A Poverty of Yachts

This town ainít deep enough for the big boys

If you're not the manager of a multibillion-dollar hedge fund, you might naively assume the Man of Steel is a big deal. After all, it's a $16.3 million, 123-foot ocean-cruising yacht with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, six flat-screen television sets, a Jacuzzi, a gym, a bar, and a pilot house that looks like it's straight out of Star Trek.

But last week, after giving a tour of the Man, which was docked near 51st Street on Miami Beach's Indian Creek, Tom Conboy shuffled his boat shoes and made a stunning admission. "This is actually the baby," said Conboy, the boat's curly-haired, sun-baked sales agent. "It is our least expensive boat. It's our starter boat."

Conboy's revelation raised a woefully underreported point.

While the petty bourgeois had thousands of options at the two large, recently concluded Miami boat shows, the super-duper, mind-blowingly wealthy guy looking for a decent $20-million to $30-million megayacht got totally screwed. Conboy's company, Holland-based yacht specialist Heesen, brought its runt. And another company — Vancouver's Christensen Shipyards — brought one stinkin' 157-foot, $25 million dinghy.

Sure, some older über-yachts were floating around the International Boat Show and the Yacht and Brokerage Show. But the superyacht big boys didn't show. Not a single cruiser more than 200 feet. Reason: Indian Creek, where the yacht show resides, is too shallow for them.

So the sad reality: The superyacht consumer may be forced to jet to Cannes or Monaco to shop for floating megafun.

Even more ominous for Miami is that the superyacht business is, Conboy said, booming. "I don't care what the liberal media say," he added. "The economy is doing great." And Conboy — who grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, but now splits his time among Monaco, Fort Lauderdale, and Holland — talked excitedly about the future. "It's year one of the baby boomers," he said lustily. "Imagine the untold wealth." Back at the Heesen Shipyards in Holland, he says, they're already hammering out fourteen yachts — all worth more than fifteen million bucks.

Also, as the rich get richer, they want larger yachts, creating the equivalent of a yachts arms race. "They're now called ögigayachts,' said Mary Sudasassi, a long-time spokesperson for the yacht show. First leisure yachts began breaking the 300-foot barrier in 2000. Then Paul Allen, of Microsoft and Seahawks fame, upped the ante two years ago with the 414-foot Octopus (which cost more than $200 million).

Now there's Platinum, a 524-footer (price: circa $300 million). And there are even rumors of larger yachts. (I asked Sudasassi if she thinks the 1000-foot barrier could fall, adding that this is almost as big as the Sears Tower: "Yes ... in our lifetime.")

Alas for South Florida, even the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, the world's largest, which is held annually in October, can't fit some of the new gigayachts.

But don't worry about the poor guy who bought the measly 123-foot Man of Steel, which was shown as a demo in Miami. Conboy wouldn't give his name — but he did say the client is still young, just 37 years old; has steel-industry family money (hence the steely name); and is already planning a bigger yacht with Heesen. "Maybe this could be his second yacht," Conboy said, smiling.

 
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