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The great escape on board a superyacht

Posted on 14/ 06/ 2021

In collaboration with Superyacht Life | Words by Charlotte Thomas

The idea of carpe diem – seizing the day – has never had more resonance. It is perhaps one reason for a growing boom in yacht sales as people look to embrace the sheer pleasure of being on the ocean after a torrid year.

The superyachting world is full of happy choices. Which continent should you sail to next? What colour scheme would you like for your interiors? Should you carry a jet ski, a submarine, a helicopter or all three? But before you can answer any of those questions, there is a far more fundamental choice to be made – are you going to choose motor or sail?

• The desire to feel free more than ever
• Holidays with family and friends with optimal health safety
• Enjoy life!

As the fresh blossom of spring yields to the warm blue of early summer, it is starting to feel like we might finally be slowly emerging from the frustrations and horrors of the past year.

While things are still a long way from normal, those lockdown dreams of open air, sparkling azure water, gentle ocean breezes and the sun on our faces are starting to feel within reach once again.

Indeed, the latest figures from the yacht market suggest that more people than ever before are craving that seaborne escape – sales through the end of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 in the superyacht sector, for example, have broken records.

The first three months of 2021 have seen 133 brokerage sales of yachts above 24 metres – a massive 46 per cent increase over the same period in 2020, according to BOAT Pro. Critically, it appears that a lot of those sales are being driven by first-time buyers.

But what has suddenly led to this renewed thirst for the ocean?
The obvious assumption would be that yachting has afforded a degree of escape in relative safety amid the pandemic, and that this, in turn, has fuelled sales. As Rob McCallum – founding partner of EYOS Expeditions – explains, with considerable planning some guests have been able to enjoy time on the water even as international travel has proven complicated. “In the beginning, even flying privately, it was very difficult,” he says.

“But we’ve managed to keep things going throughout with, for example, our work with DSSV (deep submersible support vessel) Pressure Drop, which has been working in the western Pacific. We’ve had to do 14-day quarantines, but the guests are allowed to do that on the vessel. So people fly in and are met by an agent, and then they’re taken by special vehicle to the dock and get directly on the vessel, doing the same in reverse on their return.”

However, this perception of a perfect escape that keeps you, your family and friends protected in a self-contained ‘bubble’ might not be the main driver of the surging demand.

“For sure, there are a lot of people who have been feeling frustrated over the past 12 months have not been able to move freely, and that has been one catalyst for people stepping forward,” begins Ian Sherwood, a yacht broker with internationally renowned brokerage firm Burgess.

“In particular I think there are a lot more first-time buyers at the moment – perhaps those who before were long-term charterers who are taking those first steps into ownership. There are a lot of charter bookings for 2021 that were rescheduled from 2020, meaning some of the charter boats are already very busy, but there’s still uncertainty about 2021 and on top of all that some charter boats may be stuck in the wrong regions which means there is even less availability. I think that has driven a lot of charterers to say, ‘we can’t do what we want to do so maybe being an owner is the answer as we can drive the calendar and know that the boat is always available’.”

Of course, this surge to the sea presents interesting problems in itself. While most builders were quick to implement new working practices at the start of the pandemic that not only protected their workforces but which also allowed them to keep on top of their pre-pandemic build schedules, a rise in demand naturally is putting pressure on the market.

“This, perhaps, is the very tail-end of the 2008 global financial crisis, as the after-effect of that was a dip in production, and subsequently yacht deliveries between 2013 to 2015, ” Sherwood explains. “That means there are now fewer five-year-old boats around. For example, I’ve been turning the market over with a client and currently there is only one yacht less than 10 years old from a Northern European builder openly for sale in the 50-60 metre bracket.”

That also means that there is increasing demand for new-builds too. “We sold three 55-metre Benetti yachts in December,” Sherwood adds.

However, Sherwood advises, that doesn’t mean that those who want to experience life on the water – and enjoy the luxury and freedom of owning their own yacht – should panic.

“Perhaps in that 50-60 metre sector and above there are less available options, and therefore there’s more of an imperative not to miss out, but in the 30-40 metre sector there’s a bit more seasonality, and buyers who don’t want to buy in the winter know there will be options in the spring,” he says.

There does remain an increasing appeal of yachting as a safe haven escape, but again there are other facets of the past year that are driving interest.

“There are very few vacations that are as COVID-19 secure as being on a private yacht – you can fly in privately to a yacht where the crew have been health-screened and pre-quarantined, and there are not many options that can offer that low level of risk or exposure to the virus,” Sherwood offers.

“And then there’s the fact that we are becoming more flexible in the wider world, that people are more accepting that we don’t need to be behind a desk, or at least not the desk in our usual office space. A lot of our clients are asking about that – connectivity and office space on board is a big request. The ability to work remotely from a yacht offers a different option to people.”

But fundamentally, perhaps there is an even greater reason or a greater imperative to why so many people have sought yachting – and yachts – as an escape this past year.

It is less to do with being the only option, and more to do with a renewed sense of life and a reordering of priorities – a surge of seizing the day, if you will.

“I think really it comes down to just why wouldn’t you do your thing?” Sherwood concludes.

“After the last 12 months and everything we’ve gone through, if you have the ability to own or to charter a yacht – of any size – then why on earth aren’t you doing it? It’s the perfect time to take the plunge.”

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