With a new-found passion for regatta racing, the entrepreneur and three-time superyacht owner Marco Vögele tells Stewart Campbell why he’s eager to go faster.
The first time I see the owner of the bright green superyacht Inouï, he is accepting a prize for second place in front of a packed piazza at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Sardinia; the lean Swiss sailor quietly accepts his trophy before returning to the anonymity of the crowd. For someone who is not big on grandstanding, it comes as a surprise that Marco Vögele owns one of the loudest and most flamboyant boats on the sailing scene.
The award at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup demonstrates a trajectory for Vögele, following a fourth at St Barths earlier in the year and a third in the Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta in June. “Racing has become a big part of my life,” he admits as we walk back to his berth. “I didn’t start out with an ambition to do regattas, but you do one and you get hooked. You go faster, get better, then you start thinking about buying a faster boat!”
Inouï is Vögele’s third yacht. He started racing with a 26.7 metre aluminium Jongert, Vivid, in the early 2000s, which he stuck with for four years. But the addiction soon had a hold and he went looking for bigger and faster. Vögele found it in Gliss, a 32 metre completed at Royal Huisman in 2006. The yacht’s turquoise green hull immediately had tongues wagging, but they hadn’t seen nothing yet, because in June 2013, Inouï splashed down.
Vögele describes her colour as “pistachio”. We’d go with “crazy lime”. That’s no bad thing: the hull zings, the gleaming topsides date every boat around her by about 10 years. The hot pink sunlounger cushions, meanwhile, make zero sense – at least until you see them. Andrew Winch was responsible for the boat’s design, and he understood what Vögele wanted: a concept to match the name – Inouï, in case you didn’t know, means extraordinary in French.
This yacht, with naval architecture from Philippe Briand, marks another break from his previous craft: she is built entirely from carbon, and 30 tonnes lighter than the smaller Gliss, which was aluminium. “I was worried about that at first,” Vögele says. “But it turned out that I didn’t have to worry at all. [Inouï is] not too light and still nice and solid. When I’m cruising I don’t even think about what it’s made of.” Comfort was important, because Inouï is much more than a racer: Vögele estimates that he spends 13 to 14 weeks a year on board, in the Med and Caribbean.
He splits the rest of the year 50/50 between recreation and business. The day job is managing various investments and jointly running a family-owned shopping mall in his home-town on the shores of Lake Zurich, about 22 miles outside Switzerland’s largest city. It’s a shift down into third gear from his previous life as part of the team running the Charles Vögele fashion empire. With hundreds of shops, this chain remains responsible for dressing a big part of middle Europe, but the stress is no longer Vögele’s, having exited the business about 15 years ago.
He can’t quite quit the retail world, however, with most of his investments still centred around the sector. “My strength is product and marketing. I have very strong opinions, whether it’s clothes, watches or cars. For clothing, I like working in the mass market, as there’s always a customer. At the high end it’s harder to find buyers and I’m someone who likes to have a lot of customers. But I don’t mean cheap: I mean a good product, for good value that generates loyalty.”
It’s an assumption that with a new, healthier work/life balance, longer cruising – even a circumnavigation – is an ambition. “Not for me,” he states over dinner in Porto Cervo. “It’s too far to travel to the boat, since I wouldn’t be able to be on it full-time. And I’d never do the Atlantic. In the two weeks it takes to cross, I could have two weeks of travelling or golfing. There are so many other things to do in the same time.”
Long, lonely passages mean he’d miss the marina action, too. On our way back to the boat, we bump into Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, owner of superyacht Magic Carpet3, which had a good week in Sardinia, winning the Wally class ahead of eight other boats. It’s after midnight but the two superyacht owners stand and banter before waving each other off into the night. “I love walking down the dock,” Vögele offers as we move on. “It’s great to know your competitors, the ones you can beat and the ones you can’t. It’s like a club. It’s the same with crew: race crews all know each other, move around the boats and are a huge part of it. And I love looking at the boats all lined up: the lines, masts, passerelles and winches – you discover little details that make them beautiful and I really admire their complexity.”
The same eye for design transfers to Vögele’s private jet. The next day, he is due back in Zurich and invites me to join him for the flight. “We got the plane because of the boat; we use it a lot to meet Inouï, cruise somewhere, then we call the pilots to come and pick us up from some other island,” Vögele says, as the stewardess lays out napkins for lunch. “We care a lot about the detailing and enjoy choosing the design of everything, even this,” he continues, picking up the salt shaker and showing it to me. “It’s about a sense of quality. It’s not necessarily a Swiss trait, more about the industry I came from. You have to understand quality, or at least hire people who understand it.” Sitting across the aisle, Vögele’s friend Mark winks and says one word: “Watches.”
Inouï’s owner smiles. Like many other superyacht owners and particularly Swiss ones, what he wears on his wrist borders on obsession. “I was into watches 40 years ago,” he says, neatly sidestepping my question about how many he owns. “It’s such a great feeling, wearing a beautiful watch. They’re things you match to the occasion. I like well organised watches, especially from Patek Philippe, with features like perpetual calendars, split-second chronographs and minute repeaters but where the ability to read the time is still the most important feature. And I’m not interested in a conversation stopper. I wear watches that complete a look, that are seamless.”
His car choices, however, will not only stop conversation, but also traffic. He insists he’s no petrolhead, but I detect a whiff of gasoline as he tells me what he’s got in the garage at home: a 1960 Ferarri 250, a 1966 AC Cobra and a 1966 Aston Martin Short Chassis Volante. There’s a reliable and grounding Swissness in his slightly more down-to-earth autos: “I hate that quite often luxury is solely defined by horsepower and size. Luxury is driving cars that are a good balance of everything: beautiful lines, plenty of comfort and power, four-wheel drive, and a good overview from the steering position. I like Bentley GTs, Porsche 911s, and Mercedes. And with parking lots getting smaller and smaller, luxury for me is also finding a car that fits into a parking space!”
He tells me excitedly he’s due in the South of France in a few weeks’ time for the Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez. His passion for regatta life is clear and he wants to spread the love. “When I build a boat, my goal is to inspire people to get into the sport and get more boats built, and ultimately get more competitors in the races,” he says, ignoring the irony that this might make his first big regatta win harder to achieve.
Yet a superyacht regatta win isn't out of his grasp. With a fourth, third and second already this year, I’d venture that odds are short on Inouï’s owner scooping the top prize in Saint-Tropez. Maybe this would give him licence to apply more élan on the podium as a victor – but somehow, I doubt it.