By Helmut Reich
It’s a well-known fact that those who have too much money like to indulge in expensive hobbies, such as buying football clubs. When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea FC he wanted his team to stay at number one. However the London club is currently in second place in the premier league, even though the Russian billionaire has already ploughed over 400 million into the team.
It seems time for a disappointed Abramovich to take more interest in his other hobby: yachts. His three luxury ships Pelorus, Le Grand Bleu, and Ecstasea are furnished to the height of luxury, but there are other yachts that are just a few meters longer. Which is enough of a reason for the Russian to try to set a new benchmark in this bizarre game of billionaire's rivalry, and order the construction of a brand new yacht.
This ship is currently being constructed in a cloud of secrecy in Hamburg's harbor. The company charged with building the yacht, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, has kept things quiet, only mentioning "a contract for another luxury yacht" in a press release last year. The company would only admit that its directors had signed a contract for a big yacht. They probably would have liked to exploit the contract for marketing purposes by making it public, but the contract with Abramovich is unlikely to have allowed this.
The identity of the new yacht's owner did not stay secret in Hamburg's harbour, however. Even the name of the ship has leaked out -- it will be called Eclipse, and at 155 meters (508.5 feet) long it will outdo the current record holder, the 147 meter (482 feet) long Prince Abdul Aziz, which belonged to the late Saudi King Fahd. The construction of the new Abramovich yacht has already begun, well hidden at the shipbuilders Blohm + Voss, in dock 5, Steinwerder Quay.
But it's not completely certain that the Russian billionaire's yacht will be the longest in the world when it is completed. There is competition on the horizon. The emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, is having a new yacht built that will be 163 meters (534 feet) long. But Abramovich is sure to have a solution up his sleeve to make up those extra few meters somehow.
Abramovich knows the shipbuilders Blohm + Voss well. Last year the Hamburg yacht specialists repaired Le Grand Bleu and he was impressed with the improvements. Now that it has been overhauled, he can maybe even sell the ship, which was built in 1990, for a good price.
Not that Abramovich is short of cash -- his wealth is estimated to be 15 billion. But at an estimated cost of 200 million, the Eclipse won't come cheap, even for a billionaire. And the old rule of thumb for yachts -- 1 million per meter -- is going to be surpassed: an indication of just how luxurious the interior of the yacht will be. Yacht suppliers can look forward to a lot of big contracts.
The Eclipse will include a big outdoor swimming pool. And a basic requirement of any Abramovich yacht is that it have its own helicopter pad. This allows the billionaire to be flexible and use the ship as a base for his trips. For example, during the 2006 World Cup he anchored his 115-meter Pelorus in Lübeck's port and flew by helicopter to the various games.
The next World Cup is due to take place in South Africa in 2010. Then Abramovich may be able to combine his two favourite hobbies once again -- it seems highly likely that he will bring the Eclipse to Cape Town for a few weeks.
The tournament's big final is taking place on July 11, quite possibly with a few players who are on Abramovich's payroll. As the billionaire's helicopter lifts off from the Eclipse in the direction of Johannesburg a very appropriate event will make his trip all the more perfect: On the day of the final, the southern hemisphere is due to experience a very rare total solar eclipse.
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