Yacht Dealers Drop Anchor in Moscow

MTA visitor from Ukraine preparing to board a boat moored Thursday at the Royal Yacht Club, in northwestern Moscow.
White yachts gleamed in the early-autumn sunshine as multimillionaires strolled past producers and dealers of the luxury boats at a converted water-sports complex along the Moscow River.

Built in 1935, Vodny Stadion was a constructivist arena that sat 3,000 people. Recently, it was snapped up by developers and converted into an exclusive marina to meet the capital's growing need for mooring space and fueling facilities as yacht sales boom.

"I was selling boats in New York before, but I see more opportunities in Russia now," said dealer David Anderson, leaning into the cream-colored leather seating of the boat he's hoping to sell during the show. A table is set with wineglasses and candles, ready for a possible toast with a future owner who will have to shell out 2.55 million euros ($3.7 million) for the 22-meter craft.

In 2005, Russians bought only 6 percent of the luxury yachts produced in the world. By 2008, that figure had reached an astounding 30 percent, Anderson said.

The astonishing growth -- in a country with more than 100 billionaires at Forbes magazine's last count -- has led some companies, including auto dealer Rolf Group, to branch out into the yacht business. Rolf signed an agreement to sell German Mazarin yachts in Russia in July and hired Anderson as chief executive of the venture.

The biannual Moscow Boat and Yacht Show, which has been held for the past 15 years, is a swanky affair with a charge of 700 rubles ($28) just to get in the door. This year, the autumn show is exhibiting boats from more than 50 producers at the Royal Yacht Club, located off Leningradskoye Shosse in northwestern Moscow. It runs from Thursday through Sunday.

vladimir filonov / mt
Anderson, of Rolf Marine, speaking on board a Mazarin yacht at the show.

"This marina is a good example of the business' growth," said Tamara Lukyanenko, the show's director. "It's only a year old, but all of the 100 berths have been sold out already," she said. The country's yacht business is growing by 30 to 40 percent every year, she added.

The main brake on growth in Russia appears to be limited infrastructure, namely dock space and a lack of fueling stations. But as investment continues to trickle in, more boats are expected to be seen coasting the Moscow region's reservoirs and the Volga River.

Looking to take advantage of the expected boom in ownership, people like Alexander Shkurov, formerly a landscape architect, are branching out into riverside real estate as far as 300 kilometers from Moscow. "People who earn $10,000 a month are now buying waterfront land for a second dacha, outfitting it with a pier and then getting themselves a boat for under 200,000 euros," he said.

Although luxury yachts longer than 12 meters are primarily purchased for use in the Mediterranean, people in the business say they expect that to change once infrastructure is developed in Russia and as the Med becomes increasingly congested.

"Russia has many beautiful places to take a yacht to, but there is nowhere to moor the boats and no easy access to fuel," said Alexei Gorsky, director of Premium Yachts, a Russian company that has been selling luxury Italian yachts for five years.

Most of them never touch Russian waters, sailing instead on the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas, although sales in Russia will take off once infrastructure is developed on the Black Sea, he said.

Boats at the show range from 100,000 euros to 10 million euros and are available for test runs. The autumn show also allows clients to place orders to have a boat custom built and ready for the next season, said Lukyanenko, the show's director.

"Russians who already have cars and airplanes are now looking into buying yachts," she said. "The market was not even ready for such a yacht boom."