Wednesday, 14 May 2014

John Masefield and Big Boats for Oligarchs

I’ve been enthralled by the sea and boats ever since my mother used to recite John Masefield’s Sea Fever poem to me as a child.  Taught by her, I can still recite it from memory

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

Where we’re living at the moment, within spitting distance of the Mediterranean, boats are a big part of the economy. Viareggio makes a very good living out of building and servicing the yachts of multi-billionaires.  Every winter these floating palaces are moth-balled here in giant sheds, shrouded in plastic wrapping like chrysali, only to emerge in the spring, cleaned and made ready for the odd week when their owners might want them.  You can see two of the big sheds in the background below.



The marinas and the boat yards - the 'cantiere navali' are a mass of masts and rigging and the white domes of sophisticated satellite navigation.  Spot the oligarch-mobiles in the middle of this one.


The size of some of these ‘yachts’ defies belief - they’re the size of ocean going schooners with 40 metre high masts, electronically powered rigging (no shinning up the mast head here!) and twin screws for powerful propulsion when you’re bored with the novelty of sail.

This one is the size of four large buses end to end.
Beautiful lines
40 metre rigging - computer operated
But they are elegant and beautiful, with slender, classical lines and a grace in the water that would make you weep.  These are the boats the oligarchs own. We’ve heard the stories of the parties, the drunken trips out to the islands, the £68,000 champagne bills at the end.

A photo doesn't convey the scale of these monsters
A Saturday in May is the perfect time to wander round the marinas and take a look at the boats being prepared for the summer season.

There are gin palaces for hire.



More modest boats owned by ordinary people.

And monsters for charter if you fancy being an oligarch for a day or so.



Viareggio is very cosmopolitan.  In the Bar Under the Sea (Il Bar Sotto il Mare) on the quayside, listening to a Johnny Cash tribute band, we met Australians, English and Germans.  Boat builders and engineers and crew, but no Oligarchs.  Much more fun.  
Jazz under the sea!

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