It’s 10 o’clock on a Friday night, and Simon Le Bon, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor are hammering out a thunderous “The Wild Boys”, the Nile Rodgers-produced anthem that helped propel Duran Duran to international stardom in the mid-1980s as one of the world’s biggest dance-rock acts. A wave of nostalgia washes over us, and suddenly we’re all 20- or 30-year-olds, though I don’t recall the early Duran being anything like as assured as this seasoned band of musos, and there were five of them, not four. And singer Le Bon was a good deal skinnier than the middle-aged gent I now see cavorting before me on stage (though to be fair, I could say exactly the same about myself).
Even more pertinent, to watch this show we’re not packed into the Marquee, the Lyceum or some similar ’80s London sweatbox. Instead, it’s September 2017 and I’m an interloper among an audience of the ultra-wealthy, seated outside the Yacht Club de Monaco at the edge of the Mediterranean’s most glamorous harbour, attired for cocktails and sipping from champagne flutes that are replenished as soon as they’re half empty, with the lights of megayachts and penthouses as a twinkling backdrop. To be yet more precise, I’m attending the opener for the Ferretti Group of yacht brands’ annual jamboree for its UHNW clients and prospects – on the way to my seat, I brush past Domenico Dolce and Piero Lardi Ferrari, and I think I may have spotted Massimo Bottura in the throng – where, for this evening only, the British New (Old?) Romantics have been accorded star billing over the fabulously flashy vessels that are tied up alongside us.
Although the band is a favourite of Ferretti’s amiable CEO Alberto Galassi, the words “yacht rock” do not, to be honest, bring the name Duran Duran instantly to mind. Galassi tells us, however, that Le Bon has serious form among yachties, having been rescued from his capsized vessel Drum during the gruelling Fastnet race in 1985, when he was at the height of his fame; undaunted, he then joined the crew that placed third in the Whitbread Round-the-World Race the following year. But even without those unimpeachable credentials, he and the band could hardly be a more appropriate or spectacular way to fire up the festivities – as is confirmed as their set rolls to a tumultuous conclusion, via “Notorious”, “Girls on Film” and the epic 007 theme song “A View to a Kill”.
Unlike so many celebrity “performances” these days – a handful of songs perfunctorily trotted out against a backing track phoned in from LA, London or New York – this is the real thing, a full-on show with backing singers and musicians, lighting rigs and fireworks that brings the assembled zillionaires to their feet. Ears ringing, and thoroughly entertained and impressed, I stagger (yes, I was the guy at the champagne bar all night) back to my berth at the Fairmont Monte Carlo.
Come morning and feeling surprisingly hale and hearty, I make my way over to the yacht club once again, this time for a more thoroughgoing inspection of the small fleet of Ferretti Group boats that’s been assembled here. In fact, the flotilla comprises no fewer than 25 vessels, which numerically speaking outranks the navies of several reasonably sized countries. Lengthwise, the yachts range from the 8.24-metre-long (27-foot) Riva Iseo, a waterjet-driven runabout/tender that’s named for the lake on which the near-legendary Italian boat-builder has its origins, to a majestic, 37-metre Custom Line Navetta – and their numbers include six new products and one facelift under the Ferretti, Pershing, Riva and Custom Line brands, and in a variety of styles, including open, coupe and flybridge.
Six Ferretti motor yachts are lined up at one side of the dock: the new 780 and 920 and the restyled 550, as well as the 450, 700 and 850. I step aboard the second-biggest, the 25-metre 850, which is powered by a pair of MAN V12 diesels that together provide a maximum power of 3,600 marine horsepower (mhp) at a lazy 2,300rpm. Although built more for cruising comfort than outright speed, the 850 nonetheless shows a fair turn of pace when we sail out from the busy harbour and on to the wide blue waters of the Mediterranean. As we recline on plush settees in the main cabin (the lower deck offers sleeping accommodation for up to eight guests in four luxurious en suite cabins) and gaze back at the land through a full-height glass window, the 850 digs her stern into the waves and reaches a maximum speed of 29kt – more than 50km/h – which seems pretty rapid for what Ferretti calls “a maxi loft surrounded by sea”.
