David Glenn takes a close look at Maltese Falcon at the Monaco Yacht Show 22/9/06

Billions are being spent on superyachts and at this time of year there’s only one place to be to monitor the health of the industry, the Monaco Yacht Show, where two of the world’s largest sailing yachts stole the limelight. David Glenn takes a close look at Maltese Falcon, bumps into royalty and listens to concerns that a lack of ‘parking’ space might put the brakes on the runaway success of superyachting.

The iconic port of Monaco has been crammed full of some of the world’s most spectacular superyachts this week as the industry gathered for what has become the most important showcase of the year. As a superyacht networking event it has no peer and the fact that it is staged in a principality which is home to some of the industry’s richest and therefore best clients makes it an ideal venue for showing off the superyacht building fraternity’s finest.

In terms of sheer numbers motor yachts far outnumber supersailing yachts but this year the presence of the extraordinary modern clipper yacht Maltese Falcon and Mirabella V, still the largest single-masted sailing yacht in the world gave the event a new perspective. Lying alongside each other they provided a very visible reminder that sail can offer as much as or even more than motor yachts in terms of luxuriously appointed accommodation and even performance. Falcon has sailed 5,000 miles since her launch barely six months ago and more than 70 per cent of those miles have been under sail.

Built by the Italian firm Perini Navi, Maltese Falcon is the brainchild of American venture capitalist and serial yacht owner Tom Perkins. She is a truly revolutionary vessel, a triumph of technological innovation (see SuperSail World published with the current, October issue of Yachting World). This 295ft steel-hulled giant which displaces 1,200 tons has already sailed at 20 knots and promises considerably more. It’s not just her free standing, three-masted rig carrying 15 square sails spread over 25,000 sq ft that impresses, her accommodation styling and décor by Ken Freivoch is jaw-droppingly daring.

A constant stream of visitors ascended Falcon’s long pasarelle, and as Tom Perkins gave Yachting World a personal guided tour of the bridge in which the yacht’s remarkable rig can be monitored and trimmed through computer screens and push button controls, there was a momentary pause in proceedings as Prince Michael of Kent strolled up to the central console. A brief demonstration of how the furling sails worked clearly impressed the Prince who is rumoured to be interested in buying a yacht. Nothing like starting one’s window shopping at the very top?

Maltese Falcon, despite being considerably longer than Mirabella V (247ft loa) looked oddly small alongside the vast sloop which, after three years in the ownership of one-time Avis boss Joe Vittoria, is now for sale at an asking price of Euros 60 million. Pending her sale she was still for charter at US$300,000 a week but talking to some large yacht aficionados one got the feeling that this high profile yacht may have proved a yacht too far for conventional sail control – which is why Maltese Falcon seemed even more impressive. Falcon is reportedly the epitomy of simplicity to sail – all sails can be unfurled in five minutes, it takes three minutes to tack and a matter of seconds to gybe.

The superyacht charter and new build business is in such rude health that customers are paying premium prices for yachts and one leading broker was able to quote record breaking figures for the 2005 seasons in the Mediterranean and Caribbean with 2006 on line to better them. Laurent Perignon of Camper & Nicholsons said his company had US$ 1billion worth of new building contracts in place, a billion dollars’ worth of yacht sales completed and the value of current listings had reached the billion dollar mark too. But he had a warning. “I think there may be some slow down in demand simply because there is no room left here on the French Riviera,” said Perignon.

Booking berths a year in advance and paying premium prices for being in the right port at the height of the season simply may not be enough to overcome the simple fact that the richest playground in the world is simply running out of space.

For a more detailed report on the Monaco Yacht Show don’t miss the November issue of Yachting World, on sale early Octob