While 2016 was a year of uncertainty for many, this year saw four superyachts measuring 80m and above take to the waves. And despite the uncertainty in politics and the global economy, the orders of yachts exceeding 250ft in length reached a record level with 52 projects, according to the Global Order Book.
“Competition between yacht owners has never been greater,” says Chief Commercial Officer of Italian yacht-maker Benetti, Fabio Ermetto. He says that owners are commissioning bigger and bigger boats, just because they can afford to.
“Today’s wealth is just amazing. You have people who in three years make US$10 billion, that never happened before. The more wealth, the more propensity to consume jets and yachts. And that is why we’re having the competition for the biggest superyacht.”
This year saw the launch of the world’s largest superyacht by volume, Dilbar, built for Russian Alisher Usmanov, a major shareholder in Arsenal Football Club. Despite her 156m length placing her at number four, she is the world’s biggest superyacht in terms of internal volume. Not only can she carry a 4,603kg Airbus H175 on board, but she also has the biggest indoor pool on any superyacht, at 25m, making it the focal point of the ship’s design.
Dilbar competes with the record-breaking 180m Azzam, owned by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, which still rules as the world’s longest superyacht according to yachting title Boat International, which publishes an annual Top 101 List of largest yachts. It’s a sign of “owners going to unprecedented lengths to rule the waves”, says Boat International editor Stewart Campbell.
Meanwhile, retail magnate Sir Philip Green took ownership of a new yacht this year, 90m Lionheart, which is the third-biggest new entrant on the list. Coming in at number 59, she is shipbuilder Benetti’s largest superyacht so far — snatching the title from the 86m Kingdom 5KR, formerly owned by US president-elect Donald Trump under the name Trump Princess, which fell to number 69. Designed by Lady Tina Green and her business partner Pietro Mingarelli, Lionheart has a helipad and can accommodate 12 guests and 40 crew, according to Boat International.
Another new entry on the Top 101 list is Feadship’s Aquarius, which is set to be the shipbuilder’s quietest yacht to date. Commissioned by experienced superyacht owner Steve Wynn, who played a major role in the development of the Las Vegas Strip in the early 1990s, the yacht’s 92m places it at number 50. Wynn, who houses much of his private art collection within the superyacht’s interior, is described by the shipbuilder as “highly ambitious in terms of his personal possessions”.
The final new entry on the list is the 83m Here Comes the Sun, the largest Amels superyacht to be built since the shipyard opened nearly 100 years ago.
But this is nothing compared with the size of some of the upcoming yachts being delivered, including the 142.81m Sailing Yacht A from German builder Nobiskrug, which is designed by Philippe Starck. Featuring multiple elevators and free-floating spiral staircases, she also displays the longest piece of curved glass ever made, at 15m and 1.8 tonnes. Meanwhile the 141m Dream Symphony, which was meant to be delivered this year, will become the world’s largest yacht designed to be powered by sail alone, when she finally arrives.
"There remains a considerable appetite for very big superyachts, with a number of shipyards performing strongly in this sector, notably Lurssen, Feadship, Benetti and Oceanco," says Stewart Campbell, editor of Boat International. Explaining precisely why the world’s billionaires think it’s the right time to invest in a superyacht is tricky to pin down, he adds, because many of these yachts currently in build may have been ordered three or four years ago. "It’s fair to assume that many deals were done when oil and natural gas prices were at highs a few years ago. It helps, too, that the American economy is performing well, since it’s home to more superyacht owners than any other country."
Back at Benetti, Ermetto reckons that the move towards bigger actually stems from an increased demand for bespoke and custom build, which is a big area of growth for the Italian shipyard. “We ask them, do you want it modern, what kind of décor, what sort of range, where do you want to sail? We’re building them their dream so inevitably it gets bigger and more elaborate. They love the process, which can take three or four years. They’re bored at home, they’ve given their business to their wife or kids. It keeps them alive.”
For some clients, it’s not even about length but the feeling of having a more expensive toy than your next-door-neighbour. Captain Ilija Dimitrijevic, who works for a Russian owner with a Benetti yacht based in the Mediterranean, recalls a recent unusual situation of oneupmanship. A Chinese buyer approached Benetti with a proposal that Dimitrijevic describes as a yacht vendor’s “dream”. “He said I just want the same yacht [as my friend], but more expensive. So we said, sure!”