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Superyachts Entice Billionaires With Sonic Cannons, Airplanes

An H2ome luxury barge. Designed to replicate a Manhattan penthouse loft, the sea-going luxury barge H2ome is 144-feet long and, at 14.5 million euros, represents the
An H2ome luxury barge. Designed to replicate a Manhattan penthouse loft, the sea-going luxury barge H2ome is 144-feet long and, at 14.5 million euros, represents the "new moderation" of the superyacht world. Its top speed is 40 knots, faster than many speedboats. Source: H2ome via Bloomberg

Oct. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Pascal Wiscour-Conter, having studied the business of superyachts for 20 years, has figured out what today’s seafaring billionaire wants most afloat.

“NATO military technology integrated with NASA satellite tracking to create an invisible offensive security bubble with underwater sonic cannons and surface lasers that evaluate and take out anyone who lays siege to the vessel,” says Wiscour-Counter, chief executive officer of Equisea Yacht Management in Monte Carlo.

“This gear knows the difference between a malicious scuba diver and a curious dolphin,” he says over a plate of sushi at the recent 20th Monaco Yacht Show. “And we transmit all the information to your iPhone four times a day.”

In an era of economic uncertainty and technological marvel, Equisea’s 300,000 euro ($409,500) Marss security system is a cut-rate and painful trinket for a glamour industry that in the U.S. has seen “new-build” yacht sales sinking to 573,520 last year from 912,130 in 2006, according to the U.S. National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Globally, analysts say sales of new superyachts measuring more than 115 feet (35 meters) in length with 50 million-euro-plus price tags have dropped to perhaps a dozen a year in a market that during the best of times has the cash to pay for 100 vessels annually. Last year, the two biggest “old-build” superyachts sold were the 288-foot Maltese Falcon and the 246-foot Rebom, according to the Superyacht Intelligence report, which didn’t disclose prices.

Indoor Lagoon

Standing shoeless on the shiny teak aboard the recently launched 14.5 million euro H2ome, Fraser Yacht Ltd. CEO Hein Velema reckons the 144 foot ocean barge that resembles a Manhattan penthouse loft with a top speed of 40 knots and an indoor lagoon illustrates why the 72 shipbuilders at the Monaco Yacht show are now in pursuit of barefoot luxury.

“Thirty-four percent of yachts over 130 feet are now for sale and most of them were built in 1998,” Velema calculates. “This year we’ve only built four new yachts.” He gestures leeward toward the mob of 100 superyachts anchored beneath Monaco’s patriotic bunting and flocks of helicopters. “Now it’s about upgrading, customizing and caring for what you have,” Velema says.

Interested in becoming part of the New Moderation? The adjustors at OnlyYacht Superyacht Insurance in London say such indulgence on board the H2ome runs to 96,000 euros a year, including health benefits for the crew.

Going Green

“The days of frippery are over,” says George Fortune, director of Monte Carlo Luxury Yachts. “Buyers want to go green, travel further and consume less energy.”

Fortune’s future is Gattopardo VI, a 132-foot, four-deck Italian-language leopard powered by two Caterpillar bulldozer engines that crank out 1,700 horsepower on 14,794 gallons (about $50,000 worth) of diesel fuel that can take passengers on a non-stop 7,000 nautical-mile trip at a speed of 7 knots.

“It also comes with an elevator and, for fun, some fast speedboats,” Fortune says. The price? “It’s not for sale,” he adds.

Yet everything else in the carefully accessorized world of superyachts is up for grabs in 2011. As Gilles Dyan, director of the Opera Gallery in Monaco tells it, “a superyacht is a very personal, private, intimate and emotional place.” And Dyan, who advises a closely held clique of superyacht owners on which Picasso to buy and hang on the poop deck, says part of his job is to “make sure the air conditioning airflow doesn’t blow right into the painting.”

Picasso, Submarines

Maykel Hop says his 700,000 euro superyacht accoutrement offers the ideal environment for anything from an Old Master to Damien Hirst’s $8 million “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” rotting shark set in formaldehyde. Hop’s the director general of the Dutch luxury-submarine company U-Boat Worx and his fleet of lime- and cherry-colored vessels look like gigantic motorcycle helmets.

“All electric battery power, no fumes,” Hop says as the boat dives on its journey to see what’s on the bottom. “Hey, if you want a wine cellar, we can install one.”

Can it be a coincidence that the periscope detects corks popping on a nearby deck?

“For no good reasons there seems to be a breakdown in service and value when it comes to the enjoyment of wines aboard superyachts,” says Bertrand Faure Beaulieu, a principal at Sarment Yacht Services. “Our ultimate fine-wine service is now available for the ultimate superyacht.”

Sailing Sommelier

Still, Sarment’s chief wine steward, Christopher Delalonde, says vigilance is vital. “The slight rocking of the yacht,” the sailing sommelier warns, “tends to make the oldest wines evolve faster.”

Vanessa Troillard grasps the importance of stability, particularly when it comes to the shore-to-ship transport of fine wine, expensive art and passengers wearing a 194,650 euro Audemars Piguet Royal Oak concept carbon wrist watch.

That’s where Lisa fits in. She’s the 300,000 euro single-prop airplane designed to float into any superyacht’s internal docking cocoon.

“The price includes 20 hours of flight training,” says Troillard, a marketing manager at the French-based aeronautical firm Lisa Airplanes SA. “Maximum range of 1,650 kilometers, with a built-in parachute and detachable pontoons that can be replaced with skis or wheels.”

Ferrari Wheel

Back at sea and flying through the chop at 45 knots aboard the J Craft Torpedo Boat, Swedish marine designer Johan Attvik says his 750,000-euro retro wood speedster can do everything Lisa does except land on snow and dirt. The tender’s steering wheel is a replica of one on the 1963 250 GTO Ferrari, the searchlight is a copy from a 1930 Bugatti and the Italian fabric from Loro Piana can repel red-wine stains.

“The King of Sweden has one,” Attvik says, tapping a stainless-steel plaque that declares 007 actor Roger Moore was here. “James Bond himself told me that all of the Bond girls would be at home on a Torpedo Boat. Next year, we start selling Torpedo Boats in art galleries and at film festivals.”

Fortune says superyachting toys keep morale up in the face of recession. At the same time, cash shortages also are frightening more owners to embrace novel methods of sidestepping marine taxes. “The length to which someone who has spent a few hundred million on a superyacht will go to elude value added tax is remarkable,” Fortune says.

Luxembourg Navy

It takes 400,000 hours to build a 132-foot superyacht but to understand how 75 of them became vessels in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg merchant navy and avoid VAT, it helps to know something about European MP Robert Goebbels, who during his tenure as Luxembourg’s Minister of Economy and Transport in 1994 launched the Luxembourg Merchant Marine.

Goebbels designed a regulation that today has 15,000 pleasure-vessel owners paying 2,200 euros a year for the right to fly Luxembourg’s red-lion flag and declare the ship a commercial vessel involved in the charter business, says European maritime attorney Andre Harpes.

“Robbie’s merchant-navy option gives the owner VAT exemption,” says Jean-Pierre Vernier, a director of Integral Maritime Solutions SARL in Luxembourg, a land-locked country without any lions in its forests.

“The trick is to wrap the vessel’s ownership in a maze of companies no government has the time or money to untangle and then charter it to yourself,” Fortune says. “It’s likely more expensive than just paying the VAT, but such is superyacht life in the 21st century.”

To contact the writer on the story: A. Craig Copetas in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at

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