Swimming New Zealand Battles To Stay Afloat In A Crowded Pool

KSJ doesn't own a yacht herself; she doesn't need to - her husband, Dyer Jones, runs the America's Cup, yachting's richest race.

These days, $100 million is the price you have to pay if you want to own a truly splendid yacht.

These are 'super-yachts', yachts that are in excess of 50m (any less and it's a squeeze to land the helicopter).

You could call them big boys' toys (there are few girls - though Mouna Ayoub, ranked 45th richest Arab by Arabian Business magazine in 2004, owns the 75m Phocea). As to how big, if you double the length, that equals about a six-fold increase in tonnage, which helps when you want lots of luxuries on-board.

Right now, the 82-room Saudi-owned Al Salamah, at 140m, is probably the biggest private yacht on the water (there is some debate as to whether it should count as state-owned rather than private. The Dubai, which is certainly state owned, is bigger at 160m).

The Eclipse, a staggering 165m monster newly built for Roman Abramovich, is said to have multiple helicopter pads, an integrated submarine, a swimming-pool, a cinema and a disco. (Its predecessor, Pelorus, is 115m - still big enough to require a lift to take its 24 guests up to the sun deck.)

The Royal Yacht Britannia, which slept in excess of 300 people (including four buglers) when she was on active service, measures 125m. (The biggest luxury on board was probably the supply of Malvern spring water for the Queen's tea.) Today's giga-yachts sail with sommeliers and even mixologists, the latter's job being to come up with innovative cocktails to whip up as the sun goes over the yardarm (this season's answer is a raspberry orchid martini).

So this size thing? 'Of course it's about my boat's bigger than yours!' KSJ says. She reminds me that Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle and a software billionaire, allegedly had 18m added into the design of his 138m Rising Sun, so as not to be outdone by his Silicon Valley rival Paul Allen, whose 127m Octopus includes an on-board recording studio, a helicopter and its own submarine.

I ask KSJ which are the finest yachts afloat. 'I adored Tom Perkins's Atlantide with the little Leger drawing on the way to the engine room,' she says, then adds that Perkins, a 'zillionaire' by his own admission, has since upgraded to the Maltese Falcon, which she is keen to board.

Perkins's 'push-button' clipper, which is to say that the 15 massive sails on its three masts are controlled by complex electronics, measures 88m from bowsprit tip to mizzen boom ('although inside, I'm sure it's as intimate as a Park Avenue apartment,' KSJ says).

She will spend much of the summer in such surroundings, yacht-hopping around the glamorous ports of the Med. These no longer include Saint Tropez. 'No one I know goes there any more,' she says. 'The maximum size of yacht that can fit into the marina there is only about 45m.'

You can blame the late Aristotle Onassis for starting the trend for mega-yachts.

In the 1950s he played host to Maria Callas and Marilyn Monroe aboard the sleek 100m Christina, as well as Jacqueline Kennedy, who, though she went on to marry him, is said to have found his invitation to sit on a barstool covered in whale foreskin very embarrassing. Onassis spent about $4 million on buying and renovating Christina. Today, you'd pay nearly half that per metre (plus an annual 10 per cent of the purchase price to keep it shipshape).

As to some of the treats you can have on board: a real fire in the grate of the stateroom? No problem. A 2,000-litre piranha tank? Perhaps not, it's been done and is thought rather old hat.

A state-of-the-art screening-room? Why not? That the screening-room on Ellison's Rising Sun is as state-of-the-art as any in Hollywood.

A cellar holding 200 bottles of the finest wines? Of course. One thing owners do take a lot of interest in, apparently, is on-board gyms, 'which can be tricky,' explains Jonny Horsfield, a yacht designer with a Putney-based company called H2. 'Headroom is the one thing you don't have on a yacht, and if you've got a guy of 6ft 6in and he wants a running-machine, it's a nightmare. You have to change the whole structure. You can't really say, "Look mate, can't you just go for a swim?"'

Horsfield points out that most of his clients are at the older end of the spectrum and are keen to stay fit. One even wanted an outdoor Ping-Pong table, 'which is not easy on a yacht. We had to have screens that popped up at the touch of a button to stop the balls going over the side.'

Then there is security. There are rumours of combat-trained personnel and armaments aboard. An American billionaire was allegedly offered torpedoes (he declined). Certainly, many will have 'nanny cabins' for the bodyguards adjacent to the owner's suite, highly sophisticated monitoring systems, bullet-proof glass, even panic rooms.

I met Jonny Horsfield at the Derecktor shipyard in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where I had gone to look at a boat being built; he was in search of a yard to build another one.

