First published in 1989 as part of The Superyachts Vol. 2
Following the 2020 US Presidential Election, BOAT dives into the archives to tell the full story of how Donald Trump bought the 86 metre Benetti superyacht Nabila and transformed her into Trump Princess.
“A certain level of quality.” That is the phrase that Donald Trump returns to again and again to explain just why he bought Adnan Khashoggi’s 86 metre yacht Nabila. And an explanation is needed.
After all, Trump doesn’t water-ski or go in for swimming in a big way, and he’s always tried to avoid the sun. As a matter of fact, he has never owned a big boat before. He doesn’t even particularly like boats. “I’m not into them,” he says with a shrug, “I’ve been on friends’ boats before and couldn’t get off fast enough.”
So why spend close to $30million on a yacht? Trump will admit that she is an “incredible toy”, even “the ultimate toy”. But words like that make the whole venture seem frivolous, so he prefers to refer to the boat which he has re-named Trump Princess, as “a work of art.” And what makes her a work of art is, of course, the “level of quality”.
To really appreciate the level of quality, Trump says you have to see the interior. That is where Khashoggi lavished money with utter abandon. Trump points out, for example, the walls of the cabins covered in chamois leather and bird’s eye maple.
Bathrooms are done not in marble but in onyx — and not just any onyx either, but onyx hand-carved by the finest craftsmen in Italy. Donald Trump bought Trump Princess, he says, “because I was buying a great piece of art at a ridiculously low price”.
Unlike Trump, Adnan Khashoggi has always had a thing about boats. The arms dealer, who took advantages of connections with the Saudi royal family to amass a fortune worth around $3billion at its peak, acquired his first yacht when he was 18 and traded up as his wealth increased.
In the 1970s Khashoggi owned two yachts and while these were impressive, neither made quite the naked assertion of fantastic wealth he required, so he commissioned the British designer Jon Bannenberg to design the most sumptuous, the most incredible yacht the world has seen.
“He wanted the best yacht in the world,” says Bannenberg, “and we achieved that at the time.” The vessel Bannenberg created cost $35million to build, but Khashoggi also commissioned Italian designer Luigi Sturchio to produce the interior and that is believed to have cost more than the yacht itself.
“No-one really knows what she originally cost,” says Jonathan Beckett, CEO of Burgess, the broker that arranged the sale to Trump. Named Nabila, after Khashoggi’s only daughter, the vessel was launched in 1980. Insisting that she be totally self-contained, Khashoggi had included in the specification everything from a patisserie and three-chair hair salon to a screening room with an 800-film library and a hospital with operating theatre.
There is accommodation for a crew of 52 people. To get to and from shore, there is a helicopter landing pad and a pair of nine metre tenders. Fuel tanks holding 618,256 litres of diesel give a maximum range of 8,500 nautical miles at the cruising speed of 17.5 knots. Three water-makers produce 45,000 litres of fresh water a day from the ocean and six mammoth refrigerators carry a three-month supply of food for 100 people.
Many of Khashoggi’s most lavish parties took place aboard Nabila, but the yacht was also an invaluable business instrument. Not only movie stars but also political leaders and diplomats were invited aboard. On one occasion five heads of state — including three kings — were entertained simultaneously.
Often, Nabila’s guests were Arab princes as well as European and American businessman of all descriptions. Ensconced in the various suites, they used the 150 telephones and the satellite communications system to arrange arms sales and commodities trades. When contracts were ready to be signed, the yacht could quickly slip into international waters, where sovereign restrictions on business transactions do not apply. On many occasions, several deals were conducted simultaneously, in different suites.
A tour of the entire yacht, which has five decks and some 100 separate areas, would take too long, but a description just of the owner’s suite should be sufficient to give an idea of the exquisite luxury on board Trump Princess.
The bedroom occupies the full beam of the hull. It has a tortoiseshell ceiling, a three metre wide bed, and bedside remote controls for the entertainment centre, for room service, even for the curtains. It also has a secret exit.
From the bedroom we head down a corridor past a mirrored dressing room and into Trump's bathroom, where the onyx floor tiles are carved in a sunburst pattern. To one side is a room with the owner’s barber chair. Next to that is the shower and sauna. The shower has 13 nozzles and is carved in the shape of a scallop shell from a single piece of onyx — a task that took a team of workers a year to complete.
From the bathroom we proceed into Trump’s television area, then into his large sitting area, panelled in the inevitable chamois leather. From there we take the owner’s private elevator (there is another one for guests and a third for crew) to the his private sundeck.
An enclosed section houses the bar, pantry, video games, and another sauna and shower. Outside, behind bullet-proof glass, sits a circular swimming pool that measures 2.4 metres in diameter.
That may seem a bit small, but there is a water jet so you can swim all day against the current and never reach the other side. A hydraulic lift raises the sunbed high above anyone else on the boat, enabling the sunbather to bask in total privacy.
When Khashoggi’s empire began to crumble during the mid 1980s, he procured a loan for $50million, putting up Nabila as collateral. When Khashoggi defaulted on his loan in 1987, a Swiss holding company took possession of the yacht. She was therefore placed in the hands of Burgess with instructions to dispose of the yacht quickly at an asking price of $50million.
In September 1987, almost as soon as he learned that Nabila was for sale, Donald Trump made a cash bid for the yacht. Burgess had already received two other offers, one of which was equal to that made by Trump, but subject to several conditions. Jonathan Beckett flew to New York and countered Trump’s offer with a proposal of $32million. Trump responded with $28million, and half an hour later he had agreed to pay $30million — for a yacht he had never boarded.
As soon as the news was broken, Beckett was suddenly deluged with higher offers from potential buyers who had been sitting on the fence. Meanwhile, Trump was arranging to pay less. He was contacted on behalf of Khashoggi, who was said to be upset that his daughter’s name would now be on a yacht belonging to someone else. Negotiations ensued and Trump agreed to rename the boat Trump Princess if the cost were reduced by about $1million. “He got an unbelievable deal, in retrospect,” says Beckett.
Trump then spent $8.5million having the yacht refitted in the Netherlands by Amels who repainted the hull, rebuilt the main engines and replaced 320 metres of chamois leather. One of the more garish cabins became the children’s room and the hair salon a cloakroom.
Renamed Trump Princess, the yacht, which Trump says will cost about $2.5million a year to operate, set sail from the Azores in June 1988 and arrived in New York on July 4 in time for the huge party the Trumps threw on it that night.
In addition to private cruising with his family, Trump, like Khashoggi, uses Trump Princess as a business instrument — though in somewhat different fashion. Trump Princess spends the summer months cruising the East Coast from her base in Atlantic City, where she docks at the marina in full view of Trump’s Castle Hotel. Trump makes the boat available for selected charities and “very high rollers who spend millions of dollars a year in the casinos”.
“There is a whole market there,” Trump explains. “While I was building Farley Marina, I was trying to get the boat, because I knew that she would blow everybody’s mind. She would become a spectacle.”
But that is what Trump Princess has been all along — a spectacular statement of astronomic wealth, a massive piece of equipment designed to arouse envy in those who behold it. Khashoggi had stipulated that the boat be huge enough to intimidate even the owners of the big yachts — and it does.
A few years ago, a friend of Trump’s was at the helm of his own very large yacht in the Mediterranean — and feeling quite proud — when Nabila roared by, practically swamping him. “He said it gave him a total inferiority complex,” Trump says. And that, no doubt, is another reason Trump bought her.