasting collections worth hundreds of millions.
Other owners store their wine on board. One lady had her Sunseeker adapted to display her vast collection of vintage designer handbags.
While it’s easy to assume these people leading these extraordinary lives are all oligarchs or oil barons , Bryan Jones insists that at least 35 per cent of Sunseeker’s customers are British and invariably self-made.
‘We see it time and again,’ he says. ‘They are British families who run their own business, have worked all their lives and now they want to enjoy their success together.’
A place to relax and unwind featuring two seating areas. Some yachts double up as mobile art galleries, boasting collections worth hundreds of millions. Other owners store their wine on board. One lady had her Sunseeker adapted to display her vast collection of vintage designer handbags.
Whoever they are, they expect top-end service and a degree of luxury most of us can’t even imagine — even when they’re working out.
‘They’ve got multiple homes with gyms, but the boat is the crowning glory, so the gym has to be of the very highest spec,’ says Edward Thomas, a former crew member who set up bespoke superyacht gym-fitter Gymmarine.com. He supplies bench presses hand-covered in Hermes leather and kettle bells in leopard print. Golf balls made from fish food are also popular so clients can practise their drives into the water without fretting about the environment — and pretty much anything else.
‘What they want, they have,’ says Edward.
It’s a good thing the owners all have such fun on their yachts, because these beauties burn through money.
One of the two Jacuzzis on board the Sunseeker. Marketing manager for Sunseeker Bryan Jones said: ‘We are the best boat-builders in the world. ‘We should be really proud and fanfaring this, because we lead the charge’
The general rule of thumb is that both annual depreciation and running costs are about 10 per cent of the purchase price, not including crew or diesel. (It costs from £800 to fill the fuel tank of a small Sunseeker — and the bigger the yacht, the higher the cost.)
Not that anyone seems to hang onto them for long: most owners trade them in — like cars — every two to three years. Given that the customised build time can be up to 18 months, they’re ordering the new one months after stepping on to the current one.
One captain I spoke to said seasoned owners can become so blasé about a new £20 million boat that they don’t even celebrate when they first get on: ‘They just swan on and ask where the gym is.’
For most, the thing that matters is size. ‘You always dream bigger,’ jokes Pierre.
Especially if you get to trump any of your yachting pals. And sometimes, just sometimes, things aren’t possible, however much money you have. When one owner wanted his superyacht decorated with a skull and crossbones — illegal under maritime law — he had to make do with just the giant skull, instead. Apparently, it looks rather good.
The stylish kitchen on the glamorous yacht is sleek and minimalist. Most owners trade the yachts in — like cars — every two to three years. Given that the customised build time can be up to 18 months, they’re ordering the new one months after stepping on to the current one
Some people might say that superyacht owners have more money than sense, but after spending a morning on my sleek, glossy, gorgeous, Sunseeker about to set sail to meet her new owners in Portugal, I am no longer one of them.
I can completely see the attraction, and would take to life as a superyacht owner very smoothly indeed. If only I had a spare £20 million, plus another £10 million to cover the crew, moorings, fuel and depreciation — I’d snap one up.
Plus a few fish-food golf balls, to offset my carbon footprint.