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Donkin's World: Porto Cervo

Richard Donkin dips into the crazy world of the rich and their yachts.

The passport is back in my man drawer http://donkinlife.blogspot.co.uk/2008/12/man-drawer.html , whites are in the washer (I’ve never used it before. I had to call Gill for instructions. She’s away), and the first emails are dribbling in from the last few extraordinary days in Porto Cervo, Sardinia.

I want to tell you all about them but I’m not going to, well not everything, not here, maybe over a glass of wine one day. It’s not that there’s any scandal or anything juicy or salacious. It’s just that I’ve been dipping in to the crazy world of the rich and their yachts for a few days and there are sensitivities over privacy.

The sensitivities are all a sham, of course. The rich say they want privacy but they don’t. A captain waiting for his charter told me that clients hardly ever want to go to a secluded anchorage.

“They want to go where they can be seen. They like all the little boats buzzing round.” He’s right. You walk along the moorings and there they all are, sitting on their after decks. But they are there and you are standing on a wharf looking in.

Last week’s trip was different. The draw bridges were lowered by some of the owners for people like me. People like me? I hope I don’t come across as someone seeking scraps from the table. I’m a writer on his uppers, sure enough, well almost, but I don’t beg and I don’t give them control either. They want it, they're used to it. They want to see everything that anyone writes about them and so much of the media these days is happy to play this game. Exclusivity deals and payments handed out by the likes of Hello magazine have spoiled those who are spoiled enough already.

I met a few owners and, as I shouldn't need to point out, they are all flesh and blood. Some are friendly, some less so, but among those I met, most were fine and one or two went out of their way in their generosity.

I was in Porto Cervo for the Perini Navi Cup. Perini Navis are great boats. For a kick off they’re sailing yachts and that immediately influences the mix you’re going to find among the owners. Maybe I’m biased, but I’d say that sailing yacht owners are much more in touch with the sea – they allow their boats to heel for goodness sake!

We shouldn’t be disparaging about motor yacht owners, but we all know that some of them are not the first people you would consult on interior design aesthetics. Again that’s a sweeping statement with honourable exceptions. I haven’t had the privilege of seeing Sir James Dyson’s classic yacht, Nahlin http://www.glwatson.com/detail/Nahlin__Classic_Motor_Yacht/527/26.aspx , but I’m told the interior is astonishing. A man so committed to design and function would settle for nothing less.

The Perini Navis might not appeal to every sailor since they’re designed for ease of use. There’s a fly deck (an upper deck from where you can steer and control the boat) and there are push-button captive winches (no need to winch by hand, no loose ropes). But boy do they look good. Sailing couldn't be more comfortable.

If I was a rich man I don’t know whether I’d own a yacht. I’d guess I’d go through all that moralistic stuff about responsible capitalism, you know, the gospel of wealth and all that. But if I’d done all that, if I’d justified the spending to myself and the pillow still felt light as I went to bed at night; then I’d probably go for a Perini Navi. Why? Because it’s gentle sailing and gentle living. OK, these boats were competing but they’re not racing too hard and there was just as much competition over the cocktail evening. I was a judge for that. No-one told me who won. No-one cared after we’d tasted a few.

It’s not gentle living for the crews. Crews are well paid and they work damned hard for their money. The life might look glamorous but there’s nothing glamorous about working in a sweaty engine room or galley in to the small hours, providing the owners with the kind of service you’d struggle to buy at the best hotels.

The good owners know that and appreciate the work of their crews. A lot of the owners are entrepreneurs who have put in the hard miles to get where they are. They still do. During one race I was sitting in the bridge, enjoying the scenery, while the owner’s son was toiling for two hours mending a coffee machine. All good practice - his dad invented it.

One of the owners just couldn’t sit down, flitting all over the place all of the time, working at making her guests happy, and this was her holiday. The guests were very happy and the crew looked happy too. You can see through the fake smiles when they’re not.

I was upstairs with the lucky people but I would love to have been in on the downstairs chat. You’ll recall those scenes in the Titanic film, where the rich are being all formal and catty in first class while the Irish immigrants are singing and dancing down in third class; well it’s not like that. There’s plenty of dancing upstairs at this event, usually at one of the on-shore parties. But there’s gossip too at all levels and business is never too far from the surface.

Some of the biggest motor yachts (not so much the sailing yachts) have their mirror image in the stately homes of the 1920s, with staff standing by at their owner’s pleasure. And just as no sensible owner messes with the head butler, the yacht owners have to respect their captains. More of this later, probably in the upcoming FT Yachts and Marinas report that I'm working on just now. For other sailing stuff, just watch this space. http://donkinonsailing.blogspot.co.uk/?view=magazine

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