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Doing the Cannes-Cannes

There was plenty to get excited about at the Cannes Yachting Festival, but for Charlotte Thomas, new models were only part of the story.

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It was toward the end of the first day of the 2021 Cannes Yachting Festival that I sat down with Antony Sheriff, Executive Chairman and CEO of Princess Yachts. It was timely – the day had been a scorcher, but Princess has teamed up with Salcombe Gin, a distillery based close to the Princess yard in the UK , and as we started to chat a refreshingly cold gin and tonic landed on the table in front of me.

“Everywhere is booming,” he told me. “Greg Haines and his team are doing an absolutely mega job in Australia. The US is off the charts. Hong Kong is off the charts.

“I had a call from a lady in a Hong Kong hotel room on day 13 of her quarantine. And she says, ‘You know, I’ve been looking out my window locked in my room for 13 days, and all I’ve been looking at is people in the marina down below sitting on their yachts. I’ve never had a boat before and I’ve decided I want a boat.’

“That was on day 13,” Sheriff continued. “On day 14, she left quarantine and on day 15 went in to see one of our distributors and put a deposit down on a 55.”

If you needed further proof that the market is in bull mode, consider this – Princess showed its X95 to the public for the first time at Cannes, yet it has already sold 20 units. The Y72 had its world premiere at Cannes, yet it has already sold 50 units. Yes, you read correctly – 50 units.

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Princess isn’t the only builder seeing an explosion of interest. Up and down the quays at Cannes, builders were reporting record sales and consistent demand, from the giants like Azimut-Benetti and the Ferretti Group to boutique builders such as Pearl Yachts, Sirena Yachts, and Numarine and to production builders like Absolute, Beneteau and beyond.

Sunseeker, for example, has announced it had added £100 million in retail sales from the week of Cannes alone. Gulf Craft CEO Talal Nasralla told me they had sold hull number 17 of the Majesty 100 on the first day of the show, hot on the heels of strong H1 2021 figures.

The buoyant mood was matched with buoying weather – the perfect reintroduction to boat show life, even if us show veterans quickly realised how far we’d slipped from being boat-show fit over the past 18 months.

Moreover, it felt at times like a boat-show scrum, as a record-equalling 54,400 visitors came to view the 620 boats on display, including 141 new models that – for reasons of pandemic – for the most part had been seen only from afar through the medium of the web.

The hard part was not so much arranging boat tours between private client viewings – which was, nonetheless, a considerable hurdle – but rather cherry-picking which of the intriguing new yachts to explore.

There was the WHY200 from Wally, which aims to deliver exceptional spaces (200 gt of volume – hence the name) in a package that is both efficient and seaworthy and which comes in under the 24-metre regulatory boundary.

It’s an extraordinary piece of design, with its stealth-like angular flytop and its high bow that cuts through waves on a semi-displacement hull form. Thanks to the hull’s performance in a seaway with minimal vertical accelerations, that high bow also houses a master suite with hull windows to the stem.

“There are several advantages,” Luca Bassani, Wally’s Founder and iconic designer, told me as we sat on the upper aft deck.

“One is to be far away from the noise of the engine room. And having a view of the sea is one of the reasons to be on a boat. We found out it was possible to do that and it became the pearl of the project.”

Speaking of pearls, there were many. There was the unveiling of the new Pearl 72, and there were the pearls of the show’s Superyacht Extension in the form of the Oasis 40M – that aft deck pool looked mighty inviting as the sun crept over its zenith – and the glorious Cantiere delle Marche Flexplorer Aurelia.

A more classically inspired yacht was also drawing the crowds – Benetti’s 37-metre Motopanfilo. My tour with the interior architects was enthralling, as they described the rationale behind the skeletal arches that stretch through the interior. I felt like Jonah in the whale, but not unpleasantly so.

The heat and sun and crowds did occasionally ignite a craving for air and space, and that was delivered in two fleeting but nonetheless fascinating sea trials.

The first was thrilling, not least because I, with a colleague, had managed to get Azimut-Benetti Vice President Giovanna Vitelli interested in a French company called Hynova, who were at Cannes to unveil the production design of their working, certified, hydrogen-powered 42-footer.

Founded by French yacht captain Chloé Zaied, Hynova aims to drive us into the future – and to take the marinas and ports of the Med and beyond with it. Vitelli agreed to come and meet Zaied, and to experience firsthand what a hydrogen-powered, fuel-cell equipped, 25-knot yacht is like on the water.

Who knows, perhaps Ocean will have helped one of the world’s largest yacht builders take a step closer to an alternatively powered future.

The second sea trial came on my last night in Cannes, aboard the new Grand Banks 54. As with Riviera, whose impressive stand and collection of Cannes show models I had admired earlier in the week, the Australian contingent was sorely missed as we headed out of the port and into the bay of Cannes, bearing down on a sunset at 27 knots and revelling in the smooth running of the V-Warp hull.

But riding into the sunset on an Australian stallion was perhaps a fitting end to my Cannes sojourn. The show wasn’t without its quirks – the queues to enter each day, the need to show a vaccine passport or negative COVID test, the hoops through which to leap before heading home again.

What the Cannes show did show was that not only is the boating industry in as good a position as it has been in many a year, but also that – for all the talk of success in virtual viewings over the past 18 months – you can’t beat boat-hopping to bring in the buyers.

And perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway of all – it’s the human interaction and the quiet buzz of a show that I’ve missed so much. Judging by the (masked) smiles of those around me, I wasn’t alone.

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