The phenomenon of owning superyachts by billionaires began way back in 1945 and the trendsetter was the Greek shipping tycoon – Aristotle Onassis.
The manner in which he converted an anti-submarine frigate – HMCS Stormont into an incredibly luxurious yacht is the stuff of legends. The yacht named Christina O, after Onassis’ daughter is regarded in the exclusive circles of the Superyacht industry to be a revolutionary one; one that set the ball rolling in the billionaire bastion of owning incredibly indulgent yachts.
These days billionaires come in the news for their extravagant lifestyle onboard uber-luxurious Superyachts and celebrating life in all its glory and I must admit, every yacht is distinctive – the style, onboard amenities, and what have you …… Today’s billionaire tycoons have gone that extra mile of not just owning Superyachts, but some have even ventured ahead into the domain of building those luxurious vessels themselves. A case in point is British business tycoon and flamboyant persona – Sir Richard Branson.
A fearless adventurer that he is, Sir Richard Branson isn’t satisfied yet with the mantle of becoming the world’s first commercial astronaut. His love for yachting is legendary and his spirit of wanderlust has compelled him to own a 105-foot luxury catamaran – “Necker Belle”.
After acquiring Necker Island in the Caribbean, Branson purchased a catamaran, which was redesigned to meet his exacting demands and was christened as Necker Belle. Incidentally, Necker Belle won a prestigious award at the World Superyacht Awards back in 2010 as one of the world’s small numbers of luxury catamarans that sailed around the world.
To understand the Indian billionaire psyche, a good and handy reference could be James Crabtree’s –
“The Billionaire Raj” that takes readers on a stupendous journey through India’s ‘Gilded Age’. Needless to say, the book is a revelation as it reflects the coming of age of Indian billionaires in a society that is still rather imbalanced in terms of financial equality.
Being the world’s largest democracy and home to a billion people, with an economy that is racing more rapidly than China’s, there still is a lot of disparity and if statistical matrix’ is anything to go by, India’s 1% ultra-rich own the country’s 60% wealth. In Crabtree’s own words –
“Megacities like Mumbai, where half the population live in slums, the extraordinary riches of India’s new dynasties echo the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers of America’s Gilded Age, funneling profits from huge conglomerates into lifestyles of conspicuous consumption”.
In hindsight, as a citizen of India, we don’t need a James Crabtree to show us the huge financial disparities that exist in New India, as this phenomenon is so palpable….. Here in India, and particularly the Mumbai metropolis will offer you the sight of the world’s most expensive home alongside impoverished slums.
India indeed is on the cusp of transformation and it isn’t surprising to know that Indian billionaire tycoons like Mukesh Ambani, Vijay Mallya, Gautam Singhania, Anil Ambani, and others of their ilk make no secret of their penchant for “the good life”. Like billionaires elsewhere, the Indian billionaire bandwagon isn’t just aware of the uber-luxury Superyacht options, many even are proud owners of stupendous Superyachts themselves.
For instance Reliance Industries’ mogul, Mukesh Ambani’s Superyacht is a veritable floating palace and is all of 58 meters and spread over three decks. From helipad to sauna and exclusive pool to opulent personalized suites, Mukesh Ambani’s yacht has it all. Industry insiders opine that the yacht could be priced anywhere in the range of UK Pound 78 million. Staggering ain’t it?
Lakshmi Mittal, steel magnate, and the world’s richest Indian is the proud owner of Amevi – all of 80 meters and reportedly priced at a staggering UK Pound 113 million as of 2007. It comes with a cruise speed of 26 Knots and features opulent 8 VIP staterooms, cabins, ensuite bathrooms, a jacuzzi, and two outdoor bars. There is also an exclusive pool, gym, and onboard cinema.
There is another one owned by India’s “King of Good Times” – Vijay Mallya and many regard him as the pioneer when it comes to introducing the uber-cool concept of luxury yacht ownership. Back in the late 90s, Mallya was the proud owner of Kalizma- a 50-meter yacht that used to be Hollywood great Richard Burton’s pet. However, Mallaya’s masterstroke was the double-decker Indian Empress, which he purchased from the royal family of Qatar. And, true to his flamboyant image, this vessel made a huge impact on the world-renowned Monaco Formula 1 Racing circuit.
The world of luxury Cruise and Superyachts is ever-evolving – some come with bulletproof windows, marina gold paneling, helicopters, power connections, and what have you! So it comes as no surprise that Sir Richard Branson has gone for an “Adult Only” cruiseliner. Virgin Voyages was launched back in 2014 with Bain Capital as a partner and initially ordered three ships to Italian luxury cruise shipbuilder Fincantieri. A fourth ship was later added to the kitty of Virgin Voyages.
