The List






A Question of Taste - Part 2


A few weeks ago, after an al fresco dinner at a marina on a well known Mediterranean island, I took a brief stroll past the assorted motor boats that were silently and statically engaged in some sort of unspoken competition with each other for both size and opulence. The monotony of glass fibre, overdressed crew members and enormous plasma screen televisions on the decks was broken only by the occasional sailing boat, sitting almost incongruously between the vast gleaming hulls of the latest 37 metre Sunseekers.

Why is it, I thought, at the time, that large motor boats paint such a vulgar picture of their owners, yet sailing boats of a similar size and cost do not? Or, to rephrase, is there something inherently tasteless about large motor boats that simply does not apply to sailing boats?

In pursuit of an answer to these questions, I risked the unwanted attention of marina security and took a more detailed look at some of the vessels. Close up, the large motor boat resembles less a glorified floating caravan and more a second (or maybe third, fourth or fifth) home. Expensive looking teak furniture is watched over by original artworks in rooms that would shame most upmarket Chelsea apartments. But despite this, the overall impression is of something that is trying too hard to impress; the often tasteful minimalism of the interior design being ruined by the presence of crew wearing ridiculous epaulette-adorned uniforms, or lighting systems that seem to have been borrowed from a Vegas show.

Large sailing yachts, in comparison, tend to conceal their luxury beneath deck. That which is viewed from the outside - the mast and spars, the decking and the controls - is generally purely functional, even on super-yachts. And it is this discreetness that ensures that sailing boats are not tarred with the same poor taste brush as their motor driven counterparts.

Returning to the Golden Mean rule, espoused in my previous column, here is a clear example of how this varies in two different circumstances. The motor boat is not essentially vulgar - it is just that the Golden Mean for this kind of vessel is significantly lower than for others. Because everything is so clearly on display, simplicity and discreetness must be overplayed in order to compensate. Conversely, on the sailing boat, where the object itself is fundamentally less frivolous, the need to tone down excesses is reduced; the boats themselves can be larger and more imposing, without their being deemed 'gin palaces'.