Sailing away

Sailing away

While the super-wealthy enjoy their multi-million pound cruisers, opportunities are increasing for the rest of us to sail in style, as Josh Sims discovers.

It would cost you £130,000 a week to charter Sir Philip Green’s Benetto Lionheart yacht on which the model Naomi Campbell was seen frolicking last summer. Beyonce and her husband Jay Z also took to the sea off the coast of Croatia, paying £119,000 a week.

Likewise, the Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button, actress Eva Longoria and the ubiquitous Katie Price (aka Jordan) were also snapped on the water.

Small wonder then, with such high-profile figures spending their holidays afloat, that the yacht market is buoyant. Owning a mega-yacht may be an option only open to billionaire Russian oligarchs, who might perhaps consider the 80-metre Ocean Breeze, which is moored in Nice and is for sale complete with gold taps, pool table, steam room, surgery and sea-to-air missile system; one careful owner – Saddam Hussein.

But such is typically beyond the pocket of even the very wealthy, though that has not prevented a rising interest in the attraction of smaller fish and increased demand in the pre-owned market. Cruisers, pleasure and motor boats are all increasing in popularity, and top-spec models, thanks to their manufacturers seeking to broaden their markets, are now being bought for as little as £10,000.

The market is also drawing the attention of brand names historically outside the boating world and the Porsche Design Group recently announced a deal with the Singapore-based yacht builder Royal Falcon Fleet to design and market a new range of catamarans and super-yachts.

The Monaco-based, if unfortunately named, boat maker Wally has also sparked renewed interest with a bold new aesthetic for its yachts and smaller craft that – dark, foreboding and seriously streamlined – is more stealth than steerage. It is now also working with Hermes on some models.

Another leading maker, Aeon, is cornering the eco market with yachts covered in solar panelling, engine systems that recycle waste and hulls sculpted to mimic a shark’s body for improved aqua-dynamics.

Small wonder then that the big four of the cruiser and motorboat world – Riva, Sealine, Sunseeker and Fairline – have also upped the ante in terms of design, moving away from the traditional fixtures, classic lines and white hulls typical of such craft in favour of more striking style. Riva, for example, is best known for its hand-built wooden boats, suggestive of the suave playboy powering from party to party off the shores of Lake Como. Brigitte Bardot, Sean Connery, Richard Burton and Anita Ekberg were all Riva owners. It is an evocative, romantic image – but one which, since Riva has been working with part-fibreglass construction for 40 years, has long since been updated by more technically advanced boats.

There is, for example, the electro-hydraulic board on the Sunriva model, which transforms bow sofa into sun deck, or the Venere’s Anti-Rolling Gyro, which actually eliminates rocking motion, thus helping to keep your Martini down.

Sealine’s new F-series, similarly, has an internal layout that, radically in boat design, creates an open-plan area ideal for socialising, while its T60 Aura is a first for the motor yacht industry in being designed by the company in collaboration with Studio Conran under Sebastian Conran, son of the restaurateur and Habitat founder Terence. It has, as might be expected, a more contemporary interior than is typical of boats of this class, with blond wood, white leather and none of the standard beige vinyl or high-gloss cherry wood.

The design reworks the layout to maximise a small space, following Studio Conran work for the Yotel hotel cabins concept and, prior to that, Concorde.

So, motor-yachts are now appealing to a younger, more design-conscious consumer who may not have considered buying before, hence this is becoming an increasingly brand-oriented market.

“The same loyalty to brands in motor boats is there now, as much as it is for cars,” argues Francesco Frediani, Riva’s vice president forsales and marketing.

“Riva is often compared now to the likes of Rolls Royce, as other brands are compared to high-performance car brands. There are customers who don’t just want a motorboat, but a Riva – perhaps because they’ve seen one in the movies.

Like many motor-yacht companies now, they have to be luxury brands for a luxury market.” But there is more to the growth in the motor-yacht market - growth which has bucked recessionary trends – than the application of style. Carsten Astheimer, Sealine’s head of design, suggests that new definitions of luxury favour emphasis less on what money can bring materially as what it can bring in terms of “wellness”. And being at sea, in greater contact with nature than city living typically affords, is a rare form of escape. Frediani agrees.

“It is the dream of the motor boat that keeps demand for it alive,” he says. “Most of our clients are in business and lead busy working lives. Consequently, they place a lot of emphasis on their holiday time and expect it to be especially fulfilling. “Motor boats or yachts provide not only that experience of the outdoor life, but also offer a tranquil and private environment. It is a niche market of course, but more people are realising that, for perhaps the same money, a motor boat offers more than a sports car.

A car will never provide the same sense of getting away from it all as a boat.” Among the highly commended models lately are the Fountain 48 Express Cruiser (around £500,000), the Chris Craft Corsair 28 (around £84,000) and, for the CEO in search of pure fun, the Ribcraft USA 210 RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) at around £45,000.

And there is a huge range of possibilities. Experts recommend a boat of less than 50ft for anyone who does not intend to hire a crew. You should also consider that the cost does not stop with the purchase price. Fuel, insurance, maintenance and mooring all add up and are one reason why, for all that super-yachts make for headlines, smaller boats are more popular. The other key factor is the desired purpose, whether you are charting open seas or sailing more sheltered rivers and lakes, and the nature of your enjoyment. Day trips or longer holidays? Cruising in comfort or speeding through the waves? Most find that anything capable of 25 knots provides economy with more than enough excitement, with slower boats often safer and more stable.

There are gizmos aplenty, but bow thrusters (on any boat over 40ft), echo sounder, chart plotter, radio communications and radar are genuine benefits worth the expenditure.

A combination of factors will combine to make the ideal boat for each owner. It was, for example, less the air con, flat-screen TVs, laundry facilities or even the swanky galley as the superior handling, low sound levels, electronic steering and user-friendly systems monitoring that won Fairline the Motor Boat of the Year Award this year for its Squadron 55 model. But then it is £1.4m. Maybe it’s time to splash out?