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False positive

I am stuck indoors staring at passing clouds, envying their freedom of movement. The rest of the superyacht press is reporting on Benetti’s latest launch or a revolutionary design that will transform superlife forever or the legal aspects of cancelled charter contracts. The show must go in, virus or no virus. Marchons citoyens.

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The superyacht industry is fueled by an infinity pool of Panglossian optimism. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The industry is a melange of the wonder of a thousand harry potters, the adventures and sex appeal of James Bond, the chic of Vogue and Esquire, and the luxury of the Robb Report. Copies of the red ensign code and MLC are hidden away on a need to know basis as the guests don’t need to know about the technical stuff, the gears, pulleys, and levers.

Photographers have captured images of young crew as the beautiful people smiling and leaping for joy. Drones film the yachts gliding effortlessly through blue waters. It is always high noon and a cocktail awaits served by a steward in a crisp uniform followed by a meal at your very own Ritz sur Mer.

The soundtrack is Yacht Rock, harmonies and sweet nothings whispered in your ear. No dissonance allowed. No gloom, no misery gets up the passerelle. Heaven is a superyacht moored off Capri.

The coronavirus really fucks up this escape from mundane reality. It’s a downer, a party pooper, not so much raining on the industry’s parade, more dumping a biblical deluge of unpleasantness into the infinity pool on the upper deck.

And yet old habits die hard as owners look to their yachts as a means to evade the all-conquering virus that has infected the party. No one is going to have any fun,fun,fun, but nobody’s taking daddy’s yacht away

Owners are taking to the high seas in their yachts to escape the virus. Martin Redmayne’s Superyacht Report printed an exclusive interview with Jonathan Beckett, the CEO of Burgess who as everybody knows sits at the top of the heap of yacht brokers. The content was so exclusive that it went into premium owner’s section of superyacht news but the article was picked up by the Daily Telegraph (aka the Daily Torygraph as it is a weather vane for currents in the Conservative party and a keen promoter of Brexit ideas. )

Vessels are being booked for months-long charters in remote locations as the rich luxuriously self-isolate in remote destinations

“People are looking for ways to weather the storm and a yacht in a nice climate isn’t a bad place to self-isolate,’ the Telegraph reports, referring to Mr Beckett as Mr Burgess.

Owners are cancelling charter contracts, stocking up on food and sailing over the horizon like the elves in Lord of the Rings  sailing on the Last Ship, leaving the curvature of Middle-earth and travelling an ethereal path to the Undying Lands. 

The trouble is the world has closed. Ports worldwide are closed as can be seen at the Focus on Yachts Covid19 page.

A superyacht is a cramped place for crew and is the last place you want to be if you have to self -isolate if there is an outbreak on board. Remember quarantine comes from the forty days – quarantina – that a vessel had to stay outside the port of Venice in the time of the plague before being allowed to berth. Kitchens cannot hold more than a week’s provisions unless you cram the stateroom with pasta, rice, and tinned tomatoes.  And if anything goes wrong, a mechanical fault, help is not on the way, as external support is grounded.

The very rich could load up a support vessel but the days of sending a tender into port for fresh vegetables have been curtailed. While many marinas are promoting themselves as open for business, activities are limited. The fear is that a superyacht could become a plague ship.

The superyacht experience is buoyed by positivity and enthusiasm. No cynics are allowed through the hallowed gates. The superyacht media has a tendency to gloss over some of the less salubrious aspects of the industry which are picked up by the mainstream media and reported in a sensationalist way: hookers, drugs, oppressive working conditions, sexual harassment, men overboard.  But the superyacht community has a great track record of responding to disasters – witness the heroic actions of Yacht Aid responding to hurricane Katrina. While currently, this epidemic does not have the destructive force of Katrina in terms of property, its impact on the industry will be far greater. This is not the time for false optimism. It is time to get real. But reality and the superyacht experience are not always compatible.

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