Superyachts – as seen by an academic

Emma Spence’s PhD study on the superyacht scene is one of the more readable.


"The women come on board...go up to the top deck and ask for champagne"

PhDs are written about all sorts of cranky things, and most are probably unreadable. But this may not be true of Emma Spence's PhD. She is completing one on the superyacht scene, having spent much of the last six years researching it. She has crewed on superyachts around the world, and, according to David Batty in The Guardian, "shadowed a yacht broker in the tax haven of Monaco, observing how the boats are deployed to establish a pecking order among the super-rich".

Superyachts are defined as boats with hulls longer than 24 metres at the waterline and that require a professional crew to sail. If you buy one, expect annual maintenance and operation costs to be 10% of the original purchase price. And be aware that, unlike other prestige assets (art, say, or houses) you are buying something that will depreciate in value. So why buy? The answer, one owner told Spence, is that having a superyacht "allows the super-rich to perform their wealth status".

There are certainly plenty of performers. The number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals in the world (ie, with net assets of at least $30m) rose by 62% between 2005 and 2015 to 187,468, according to a wealth report quoted by Batty. As for the total number of superyachts Camper & Nicholsons say there are now 4,476 which are at least 30 metres long. Most of those which are sold and 268 changed hands via brokers last year are second-hand, but are then refitted to the new owners' tastes.

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Meanwhile, the new ones are getting bigger. As any luxury broker will tell you, the clients who 15 years ago settled for 40-metre yachts now want 60-metre yachts makes it easier to accommodate helipads, cinemas, infinity pools, etc. So John Staluppi, a Brooklyn automotive tycoon who gets a new superyacht every 18 months to three years, has just ordered his 19th, the 66-metre Spectre. (He calls his boats after James Bond films.)

Spence says she concentrated her research on the Cote d'Azur because it's the centre of the superyacht scene. "You have this tension between the privacy that yachts and the sea afford against this desire to see and be seen," says Spence. "Tourists remind the super-rich of their wealth and their social status." At night the owners or their children go to clubs like the VIP Rooms in Saint-Tropez or Gotha in Cannes, where they spend £5,000-£10,000 on a table and buy huge bottles of Dom Perignon.

"There's a group of young women that spends the day going from one port to the other, getting entry to these clubs and schmoozing these wealthy young men. The women come on board the boats, go up to the top deck and ask for champagne. They're all drunk and you're trying to explain at 3am that they can't wear stilettos on board."

As you might expect, and as Spence found out during her crewing days, the superyacht industry is "completely gendered". The interior crew are women, the deck crew male. "I've come across two female captains in six years of researching the industry, and I know of two chief stewards who are female. The women retire because owners don't want them in the interior of a boat after a certain age late 30s and you're off."

Tabloid money... "I still don't feel sorry for Kim Kardashian"

"So it turns out Kim Kardashian's security man,Pascal Duvier, filed for bankruptcy ten weeks ago with his security firm owing nearly a million quid,"says Carole Malone writing in The Sunday Mirror. "Funny that. But not all that surprising, because he's clearly not much cop at his job. Duvier issued threats to the gang who robbed Ms Kardashian of £8.5m-worth of jewels last week, saying: We will find you. You messed with the wrong one.' Well actually, they didn't. They messed with the one who wasn't there to protect his boss when she needed him. That said, I still don't feel sorry for Ms Kardashian." If you use every opportunity "to flash your body and your extreme wealth then expect someone to come get you and your stuff."

"Theresa May sounds like she gets it," says Tony Parsons in The Sun. "Tough on tax-dodging fat cats, robust in defence of our national interest, appalled by rackets that serve only big corporations and the obscenely rich why wouldn't any Labour voter support Mrs May?... Unlike David Cameron and Tony Blair, she is not a privately educated chinless wonder My mother never voted Tory in her life. But I would bet my last euro that my mum would have voted for Theresa May."

"Once again facing claims of hypocrisy, the Labour Party has defended Baroness Shami Chakrabarti's son attending a top private school by suggesting that it was her ex-husband's decision to send him there and not hers," says columnist Jane Moore in The Sun. "Oh puh-lease. Ms Chakrabarti has never spoken against selection education so, to my mind, she is as entitled as anyone else to want the best for her child. But as a trained lawyer and former director of Liberty... the notion that she played absolutely no part in determining her child's future is as disingenuous as it is patronising."