Life on a superyacht

Crew go to the ends of the earth – and sea – to satisfy uber-wealthy guests

Thirty-two crew. Four guests. A 330-foot superyacht. Over the top? Maybe, but in this case, the owner doesn’t much like guests. He doesn’t have to. Welcome to the international superyacht industry, the ultimate status symbol for the world’s uber-wealthy.

So who owns and charters these yachts? Some are so rich you know who they are; others are wealthy enough to ensure nobody does. They are the major industry tycoons, business giants, moguls, magnates, oil barons, sheiks and heads of state. Whether you charter or own a superyacht, it comes with an astronomical price tag. Last year billionaire Ernest Roper bought a €120-million plaything, Vava 11, for his wife. And then there’s the more than €300 000 you’ll have to spend to ‘fill her up’.

Chartering one is not for the cash-strapped either. Rates range from €250 000 to €900 000 a week, and don’t expect your ‘vittles’ to be included: fuel, catering and docking fees are add-ons, as well as the standard 30 percent tip at the end of the charter.

Guests are not ones for standard luxury. For the super-rich, these seven-star floating hotels must offer an escape that comes with very special facilities and services way off the average man’s chart. Think helipad, a pool that can be varied in depth, a submarine, a gym and a squash court. Some even have mini concert halls. And, yes, they fly in the talent.

What sets being a guest on a superyacht apart from the rest is something that money can and does buy. Service. If you’re paying €900 000 a week, you’ll expect the crew to cater to your every whim. Even if it means the stewardess has to adjust her body’s thermostat by pure will.

‘We are not allowed to perspire when serving guests,’ says one stewardess, ‘even if it’s 40°C and we’re on the outside deck.’ And, if they ask for sushi for 17, or for crayfish thermidor at 3am after a night on the town, they expect to get it.

So, what else are crew expected to do? Absolutely everything. Wrap a present for the Pope; have a supply of sea sand, bucket and spade available when a sibling dispute sends the original supply overboard; know the protocol for serving presidents, film stars and celebrities; be alert to body language; and prepare the beach with deckchairs, tables, umbrellas and a gourmet picnic prior to the guests’ arrival.

It’s also all about being vigilant, which means following guests in a tender until they are safely back on board after swimming; keeping a binocular’d eye on jet-ski activities; providing a hose with warm water to rinse off the saltwater; and having a drink at hand when guests return. Stewardesses are expected to ensure babies don’t fall overboard, provide cots, bumbo seats, nappies, baby toiletries and a new toy for the slightly bigger darlings on board every day.

Even though the crew will happily walk the plank for guests, some things are just not possible. Not many requests go unanswered but there are some… like guilessly requesting a Big Mac while anchored in the middle of the Med, or asking for the anchored 330-foot yacht to be ‘moved’ to block off the breeze when sunbathing. That said, when a picky Russian guest declared he could not do without soured buttermilk from the goats of his home village, a plane was dispatched from Turkey to Russia to ensure his needs were met.

Nautical platinum service exceeds all others. It’s exactly what you would expect when crew outnumber passengers by at least three to one and you are paying the equivalent of a middle-class home for a week’s pampering.

Of course, you could just call all this ‘pleasure as usual’ for the seriously rich if their demands didn’t skirt the definition of ‘playing with a full deck’.

Original article by Kathy Malherbe shortened for online publication, from Private Edition, Issue 21

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