Expensive News – ‘Like an alien invasion’: When 439-foot megayacht sidles into a tranquil B.C. cove, mixed feelings soon surface

The Russian megayacht Serene, built for vodka magnate Yuri Scheffler, moors off Tribune Bay in the Georgia Straight, B.C., this week.

Viktor Davare / Postmedia NewsThe Russian megayacht Serene, built for vodka magnate Yuri Scheffler, moors off Tribune Bay in the Georgia Straight, B.C., this week.

VANCOUVER — A spectacular summer on the British Columbia coast. Nothing but sunshine, cool breezes, and calm, moonlit evenings. Romantic interludes on the beach, interrupted by a blue heron’s lonely call. And by bone-rattling blasts from the horns of megayachts, ocean faring behemoths from distant shores, come to hog precious moorage in one or another of our cherished little coves.

This is the season a beachcomber’s jaw drops. In wonder, in shock. The megayachts are bigger with each passing year.

There it was looming large. It was like an alien invasion.

Hornby Islanders woke up Sunday morning to a fearsome sight: A 439-foot, metal-hulled giant called Serene was anchored in blissful Tribune Bay.

“There it was, looming large. It was like an alien invasion,” remarked Tony Law, a provincial park worker, to The Comox Valley Echo.

Viktor Davare / Postmedia News

Viktor Davare / Postmedia NewsThe Russian superyacht Serene is so large, it houses a diving tank with its own submarine.

But in this setting, Serene just doesn’t fit. Launched in Italy two years ago, she is among the world’s 10 largest private ships. She boasts seven decks and two helicopter pads. And a sea water swimming pool “which can accommodate service craft and a submarine with a diving depth of up to 100 metres,” according to Fincantieri, her famous Italian builder.

With a beam (or width) of 61 feet, she very comfortably sleeps 24 guests and 52 crew. A ship such as Serene will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, if you have to ask. In her case, one third of a billion dollars.

Serene’s owner is rumoured to be one Yuri Scheffler, a Russian vodka tycoon. Mr. Scheffler may or may not have been one of the dozen or so passengers who disembarked from Serene on Sunday and touched the sands of Tribune Bay. He could not be reached for comment. The ship has sailed.

Spotting Russian-owned megayachts has become sport on the B.C. coast.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Spencer Platt / Getty ImagesThe Eclipse, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, was reported to be the largest private yacht in the world until it was eclipsed by the Serene.

Chelsea Trophy ParadeRoman Abramovich, the soccer-loving, Chelsea F.C.-owning industrialist oligarch, has in his stable a number of megayachts, including what was briefly the world’s largest, Eclipse, which is 533 feet in length. Eclipse was eclipsed this year with the launch of Azzam, a 590-foot, $605-million monster owned by private interests in the Middle East.

Mr. Abramovich occasionally cruised B.C. waters in Le Grand Bleu, a mere piker at 371 feet but still capable of hauling around a 74-foot sailboat and 67-foot speedboat. Mr. Abramovich apparently grew tired of Le Grand Bleu and her close quarters, and made a gift of her to another wealthy Russian, Eugene Shvidler, in 2006.

The yacht still returns to B.C.’s coast, traveling the Inside Passage to Alaska, where she is sometimes mistaken for just another cruise ship. But she’s much better than that.

Then there’s Athena, a 295-foot, three-masted schooner; she arrived in Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour in June, before the silly season had really started. Athena was followed by the brand new Invictus, a bit of a climb-down at just 215 feet, but impressive enough.

But here’s what rankles folks up and down the B.C. coast, especially in hideaways such as Hornby Island. The megayachts drop anchor for a few hours and then sail away, sometimes without dropping so much as a dime on shore. They typically fill up their massive fuel tanks and take on provisions in the United States, where prices are lower. Canada gets stiffed.

Former B.C. Ferries captain Peter Kimmerly has been watching with interest as the new wave of megayachts drift into Tribune Bay, and he wasn’t surprised to see Serene resting there earlier this week. “You have to be impressed by something like that,” he says. “It’s a nice boat.”

He would have enjoyed spending time with vodka magnate Scheffler, the ship’s purported owner. Mr. Kimmerly owns Island Spirits Distillery, a small outfit on Hornby that makes a variety of alcohol products, including vodka and gin.

The two spirit makers might have swapped notes, but no luck. Serene came, her passengers wriggled their toes for a spell on Tribune Bay beach and then they packed up and left. That’s just how it works, says Mr. Kimmerly.

Maybe one day some megayacht passengers will pause to chat, perhaps even shop.


JASON PAYNE / Postmedia News

JASON PAYNE / Postmedia NewsRussian-born tycoon Roman Abramovich made a gift of the 111-metre Le Grand Bleu, shown moored in English Bay, B.C., in 2005, to fellow oligarch Eugene Shvidler, in 2006.