If you’re flying privately into Nice, have a quiet word with the captain just before the final approach. For depending on air traffic control, it’s worth knowing on which side of the plane to sit. For this is one of the most spectacular views in civil aviation. With the Mediterranean coastline laid out before you, it’s a veritable feast of property-watching. Towards the end of September, there’s another thing to look out for; the shining white arrows of the global superyacht community, scattered along the bays and marinas, gradually increasing in frequency until you see the expensive thicket of hulls surrounding Monaco harbour.
A solitary superyacht can be a thing of wonder, if not always of beauty, a monumental symbol of not just wealth but of industry, creativity and massive, massive complexity. However, taken en masse, as per the marina and bay of Monaco roundabout the height of September’s annual Yacht Show, it’s easy to be less sympathetic about the view. Massive yachts are moored puffy cheek by billowing jowl, resembling nothing so much as a particularly florid dessert, with extra layers of rich sauces and unnecessary accoutrements from an army of sharp-elbowed chefs.
This is the panorama that greets you at the Monaco Yacht Show, where every dock, jetty and pontoon overladen with the white and grey flanks of some of the world’s biggest boats. Around 125 superyachts were moored up for this, the 27th annual event, and despite the dips and dives of the global economy, the yachting community remains relentlessly upbeat. People are still commissioning yachts. Fraser, one of the world’s pre-eminent brokers and charter firms, claims to have a solid kilometre of yachts on display.
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that superyachts have been getting bigger over the past decade, an expansion that correlates neatly with the number of newly minted billionaires emerging from territories where such wealth was once anathema. However, as Fraser’s annual review of life on the waves noted, sales growth is actually in the middle market, the 20-40 m boats that were once in danger of being swallowed up by the megayachts. Although there will always be those who live to commission increasingly massive yachts, some in the industry see the way forward in this middle ground. The ‘pocket superyacht’ is a charter favourite, offered by companies like Fraser, Y.Co, Burgess and Camper and Nicholson as an upscale alternative to a villa in the Maldives or a high season week in Courchevel. Might might not always be right.
Monaco, and the media, still favours the massive – the average size of the boats on display was an impressive 49m and the top five were all 70 m plus. Like a giant sea beast, the yacht world is an ecosystem feeding many, many smaller creatures, from interior designers and furniture makers, to porcelain and crystal specialists, art, IT and security consultants, pilots of helicopters and submarines, chefs, stewards, and managers and many, many more.
Away from the massed ranks of docked behemoths, there’s always fascination to be found in the dedicated toys and technology aimed at this very particular elite. It was also the second year of a dedicated 'car deck,' with the supercar-loving Monégasques getting a chance to check out their next ride, be it brand-new or elaborately restored.
So with memories still fresh of the swish of endless tenders shuttling foot-weary punters backwards and forth, and the sound of waves lapping against expensive hulls (not to mention the high-pitched hum of photographic drones and those coastal views from NetJets’ brand new Challenger 350), here is our selection of the best in show, both above and below the waves.