Superyachts are a hard sell, so I’m told. Defined as a crewed yacht that is at least 24 metres long (the length of a tennis court), a superyacht traditionally comes with a price tag of over a million Euros per metre. Just filling up the fuel tank of the biggest boats can set you back 200 000 €, let alone the hefty costs of mooring, maintenance and a permanent crew. While private jets can be seen as justifiable business expenses (time being a valuable asset to Very Important People), a superyacht can’t be couched as anything other than pure indulgence on an epic scale, however imaginative one’s accountant.
And yet the market is currently very healthy indeed. Last year, twice as many superyachts were sold globally compared to 5 years ago, and the French Riviera is a good place to buy one. Monaco is home to the most important luxury superyacht fair in the world and Cannes hosts Europe’s biggest boat show. I was sent as assignment photographer to cover both events this year and capture the environment of superyacht sales.
Cannes: photographers welcome
I joined Financial Times journalist Simon when he arrived in Cannes and we set out to make the feature: ‘How to sell a superyacht at the Cannes Yachting Festival‘. Perhaps unsurprisingly, luxury yacht companies at the show appeared to love the Financial Times and, as Simon tried to wheedle sales secrets and name-dropping out of brokers, I roamed around Cannes under the sweltering sun, hopping on and off shiny yachts at my leisure. As an FT photographer, I was welcome to tag onto the small tours given to potential buyers and so found myself obediently observing ebony furniture, a backlit-onyx wall, marble bathrooms with sunken jacuzzis, a staircase bound in leather and acres of deep shag-pile carpets.
It appeared that many Cannes locals had come along to the show for a day out. Crowds, representing the 99% of the population that will never have an invitation to climb aboard such yachts as prospective owners, milled along the quaysides, ooh-ing and aah-ing appreciatively at the other 1%. One of the yachts that seemed to garner the most attention boasted a glass cabinet on deck containing a custom-built motorcycle. When the must-remain-anonymous owner (sshhh…..the whispers are that he may be the heir to the Lego fortune) feels like it, he can, by cunning use of an on-board crane, swing the cabinet down over the side of the boat and take the bike out for a spin.
Monaco: no photographers please
However, despite these advanced levels of boating extravagance, a friend of mine who is Marketing Manager for a leading global yachting company told me that she wouldn’t be at the Cannes show because it simply isn’t important enough. “I don’t get out of bed for less than 60 metres” she joked (the biggest yacht in Cannes, which had looked pretty large from my point of view, was 52 metres long). The Monaco Yacht Show, held a few weeks later, was a different matter entirely. She certainly got up for that.
Indeed, some of the vessels in Monaco’s Port Hercule simply dwarfed the superyachts I’d seen in Cannes. Instead of motorcycles on deck, they sported helicopters on their rooves. A prohibitive ticketing system ensured that this show was certainly not a day out for the locals and, in keeping with the general attitude towards photographers in Monaco (see a post on Monaco photographer permissions here), I was not welcomed aboard any vessel either, despite the journalist and I presenting our press credentials from a prominent German news magazine. “No appointment? Absolutely no visit. Definitely no press. And absolutely, definitely no press photographers” was the message we received time and time again, as white-teethed PR Managers strategically positioned their welcome paraphernalia to firmly block our way. It struck me as an intriguing attitude to publicity at a trade fair where new products were being launched onto the market for sale.
rosé and glamour to start the day
Fortunately, writer Thilo had not been entirely lacking in advance preparation and we began with a portrait. What her boat lacked in size, Russian yacht company founder Irina made up for in glamour, colour and strength of personality. We arrived first thing in the morning and before we’d had a chance to put our yacht slippers on, she barked at a waiter to bring us (enormous purple) glasses of chilled rosé, presented on a silver platter. Clad in 2000 € designer sunglasses, a sequinned top and jeans shorts that left little to the imagination when she sprawled across the couch, Irina cheerfully humoured both journalist and photographer. Marina, her young, lithe assistant, was all too happy too, at her boss’s command, to strip off, don an orange bikini and take a cold-yet-visibly-enjoyable shower on deck, while Irina sprawled alongside, to add that touch of glamour to photographs of the boat.
chocolate fingers and sexy fish
Over the course of my assignment to capture “the surreal world of super-rich people” (the exact words from my photographer’s brief), I bumped into several people I’d taken portraits of previously (being a photographer in Monaco has introduced me to the yachting world, from the founder of Star Clippers to superyacht designer Espen Øeino). By the end of two days though, everything was becoming a blur. Opulent white carpets, gleaming white boats and a disproportionate number of beautiful people clad in skintight white clothes were starting to bring out a naughty streak in me. I was not alone. As Thilo and I hungrily tucked into a bag of chocolate waffles, the heat quickly melting the chocolate onto our fingers, his expression was a mirror of mine as an immaculate woman sauntered past us, her opulent figure poured into a designer cream catsuit…
With mutual realisation that it was time to call it a day, we took up some new friends on their invitation to a relaxing glass of champagne aboard the interestingly-named Sexy Fish superyacht. Foie gras and caviar nibbles filled the hole that chocolate waffles hadn’t and I unashamedly donned the cap given to me on arrival, NETJETS printed unsubtly across the front. “I don’t think you’re supposed to wear that immediately”, said Thilo, pointing out the sea of cocktail dresses and freshly coiffed manes on deck. I looked around, conceded his point, but left the cap on. Looking at my watch, I calculated that I had just enough time to partake of another king prawn and truffle puff before heading back towards the train station.