Baccarat Meets Bomb-Proof Glass on the High Seas
A Russian billionaire's $300 million, Philippe Starck-designed yacht makes waves
BARBADOS-At the top of a spiral staircase lined with scalloped, silver-leaf walls (the banister cost $60,000) is a door accessible by a fingerprint security system. It opens to an all-white, 2,583-square-foot master suite wrapped in bomb-proof, 44-milimeter glass. There, a king-sized bed sits on a giant platter that rotates with the press of a silver button. Another set of buttons rotates the bed itself. The combination of the rotating bed and the rotating platter allows limitless angles for watching the sunset, sunrise or the 60-inch plasma TV, which retracts from the ceiling. Luxury Living gets no better than this on the high seas.
And of course, everything's afloat.
Andrey Melnichenko the proud owner of "A" is 36-year-old is worth an estimated six billion (with a"B") named the spectacular yacht "A", after Melnichenko's model wife Aleksandra. The first voyage Andrey Melnichenko took in it was to Norway to take delivery of three Claude Monet paintings. Maiden voyage:
In the battle among Russia's billionaires for yacht supremacy, Roman Abramovich's upcoming 540-foot Eclipse may soon become the biggest, but Andrey Melnichenko's 394-foot "A" has become the most talked-about yacht on the seas.
With its radical shape-more sleek submarine than boxy pleasure boat-and reams of custom parts and finishes (including bath knobs costing $40,000 apiece), "A" is a conspicuous marker of an ocean-going plutocracy that's largely been untouched by the recession. The boat, designed by Philippe Starck and completed in mid-2008 for more than $300 million, has spawned a flotilla of copycats emulating its low-slung hull and design scheme. Numerous companies involved in its construction went bankrupt, done in by the novelty of the project and the level of customization required.
For all its fame, "A" remains a bit mysterious. Its owner, a 38-year-old banking, steel and fertilizer czar, is intensely private and requires all his construction crew and staff to sign strict confidentiality agreements (he declined comment for this article). He and his wife only rarely entertain on board, and few public images of the boat's interior exist.
Dirk Kloosterman, "A"'s project manager and a veteran of the world's largest yachts, recently provided an exclusive tour of the boat's 23,600 square feet of living space.
"If I were a supervillain in an Austin Powers movie, this would be a nice ride (especially with the escape pod). Bring on the sharks with the laser beams!"
The boat's interior departs dramatically from most conventions of yacht design. Instead of the usual overstuffed couches and mahogany walls, there are Baccarat-crystal tables, shiny white finishes and polished silver, a kind of Manhattan-loft-meets-Vegas aesthetic. Many of the rooms have floor-to-ceiling mirrors, which Mr. Starck says have a built-in "mathematical beauty" that also refer to the "mathematical genius" of Mr. Melnichenko.
"A" has a crew of between 35 to 37 people, including stewards and stewardesses, mechanical engineers, security staff, housekeepers, deck hands, galley crew and chefs. The crew also has specialists for surfing, jet skiing, water skiing and cycling. All of the crew wear Starck-designed uniforms-crisp white dress shirts and white pants for daytime, and tight, black T-shirts and slacks for evening. The boat costs over $20 million a year to maintain; Filling the gas tank costs more than $500,000.
There are many discussion groups and forums about "A" online, with titles like "The Ugliest Yacht in the World" and "Should Philippe Starck Design Boats?" Debates can get heated: On the "Insider's Guide to St. Bart's"-a Web site frequented by vacationers on the upscale Caribbean island-dozens of "A" spotters tracked the boat's daily movements.
"The fun thing about working on 'A' is you never know what the next hour will bring," says Mr. Kloosterman, "A's" project manager. "This boat is all about the unexpected."
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