Cruising at 26kt, the vessel offers a range of 330 nautical miles, which a rough calculation tells me would bring us not too far from Naples by nightfall. My suggestion clearly falls on deaf ears, but with a crew to take care of us and a well stocked and superbly equipped galley on board, why ever not?
Back on land, I’m admiring the small armada from Ferretti’s Riva subsidiary, whose wooden-hull speedboats such as the Tritone and Aquarama were synonymous with jet-set glamour in the 1950s and ’60s. Among the 10 models on display here is the sleek new 56’ Rivale, a 17-metre vessel that features a large and elegant lounge/dinette, two en suite sleeping cabins and a stern garage housing a Williams Turbojet tender. If powered by the available twin 1,200mhp diesels, the Rivale achieves a 38kt maximum, cruises at a more relaxed 34 and looks like far too much fun to be legal.
I’m also casting my eyes covetously over the 100’ Corsaro, another stunning addition to the range, when the heavens open and we’re forced to retreat to the shelter of the yacht club. Which is where we remain until, as it’s clear the rain isn’t about to ease off any time soon, the afternoon’s activities are called off and we trudge back to the hotel. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.
At 10am on Sunday I’m back on the yacht club waterfront once more, and again feeling unaccountably sprightly (after a hilarious evening’s people-watching at Flavio Briatore’s Cipriani, where we found the ageing playboy, former Benetton/Renault F1 team boss and founder of Billionaire Couture holding court at one of the tables). This time, I stroll round to the far wall to lust after the Itama 75, which I’ve decided is one of my favourite yachts at this Ferretti get-together. Although no newcomer to the group’s product portfolio, the 24-metre Itama is an absolute beauty, with its long, wooden foredeck stretching out to the bows and the combined helm station and open-air lounge set well back towards the stern. Utterly distinctive and at once contemporary and retro, the boat becomes even more desirable when I discover that its 1,826mhp diesel gives it a top whack in excess of 42kt. I can’t take my eyes off it.
That I eventually do avert my gaze to another vessel is because I’ve been invited aboard the new Pershing 9X for a blast – or, to use the correct terminology, a “sea trial” – on the Med, and if you don’t know about this brand of high-performance motor yachts then you should, because they are jaw-droppingly fabulous to look at and exhilaratingly fast to ride in. This latest, 24-metre creation from a yard that only began building yachts in the early ’80s – and was acquired by Ferretti in the late ’90s – turns out to be so new that I have to photograph the specification card on the dock for information, but the figures are amazing: it’s powered by a pair of MTU diesels, each of 2,638mhp, that give it a maximum speed of 42kt, a cruise of 38 and a range of around 370-380 nautical miles (which is tantalisingly close to 700km).
Out on the open sea, just as we’re getting comfortable on a broad settee clad in fine Poltrona Frau leather, our helmsman pushes the throttles forwards until they can go no further and the 9X’s bows leap high out of the water so that we’re planing across the ocean. We’re now holding on tight. With the speed indicator on the console reading 42, our maximum, he swings the wheel hard to starboard and the boat heels into a series of tight, full-speed turns, leaving an arcing plume of spray high in the air behind us as we describe them. What a rush!
The Pershing was described to us as a supercar of the seas, but no Lamborghini, Ferrari or McLaren that I’ve ever heard of comes with plush accommodation for eight in four en suite cabins, or all the amenities of the most stylish of homes. And nor do they have an advanced Seakeeper gyroscopic stabiliser system on board to keep things on a more-or-less even keel by eliminating almost all the roll that we’d be otherwise experiencing while awaiting our turn to re-enter the harbour.
Five hours later, I’m in a window seat on board an Airbus bound for Frankfurt, rising up into the sky from Nice-Côte d’Azur airport and banking over the very same patch of sea on which we’d been ploughing watery figures of eight. My knowledge of yachts could just about fill the back of a matchbox, but this has been one heck of a weekend and I just can’t get those boats out of my mind. Oh dear, is this a Mr Toad moment: am I about to be gripped by another new and fantastically costly obsession?
I settle back and open a book, but I can still hear a faint “poop-poop” ringing in my ears.