Like a swarm, locals and visitors in Portofino, St. Tropez, Nice, St. Barts, and Auckland make their way daily to the harbor for a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, and to view (and strain to see inside) the mega-yachts that are berthed aft in.
The yachts are a constant presence, an ever-changing parade of beautiful vessels that excite the emotions and the senses, and stimulate the imagination.
Who’s on board? A superstar? A royal? A political leader? A tycoon? A 20-something technology entrepreneur?
Inquiring minds want to know: Where did they come from? Where are they going? What’s life like onboard? Who gets to tag along? What’s the history of the ship?
The 216-foot Invictus made its way into Newport Harbor a few weeks back to moor in the turning basin between Lido Island and Lido Village.
It wasn’t the biggest ship to ever enter our harbor. But it was the most expensive, the most elegant, the most advanced, and the least in need of shore facilities to support it.
We learned that we aren’t much different than humans living in coastal Italy, southern France, the islands of the Caribbean, and the North Island bays of New Zealand.
There were no spewing fireboats, but an impressive Duffy flotilla tagged along for a closer look during happy hour. On the shore, people streamed to the bay front and the Lido bridge to see Invictus moor in her twilight glory.
What do you think? I asked a pod gathered on the bridge.
“I want to be invited aboard.”
“Disgusting,” snarled a 40-something dude, representing the anti-one-percenters. OK, sorry to ruin your day.
The parade of the curious never stopped, day and night. Nor did the smartphone cameras.
A brand new, state-of-the-art super yacht – stunning, shimmering, quiet, self-contained, non-polluting – does that. So does a new Tesla parked on Balboa Island. Or, as one harbor veteran suggested, a space shuttle passing through Southern California streets.
A similar sense of excitement was generated in 1976 when the decommissioned Catalina Steamer – 303 feet long and 50 feet wide – tied up for a week here and drew large crowds.
The largest yachts regularly berthed here are in the 120- to 170-foot range, and are mostly to be found at the Balboa Bay Club.
Would the excitement dissipate if mega-yachts were a regular presence in the harbor? Not likely. But for those who howled and fretted that the city’s gracious welcome and accommodation of the Invictus will open the floodgates to more have little to worry about.
The Pacific Coast is not on the mega-yacht super highway. The water’s too cold and rough. Harbors don’t have the infrastructure that makes a visit easy, enjoyable and satisfying for the discerning owners.
We will continue to get an occasional large yacht heading to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, or to Mexico and a transit of the Panama Canal.
But most of the world’s mega-yachts transition between the warm waters of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Ships of a feather float together.
When they do come here, though, we should welcome them – help them find appropriate mooring or docking – and subject them to reasonable rules governing their operation and conduct during their visit. That’s the culture of boating worldwide, and the basic instinct of our sophisticated harbor commission.
Keep in mind, our harbor is a public waterway, not a private enclave.
The process for reaching an accommodation of the Invictus was thoughtful, fact-based and balanced competing interests.
The city’s harbor resources manager and the advisory Harbor Commission analyzed the applications from Invictus – as well as from the 124-foot Marama – for mooring permission.
They treated with respect the concerns of a few residents who live near the Lido turning basin. The conditions imposed on the Invictus were more onerous than those governing the 145-foot, four-deck party boats that regularly prowl the harbor stuffed with 350 partiers and blaring loud music, both live and DJ-driven.
In the end, not a single member of the City Council exercised his or her power to appeal the approval, and force a council review and vote. A powerful sign they were satisfied that the public interest was being served.
Invictus will pay hefty costs and fees.
The owner, Rick Caruso, is not a mysterious Russian with a boatload of thugs. He is an obviously successful real estate genius from Los Angeles who for years has had a second home on the Balboa Peninsula.
The Harbor Commissioners considered the city’s special assistance part of the harbor’s tradition of welcoming boaters, but – given the size and challenge of accommodating Invictus – were careful to call it an “experiment.”
When the Invictus and the Marama leave, the commission will review all aspects of their visits, what worked well and what didn’t.
To me, the yachts are spectacular, cool and exciting to watch. They lift the neighborhood and create a buzz.
Maybe the new owners of the long-struggling Lido Village will take a risk and provide a more permanent place to accommodate one or two mega-yachts, an infrastructure investment that would give the village new life.
For inspiration, they might take a look at the website for St. Barts Port De Gustavia, which boasts it is “one of the most exclusive marinas where you can berth your yacht. Pair this with the stunning, pristine beaches, fine dining and designer shops, and you are presented with a spot revered by the rich and famous.”
Squint and one can see an economic development initiative for the Peninsula.