Page last updated at 05:24 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 06:24 UK

Russian elite eyes yachting past-time

By Konstantin Rozhnov
Business reporter, BBC News, Moscow

Rich Russians have a reputation as high rollers - both in Russia and in the West.

Royal Yacht Club, Moscow
The wealthiest Russians have learnt to be discreet

Yet their latest venture - a new yacht club in Moscow - is not all bling.

The buildings at the restored water sports stadium Vodniy Stadion Dynamo are relatively discreet and the yachts in the marina look neither enormous nor out of place.

Moscow's rather bizarrely named Royal Yacht Club looks strangely normal, worlds apart from the Russian yachting world's reputation as host to go-go dancers and lavish events.

These days, there are "not a lot people of the playboy, show-off type" left in Russia's yachting world, according to Anton Dolotin, one of the co-owners of the marina, who insists they have been shunted aside by the truly rich, namely "people who can afford to buy a boat for one, two, three millions euros".

And owning a large motor yacht in land-locked Moscow may not be as ludicrous as it first seems.

Russia's extensive network of wide rivers enable Mr Dolotin's customers to take comfortable family holidays on their yachts, he insists.

International elite

Anton Dolotin, one of the co-owners of the marina
The more money people have, the more well-mannered they are.
Anton Dolotin, one of the co-owners of the marina

But beyond the obvious attractions of the water crafts, there is no denying that club membership is in itself an asset that many are eager to acquire.

The club is selective, and its members tend to be very wealthy - but it is not all about money Mr Dolotin insists.

Members are permitted to join, depending on their behaviour rather than on the size of their wallets, he claims - though he acknowledges that there are correlations here.

Mr Dolotin claims that the decision whether to accept somebody to the club is not based on the amount of money the person has - it's mostly about who he is and how he behaves.

"There is a paradox," he says.

"The more money people have, the more well-mannered they are. They behave in a more proper way.

"I think it comes from the experience they have got somewhere abroad."

Russian influence

Indeed, it is outside Russia where most of the country's wealthy keep their boats, since buying one at home attracts a punitive import tax that adds some 30-40% to their already astronomical costs.

Royal Yacht Club, Moscow
Crewing the yachts can add thousands to the annual bills

Hence, for every yacht moored here in Moscow there will be many, perhaps dozens, of Russian-owned crafts in Southern France or in Italy, explains Mr Dolotin, who is also head of the Russian branch of the yacht maker Azimut-Benetti.

Russian mega-yacht customers first arrived some 15 years ago, he says, little more than a decade after these enormous crafts first appeared and the market for them was created.

Some 15% of the group's sales is accounted for by Mr Dolotin's Russian division, compared with about 50% in the US, he says.

"So we are responsible for roughly a third of [Azimut-Benetti's] European sales," he says.

Middle-sized cruiser

Russian buyers are among the most discerning in the world, Mr Dolotin points out, explaining how one customers has commissioned a 133 metre yacht, which will be so large there are no marinas in the world able to accommodate it.

"It is like a big house, where 50, 60, 70 or 100 people work day to day," he says, quipping that the race for bigger and bigger yachts is a bit like an "arms race".

"It is like a middle-sized cruiser, such as the Queen Mary," he adds.

Moscow specifics

The average yacht bought by wealthy Muscovites is much smaller and considerably cheaper; at 1.5m euros for a 55 feet craft.

Hence, they are still not exactly cheap, not least since crewing costs come on top of the purchase price.

"A captain earns [about] 2,000 euros a month, which makes it 24,000 euros per year," explains Mr Dolotin.

"Plus, say, 24,000 euros for a mooring, which makes it 50,000 euros. Fuel here is relatively cheap as well."

Russian yacht owners should expect to spend some 5-6% of their crafts' worth each year, which is very cheap compared with the expenses incurred by yacht owners in the Mediterranean, Mr Dolotin explains.

For the money, they get to cruise leisurely on the Russian waterways, an increasingly popular past-time for the newly moneyed.

"I think many of them are surprised by the traffic jams in the channel on Saturdays and Sundays," grins Mr Dolotin.

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