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Serial yacht owners: 3 billionaires transforming yachting

BEAM Staff
December 12, 2017

The superyacht sector is, at its essence, a extremely small niche when one looks at absolute amounts, with barely 10,000 yachts over 24 meters in length. As a result, innovation in the sector requires drive and experience that only a few individuals in the world have been able to develop.

Building innovative yachts takes extensive, intimate knowledge of their use, only acquired at an owner's level, as well as large amounts of capital devoted to creating floating masterpieces. Yacht Harbour looks at some of the most inspiring billionaires from the superyacht space.

Bernard Arnault 

Position: Chairman, LVMH

Net worth: $64 billion (2017)

Iconic in many ways, luxury conglomerate LVMH and its CEO, Bernard Arnault have long set a gold standard in the luxury world and yachting was no exception to this rule. In fact, Arnault's 101-meter yacht, Symphony is currently the largest Feadship ever built.

With a net worth currently valued at $64 billion by Forbes, Bernard Arnault's 33-year run shaping the luxury world through his Louis Vuitton Moet Henessy Group, took him to being the 2nd richest person in Europe and in the world's top 10 billionaires.

In yachting however, the 68 year-old Frenchmen is most well known for his involvement in the sector. His first major step into superyachts became the conversion of the 70-meter Amadeus into a luxury yacht from a research vessel in 2007.

Rebuilt at Jade Yachts in Taiwan, the transformation was overseen by Vripack to a design by Redmond Langton with Francois Zuretti creating the yacht's new interior. Accommodating up to 12 guests in a master suite spanning over the entire upper deck, a VIP suite on the main deck, and two guest and two twin cabins on the lower deck, she stretched over a total of five decks.

From a technical standpoint, the yacht is powered by twin Caterpillar engines letting the 70-meter yacht cruise for up to 16,400 nautical miles at a speed of 10.5 knots. In 2015, Arnault sold Amadeus, which was later renamed to Felix by its current owner.

Photo by Julien Hubert

Around the same time, Feadship delivered the 101-meter Symphony, the largest yacht it ever built. According to Marianne, Symphony was delivered to Maltese company, Sonata Yachting, a firm which LVMH disclosed was a fully owned subsidiary in its yearly report.

A common feature found across the two yachts are their golf tee located aft of the upper deck, which allows its guests to shoot specially designed, bio-degradable balls into the sea from the yacht. Designed by Tim Heywood, Symphony has a gross tonnage of near 3,000GT.

Photo by Julien Hubert

Arnault's interests in yachting however are not limited to his personal fleet. In 2008, LVMH led an acquisition of British yacht manufacturer, Princess Yachts from South African investor, Graham Beck in a transaction that amounted to just over €250 million. The deal then saw L Capital, a fund controlled by LVMH, gain a 70% controlling stake in Princess Yachts.

LVMH then continued its efforts to expand into yachting by acquiring Royal Van Lent, a shipyard part of Feadship, later that year in a deal that analysts put at around €400 million. The shipyard later went on to build the 101.5-meter Symphony and remains a part of LVMH's portfolio to this day.

Herb Chambers

Position: Chairman, Herb Chambers Companies

Net worth: $1,38 billion (2017)

Delivered in 2012 by Abeking & Rasmussen, the 60-meter Excellence V, one of the most voluminous yachts in her size, became her American's owner fifth superyacht. His fleet's next flagship, an 80-meter Abeking & Rasmussen is however still under construction.

Herb Chambers' first yacht became a 30ft Trojan fishing boat in 1970, he then upgraded to a 53ft Hatteras before starting his journey into the superyacht space with a 38.7-meter Feadship, Excellence. Launched in 1986, three years after Chambers sold his blooming copier sales business, A Copy, for $80 million, the yacht could reach 13.5 knots.

Later known as Golden Rule and last refitted in 2006, the yacht was sold by her new owners in 2011 at an asking price of $4.9 million. She was then renamed once again to Miss Iloilo in 2013.

Chambers next yachting project became an even larger Feadship, the 47.5-meter Excellence II launched in 1999. With an interior by Sam Sorgiovanni, the yacht had a beam of 8.9m and could reach a speed of 14.5 knots.

Later reportedly sold by Chambers to American businessman, Dennis M. Jones who renamed her to D'Natalin II, the yacht was then sold once again and renamed to Princess K. Now cruising under the name Princess Too, she was sold to her current owner in the summer of 2016 at an asking price of €15 million.

Launched this time by Abeking & Rasmussen in 2001, Excellence III became a 57-meter superyacht with an exterior by Donald Starkey designed with charter in mind. Praised for her comfortable seven cabin layout by guests, the yacht went on to have an inspiring charter record led by Chambers' long-time captain, Ray Shore.

Listed for sale in 2010 Excellence III was later sold in March 2012 asking $45,950,000. The popular charter yacht was then renamed to Dream following her sale and lengthened to 60-meters during her 2014 refit.

