Size Matters

Size Matters

‘A great ship asks deep waters.’

George Herbert, English poet and orator: Jacula Prudentum, 1651.

“Is it an island?”
“Is it an iceberg?”
“Is it an aircraft carrier?”
No, it’s a Superyacht, and it’s moored in the V&A Waterfront. These enormous floating palaces are becoming more regular visitors to our iconic old harbour, and their presences are quite boggling. For those of us who are wage slaves and have to think hard and fast about replacing the family car (and then don’t), these sleek futuristic vessels are almost otherworldly.

But a ‘superyacht’? We need to explore the world of yachting to arrive at this final point in the evolution of the species. The term ‘yacht’ covers a multiplicity of vessels; there is no single specimen that can be said to represent the genus. Broadly speaking, a yacht is a vessel that can be sail or motor powered, and used for pleasure boating, racing or just happily cruising across a lake or the Atlantic Ocean. That narrows it down. There is a caveat in that yachts should have sleeping accommodation onboard, and be over 10 m in length, so if you sail a dabchick or a Hobie Cat you have a watercraft, not a yacht. Yachts must also display what are referred to as ‘good aesthetic qualities’, so if you have added a motor to grandad’s old coal barge and put a cabin in the corner don’t go boasting about your yacht: it’s still a barge.

The word ‘yacht’ stems from the original, pre-motor sailing era of the Dutch Republic around the late 1500’s, when pirates and brigands still cruised the seven seas. The heavier deep-draft naval vessels couldn’t pursue the sleek piratical boats into the shallow waters around the Low Countries, so the Dutch court authorities developed similarly shaped light and fast sailing vessels to apprehend the nautical transgressors. They were hunting ships called ‘jachten’ (echoed in our Afrikaans word for hunters) and this term was subsequently applied to all those boats deemed to have good aesthetic qualities. In the early 1600’s King James I of England commissioned the construction of a boatfor his son, Henry, Price of Wales. Not for hunting, warfare or business, but purely for pleasure, arguably the first true yacht. Later on Charles II, having seen his father parted from his head, exiled himself to Europe and on visiting Holland witnessed a number of jachten that had been converted to pleasure craft. On his Restoration to the English Crown (with his own head intact) in 1660, he commissioned a series of Royal Yachts, and was credited with bringing the term into the English language.

A Superyacht, and it’s moored in the V&A Waterfront.

By the time civilisation and the sailing-set had reached the 21st century, the classes of yachts had increased exponentially. The advent of powered vessels and the variety of configurations of masts and sails on sailing vessels had broadened the base considerably, and sub-classes of yachts abounded. Sailing yachts, cruising yachts, powered yachts, near-shore, off-shore, multihull, cruising, racing – and each sub-category can be broken into more convoluted classes. The racing yachts alone are worthy of an encyclopaedical study; eleven different major classes in the World Category as a start.

But to get back to where we started: motor yachts. A motor yacht is a motor yacht until it reaches 40 m in length, and then it’s a superyacht (or megayacht, gigayacht or even terayacht, take your pick.) And 40 m is definitely in the ‘undersized’ area of the category, a humdrum common yacht that wouldn’t be seen dead in Monaco. To be truly superyacht sized you are looking at over 100 m: Azzam,  the world’s largest superyacht, comes in at 180.6 m in length, and there are many others in the 100 m plus range. Recent visitors to the V&A Waterfront include Blue at 160 m, and Octopus at 126 m. To put this in perspective, the most modern frigates in the world are around 150 m in length. Not only that, but they are slower too, at a mere 48 kph to the superyachts 59 kph. Worldwide there are currently 179 superyachts over 75 m in length; scrolling through pictures of these beautiful vessels can be daunting, but not half as daunting as looking at the facilities these floating palaces contain. Suffice it to say that if your superyacht doesn’t have it’s own helicopter and onboard submarine, you are merely a pretender to the throne.

Our Waterfront Charters yachts are smaller, don’t have a helicopter or even a mini-sub. We make no apology for the fact; they are all luxurious, well-appointed and extremely safe. They can treat two guests to an intimate cruise or 140 dancers to a rip-roaring party. Four of the vessels are catamarans and one is a sailing schooner: they all have their specialities and can be boarded every day of the year for scheduled cruises or chartered for your own private event. Very few people will see the decks of a superyacht: everyone can enjoy a Waterfront Charters Cruise. Join us soon!

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