There is no denying that 2009 was an annus horribilis for the yacht industry, or that the first half of 2010 was almost as rough.
The Onion? No, it’s the Financial Times, leading off its Yachting special section with a report on the state of the super-luxury boating business.
The FT’s Polo special section gave us some yuks a few weeks back. I can’t resist—the legendary lede from that one must be repeated:
“He took a word that was simple, very easy to remember, worked in every language, and also happened to represent his fantasy. Then he made that meaningful to millions of people.” The word was polo; the man, Ralph Lauren.
If you’re wondering how well-to-do folks like that University of Chicago law professor get so lost in their private-school bills and million-dollar mortgages that they can think they’re struggling, well, it’s all relative. They’re probably reading the FT’s Yachting section or the paper’s over-the-top How to Spend It magazine or the Journal’s WSJ.
Congratulations, you’re on the hedonic treadmill. Most of us are. It’s just that some of us are in the top 0.5 percent of earners. And some of us, the Yachting section targets, are in the top 0.01 percent of earners. Even those lucky one-in-ten-thousands, in turn, rub elbows with the top 0.0001 percent, who have the superyacht rather than the plain ol’ yacht.
And does the FT have a story for them! It’s about the pernicious bureaucratic thicket that superyacht captains are supposedly finding themselves tangled up in more and more.
Just above that piece is one headlined “You may need another boat for the extras.” Indeed, the $670,000 personal submarine is an option that mustn’t be missed, nor should the $200,000 “luxury safe,” or the “gold, silver, bronze, tellurium and exotic hardwoods” hi-fi—a mere $325,000. And what superyacht would be complete without the JETprotect CS300K counter-surveillance camera, “so powerful that it can identify binoculars, camera lenses, telescopic sights and even human eyeballs from hundreds of meters away”—to protect from pirates and paparazzi, of course.
But you can’t top the Lasy Solar sun lounger, for when you’re too lazy to get up when sunbathing—or too chintzy to pay cabana boys to hoist you.
The Lasy sunbed is designed to take the effort out of sunbathing, with an automatic tracking system that ensures it revolves to follow the rays. The motors are solar powered, while built-in cooling fans and a programmable fresh water mist spray system prevent the user from overheating. There is ambient lighting for use after dark, and the 3.2m diameter mattress is made from marine grade, waterproof leather. Try one out on the Edmiston terrace at Monaco.
From €98,000 ($128,000)
So many details to think about when superyachting. Another story in the section talks about the logistics of ocean-going chefs.
Only larger yachts have a second person to help and those over 60m often have a second chef, whose main responsibility is to cook for the crew, which may number up to 50 or more on the biggest boats.
The chef’s job involves more than just the cooking and provisioning that would be required ashore. He, or indeed she, for there are many female chefs aboard yachts, is responsible for everything food-related and is always on call. If the owner or guests want something to eat at 3am, the chef has to get up and produce it.
This can make the chef the hardest working crew member, with long and gruelling hours.
Hey, the FT’s gotta do what it’s gotta do to stay afloat, so to speak. This section alone drew nearly three-and-a-half pages of luxury ads.
But it’s worth noting that while the superyacht market is bouncing back “out of the doldrums,” Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon is describing how folks at the other end of the spectrum are living:
“I don’t need to tell you that our customer remains challenged…You need not go farther than one of our stores on midnight at the end of the month. And it’s real interesting to watch, about 11 p.m. customers start to come in and shop, fill their grocery basket with basic items – baby formula, milk, bread, eggs – and continue to shop and mill about the store until midnight when government electronic benefits cards get activated, and then the checkout starts and occurs. And our sales for those first few hours on the first of the month are substantially and significantly higher.”
“And if you really think about it, the only reason somebody gets out in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it, and they’ve been waiting for it. Otherwise, we are open 24 hours — come at 5 a.m., come at 7 a.m., come at 10 a.m. But if you are there at midnight, you are there for a reason.”
“Modern day bread lines,” as the blog Zero Hedge put it well.
How about a special section on that?
Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.