‘The initial cost isn’t really that much,’ I am told by a J-Class yacht owner as we stand at the harbour of Hamilton, Bermuda. He clearly senses my scepticism, and is quick to clarify.
‘I mean, maybe not as expensive as you may think. The base boat still obviously costs around 10 to 20 million dollars. But the real costs start racking up when you have to pay for the upkeep, which can come in at anywhere up to $3 million every year.’
It’s a painful figure, but J-Class yachts – a type of single-masted sailboat that must have either been built in the early 20th Century or produced meticulously to period plans – are beautiful to behold. As we stand, a glass of Cloudy Bay Pelorus sparkling away in our hands, six of these beautiful vessels bob happily next to each other in the harbour. And that’s quite a gathering – there are only 9 left on earth.
Majestic titans of sail, these boats competed just last week off the Caribbean island and, although Lionheart may have taken the crown, two of the competitors – Shamrock V and Endeavour – are genuine 1930s boats. Exploring the vessels in the Princess Marina is incredibly exciting, with worn wooden decks and burnished brass fittings giving the yachts a truly antique feel.
But speaking to the owners is almost as awe-inspiring as stepping aboard the boats themselves. And it isn’t because of their passion for sailing – although they have that by the boatful – but rather their capacity for spending. Granted, these are rich men, dynastic heirs or titans of industry, but they don’t even seem to think twice about spending a million in a month on fixing up their boats.
Not only that, but the owners are more than happy to let this level of expenditure slip under the radar. Whereas most men wouldn’t even be able to buy a new car without posting a few choice snaps on Instagram, these sailors can splash substantial cash on these vessels without as much as sending out a single tweet.
And, while the owners are secretive about revealing too many details about the boats in the Cloudy Bay J Class, there are certain snippets that show just how pricey these boats can be. One vessel has an entirely mahogany-veneered interior (all taken from one tree), another has ensuites tiled throughout in original black-and-white 1930s bathroom tiles and a third has a dedicated wine cellar stuffed – literally – to the gunnels with everything from Te Koko to Te Wahi.
So, next time you watch these 140ft kings of the sea set sail, remember: those base boats may be just a ‘drop in the ocean’, but it’s the decadence below decks which makes racing these superyachts the ‘most expensive hobby on earth’.