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Creating yachting's smartest hub
Tristan Rutherford
4th October 2021

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C&N News

Creating yachting's smartest hub

This December, yachting’s biggest players gather for discussions in Dubai. The topic? How to make the UAE a key hub for winter cruising and migrating yachts. The plan? It involves new marinas, marine parks and stand-up paddleboard commuter lanes. The scale? It’s out of this world.

Captain Tony Crabbe shares an interesting anecdote. “In the 1980s many people laughed at Dubai Airport’s expansion,” recalls the former merchant captain. “They asked, ‘What’s the point of an airstrip in the desert?’” Crabbe didn’t need a crystal ball. “The airport was so well placed, at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, that it was bound to succeed.” With 92 million annual passengers, Dubai International Airport is now the busiest international airport in the world.

Crabbe’s current plan runs along similar lines. He is collaborating with UAE authorities and P&O Marinas to turn Dubai into a preferred winter hub for the world’s greatest yachts.

Five decades of top level marine experience have taught Crabbe a rare skill. The ability to listen. “That’s why we’re hosting the International Superyacht Summit in Dubai this December,” he says. “We’ve invited maritime lawyers, agents, suppliers, builders, owners and captains to share their idea of a perfect yachting destination.” These spokespeople might be blunt, admits Crabbe. “They might say: ‘You need to do this better. Or this is frustrating, why don’t you do that?’. Our job is to share that feedback with the correct authorities. In short, we are here to facilitate the fulfillment of this multitude of needs.

The calibre of speakers at the International Superyacht Summit is unrivalled. They include Feadship brand director Farouk Nefzi and Ferretti CEO Alberto Galassi. There will be no accompanying yacht launches to distract from the discussion. Instead industry players, like Camper & Nicholsons CEO Paolo Casani, will lecture on how to develop smart superyacht destinations in future. Ones which offer, according to Crabbe, “seamless, uninterrupted satisfaction”.

“Yacht owners and guests are typically impatient,” continues Crabbe. “They quite rightly don’t want to spend four hours in immigration as that wastes tens of thousands of dollars. Every facility must be perfect.” Like bunkering. “Owners won’t sail to Dubai for discounted fuel, because prices from Sao Paulo to Singapore are pretty similar,” says Crabbe, who has circumnavigated the globe by sea many times. “What’s more important is availability. A captain wants to tie up in a dedicated yacht bunker berth - not a commercial harbour - then take on fuel and go. Absolutely every other service required must be readily available.”

Like Dubai International Airport, location is everything. “Our summit has to highlight the wider Arabian Gulf cruising area,” says Crabbe. These warm water destinations include Oman’s Musandam Peninsula, a fjord-like coast that rises to 2,000m - like Norway, but with dolphins and deserts. Plus the Al Yasat Marine Protected Area, where coral carpets shelter dugongs and green turtles. “Transiting yachts might use Indian Ocean islands as a stepping stone to Asia and Australasia,” hopes Crabbe. “In other words, our aim will not work unless it’s a regional effort.”

That aim took time to realise. “For a long time,” says Crabbe, “tourism executives thought that Dubai’s attractions were dune camping, shopping and landbased adventures.” Activities that essentially ended at the beach. “Now superyacht locations like Bvlgari Marina and Dubai Harbour have created an interface between shore and sea, expanding the tourism reach.” At Bvlgari Marina, opposite The World Islands, staff can deliver dishes from Michelin three-star chef Niko Romito to moored yachts. Dubai Harbour opened opposite The Palm in late 2020 to welcome yachts up to 160m. The biggest marina in the Middle East has its own kiss-and-fly heliport and skydive runway.

Yet in Dubai, sometimes the biggest isn’t enough. “Mina Rashid Marina (an ongoing development sited in the former commercial harbour of Port Rashid) will be very, very big,” says Crabbe. “At the risk of sounding cliché, it will be a whole lifestyle development. A marine city with thousands of apartments and activities.” There is talk of SUP (stand-up paddleboard) commuter lanes, battery powered helicopter transports and 10km of customisable berthing space. Inclusivity is key, continues Crabbe. “There will be a large yacht club where Dubai’s young population can learn to sail on Optimists,” the one-person dinghies that taught Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic yachtsman, the rudiments of sailing.

The person in charge of developing Mina Rashid Marina is Hamza Mustafa, COO of P&O Marinas. “Mina Rashid is Dubai’s oldest commercial port,” Mustafa explains. “The new marina sits at the centre of the mixed-use development and can currently accommodate 500 yachts of all sizes.” Mustafa’s plan dovetails with Crabbe’s ambition. “Dubai is the only destination in the area that supports all the services a yacht would need, from maintenance to supplies to refit.” Put simply, his plan is for “Mina Rashid Marina to become a destination and winter homeport in one single location”.

Mustafa is helping Dubai to “open its doors to the global yachting industry”. In manifold ways. There is collaboration with other regional marinas. Plans for local and international regattas and watersport events within the Emirates Yacht Club. Creation of a state-of-the-art refit centre. Plus marketing of the Arabian Gulf as a destination to yacht brokers for wintering and migrating yachts. A further attraction in Mina Rashid Marina is the most venerable cruiser of all: the 294m QE2. In December the International Superyacht Summit will take place on board the former Cunard liner. As a key speaker, Mustafa will outline his masterplan to create a complete yachting ecosystem. “In ten years’ time,” he says, “we hope Dubai’s season starts when the Mediterranean’s ends.”

New marinas, plus seasonal attractions like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Art Dubai, are already attracting owners, claims Captain Tony Crabbe. “A lot of Mediterranean-based yachts aren’t used during winter,” he says. “And as some people prefer to do business in Dubai rather than the Caribbean, owners are considering sending their vessels here instead. Yacht transport companies have contacted me to say ‘when this trend reaches a critical level, we’ll provide a regular Mediterranean to Dubai cargo service’.” That’s an important link for boats of around 50m. “Although for yachts of 100m you just tell your captain ‘go and I'll see you there’.”

There’s a final challenge for the UAE to meet. That of Generation Y. After hosting several International Superyacht Summits in Dubai, Crabbe can foretell the future better than most. “I’ve seen first hand ownership passing to a younger generation,” he attests. “The older generation aren’t giving up yachting but it’s younger clients purchasing the yachts of today. Builders are very aware of this,” says Crabbe, and are designing with longer distance and more adventurous cruising in mind.

That’s not all. “Youngsters want to be able to do a multitude of things, in a multitude of places,” concludes Crabbe. “They will say: ‘I want to have a barbeque on an Antarctic ice shelf using a yacht with a strengthened hull, or I want to sail the Pacific to go whale watching.’” For some clients, immediacy might supersede aspirations of ownership. “So I think more specialised yachts and more exciting charter opportunities will come to the fore.” Thanks to Crabbe’s foresight, Dubai will be central to that plan.