After a consuming a couple of bottles of Minuty rosé, most ideas seem good. Like buying a boat, for example.
Thanks to online auction sites — and in my case a sundowner overlooking a superyacht marina in Antigua — you can find yourself clicking and bidding on a boat you’ve never seen that’s moored in a port you’ve never been to. Amazing thing, the internet.
Through the prism of alcohol, the boat we were looking at was delightful, even if it wasn’t a superyacht. A “gentleman’s cruiser”, the Rampart 48 was built in Southampton and commissioned in 1961. The blurb said it was valued at £70,000 and bidding had reached £20,000 — so we shoved in an offer. Bargain, right? A lot of beautiful varnished teak, with a dated, yet classic interior, a lovely set of dials and resplendent red velour soft furnishings. Honestly, I don’t know what we thought we were doing.
But should one own a boat? After all, they’re relaxing, you can putt-putt about different ports, they give a focus for sunny holidays abroad and the deck is a splendid and sociable place to quaff rosé while debating how much it costs to run.
People must like boats because in every classy sea or lakeside resort there’s a marina filled with the things. Problem is, I know very little about yachts, motor cruisers or indeed anything that floats. I can hardly sail and have only driven a motorised boat under supervision (as a child on the boating lake in Regent’s Park) and I’ve not been on a narrow boat holiday since the late 1970s. And everyone who’s ever owned a boat tells me how expensive they are to run.
They say if it flies or floats, you should rent it. Another option? Make friends with someone daft enough to buy one.
Years ago, when I had a real job in finance, we arranged a significant loan to a property company. These were the days when you could accept corporate hospitality without any questions asked, so off we popped to the south of France for a “celebration lunch”.
A few years previously our clients had bought an 80ft Sunseeker motor yacht for “a couple of million”, joking throughout the deal that if we got it done, we’d celebrate by having a day out on their boat, kitted out with jetskis and other toys.
In the course of our conversation, they said that although it was a superb symbol of achievement and wealth, keeping it afloat was such a hassle and expense that they planned to sell it. This brings to mind the old joke: “When do you want to sell your boat? The day after you bought it.”
The cost of staffing and crewing, finding a decent berth, tax, fuel, insurance and maintenance soon adds up. If you only want the occasional blast, why indeed would you not rent one?
I nervously started to tot up the likely damage for the boat we were bidding on. A cool €556 (about £460) plus VAT every month for its mooring in Spain. A 900-litre fuel tank to be filled on a regular basis. Insurance and an annual maintenance bill likely to run into several thousand euros. And that’s before the cost of getting to and from the boat every time you visit.
Rich is a relative term. This column isn’t called Ultra High Net Worth Individuals’ Problems, but if it were, we’d be talking about owning superyachts. I assume that “mine’s bigger than yours” is the only way to explain why someone would spend hundreds of millions of dollars on something that looks like a cross channel ferry with nicer lights and a ’copter or two on the back.
How else would you explain the $500mn (£370mn), 417ft superyacht that Jeff Bezos is having built in the Netherlands for launch in the summer? It is so tall it may require part of a bridge in Rotterdam to be dismantled on its route to the open sea.
My fascination with these floating temples to wealth leads me to websites such as Superyachtfan.com, which tell you who owns the biggest boats, how much they cost and a selection of photographs demonstrating that money doesn’t buy taste. Very handy! I wonder if superyacht owners compare and contrast in the same way as neighbours will often look up houses on their street to see how appallingly they’re decorated or what they sold for?
However, when you see a superyacht in real life, it’s quite something.
A few years ago on a road trip around the Croatian coast, we happened to see the largest sailing yacht in the world — the 469ft colossus known as “Sailing Yacht A”. Designed by Philippe Starck for the Russian industrialist Andrey Melnichenko, it has space for 20 guests in 10 cabins, plus another 10 for the crew.
According to Superyachtfan.com, it cost $600mn and has annual running costs of $50mn-$75mn. This confirms the simple rule I have learnt about the cost of boat ownership — whatever you buy the thing for, you’ll need to stump up about 10 per cent of the value in annual running costs.
Still, there is something rather splendid about hopping aboard a boat. Every year, the property industry descends on Cannes for a trade fair known as “Le Mipim” or the Marché International des Professionnels de L’immobilier (though I always referred to it as the Massive International Piss-up in March).
The most successful developers turn up in huge boats, where they host extravagant drinks parties to show how well they’ve done. For aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s an opportunity to rent a boat at the company’s expense to hold meetings and events.
One year, the boss of the property company I worked for put me in charge of executing the Mipim strategy. I explained the pros and cons of renting a more modest vessel against a somewhat larger gin palace. His voicemail response — a simple instruction of “big boat!” — caused much amusement. But our week on board offered a little dip into the luxurious existence these things afford.
The bedrooms are sumptuous, the living space accented with highly polished wood, oozing technology and leather in equal measure. And the best thing is having a crew who will bring whatever you don’t need whenever you want it. A glass of fizz here, a snackette there or a cup of strong black coffee to help blow away the cobwebs from the night before.
The cost of renting it for the week? If my memory serves me correctly, around £60,000 (plus catering) and that was 20 years ago. As a future boat owner, could entering the corporate jolly market be a potential money spinner for me?
Superyachts can be chartered for hundreds of thousands of pounds a week (even high net worth individuals want a contribution to some of those outlandish running costs).
Mercifully, before our boat-owning dream could become a reality, we were outbid on the Rampart 48. I’ve decided to wait until I’m a billionaire before I reconsider buying a boat from which I can throw handfuls of money into the wind.
James Max is a radio presenter and property expert. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax