Adi Godrej knows how handy a yacht can be. “My family and I are very fond of the sea and water sports. So my 3-year-old yacht is indispensable for a family getaway.” The 69-year-old Parsee billionaire (Forbes put his net worth at $7.3 billion in March 2011, which makes him 130th richest in the world and 10th richest in India) says his 60-foot Ferretti has unified three generations of the Godrej family because it takes all of them on frequent getaways from Mumbai to Goa or Alibaug. “It cuts travel time considerably, you can plan your travel without having to struggle with dates and it makes it easier for the entire family to jump along for a break and, above all, indulge in lots of water sports.”
Yacht vacations, speedboat to Goa, Mandhwa or Alibaug and weekend cruises are the new fancy of affluent Indians, especially the industrialists, businessmen, real-estate developers and high-profile bankers of Mumbai. India’s billionaires have a new toy to play. A recent poll of 160 Citigroup advisers, who represent 5,000 individuals worth more than $100 million each, found super-rich Indians most keen on buying jets and yachts. There are at least six yacht dealers in Mumbai.
The new-found interest is enough to keep leisure boat dealers like Riyhad Kundanmal of Ocean Crest Marine busy. “From deciding the colour of the upholstery, to fitting in wooden floors, redesigning the bedrooms in the yacht or be it inscribing details on the boat, customers spare no costs in making the boats their own,” says Kundanmal who recently customised a luxury yacht for a high-net-worth customer. Bespoke yachts ought to have the stamp of their owners’ lifestyle.
Vijay Mallya’s yacht is an extension of his lifestyle. (In his peer group, the liquor baron is called the king of good times, a play on the tagline of his Kingfisher beer). Manned by a crew of 32, Mallya’s yacht, Indian Empress, has been a venue for many bashes. A top advertising professional, who was a guest at one such party, says: “To explore just one deck of Indian Empress takes about 20 minutes and there are four decks on the yacht.” Mallya’s boat is rightly called a gigayacht. The ad-man says that the beauty of the yacht is not its size or striking suites or the fully-equipped gym, steam room, beauty salon but in the personal touches. “An antique baby-grand piano, paintings by Renoir, Picasso, Dali, an upgraded engine that can propel the yacht up to 24 knots (an hour) is where you see Mallya’s touch.”
At 95 metres, Indian Empress is perhaps one of the longest private yachts in the world. Of Dutch and South African parentage, it was launched in 2000. Mallya is learnt to have bought it from a member of the Qatar royal family (it was called Al Mirqab). Indian Empress has also entered the record books of India’s corporate history. In 2007, when Capt GR Gopinath offered to sell his airline, Air Deccan to Mallya, he was sailing around Monaco in the yacht. Within 45 minutes, Mallya sealed the deal from aboard Indian Empress.
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While there may not be many Indian Empress-like additions, India is set to add about 100 new yacht owners in 2011, and close to half of them are expected to buy top-end boats. “While the small yacht or boat buyers (catamaran or speedboat buyers) have stayed away from the market, it has been an excellent year for 38- to 50-foot yachts,” Kundanmal adds. India can boast of no more than 50 luxury yachts today but Anju Dutta of Marine Solutions, another yacht dealer, expects the number to scale up to 60 by the end of 2011.
Thus, her company has added new brands in luxury yachts, sailboats, sail catamarans, speed boats and cabin cruisers. Marine Solutions recently ordered a 64-footer Ferretti yacht which costs about €1 million for a customer and hopes to sell at least one more 60-footer this year. “Since the first quarter of 2011 there has seen a strong recovery; we are confident that we should close sales of at least five luxury yachts and 15 smaller boats (catamarans, runabouts, cruisers etc) this year,” says she. The 50-foot Pershing models, part of the Ferretti Group that produces high-performance yachts of 15 to 35 metres, is one of Marine Solutions’ hot sellers. As a result, luxury yachts have begun to crowd makeshift marinas in Goa, Mandhwa, Alibaug and the only official marina at Kochi. The most lavish vessels stowed away at Indian shores are owned by Anil Ambani, Gautam Singhania, Anand Mahindra and business houses like Bajaj and Indiabulls.
Still, India lacks glitzy buyers like Google’s co-founder Larry Page who bought a $75.7-million yacht. Senses has a helipad, jacuzzi, fitness centre and bar, and can accommodate a crew of up to 14. Globally, the benchmark is that you need to pay a million dollars for every foot of a luxury yacht. So, a 50-foot boat can set you back by $50 million. The yachts Indians prefer to buy start at Rs 3 crore for a 38-foot boat and go up to Rs 30 crore for a 60-foot luxury liner. Brands such as Formula, Ferretti, Riva and Monterey are popular here, though a weak pound has made English brands like Princess and Sealiner more affordable. LVMH’s, which entered the market when it acquired Princess in 2008, M-class is another popular model. It comes with a huge saloon and a choice of four or five cabins, including a master suite with a split-level bathroom, two or three double bedrooms and a twin room.
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“Most buyers who come to us are first-timers but are well-read; most come with researched knowledge on what boats they want to take home,” says Kundanmal. For example, Indian buyers have already begun checking out Ferretti’s most recent launch, the 63-foot Riva Virtus. The yacht is the largest open yacht Ferretti has ever built and features large open areas like two sundecks that provide plenty of space for entertaining and lounging, a massive cockpit, three sofa-sitting areas, refrigerator, sink and concealed grill. Smaller models like Monterey’s 355 sport yacht are in demand too. “Most of my customers use their yachts for quick holidays or cruises to Goa or Alibaug from Mumbai. For this, a 38- to 45-foot yacht is ideal,” says Kundanmal.
Overheads such as maintenance, crew wages and marina charges range between 4 per cent and 7 per cent of the yacht’s value. Maintenance cost increases with the yacht's size and complexity, say experts. For example, the cost of a 20-foot yacht would be about 3 to 4 per cent of the value per annum, while a 100-foot boat would be above 6 to 7 per cent because it would need a permanent crew for maintenance. But that’s small beer for India's super-rich.