Dress Code...

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You can't judge books by their covers and it's best not to try and do the same with potential yacht owners either, says Phil Draper.


While clambering on and off boats in the pouring rain during the 2006 Cannes Festival International de la Plaisance in mid-September, the old adage about not judging books by their covers sprang to mind. It was prompted by the actions and attitude of a rather officious young woman that an Italian shipyard had installed aboard its latest 26m flybridge motoryacht.
Picture the scene. A photographer pal and I had already been shown round the boat in question and we were standing on the aft deck planning our subsequent gangway runs, puddle jumps and stand hopping that was going to be required to get us from where we were to where we wanted to be, which was another motoryacht further along the quay, and all without getting too wet. Anyone who's ever been in this situation will appreciate the mental preparation required; it’s akin to the mimes done by the pilots of bobsleighs prior to them hurtling down their perilous gutters of ice!
Anyway, before I could run off this particular boat, a young girl pursued by what I can only assume was her father ran up the passerelle in a similarly calculated assault. He was guiding the girl (10ish, I reckon) with one outstretched paternal hand, while clutching a plastic carrier bag to his head for some sort of weather protection. Our yard rep didn’t seem to like people walking or running up her passerelle; she stepped into their path like the lollipop lady she probably should have been. The following exchange made me wince.

“Now I’d have never put that pair down as potential owners of a €13 million-plus yacht, but I’d have been wrong...” 

“Do you have an appointment?” she said to them. “You must have an appointment!”
The guy said: “No I don’t. What should I do?”
She pointed back 10m to the yard’s stand on the adjacent quay, which was completely empty. There was the front desk, two dripping sunshades and a few director’s chairs, but no-one to be seen. “You can’t see the boat without an appointment,” she said. “You have to see the front desk.” She then proceeded to shoo them off. Her parting shot to their backs was unbelievable: “And I don’t think there are any free slots available today anyway.”
Now having just had a look round that particular boat, I knew there was no one else on board but the rep and us; and she knew we were just leaving. Moreover, there was no sign of anyone else on the horizon. So how nasty was that? And how stupid? Apart from bouncing them both back into the rain, she hadn’t even given them any chance of arranging a visit or made any polite probes as to why they were interested. What’s more, for some strange reason, she’d hinted that for this guy there wouldn’t be a slot that day.
Did he look like a suitable punter? I’d have said he was a very good bet. Why? He was 40ish, casually dressed with a young daughter and was at the Cannes show in the pouring rain, which to my mind meant he was there for a reason. What’s more the carrier bag he was clutching came from a competing yard.
Surely he was worth a welcome smile and some civility? And failing anyone else arriving to claim their slot at that time, why not give them a quick tour?
You can't judge books by their covers and you sure as hell can't judge boat buyers by appearances and accents either.
At the Cannes show a few years ago I remember having this lesson reinforced; and it was gleaned from hanging around another aft deck, albeit in rather different circumstances and much better weather. This time we were preparing to go out for a quick evening blast on an all-new high-performance 115-foot hardtop motoryacht. The problem for me this time was that it was to be the last job of the show; afterwards I was going to have to run off to the airport. Everything would have worked fine had we left the quay on time, but proceedings were being delayed because we had to wait for a guy that had signed up for one of the subsequent hulls. Quite rightly everything revolves around owners, clients and potential clients, but that pecking order can play hell with the rest of us. Suffice to say the timing on this occasion was really tight and I was getting really twitchy – a ‘should I stay or should I go now’ scenario if ever there was one.
Eventually what looked for all the world like a pair of tattooed teenagers ambled up the passerelle — ripped jeans, baseball caps and trainers for him and tight denim shorts and spangled-T for her. They had hardly stepped aboard before lines started to be let go. Bemused, I glanced across enquiringly at the yard’s marketing manager and shook my head from side to side in a silent enquiry. An affirmative nod said it all.
Now I’d have never put that pair down as soon-to-be owners of a €13 million-plus yacht, but I’d have been wrong. To me, even at close quarters, it looked unlikely that he was much past 25 and, if so, then I’d have expected the cards to have still been on the mantelpiece; and his girlfriend looked quite a bit younger.
But it just goes to show when it comes to boat owners, there’s no fixed type. There are simply those that do and those that don’t. And sometimes it’s virtually impossible to tell them apart. I know at least one billionaire that rides around on a scooter and a multi-millionaire with garages stuffed with Bentleys, new and old, that still chooses to drive around most days of the week in mundane wrecks and who appears to bemoan every pound (€1.48) that escapes his grasp. And in contrast I’ve known several paupers that have owned Porsches and little else.
So, to wind it all up, I would venture the only dress code this industry should ever pay attention to is interest. And it should always be met by good manners, a smile and a sensibile degree of flexibility.

© Phil Draper