2020 was the inaugural season and Virgin Voyages’ first vessel Scarlet Lady should have begun operations by April 2020. But, due to the pandemic, Virgin Voyages has delayed its official debut. Scarlet Lady will be sailing out of Miami on Oct. 6.
The rarefied world of uber-luxurious Super Yacht is in for a paradigm shift in terms of ownership and design. Scheduled for launch in 2025, Ocean Residences Development Ltd (ORD) is developing a one-of-its-kind ship M/Y NJORD, which will be all of 289 meters and have 117 uber luxury residences onboard, offering those privileged people a chance to explore the world’s hidden treasures across the seven seas.
NJORD isn’t all luxury. Rather, I would prefer the word “Purposeful Luxury” that best defines this vessel. With philanthropy in mind, NJORD will be well equipped with state-of-the-art scientific equipment to undertake marine and oceanographic research and already they have entered into collaborations with world-renowned marine and ocean research organizations. Onboard equipment like 3D scanners, remote drones, an observatory, telescope, and retractable sliding glass roof will be fitted to aid in recording the ocean’s environmental conditions and mapping the ocean floor.
How about literally living on-board the planet’s largest superyacht? Sounds fabulous ain’t it? Well, the unthinkable is gonna be happening in a couple of years’ time, courtesy, the Somnio Yacht. Communications from the Somnio office don’t reveal much. It’s still a very hush, hush thing! However, one message is crystal clear and in the words of Captain Erik Bredhe , Co-Founder of Somnio –
“She will be the largest yacht in the world, by length as well as volume. The spectacular scale of the yacht has allowed for a design that ensures she will be considered amongst the most beautiful modern superyachts ever built”.
In spite of the ravages of the Corona pandemic, work is on at war-footing at the world-renowned Norwegian shipyard VARD. Somnio has entrusted two of the world’s top-notch architectural ship designers – Sweden’s Tillberg and UK’s Winch Design to come up with a never-before-attempted designing module.
Rubbishing all the pandemic-induced negative mindset of the uber-luxury yacht industry, there is a buzz going around that Somnio will have stricter than thought health protocols in place, and owners of the uber-cool yacht residences onboard the Somnio will have access to “world-class medical healthcare.”
Once ready, the 728 foot-long Somnio, is scheduled for launch in 2024. According to yacht industry experts, the estimated cost of building this one-of-a-kind ship is pegged at a staggering $600 million. The opulent apartments spread over six decks will come fully equipped with a state-of-the-art gym, a kitchen, library, and intimate dining spaces both inside as well as on the terrace.
And Oh God! Any guess how much an apartment on board the Somnio is gonna cost? A whopping $11.2 million, and even then it ain’t gonna be that easy as one can only buy if one has received an invite from Somnio.
The turnaround in the Indian yachting landscape will be obvious in a couple of years from now as owning a yacht will be synonymous with belonging to the category of the “rich and famous”. Although a vast majority of the prospective yacht owners themselves know very little about components like yacht design, features, and other onboard amenities, yet the mood is upbeat.
It is here that global yacht brands like Lurssen, Azimut, Feretti, Hessen, Meyer Werft, Oceanco, etc…..could come in handy; not just to explore India’s maritime landscape and offer cutting edge shipbuilding technology, but also to be partners in the development of yacht & cruise tourism infrastructure.
Lurssen ( https://www.lurssen.com) for instance has been building ships at their base in Lemwerder since 1935 and the entire gamut of ship-building processes from construction to assembly facilities are available at Lemwerder. Today, Lürssen Lemwerder is globally renowned for yachts measuring 80 to 110 meters in length.
Just imagine a scenario with shipping giant Lurssen making its debut in India’s maritime landscape and with India’s Minister of Shipping – Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, all set to fast-track investments in the shipping sector – has there been a better time to invest in India’s Blue Economy.?
As a super optimistic Travel Journalist, I dream of a day soon when Peter Lurssen, CEO of the world’s foremost superyacht builder Lürssen and the person behind some of the most extraordinary superyachts like M/Y AZZAM (180m), M/Y DILBAR (156m) or the world-famous charter yacht M/Y ARKLEY (60m) signing the MOU with India’s Minister of Port, Shipping and Waterway – Shri Sarbananda Sonowal on the backdrop of the iconic Kaziranga National Park.
Until then, William Faulkner’s quote will be my companion –“You cannot swim to new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore”.