Has yachting become too rational?
When did superyachting luxury become about homogenisation and volume?
I spoke with a captain recently for whom both the title and précis of this article don’t apply. The captain had recently completed a truly one of a kind refit project with his owner. Was the vessel practical by modern standards? No. Did it have the high ceilings and large volumes associated with most superyachts today? No. Was it following the typical floor to ceiling windows and beach club trends? No. Would I rather own or experience this superyacht over the vast majority of yachts on the water? Yes, absolutely.
As the superyacht market has matured, the business proposition for owning a superyacht has improved exponentially. Owning a superyacht and chartering it across multiple seasons in the Mediterranean and Caribbean or elsewhere has made it possible to mitigate costs more effectively than ever before. The issue with charter vessels, in particular, is that, typically, they need to appeal to a broad spectrum of demographics and tastes. As a result, we have seen a widespread homogenisation of aesthetics. Quite simply, the rational choice is to create an aesthetic that appeals to as many people as possible.
Rationality plays a massive part in all manner of choices, be they aesthetic or otherwise. However, invariably, when individuals are following sets of rules and regulations, considering aftersales value, applying contemporary trends and technologies, ensuring excellent sea keeping abilities and using logic to marry all these various requirements, similar solutions and designs are likely to be found.
In fact, it has got to a point where I have developed a nagging respect for projects that, in years gone by, I may have judged quite harshly. I remember seeing a project on the hard at a major refit yard many years ago that had one of the ugliest and distasteful paint jobs I have ever seen. Deciding that the typical gloss, metallic or matte options wouldn’t fit the bill, the owner had elected for sparkly paint for both the hull and superstructure. Not only was the paint job not great to look at, one of the yard managers explained to me how utterly ridiculous the cost for the paint job had been.
Upon returning from the trip I wasted no time in recounting my experience of the sparkly paint job. Today, however, I rather like the idea that the owner of that project just thought ‘Sod it! If I want a sparkly superyacht, I am going to get a sparkly superyacht,” with no thought to resale or generally accepted yachting aesthetics.
Luxury, to my mind at least, especially where the large sums of money associated with the superyacht market are concerned, should be about exclusivity, rarity, wonder, imagination, unbridled wants and individual identity. It strikes me that, rationality and the need to appeal to as many people as possible has actually diminished the yachting aesthetic.
I fully appreciate that in order for the industry to survive and grow it must move with the times and attract new demographics of clients to the market. However, must so many businesses try and achieve this by producing what are, for all intents and purposes, the same product? Speaking with a senior manager at one of the market’s most prolific production shipyards, he bemoaned the fact that the yard was losing business to shipyards in Asia stating that they use similar designs and exactly the same materials, stating that while the European equivalents were 30 per cent better, it was hard to compete with a product that was 50 per cent cheaper.
If it has come to the point where senior individuals at European shipyards are freely admitting that it is hard to compete with the wider market because of product similarity, then there is clearly a lack of diversity. The root cause of the problem seems to be that, thanks to the art of reason, everyone has reached the same conclusions. Might I suggest that we all stop being quite so practical and start being a little more exceptional?
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