The sight of a glittering yacht gliding smoothly across the Mediterranean is one that inevitably draws quite a few admiring stares from onlookers, and is regarded as a lavish indulgence afforded only by those with a considerably high income. In Lebanon, such a sight is rather rare as only 80 of the 2,000 boats docked in the country fit the criteria of luxury boats — a number that contributes very little to the approaching $11 billion in global revenues for luxury boats estimated by Bain Capital in 2012.
Despite its small market share, Lebanese have an interest in the maritime luxury industry, reflected in the Beirut Boat Show. It is an annual event that showcases a variety of new boats and yachts and has achieved commendable success during its eight years. Although this year’s show was cancelled, many in the industry believe that the luxury boat market in Lebanon remains on top form. A 2014 show has been promised.
Owning luxury boats comes with a hefty price tag, starting at 500,000 euros ($656,550) for a ten-meter Riva model boat, up to millions of dollars depending on the size, brand and type of the boat.
Sea Pros, a Beirut-based high-end boats agency, is the exclusive distributor of Ferretti Group — an Italian company — in the Middle East. Alain Maaraoui, chief executive of Sea Pros, refers to Ferretti as the umbrella under which a range of needs are accommodated by different brands and models, the common factor being unfailing quality and luxury.
After listening to what kind of attributes clients look for in a boat, Maaraoui helps them choose the appropriate model. For example, the Pershing brand of open motor yachts is known for surprisingly high speed at a comfortable size: the Pershing 115, named one of the top 20 fastest yachts by Boat International, reaches a maximum speed of 52 knots and has four fully equipped cabins and three crew cabins. The Pershing is not highly demanded among the Lebanese as it is not an everyday boat, much in the manner that a Porsche Carrera is not an everyday car, explains Maaraoui.
The 15-meter Ferretti 500, the smallest sized model of Ferretti Flybridge motor yachts — priced at $900,000 — offers the most space for its size by having a well-developed balance between the exterior and interior parts of the boat: it can comfortably fit 12 people in its three spacious cabins and wide flybridge area. The Ferretti 500 is the most popular among Maaraoui’s customers because it can be used for smooth cruising.
Though they offer sturdy sea stability and a feeling of being close to the water, Mochi Craft models have a distinctive design — pronounced hull lines blended with a flat body — which is not immediately appealing to all tastes, according to Maaraoui, and only four different models can be found in Lebanon. The 23-meter-long Mochi 74 Dolphin Cruiser, is priced at $4,675,704 on the Sea Pros website.
The Pershing is not considered an everyday speed boat
While these luxury boats differ in function, their high-end classification is moored in their quality, brand and image. “The difference between a luxury boat and any other boat is the difference between a Hermes bag and any commercial brand bag,” according to Maaraoui.
Other distinguishing features of high-end boats, Maaraoui says, include technical issues such as sound isolation (from the waves) and stability as well as visual aspects such as the details on a boat’s hull and the overall external appearance of a boat. “Walking down a marina, you can immediately tell, even if you have no knowledge of boats, which boat is a high-end one and which is not,” says Maaraoui.
One of the problems of owning a boat in Lebanon is finding a place to drop anchor. There are five marinas in Lebanon — Beirut Marina, Dbayeh Marina, ATCL, Halat Marina and Aqua Marina — and finding a spot to moor in one of them is becoming very difficult, leading some boat enthusiasts to opt for boat chartering.
The distinctive lines of the Mochi Craft Boat
“Our clients prefer renting to ownership because then they don’t have to deal with the hassle of having a parking place for their boat which is not always available. For example, Zaitunay Bay’s Solidere Marina is now full and does not permit new boats to dock,” says Rand Tabbara of Water Nation, a boat rental agency founded by Walid Noishi and located on Zaitunay Bay.
Maaraoui maintains that few high-net-worth individuals would opt for chartering a boat, saying that such wealthy clients need to own their boat and to know that it is solely theirs, just as they own their cars or the villas they stay in when they travel. Also, to those who believe that “the happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day the boat is bought and the day it’s sold,” a statement referring to the hassle of maintaining an owned boat, Maaraoui points out that his company offers after sale services and follows up with clients until they feel comfortable maintaining the boat. Still, boat chartering by high-end individuals saw a peak in 2010 — mainly by Lebanese expats and tourists from the Gulf — and Tabbara describes the flow of guests from the neighboring five star hotels coming to their offices to charter boats for full day cruises and three day trips to neighboring Cyprus.
Though not as expensive as owning a luxury boat, chartered boats are not cheap and prices with Water Nation can reach up to $18,000 per day for a 60-meter yacht, used for events with around 200 guests. The Princess 85, which was the most sought after Water Nation boat by Gulf nationals at the start of summer 2012, goes for $12,000 per day and can accommodate up to 25 people on its two tiers, while a group of 12 people can rent a smaller boat for $6,000 a day.
A chartered boat comes with a captain and fuel for the trip, a convenience sought by those with a busy schedule who just want to lay back and relax for the day. Food and drinks can be provided by Water Nation, but Tabbara says those on board tend to opt for lunch stops at one of the exclusive beach resorts along the way — such as Eddie Sands in Byblos or Orchid Beach in Jiyyeh — or at one of the more authentic and private establishments recommended by Water Nation, such as the sailor/chef in Checka, North Lebanon, who docks his boat alongside the clients’ boats and cooks their choice of fish in front of them or the little restaurants in Byblos.
It is not all smooth sailing in the boat chartering business, explains Tabbara, as their high end boat rentals are mainly tourist driven and hence have seen a decline this summer. “We are sending out an average of one boat a week [of their fleet of 12 boats] and they are mainly of our smaller sized models,” she says, adding that they are not expecting the situation to improve and are compensating for it by focusing on their water sports school.
The high-end maritime industry in Lebanon is showing resilience as agencies are finding other ways to stay afloat, despite finding themselves in rough waters.