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Today's new breed of superyachts hails a renaissance of the golden age of seafaring.

With today's new breed of superyachts, life on the ocean waves couldn't be bigger or better.

Forget cramped cabins—for today's seafarers, there's only one way to travel. The new school of superyachts taking to the high seas is an object lesson in extravagance, as anything under a hundred is merely modest (that's meters, not feet). The craze for capacity stems from the excess of the '80s, although we can trace this sizeable heritage as far back as the late Twenties, when the Getty family ruled the waves with the 80m Talitha G, which even today remains the epitome of seafaring chic. The current largest craft ever constructed is Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum's project Platinum, measuring a magnificent 160m, dethroning King Abdullah's 147m Prince Abdul Aziz—but unless your name also bears the letters HRH, these floating palaces are strictly off the radar.

For the world's rich list, these moored mansions are as obligatory as the private jet or the country estate. "I've been selling custom yachts since the mid-1970s, and I've experienced growth in the size of the yachts since that time," says Jim Eden of International Yacht Construction. "Superyachts are now more popular than the capacity of the shipyards to produce them. The reason for this tremendous demand is the expanded wealth in the world, combined with the desire of these individuals to see and experience places that very few have the opportunity, ability or experience to see. Plus these superyachts are a great platform from which to conduct business in total privacy."

However, these vasty vessels are no longer restricted to royalty and magnates, as the bourgeoning market attests. Chartered vessels now cruise within the top ten of the world's largest yachts, offering all the opulent trappings of a personal vessel without the financial and personal constraints of private ownership—or the restriction of specific regions. At present, the largest yacht available for charter is PrivatSea's Alexander, a magnificent 122m motor yacht, which glides through the waters of the Mediterranean. Cutting a formidable figure in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, the beautiful Indian Empress, owned by the private and chartered yacht brokerage company Nigel Burgess, falls just beneath the 100m mark at 95m. Though chartered vessels are, at present, more modest in size, the benefits are obvious, as Alev Karagulle of Nigel Burgess explains. "Ownership means a huge financial outlay. It's a bit like having your own company; you need staff, a good captain, and on larger vessels, you need a yacht manager ashore for maintenance, etc., because as yachts grow and become more sophisticated, they need more care and attention. However, for those who are obsessed with yachting, only ownership will satisfy them. It's your own boat, so you can make all the decisions and choose all the details, but on the other hand, chartering is extremely attractive. If you want to walk away, or if you want to charter on the other side of the world, you can. And if you want to change activities, for instance, to go hiking or something instead, the following year you have that freedom."

Though size is the prime attraction to these behemoths of the sea, as the old adage goes, "it's what you do with it that counts." Feel like a spa treatment or a makeover? Fancy a quick game of squash before breakfast? There's only one slight hitch; you're 40km from the coast. But thanks to their sheer scale, mooring is no longer mandatory to enjoy the amenities that dry land has to offer. "Typically, a client will request the same level of luxury they have in their home," explains designer Andrew Winch. "All owners require a master suite, which might include a bedroom, his and hers bathrooms, a private lounge and study. Luxurious guest suites are a must, either for the clients' own guests or for charter guests. Nearly all yachts will incorporate a pool/Jacuzzi, a gym, hairdressing salon, and one of our more unusual designs included a squash court!" he recalls. Another selling point in the unprecedented popularity of the mega-yacht is the advance in nautical communications. "Sophisticated communications are playing a bigger role with onboard offices. Ten years ago, it was tricky to do proper business; you'd see phenomenal satellite bills. But as broadband technology has moved up a couple of scales, it's much easier to keep in contact and conduct business," explains Karagulle.

While the sprawling deck of a motor yacht offers copious space for al fresco lounging and poolside bathing, there's the aesthetic allure—not to mention the thrill of hoisting the sails—that appeals to even the most ardent landlubber. PrivatSea's Mirabella V is a thing of beauty, disproving that the best presents come in small packages. Designed by Ireland's Ron Holland, Mirabella V is the world's largest single-masted craft. The 75m craft boasts a 90m mast, in addition to substantial creature comforts, such as a large wine cellar and an outdoor cinema. While the Mirabella V goes for sleek linearity, Perini Navi's Maltese Falcon is a feat of modern nautical engineering. With nearly 200ft masts towering vertiginously over her 88m body, she stands statuesque against the horizon. What is most incredible about the luxury clipper is the electronic helm that operates the mast, leaving her beautiful teak deck line free.

So what is the attraction to these magnificent maritime homes away from home? "A yacht offers freedom, mobility and privacy, and a superyacht ticks all of these boxes and more, right down to your own personal taste; no hotel, villa or even a private island can come close to that," says Karagulle wistfully.

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