Moscow on the Mediterranean? Russia's yacht craze
The Russian capital is landlocked, and frozen solid for more than half the year. But Russia's superrich, looking for new toys at which to throw their money, are nonetheless turning Moscow into a boating center.Skip to next paragraph
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Sales of world-class yachts - like those of virtually every pricey luxury item, from Ferraris to jewel-encrusted watches - are booming, as Russians flex their consumer muscles more than ever before.
"The highest layer, a few thousand people, are now increasing the size of their boats, replacing yachts worth $500,000 with those of $10 million," says Alexander Markarov, owner of the Avrora Yacht Club on the Klyazminskoye Reservoir, on Moscow's northern fringe.
"Many are in the Mediterranean, but many boats are here for purposes of prestige," says Mr. Markarov, looking across his 65-boat marina, as a vast white yacht makes its way past Soviet-era factories on the far side of the channel. "They use it as another office, and only go out once or twice a season."
While the average Russian can only dream of owning a boat of any kind, the increasing wealth of Moscow is evident everywhere, from the new construction of boutique malls, to exclusive catalogs that offer executive jets, $135,000 watches, and Victo- ria's Secret's $11 million bejeweled 6,000-stone, 2,500-carat "fantasy bra."
Moscow now boasts more billionaires (33) than New York (31) or any other city in the world, according to a Forbes magazine tally, which estimates that one-quarter of Russia's vast oil and mineral wealth is in the hands of just 100 people.
"What else is left for a rich Russian, if he already has his apartment, his car - or several cars - and his house abroad? A yacht," says Zari Chernyak, editor in chief of Captain magazine of St. Petersburg.
"If he has a foreign partner, what can [the rich Russian] offer him? Banya [sauna] or shashlik [roast meat kebab]?" says Mr. Chernyak. "And the partner shows his yacht. So just to be on equal terms, [the Russian] has to have a yacht."
Already, a handful of Russian oligarchs are becoming famous for their spending on water sports. Roman Abramovich - who owns Britain's Chelsea football club - owns the 5th, 6th, and 16th largest yachts in the world, according to Power and Motor-yacht's listing of the top 100.
His 370-foot Le Grand Bleu is currently at port in New York, complete with its built-in 72-foot sailboat and a 68-foot powerboat. The boat is so large that when it was in Monaco last spring, singer Shirley Bassey complained that it blocked her view of the harbor from her hilltop home.
"I've just come back from Italy and I know that Burevestnik [Moscow's most expensive yacht club] has got much newer and better yachts," says Arthur Klyanitsky, editor of Yachting, a Russian luxury magazine.
"Yachting is naturally a thing of prestige in Russia, and very popular not only among the very rich," says Mr. Klyanitsky. When he introduces himself in Europe, "Everybody asks: 'And what about Abramovich?' But yachting in Russia is not only for Abramovich."