Photo by Yacht Harbour

Chambers' subsequent project became a 78-meter Abeking & Rasmussen which was planned to take on the name Excellence IV. A few months into the build, Chambers received an offer to buy the yacht from a friend, which he decided to turn down. 

Halfway through the build he however realised that such a project would prevent him from mooring in harbour such as Gustavia in St.Barts and Capri. When a Russian oligarch made another offer to buy the project at a profit for Chambers, the American businessman accepted. "I did well on that one." Chambers told Forbes. The yacht went on to become Eminence.

Photo by Yacht Harbour

Following the sale, Chambers decided to take on another project at Abeking & Rasmussen building Excellence V, a 60-meter yacht with the interior volume and comfort of a 75-meter superyacht. Launched in 2011, she is now available for charter from €595,000 per week.

"There was a transition where it became a business for me" Chambers told Forbes on his superyacht projects, "I get more enjoyment out of building the boats than I do using them". Chambers's Excellence IV, a 28-meter Pershing launched in 2014, might be the only exception to this rule as he keeps it for his personal use. The yacht was however listed for sale and is now asking $8,400,000.

Chambers, now owner of the Herb Chambers Companies, the largest automotive dealership group in New England, USA with over $2.5 billion in revenue in 2014, might however be on his most ambitious yachting project yet. Indeed, the American billionaire has commissioned an 80-meter project currently under construction at Abeking & Rasmussen, which he says will be a cross between M/Y A and a more traditional yacht.

Dennis Washington

Position: Chairman, Washington Companies

Net worth: $5,9 billion (2017)

Washington became acquainted with boating relatively late, according to one of his recent interviews, he stepped on a boat for the very first time in 1979, when he was 45 years old. His connection with the sea was however immediate, "I just loved the sound of being out on the water and being so relaxed" he told Forbes. Soon after, he purchased his first boat, the 25.9-meter Wanigan III for $150,000. What sets apart Washington from most yacht owners is his interest in refitting yachts up to his high standards. A year and a half after the purchase of the Wanigan III, he began to rebuild it and sold it a couple of years later.

In 1992 he purchased Chieftain, a 105ft tug built in Glasgow in 1929 that had escorted British WW2 ships and had remained under the British flag for nearly 60 years. Washington had the yacht shipped back to Vancouver by his port captain, Fred Larsson, and started a lengthy process to create the most tastefully decorated tug afloat. Washington in fact even announced that the newly named St. Eval would remain in the Washington family for perpetuity. St. Eval can now often be found moored in Washington's private marina in Vancouver.

Also docked in Vancouver is the 36.4-meter Abeking & Rasmussen, Impromptu, which Washington purchased from Boeing. Before serving as Boeing's corporate yacht as Daedalus, Impromptu was owned by beer magnate, August Busch. After learning that Boeing was looking to sell, he purchased and refitted the yacht, which he still owns to this day.

The first yacht to be named Attessa became yet another one of Washington's rebuild projects. After purchasing the 130ft Yecats built by Kong & Halvorsen in 1984, Washington lengthened the yacht to 142ft and renamed it to Attessa. The yacht later appeared in the movie "Indecent Proposal". It was then sold to George Argyros and renamed to Huntress before catching fire and sinking off the coast of Greece in 1998.

Washington's second Attessa became a Feadship launched in 1988 as Impromptu with a length of 43.4-meters. Following Washington buying the yacht in the 1990s, the yacht was extended by over 5 meters and renamed to Attessa II. The yacht was later reportedly sold to American billionaire, Wayne Huizenga who renamed her to Floridian. She then went through several changes of ownership until her current owners renamed the yacht to Mysorah and extensively refitted her once again.

Another vessel that is still part Washington's fleet to this day is Attessa III. Built by Feadship in 1998 as Lady Aviva for Joe Lewis, the 62-meter yacht caught fire in May 2000 in the Red Sea. With the owner and insurance company looking to get rid of it, Washington bought the superyacht and, after a 36-month long refit process at the Feadship De Vries shipyard, she reemerged as the fully rebuilt and extended 68m Attessa III. Completely transformed, Attessa III featured the largest composite extension in yachting history. Washington still owns the yacht to this day and keeps her on America's west coast. 

Washington's most ambitious project however began just under two years later after Attessa III's launch. Having become aware that Taiwanese shipping billionaire, Chang Yung Fa was looking to sell his 91-meter Evergreen, Washington flew out to Taiwan to inspect the hull in 2007. "Chairman Chang built the boat like a warship, but it was not attractive structurally. I thought it would be a great project." he told Forbes. The American billionaire bought the yacht and sailed it to his Vancouver facility for a refit.

The refit process involved a new superstructure shape, interior layout, helipad and tender garage, which resulted in a completely new vessel. Lengthened by almost 10 meters, Attessa IV became the 24th largest in the world at the time of her relaunch in 2010. Amongst her standout features are a spa on the lower deck, a private cinema, a helipad and a multi-purpose room on the yacht's sundeck with a Chihuly chandelier under a glass dome.