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Mega Yachts

The BVI and the World of the Rich and Famous

by Julian Putley

The BVI is unsurpassed as a pristine tropical archipelago. With steady trade winds almost year round the island group has long been the world's favored destination for sailors who not only take advantage of the many beautiful anchorages and coves but also enjoy the shore side facilities, from local beach bars to five-star elegance. The diving and snorkeling opportunities, hiking trails and natural geological wonders all add to the appeal of the BVI. Now this tropical paradise has been "discovered" by the world's mega yachts and every year more and more of these super luxury vessels come to enjoy this unique playground.

It was the first James Bond movie, Dr No, in 1962 that really put the Caribbean on the map as an exotic destination. No one who saw that film will forget Ursula Andress walking out of the blue Caribbean in her white bikini with dive knife strapped to her hip. Other Bond movies were filmed in the Caribbean including Goldeneye, the name of author Ian Fleming's Jamaican residence; Live and Let Die and Octopussy, to name but a few. Now, several decades later, a series of mega yachts are cruising the world, all with a James Bond theme: fast, opulent, audacious and dazzling. Moonraker, Octopussy, and Thunderball were all hailed as ground breaking super yachts. In the late 80s Octopussy, at speeds in excess of 52 knots, stunned the world of mega yacht owners. By 1992 Moonraker upped the anti with a top speed of 67 knots (almost 80 mph). Now Bond enthusiast and owner John Staluppi is showing his preference for unabashed quality and luxury with more modest pace.

One of the newest of his 007 line is Casino Royale, and royal it certainly is. Most mega yachts are fitted with sumptuous luxury and Casino Royale is no exception. The grand central staircase is bordered with frosted glass panels etched with the silhouettes of Bond girls. There's a full size glass sculpture of Vesper Lynd, the heroine of the movie; a hand-crafted marble roulette wheel is inlaid into the deck of the main salon and at the onyx countered bar vodka martinis are shaken not stirred. In typical Bond style the master state room boasts a huge queen bed beneath a mirrored deck head. Casino Royale is expected to be in the Caribbean for the 2010 season.

Prince Charles and Carmilla Parker Bowles were guests aboard Leander.

Prince Charles and Carmilla Parker Bowles were guests aboard Leander.

One of the BVI's regular visitors is the classic Leander, owned by Sir Donald Gosling. Her royal blue hull sporting the British ensign and homeport of Bermuda is often seen in Peter Island's Great Harbour with several of the 24 man crew polishing and buffing the topsides. Recently Sir Donald donated twenty thousand dollars to the volunteer Virgin Islands Search and Rescue; Leander's crew had been instrumental in assisting VISAR in a rescue operation. The multi-millionaire philanthropist, who made his fortune with car parks, was duly impressed and showed it with this magnificent gesture. Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles joined the yacht for an extended cruise of the Caribbean in March and April of 2009.

Many rock and rollers, country singers, film stars and sports icons seem to be aficionados of floating palaces as well. Eric Clapton's recently refurbished Va Bene is based in the Caribbean during the winter months. The 157-ft luxury yacht has a large Jacuzzi on the sun deck, luxurious accommodations for twelve guests and, as you might expect, brand new audio/visual (high def flat screen TVs) in all cabins and entertainment spaces.

Jimmy Buffett, the iconic singer/entertainer, who has made millions selling Caribbean escapism, stepped ashore in Anegada in mid January and gave an impromptu concert to visitors and yachtsmen at the Anegada Reef Hotel. Buffett's mega yacht, appropriately named Continental Drifter, accommodates nine guests and six crew so the Coral Reefer Band can travel in style if necessary. The yacht has the advantage of a draft of just over six-foot for anchoring close to shore and the sun deck, complete with Jacuzzi, has a push button retractable Bimini for shade or sun, as guests prefer.

Jimmy Buffett cruises the BVI aboard his yacht Continental Drifter.

Jimmy Buffett cruises the BVI aboard his yacht Continental Drifter.

Buffett's songs are beloved by many for their free-wheeling, party hard, no-holds-barred message. His favorite playground is unquestionably the islands of the eastern Caribbean where he often shows up unannounced and does free concerts. The BVI has been the inspiration for many of his famous songs. His Cheeseburger in Paradise was actually consumed at Village Cay Marina back in the 70s after a passage from Puerto Rico to the BVI had him eating peanut butter and canned food after all his ice melted. Mañana was penned in Cane Garden Bay, proven by the lyrics: "While the lights of St Thomas lie 20 miles west" and… new songs will come… "through the people and places and Callwood's rum."

Stars of stage and screen may be traveling the oceans of the world in style but the "super mega yachts" are usually owned by royalty, potentates, financiers and captains of industry. In December Larry Ellison's Rising Sun spent some time in the British Virgin Islands and was spotted at Virgin Gorda's North Sound. The Rising Sun was once the largest mega yacht in the world. When it was being built an extra 18 meters was added at the last minute so that it could supersede Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Octopus – or so the story goes. Larry Ellison, computer software billionaire, of Oracle is said to be worth about twenty billion dollars so the two hundred million price tag for his yacht is about one per cent of his total worth.

Octopus is owned by Mirosoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Octopus is owned by Mirosoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Octopus is probably the most ostentatious mega yacht in the world. Its sheer size – 414 feet in length – is impressive but when you see not one, but two helicopters perched on deck, one on the bow and the other on the stern, you have to wonder if the owner is not obsessed with one-upmanship. The usual array of amenities like a swimming pool, multiple bars, jet skis… are all provided. Octopus also boasts no less than seven tenders, one 63 feet in length; two submersibles: one, a ten man submarine capable of staying underwater for two weeks, the other an ocean-bed crawler that can be remotely manipulated, an on board screen displaying the view. A 60 man crew is employed to operate the vessel. Octopus spent time in the BVI earlier this year and in fact found it the destination of choice to ring in the New Year.

As more and more mega yachts find the allure of the British Virgin Islands to be irresistible it is interesting to note that many are registered in far-flung and remote destinations. Recently the British Virgin Islands was awarded the Category 1 REG Registry able to register mega/super yachts of up to 3,000 gross tons. There are unquestionable benefits of such registration – see details below.

Virgin Island Ship Registry (VISR) is a member of the Red Ensign Group. Ships flying the flag are entitled to British diplomatic/consular support and royal navy protection. The BVI has access to the full range of technical expertise of the UK maritime and coastguard agency.

Who may take advantage of this new facility? Registered ownership is permitted to citizens of, and companies registered in, the BVI, UK and all British Territories. Also those of the EU, CARICOM and OECS are eligible.

  • Low initial registration and annual maintenance fees.
  • Registration certificates are recognized worldwide.
  • Facilitates mortgages, discharge of mortgages and change/transfer of ownership.
  • Political and social stability in the BVI which incorporates the British judicial system.

The BVI is the yachting Mecca of the Caribbean with modern, state-of-the-art facilities, berths, accommodation, supplies and services. Fully computerized fleet management system and database. The BVI is recognized worldwide as a reputable offshore financial centre, leading the world in company formation and related company services.

For Further Information: Virgin Islands Shipping Registry, Captain Baboucar M. Sallah, Director, Sebastian's Building, 3rd floor, Administration Drive, PO Box 4751, Road Town, Tortola, VG 1110, British Virgin Islands. Tel. 284 468 2911. Cell. 284 468 9670. E.