To signal status and wealth in the Renaissance, the rich would put churches in European piazzas. These days, the rich put superyachts in European ports.
They might rent one, like Kylie Jenner did recently for her 22nd birthday. In mid-August, the young billionaire chartered the 90-metre Tranquility, upon which a handful of her closest friends partied the Italian Riviera. The boat, if you can call it that, has a helipad, swimming pool, beauty salon, spa, steam room, Turkish bath, gym and massage room, in addition to 10 guest bedrooms. That's not the end of it. There's a cinema, among other necessities. The cost? Upward of $2.45 million a week "plus expenses".
Or they might own one, like Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, who had the biggest superyacht in the world, the 180-metre Azzam, worth a cool $885 million when it launched five years ago.
What is a superyacht, you ask? I asked the same question on my first Mediterranean cruise this northern summer, when I first became aware of them while lunching on the back deck of the Oceania Riviera. A superyacht is a really, really big and private seafaring playground with the kinds of bells and whistles only a large, full-time maintenance crew can tend to.
The first I spotted was the sleek black Main, when we were in Ibiza. A quick Google (thank you, good ship Wi-Fi) and I found out it was designer Giorgio Armani's "home on the water". He apparently likes to spend a chunk of the northern summer moored at the foot of Ibiza's old town. Or so it is alleged. There was neither sight nor sign of life on the 65-metre stunner.
But that's not the point, it seems. There's boaty brinkmanship going on and you only have to take a high-season jaunt down Spain's Balearic Islands, France's Cote d' Azur and its Italian counterpart on a cruise ship to see this in action.
According to Bloomberg, around 2000 high-net-worth individuals are driving the superyacht industry, worth $4.5 billion in 2018, when nearly 300 were sold. Consider also that there is a top tier for these things, and the tubs in it, such as the aforementioned Azzam, are called mega-yachts, which cost far more than the others.
In Monte Carlo, we docked next to one, a huge mini-ship, really, emblazoned with the name El Raya. Another quick Google and I was telling anyone on my actual ship who would listen, that it was owned by a member of the royal family of Bahrain, and they had bought it from Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov. She's worth $370 million, and only the 34th biggest in the world. Clearly not content with that ranking, Usmanov offloaded her, and now he owns the 110-metre Dilmar, which has her own custom-built Airbus helicopter that seats seven. She may be only the fourth longest of her kind in the world, but she is the largest by volume.
Other specimens came and went from view as we cruised along: the 85-metre Solandge, once owned by famed superyacht interior designer Aileen Rodriguez and available for charter at $1.6 million a week, looked cosy. And festive. It has a DJ booth, a jacuzzi that converts to a dance floor, and a crystal tree running the length of a grand interior spiral staircase stretching through the middle of the boat.
And then there was the smaller, 73-metre Titania, owned by British tycoon John Caudwell. As I passed by on a public ferry from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino, where our Oceania Riviera was anchored, she had a rather complex inflatable water park erected off her stern and there were kids playing on it. Totally worth the $1 million a week charter.
I'm not sure I'd call myself a superyacht fan – but I am absolutely superyacht fascinated. And I'm looking forward to one day seeing the Sofia. She may be tiny in comparison to others. but forget water parks. She has her very own yellow submarine parked on her stern.
Julietta Jameson travelled as a guest of Oceania Cruises.