This is harder to find than you might think: the few shipyards worldwide with the skill and the space needed have waiting-lists that exceed those for an Hermès Birkin bag.

There's a least a two-year waiting-list to get into Lürssen or Blohm + Voss in Germany and perhaps longer if, rather than a huge cruiser, you are looking for a sailing yacht and want to build at Royal Huisman in Holland or Italy's Perini Navi.

The world's biggest private three-masted Schooner, Athena, an absolute beauty of 90m, was built at Royal Huisman in collaboration with its owner, the billionaire Jim Clark, who invented Netscape (and his yacht's sail system). Perini Navi also built Maltese Falcon, but in Turkey because the boat was too huge for any space available in Italy.

'I'm telling clients not to expect delivery until 2012,' Horsfield shouts as I enter a huge boatshed.

The noise, and the view, are incredible, as marine engineers, welders and electricians clamber over a massive aluminium form.

We climb up steel ladders to board 'code name Gemini' (boats are built under code names, because it is the owner's prerogative to name a vessel as it is launched). Gemini is a whopper.

Now 20 months from completion and a 'mere' 44m in length, she will be the world's biggest private catamaran. Gemini's flybridge is football-pitch-enormous at 92sq m - ample for the sun deck, Jacuzzi, barbecue and trampoline that the owner has ordered. Next to Gemini is a new ferry, destined for Bermuda and designed to carry 350 passengers. It looks like a bathtub toy.

Why the quest for ever-bigger private boats? 'Money!' Paul Derecktor, a second-generation East Coast boat-builder, says. 'These days it's not enough to have a couple of jet skis on the back.' The company is building a third shed here, and has two other yards, 'but finding and training skilled people is even harder. We build very few boats at a time.'

There is a boat in dry dock outside. I have been daring myself to stand under its massive aluminium hull. It was ordered by a former Tyco exec, Dennis Kozlowski, who won't be taking delivery of it because he's in jail, convicted of looting hundreds of millions of dollars of company money.

'He was good enough to release the boat so we can sell it,' Suzanne Alent, Derecktor's director of sales, tells me. While 'the Kozlowski boat' is 95 per cent finished, with the interiors currently in containers, it is still 18 months away from being in the water. 'Construction takes 24 to 36 months from the beginning of cutting metal,' Alent explains. 'But that doesn't include the time spent talking about it or waiting for a slot in the sheds.'

But if you have excess millions and can't wait that long for your own personal ocean liner, there are entrepreneurs who commission three or four multimillion-dollar vessels at a time, with profits of about $30 million on each one sold. Otherwise, you can charter.

Valentino has owned the 46m TM Blue One since the early 1980s, but when he wanted to celebrate the millennium with his nearest and dearest, including Claudia Schiffer, Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant, he needed more suites.

He chartered Savarona, a stately 125m, once used by Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, now jazzed up with the addition of acres of marble, a grand piano and a hammam.

The money-versus-taste equation certainly comes into play. But then, if you're paying, you can have what you want.

The Parisian yacht designer Hermidas Atabeyki specialises in eye-popping modernity. For super-sleek, look for a designer trained by the late Jon Bannenberg, the British-based Australian described as the 'Beethoven of yacht design', who died suddenly in 2002. If you want ritzy, astonishingly, you could call Auckland.

One in five Aucklanders owns a boat. The America's Cup, already contested twice in New Zealand waters, has brought global attention to how good the kiwis are at building them. Before heading to New York, I had been in Auckland looking at yachts (and I was in luck, Jim Clark's gorgeous Athena was tied up on the dock). I'd gone to visit Warwick Yachts, which, despite operating out of lacklustre offices that could be on an industrial estate in Slough, comes up with some of the most extraordinary visions afloat.

Bruce Warwick dreams up doors that open like the jaws of a lion on to the helicopter deck, and fully functioning navigational towers that resemble the onion domes of St Basil's, a clue to clients, who, he tells me, 'are not that interested in the structure, they're interested in how it looks and there's not very much call for minimalism.'

Back in New York, I receive a text from KSJ, who has arrived in Spain.

'What about icebreakers?' I phone her. 'What about icebreakers?' 'I was chatting about your article on the way over, and we think that if some of these yachts get any bigger, frankly they are going to be too horrible. Whereas icebreakers are never flashy. [The late] Bill Simon owned Itasca, and he made it so comfy in a Connaught Hotel kind of way. An icebreaker is the smart thing to have. The only downside is, guys want to sail them to places like Labrador! I mean, what to wear?'

At this she hoots with laughter, then adds, 'The weather in Valencia is great, by the way. Why not come down?'

Why not indeed? Although first I must get a pedicure.

HOW THEY MEASURE UP

Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3666567/A-bigger-splash.html

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