At a shipyard in the Netherlands—the world’s megayacht maternity ward— the largest vessel of its kind is being custom-built for Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos at a projected cost that tops $500 million. With more than 400 feet of sleek aluminum and steel, it will join an elite new vessel category: the Giga yacht.
The pandemic has intensified the desire to bubble oneself away from the world and widened the wealth gap further, making Bezos merely the latest business magnate fancying a life at sea (when he’s not in space).
“The market’s been roaring,” says Sam Tucker, head of superyacht research at VesselsValue Ltd. in London. “Secondhand sales are red-hot, and it’s impossible to get a slot in a builders yard.”
Even charters—where a person, group, or family rents out a yacht for a trip—are through the roof. “Our year on-year business is up over 340% from 2020 up to now,” says Patrick Curley, co-founder of brokerage firm YachtLife Technologies Inc. The company has been fielding so many requests, it’s started offering membership services that give priority to repeat renters.
Even the onboard jobs have become competitive. “There are hundreds of people clamoring to get a spot on a boat,” says Luke Hammond, captain of the 146-foot M/Y Bella (“M/Y” for motor yacht). Most applicants have fantasies of beachside bottle service and sailing to more than a dozen countries a year while attending to deep-pocketed glitterati.
But the reality for the crew is hardly sunning in St-Tropez and hobnobbing with sheiks, as I quickly learned when I scored a position as a deckhand aboard the Bella—a pristine, semi-custom, six-cabin, four-deck vessel with a skylight and floating tub in its owner’s suite.
The to-do list I shared with the eight other crew members included tweezing fried chicken crumbs off the teak flooring, acting as a human clothes rack on seven-figure shopping sprees, and ferrying to the middle of nowhere to pick up caviar. If you thought life was always glam aboard a superyacht, here’s proof that it’s super-not.
1. Privacy doesn’t exist
A good yachtie isn’t seen or heard— but they see and hear everything. Earpieces, radios, and cameras help keep a constant eye on guests, all feeding back to a control room.
When guests are seen leaving for breakfast, the stewards (or stews, for short) are immediately deployed to the guest rooms to clean. When someone picks mushrooms out of an omelet, the chef makes a note to tweak the dish the next morning.
Of course, this also means staff see and hear things of a more risqué nature, such as one yachtie whose repeat client insisted on spending her entire seven-day foray in the nude, often passing out drunk in unbecoming positions. Semiclad sunbathing (most often by “paid friend” types), spouse swaps, and drunken fisticuffs are also common.
Watching the cameras can be like blooper TV. “We’ve seen guys do splits with one foot on the boat and the other on the tender as they drifted apart,” one of my colleagues recalls. “One time,” Hammond adds, “we watched someone get slapped in the face by a flying fish.”
2. There’s clean, and then there’s yacht-clean
“Salt kills everything,” says Clint Jones, a longtime captain who worked aboard an A-list golfer’s vessel before joining YachtLife as a broker. Anytime the ships move through water—even if it’s simply steering to another beach 30 minutes away—the sea splash necessitates hours of cleaning.
Sports stars are reputed to be the messiest guests and most prone to trashing vessels. The biggest infraction in recent memory, says a senior YachtLife broker, was a current NBA player who went out on a boat in the morning and had wrecked it by lunch, dousing the interiors in sprayed Champagne, then clogging all of the cabin toilets with his vomit.
Even without all that, a stem-to-stern cleaning takes six people around 10 full days. And you can clean a half-dozen hotel rooms in the three hours it takes to clean one yacht stateroom, suctioning walls and air vents with special vacuum attachments, and scrupulously micro cleaning grout with toothpicks. One day I spent 45 minutes “Q-tip cleaning” a single bathroom cabinet.
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