Billionaires have always had their on-board baubles but now they want to use their superyachts to turn them into Shackleton. 

As snow rooms, infinity pools and squash courts on superyachts become passé, there are signs that billionaires are turning their backs on traditional cruising grounds with the rise of the “explorer superyacht”. 

Designed to travel for weeks without resupplying, built with ice-breaking hulls and sterns, and still equipped with every luxury, the new breed of super-yacht has helped the industry to buffet the waves of the financial crisis. 

The annual superyacht league table has shown that, while the average size has for the first time topped 100 metres, there are more explorer yachts being built than ever before. 

Stewart Campbell, the editor of Boat International, which produced the table for its January edition, said that 55 were being built, a 17 per cent rise. “They are designed to cruise longer, with bigger ranges, in the remoter parts of the globe and in the toughest conditions,” he said, adding that they “reflect a new class of owner that wants to broaden their horizons beyond the traditional Med and Caribbean cruising grounds”. 

Chris Cecil-Wright, the owner of boutique brokerage Cecil Wright, said that billionaires now wanted to explore relatively uncharted territory such as the Northwest Passage, which connects the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic Ocean. 

“There are a number of people that do have interests in going further afield. Their yachts have big fuel tanks, big enclosed tenders, landing craft and more equipment for expeditions, such as motorbikes. In the next few years we are going to see top quality explorer yachts. There is incredible demand.” 

One of the moneyed elite making a splash in explorer yachts is Graeme Hart, New Zealand’s richest person. His 107-metre Ulysses, described as a blend of “robust, hard working character with luxurious extras” including accommodation for 60 guests, helicopter hangar and swimming pool, enters the top 101 chart this year. 

Next year his 116-metre explorer yacht, known as Project 370, is also due to enter the seas. 

Mr Campbell said the industry seemed to have weathered the financial crisis, with the number of superyachts under construction in 2015 at its highest level since 2009. The value of brokerage transactions this year was €3 billion, up from €2.2 billion in 2013. 

“There are some fascinating projects being delivered in 2016 including Project Omar [commissioned by the oligarch and Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov], which in volume terms will be the biggest superyacht ever built,” he said. 

“And then there’s Sailing Yacht A, being built for the Russian Andrey Melnichenko, which is one of the most extraordinary superyacht projects of modern times — and arguably ever.” 

Mr Cecil-Wright said that as technology improved and more shipyards became capable of producing 100 metre-plus yachts, billionaires were able to put everything they wanted on board. 

Buyers can have the three-a-side football pitch, cinemas, snow room where you can cool down after a sauna, the contraflow swimming pools, waterfalls, not to mention the helicopter landing pad, he added. 

The longest superyacht — defined as more than 24 metres in length — in the world remains the 180-metre Azzam, belonging to the Emir of Abu Dhabi, followed 18 metres behind by Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse. 

The oldest in the top 101 remains the 145-metre El Horriya, which was built on the Isle of Dogs in London and hit the water in 1865, the same year Abraham Lincoln was shot. 

A report by Towergate Insurance earlier this year found that on average a 100-metre superyacht with a top speed of 25 knots costs about $275 million. 

Ruling the waves 

Azzam 180-metre. Owned by the royal family of Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates, it is longer than 12 double-decker buses parked end-to-end 

Eclipse 162.5m. Owned by Roman Abramovich, it has two helipads, a 16m swimming pool, the largest in the sector, and reportedly a missile defence system 

Dubai 162m. Owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai. It has a landing platform for a Blackhawk helicopter, and a submarine 

Al Said 155m. Owned by Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman, it has a concert hall that can hold a 50-strong orchestra 

Topaz 147.25m. Owned by Sheikh Mansour, the owner of Manchester City football club. It was chartered by the Hollywood star Leonardo di Caprio for an 80s-themed party in 2014 

Prince Abdulaziz 147m. Serves as the Royal Yacht for the Saudi Arabia ruling family. The lobby on the main deck mimics that of the Titanic

El Horriya 145m. The oldest boat on the list, having been present at the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 

Yas 141m. Inspired by the shape of a dolphin. Has a waterfall flowing into a swimming pool Ocean Victory 140m. Owned by Viktor Rashnikov, it has six swimming pools 

Al Salamah 139m. Owned by Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia. Codename in construction was Mipos, meaning Mission Possible

Cecil Wright The Times

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