The top end of the building industry appears to be blooming, with 13 superyachts of 100 metres or more under construction at time of press – an extremely healthy number in this rarified sector. To put the figure into context, when Boat International’s Top 100 list was published in February, there were 25 privately owned yachts of 100 metres or more in existence.
The grandest of the large vessels currently in-build is the hush-hush 180 metre Lürssen project Azzam, meaning that barring other contenders it will replace 162.5 metre Eclipse as the world’s largest privately owned yacht. The big-build list also includes Dubois Naval Architects’ 100 metre, which will be the world’s largest sloop and bear a 125 metre mast, and Feadship’s 101.5 metre motor yacht, which will be the largest boat the yard has ever produced.
‘We see a growing market in the bracket of superyachts of 100 metres-plus, indicated by the increasing numbers of very wealthy people around the world,’ says Dr Herbert Aly, CEO of Blohm & Voss shipyard, which specialises in large superyachts. ‘This is reflected by the quantity and the quality of inquiries our shipyards get from the market.’
Jonathan Beckett, chief executive of Burgess, a brokerage specialising in large superyachts, has had a similar experience. ‘There is a distinct appetite for yachts in this size sector from clients whose wealth has increased vastly over the last few years and superyachts seem to be high on their agenda at this juncture in time,’ says Beckett. ‘The interest is coming predominantly, but not exclusively, from Russia and the Middle East.’
Another contributory factor may be the spirit of friendly competition that pervades this particular sector. ‘There isn’t exactly a contest to own a larger yacht than your peers, but the tendency towards this attitude is more marked at this end of the market,’ says Beckett.
In any case, the willingness to spend is quite a contrast to the mood around the largest superyachts just three years ago. ‘I don’t think clients for this size bracket ever left the market, but there was a nervousness about spending money. If you were worth $20 billion and you’re now worth $15 billion it’s still pretty frightening. Or even if you had retained your net worth, it was probably not the right thing to be seen to be commissioning a large yacht in 2009. The shipyards were very worried in 2009. There has been a renewed appetite to spend money again.’
But while the current build figure is unusually large, clients in the 100 metre-plus bracket have historically been more inclined towards new construction than buying existing yachts, certainly in comparison to other sectors of the superyacht market.
‘It’s true (these clients are more likely to build than buy),’ says Beckett. ‘But if you look on the brokerage market to see how many yachts over 100 metres are for sale, there’s virtually no supply. If there was a well-built boat, built in the last eight years or so, with modern facilities and if it was properly priced, it would sell. Nothing is selling at inflated prices at the moment, whether it’s a Benetti classic or a 120 metre superyacht.’
The 13 yachts in build could also signal that the size of yacht owners’ desire is still growing – and extra metres mean more work for the superyacht industry: more materials, engineering, labour, staff and crew. The length of the world’s largest yachts has increased dramatically over the last two decades. When the Top 100 list was first put together in 1990, the smallest boat to make the list was the 44.83 metre Paraiso. This year the most diminutive entries were Laurel and Siren, both 73.15 metres.
‘There is a natural limit, I think we’re reaching the top end,’ says Beckett. ‘Will there ever be a superyacht that is 300 metres? I seriously doubt it. Will we see one that is 200 metres? I think so. You have to understand that the difference between the volume of a boat of 200 metres and one of 300 metres is dramatic, so I think there is a threshold.’
Designer Tony Dixon, of British interior and exterior design studio Redman Whiteley Dixon, has worked on several large yachts and was responsible for the interior of 155 metre Al Saïd, currently the world’s third-largest private yacht, and has recently completed the exterior of the UK’s largest superyacht, 96 metre Vava II. He believes that increasing size for the sake of it does not necessarily improve lifestyle on board. ‘Many owners tend not to opt for so many cabins because they don’t want that many people on board,’ he says. ‘You can also lose the personal aspect and the intimacy – for example, you’re going to have a large crew, so you’re not going to find familiar faces all the time. You’re also limited as to where you can go.’
A 100 metre yacht can be a practical option, however, for owners with large families or entourages. ‘If it is a royal yacht, for example, and there are lots of bedrooms and conference areas and entertaining areas, it makes sense,’ says Dixon.
Beckett’s company has placed five new construction projects of over 110 metres in the past few years – two have been delivered and three more are in-build. ‘It’s immensely practical in one sense, because it’s a floating village that you can take loads of people on, but you can’t get in close to the beach and you can’t bring it into port, so that’s only going to suit a certain number of people. When you get up to that size range it is a finite market.’
This reason, before money worries or shyness about spending, will always keep the numbers in this size bracket modest. ‘I don’t think the popularity is going to increase particularly,’ says Dixon. ‘But there will always be some yachts over 100 metres, because there will always be the super rich who want to be seen and there will always be royal superyachts.’
But these huge canvasses are also important for the industry in general. Their huge spaces require a new approach, forcing designers to think outside the box and nourishing yacht design as a whole, because they carry their new ideas and experience down to smaller projects. ‘If you can put elements of the larger yachts in a smaller yacht, for instance, you might start thinking about one part of the boat with high ceilings, or you might try developing intricacies within the staircases,’ says Dixon. Just imagine the design possibilities of a 200 metre of the future.