World's Elite Make a Splash With Megayachts

Owners of the world's largest yachts spend their summers in paradise.

ByABC News
August 5, 2008, 12:24 PM

Aug. 6, 2008 -- Every August, the mega-yachts descend on the south of France in a swarm of pristine white and fiberglass that glistens above the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

By day the yachts, some more than 400 feet long, coast from port to port and marina to marina. The owners, an exclusive club of the world's billionaires, take in local sights, dine at the region's most luxurious restaurants and soak up the sun on what have become their own "floating islands."

"There's an undeniable luxury to these yachts and to know that one person bought it and owns it is pretty remarkable," said Diane Byrne, executive editor of Power & Motoryacht magazine. "It's also a way to enjoy getting away from the craziness of life on land, work and traffic. It doesn't matter whether you're a billionaire or a hard-working Joe, it's a means of escape for them, a way to have a self-sufficient luxury resort all to yourself."

At night, the world's elite come out to play. Dressed to perfection in designer clothing, they shimmy off their boats into the Mediterranean's hottest nightclubs -- Les Caves Du Roy in Saint-Tropez or Cinquante Cinq (Club 55) in Monaco -- for an evening of thumping music and high-class hob-knobbing.

"It's the who's who of… the south of France," said yacht consultant Mark Elliot. "There's the 'boom-boom' rhythm of the music and parties on the docks. Everybody's dressed to the nines -- the beautiful people all coming off of their boats."

For some, the super-sized, ultra-luxurious boats are the main attraction. For yachting insiders, it's all about the far-off, picture-perfect locales where the gigantic yachts drop anchor.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's 414-foot Octopus was launched in 2003. With a permanent 60-man crew, two helicopters, seven boats and a submersible, Octopus is a seaborne estate. For all of its amenities, Octopus requires an estimated $20 million annual budget.

The spirit of good-natured one-upsmanship lives on among the world's yacht-owning billionaires;

Oracle founder Larry Ellison and music bigwig David Geffen co-own the Rising Sun mega yacht, which clocks in at 452 feet. Russian investment tycoon Roman Ambramovich's Eclipse literally overshadows others when it floats into port at a reported 508 feet. The Sheikh of Dubai owns an even larger yacht -- 524 feet long -- that dwarfs those of fellow billionaires.

Making a Grand Entrance

Stuart said the mega yacht world is always changing, with new faces joining the yachting scene every year.

"There's some old money, there's new money," she said. "That's why it's a great industry because if somebody has a great empire and it collapses, someone else comes in, buys it and makes their empire even bigger, then they can decide if they want to have the toy."

This summer, billionaire yacht owners and their ships have crisscrossed the world. Allen's Octopus was in St. Nazaire, Polynesia, the Azores and then France. Ellison's Rising Sun was spotted in Tahiti, St. Tropez and Capri. One of Abramovich's other yachts, Ecstasy, has been to Trieste, Italy, and Croatia.

According to Wall Street Journal wealth columnist Robert Frank, the ideal spot to anchor is a place to dock a tender that can refuel and fill the boat with food provisions from catering companies.