Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Nov. 4 (Reuters): Despite corporate scandals and an economy in the doldrums, the super-rich are still enjoying a life on the ocean wave, according to yachting industry executives.
Demand for multimillion dollar floating gin palaces is still buoyant, with more than 500 on the order books of shipyards across the globe, said Kaye Pearson, organiser of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
The show, which took place at the weekend, features the world’s largest collection of super yachts — yachts over 80 ft in length — with 227 moored in marinas in this south Florida boating industry capital.
The grandest of them all is the 206-ft “Big Roi,” with a price tag of $25 million. Built by Royal Denship of Denmark, the ocean-going yacht has its own helipad, an elevator and can carry a 37-ft sport fishing boat.
Typical features on the luxury boats include Tuscan marble interiors, walnut and mahogany-panelled saloons, Jacuzzis and rotating beds.
Pearson, president of Yachting Promotions Inc., said the weak economy had greatly affected the US boating industry in general, a big money-spinner in the Florida economy. But he said: “We’ve seen positive signs this fall. Hopefully we are over the worst.”
Low interest rates were attracting buyers and the market was active, he said.
As far as any slowdown in demand for super yachts was concerned: “We’ve been hearing a lot about the Enrons, the Worldcoms, the gloom and the doom.”
Nevertheless, more than 500 super yachts are currently on shipyards’ order books, he said. That compared to 225 to 240 five years ago. There were 5,800 super yachts on the seas compared to about 2,500 12 years ago.
“Has it slowed down' It couldn’t last for ever. I don’t think we’re talking about any problem. We’re talking about an anticipated levelling off of that increase as opposed to a downturn in the interest of super yachts.”
In fact, the big spenders were splashing out more on the higher end on boats of 150 ft or more, dubbed mega yachts.
So who is buying these aristocrats of the boating world when many people are feeling the pinch of austere times' Typically, American corporate executives, Pearson said.
American purchases now make up 45 per cent of super yacht sales, compared to 10 to 12 per cent about 10 years ago.
“You don’t see so much of the old money that you did in the robber baron days,” he added.
Leading luxury yacht builder Palmer Johnson reported a flurry of activity in its yards.
Work has just been completed on the state-of-the-art “Anson Bell,” a 156-ft three-decked mega yacht. Touted as one of the most sophisticated yachts ever built, it has computer ports in most rooms and features retractable windows, 20 televisions, customised lighting and a high-tech security system.
The Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin-based company is also nearing completion of a 144-ft yacht which has four guest staterooms, a bridge sky-lounge and exercise room. “We are very pleased with the continued strong interest in our custom mega yachts, especially the large, ocean-going tri-deck yachts,” said Palmer Johnson chief Phil Friedman.
The boat show, billed as the world’s largest, caters not only to the rich but to ordinary folk who enjoy a weekend of fishing and sailing. More than 1,600 boats were on display, from kayaks and canoes to fishing skiffs, cruisers and the super yachts, as well as a flotilla of support services and accessories. “It’s been a very strong year for us. Interest rates are at historic lows,” said John Reylea, vice president at the recreation lending division of KeyBank USA. “People are seeing it as a good time to buy, to lock into low rates.”
While some industry reports suggest it will have been a flat year, lenders said their business was good, boosted buy low interest rates for boat buyers.
Anecdotal reports suggested that in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, families were looking to boating as a safe form of recreation, he said.
”Crazy as it sounds, with the stock market like it is, some people see a boat as a good investment. You know what it will be worth next year,” Reylea said.