Who Needs a Super Yacht?
“Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.”
— Archimedes of Syracuse
Joel Bowman, writing today from Syracuse, Italy…
“Do you think the guy with the smaller one suffers from ‘yacht envy?'”
The question was posed by your editor’s wife…to your conspicuously yachtless editor. We looked out over the water, from our modest balcony, and examined the giant boats.
“Hmm…it’s difficult to say,” we hesitated. “Perhaps he’s comfortable with the size of his own vessel.”
“Yes, maybe. But that other yacht IS much bigger, isn’t it?”
“Yes, dear. It’s a big yacht.”
The larger craft, as our Airbnb host explained to us between politely muffled bouts of laughter, “is owned by the guy who works with Bill Gates…what’s-his-name?…the one they call the ‘accidental billionaire.’ Allan something…”
The imposing sea toy – one of three owned by Paul Allen, co-founder of a little technology company called Microsoft – is 414 feet long…enough to fit a standard American football field on deck (with room to spare).
In 2003, when it was built, the Octopus was the largest, privately owned yacht in the world.
It comes equipped with two helicopters, seven service boats, a remote control underwater search vehicle (Allen is a keen treasure hunter) and a 10-man submarine, capable of submerging with a full crew for two weeks at a time.
It is, indeed, a big yacht.
On the off chance you’re in the market for something similar, you’re looking at about $200 million…(Or 165 thousand ounces of gold…or 380,000 bitcoin, depending on your currency of choice.)
Oh, and don’t forget the standard 10% ($20 million) per year it costs to maintain the beast and pay the crew. (The Octopus has a full-time staff of 60…including Navy Seal guards.)
More on the rich and famous below, but first…
We came to Syracuse not by sea, but by land. Readers will recall that we’re poking around this corner of the Old World with an eye to possibly settling down here.
Can you discover a better, simpler, richer life in these Mediterranean climes?
From the tiny, fishing town of Cefalu, on the island’s north, we steered our little rental vehicle along the winding coastline…through tunnel after tunnel…around magnificent headlands…in and out of lush, rolling hillsides and along dramatic cliff faces.
The infrastructure, it must be said, appeared strangely at odds with its surroundings.
Modern. Efficient. Well maintained. And with barely any congestion.
At first we couldn’t work out why such an impressive highway system was built to service such a small, relatively poor population. Especially when, historically, most trade was either highly localized (field-to-table, farmers-market produce)…or occurred via seaways with the mainland.
Then we recalled Peter Robb’s riveting book, Midnight in Sicily…
In it, Robb explains how, during the Mafioso heyday of Post WWII Sicily, the mob worked hand in glove with local government to siphon off money from their illicit drug and arms trades through massive “public works.”
In Palermo (to the west of Cefalu) the entire historic center of the town was “emptied” of residents thanks to a slew of “rezoning” laws. Families that had inhabited the same lodgings for generations were suddenly told their residences were “illegal”…and were “encouraged” to relocate to drab, cheap accommodations knocked up on the edge of the city.
The building contracts were all awarded to friends of “la Cosa Nostra” as the Sicilian mafia is known. The result is a blight on the otherwise breathtaking scenery.
Driving along, we wondered how much dirty money was earmarked for this engineering marvel. Every place…every building…every monument…has its story…
During the journey we stopped for lunch in the historical town of Taormina, home of the Teatro Greco, an ancient theater perched high above the Straits of Messina. One of the most well preserved ruins in Sicily, it is still used for performances to this day.
We imagined the ships – Greek…Roman…Carthaginian – landing in the grottos below, the soldiers on board with fire in their veins and the promise of plenty on their minds…
But we hadn’t time to dally. Our destination was still an hour-and-a-half south, and the shadows were growing longer.
More tunnels…more winding highway and rolling hills…more cathedral spires reaching up from old town centers…and box-like housing circling the outskirts…
Eventually, we came to the island of Ortygia, in Syracuse, from where we write to you today.
Perhaps the most storied town in Sicily, Syracuse was once a key city-state and strategic stronghold for consecutive, often warring powers, most notably the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Empires.
No less a statesman than Cicero himself once described it as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all.” In the fifth century BC, it was equal in size, if not quite power, to the mighty Athens.
The city is also birthplace to the great polymath, Archimedes (he of “Eureka!” fame). In addition to some impossibly impressive mathematical achievements, the man also designed one of the largest maritime vessels in antiquity. As described by our friends at Classical Wisdom Weekly…
Built around 240 BC, the Syracusia could hold almost 2,000 passengers and reputedly bore more than 200 soldiers. Features included a garden, an indoor bath room with hot water, a library, a gymnasium, as well as a small temple dedicated to Aphrodite.
There were eight towers on the top deck, which was supported by beautifully crafted wooden Atlases. All public spaces were decorated with ivory and marble and floored with mosaics depicting the entire story of the Iliad.
But we didn’t come here to buy a boat, The Savvy Retiree Daily reader…or to build one. Which, it turns out, is a good thing.
“I’m glad we don’t have a super yacht,” Anya later confided as we watched the sun dip behind the horizon from our balcony. “We can see it just fine from here…and besides, you’ve been writing all about leading a simpler life, having less ‘stuff.’ Owning a super yacht would seem…hypocritical.”
“Yes, dear. That’s just what I was thinking…”
More on la dolce vita – including some cheap Italian villas for you to while a way the hours – in the next issue.