Boat-owners drawn to French area for more than movies

CANNES — Call them the Cannes Boat People.

There’s a parallel business universe floating from Cannes to Cap d’Antibes, largely unaware and uninterested in the slates, sales and even stars that industryites in the Cannes Fest and Market are making such a fuss about.

They are the private owners of the biggest, most expensive yachts in the world and for them, “top 10″ refers not to the grosses of movies, but to their own ranking in the most exclusive club on or off the water. They’re drawn to the French Riviera in May not simply by the Cannes Fest glamour, but just as much by the Grand Prix racing scene in Monaco and, well, just to show off the size of their hulls.

As a crew member of one of the larger yachts sniffed when the subject of the Cannes Fest came up, “I don’t know of any movie stars who can afford these yachts.”

Dominic Byrne, manager director of yacht firm Sunseeker Sales U.K., describes the Cannes Fest/Grand Prix period as “in yachting terms, the largest gathering of net worth individuals in one place at one time.”

Byrne, whose firm’s 106-foot yacht Passion is here chartered for several business parties, noted that “charters are the the option of choice for many high-profile individuals such as movie stars because they can simply go on and off and there’s usually better security and it’s much easier to remain anonymous.”

But where’s the fun in that, if one-upping your biz competitors is the real game? For instance, software mogul Larry Ellison, who has a mega-yacht ready for delivery, is reportedly neck-and-neck with Microsoft/DreamWorks mogul Paul Allen for the top spot.

How big and pricey are we talking here?

Allen weighed in at the top of Power and Motoryacht magazine’s top 100 list in 2003 with his 413-foot Octopus, which has been in town this week.

As with showbiz info, much of yachtbiz info, such as pricetags and amenities, is closely guarded. To put Octopus in perspective: Near the lunch crowd at Eden Roc is moored a huge boat, the Lady Moura. The most widely discussed pricetag for Moura is around $100 million – and that boat is about 70 feet shorter than Allen’s yacht.

According to scuttlebutt on Allen’s floating palace, he won’t need to dirty his deck shoes by stepping into Cannes for a movie. Or to cut a record. Octopus boasts both a cinema and a recording studio.

The Octopus was described by one guest on the yacht as “the world’s most complicated piece of personally owned machinery” and among the other amenities provided are:

  • swimming pool with adjustable depthsettings

  • two helipads

  • fully outfitted beauty salon

  • submarine with cameras that beam undersea images onto screens on the yacht

Other top 10 clubmembers paddling around the harbor include German retail heiress Heidi Horten, whose Carinthia VII made the No. 9 spot; and Russian oligarch/Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, whose No. 6 spot yacht, Le Grand Bleu was reportedly purchased from Paul Allen.

If there are any similarities between Yacht World and Movie World, in the view of the yacht-sters the differences are more striking.

As one longtime yachtsman observes, “We have our boat shows, which also run for about a week, and we have show dailies just like Variety in Cannes and I imagine the ratio of serious players to tire-kickers in our markets is 5%-95%.

“But based on the characters I’ve seen in Cannes this week, the 95% here look more like tire-stealers.”

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