All aboard...a £10m private yacht

CANNES is just the place for a yacht show – where else do azure waters and extreme wealth collide in such an exquisite feast of bling? Other expos take place in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Dusseldorf, but only in Cannes do glass cases full of De Beers diamonds and Fendi trunk shows feel so natural alongside the Ferretti, Pershun and Riva yachts which cost from £65,000 per week to charter and between £5m and £15m to buy.

No yacht owner myself, I was the guest of Princess – the LMVH-owned British boat-maker – which was launching its new V52. Times are good for the company, which will next year be launching its biggest boat to date, a long range, 105 ft cruising yacht.

Indeed, in a place like this, financial concerns and recessions feel like a different world. Champagne and foie gras canapés carve a path through models relaxing after their catwalk show, and the crowd is the type that is able to afford not only multi million pound boats, but also bracelets that cost £40,000.

Princess itself is going from strength to strength and has proven a British success story in a world dominated by Italian superyachts. Simon Clare, head of marketing at Princess, says: “Even in the downturn we’ve kept growing and investing. We made a profit last year and we put it straight back into people and investment. No one else in the industry can say that.”

The Bentley of boats (versus the Ferrari, of which the super-sleek, aggressively aerodynamic Sunseeker is reminiscent), Princess has always stuck to seaworthiness and classic design instead of flashiness or showy innovation. In fact, it’s positively muted next to some of the other boats we see, which have seahorse frescoes, transparent spiral staircases, multiple balconies and seriously expensive art on board.

Despite stories of yacht-dumping as people sought to cull their most indulgent assets during the downturn, prices for luxury yachts have stayed high and demand is very robust indeed. “People just want the boats bigger and bigger,” says the beautifully blond, tanned skipper showing us around, who has been steering the super-rich round the Med for seven years. Clare adds: “The market for 90 ft-plus boats is our strongest after the downturn. Owning a yacht is the ultimate status symbol and the bigger the better.” He says, predictably, that the fastest growing customer base is coming out of Asia, but Europe remains a strong market too.

The new V52s on which we pass the sunset ripple with the finest woods and soft furnishings; glossy mahogany tables, linen loungers, spiral staircases and luxurious beds. Each ship houses staff including maids, butlers, skipper and chef – in addition to the weekly charter cost, tips are around £6,000. There is no affordable way to cruise in private on a super-yacht.

What is it, then, that makes this superbly opulent market tick? Is there any chance of making money off a yacht? Not really. What with the running costs of at least £800,000 per year, the charter costs and the initial purchase price, you don’t buy a boat to become rich. You’re rich already.

But it’s a uniquely exclusive asset – not only uniquely expensive, but parked at the
marina, not the driveway, so you can keep a low profile about your multi-million pound toy. “Yachts are always a good time,” says Clare. “It’s a fantastic lifestyle – I can’t think of anything better than to sit in the middle of the sea in a boat like ours.”