Billionaires’ Superyachts Dock in Thames for Olympics
Superyachts equipped with helipads and submarines have joined Britain’s biggest warship, more than a dozen tall ships and cruise liners on the Thames River for the Olympic Games.
Octopus, the yacht owned by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen, is moored at West India Dock, where the towers housing Barclays Plc and HSBC Holdings Plc reflect in its gleaming blue hull. Next to it is Westfield Group (WDC) Chairman Frank Lowy’s white ship Ilona, with a red carpet leading to the gangplank and an Australian flag billowing from the stern.
“We’ve seen some big boats here, but nothing of this magnitude,” said Derek Newell, an analyst at Lehman Brothers International, the remnants of the U.S. investment bank that’s in administration, as he pointed up to Allen’s vessel. “It’s like a small ferry.”
Seven weeks after a flotilla of more than 1,000 small craft celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, the city is host to a glitzier collection of boats docked to celebrate the games that run from July 27 to Aug. 12. They range from Allen and Lowy’s yachts to cruise ships docked near the Excel Center, an Olympic venue in east London, and Britain’s largest warship, HMS Ocean, anchored near Greenwich.
“It’s very unusual to have such a collection of vessels all together in London at the same time,” said Martin Garside, a spokesman for the Port of London Authority, which oversees navigation along 95 miles (153 kilometers) of the Thames. “We’ve got everything from Sid and Doris in a small cabin cruiser from the South Coast to these superyachts.”
Octopus tied up on July 20, according to port records. At 414 feet (126 meters) in length, it’s the world’s 10th-biggest superyacht on a list compiled by Boat International Media Ltd., a publisher of yacht magazines.
The craft was built by Lurssen Werft GmbH of Bremen, Germany, whose website shows Octopus with space for two submarines as well as a helicopter landing pad and a swimming pool. A basketball hoop was visible from the dock.
Organizers of the Olympics are counting on rich visitors to help fill stadiums. Tickets for the opening ceremony were still available on the London 2012 website yesterday for 2,012 pounds ($3,123), more than two-thirds of the median monthly wage for a Londoner. Seats for track and field events priced at hundreds of pounds didn’t sell out until last week.
Allen is worth $14.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Lowy’s family holdings in Westfield Group total more than $1 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg
Lowy’s connection to the games extends beyond the arrival of his yacht. Visitors to the Olympic Park will funnel through one of his malls as they arrive on the subway, buses and trains. Westfield Stratford City opened in time for the games and is Europe’s largest urban shopping center.
Another billionaire, Frits Goldschmeding, has a three- masted tall ship moored in an inlet around the corner from Lowy’s boat. The clipper, completed in 2000, was financed by the city of Amsterdam and Goldschmeding, who owns 34 percent of Randstad Holding NV (RAND), the Dutch employment agency he founded.
Another 14 tall ships arrived yesterday at Woolwich Arsenal, the site of the Olympic shooting competition, according to the port authority. They’ll sail daily between Greenwich and Tower Bridge during the Olympics.
The yachts are a boon to the Canal & River Trust, the charity that runs West India Dock, which fell into decline in the 1960s and closed in 1980s before a revival in the 1990s.
“During the Olympics, West India Dock is going to be at its busiest since its days as a trading port,” Gareth Stephens, harbor and water-space manager at the trust, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The increased number of bookings has significantly boosted our income.”
The West India Dock has a view across the Thames to the dome built to mark the millennium, now known as the O2 Arena, and called the North Greenwich Arena for the duration of the games. It will house gymnastics and basketball.
Stephens declined to say how much the trust is earning from this year’s visitors. The docks will receive 15 boats as much as 175 meters in length during the games, said Fran Read, a spokeswoman for the trust. Mooring cost as much as 9,000 pounds a day, depending on the size of the ship.
Gym and Disco
Across the dock from Octopus and Ilona is Seanna, a 65- meter yacht that can sleep 12 guests along with canoes, a gym, a disco and massage therapist, according to the website of Burgess Yachts, which arranges charters. It charges as much as 462,000 euros ($559,000) for a week aboard. A crew member declined to discuss who hired the boat, saying only it could be anyone.
A couple of smaller yachts were also moored at West India Dock. The cruise ship Deutschland, owned by Peter Deilmann Reederei GmbH, pulled into the quay this week, where it will entertain German sports fans.
It’s not just the rich on the cruise ships. The Braemar and Gemini are moored at the King George V Dock to provide housing for 2,000 Olympic workers during the games. They have a view of the Excel Center, where weightlifting, boxing and wrestling contests take place.
The 196-meter Braemar has two pools, twin jacuzzis and a poolside bar, as well as golf nets and a hair salon, according to the website of its owner, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines Ltd.
The port authority stepped up security to police the extra activity. It introduced an identification program for boats to negotiate security checks especially for the games, and has registered more than 1,100 vessels, Garside said.
“There are extra police on the streets of London, in the skies above and in the waters of the Thames,” Prime Minister David Cameron said today in a visit to the Olympic park. “This is the biggest security operation in our peacetime history.”
Ruling the river is the 203-meter HMS Ocean, a Royal Navy helicopter carrier that supported military action in Libya last year and which Cameron visited yesterday.
“She’s bristling with military hardware,” Garside said. “Dangling from her sides are various assault crafts. It’s a very visible potent symbol of the kind of backup that’s available.”
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