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Out and About

Moscow Yacht Show
Ian Mitchell

On the evening of Friday 3 September, the nautical elite of Moscow gathered at the Royal Yacht Club on Leningradsky Prospect to celebrate the opening of the Moscow Yacht Show.

The event is really a grand sales extravaganza. It was held in the reconstructed “Vodny Stadion”, built in 1935 as part of the 100,000-life Stalin Canal system that created the Khimki reservoir on which the stadium sits. Originally, the Roman-style terraces overlooked three pools. One was for swimming competitions; one for water-polo competitions; and one for diving competitions. It was a competitive world being a Soviet “spartsmyen”. Doing things simply for fun was frivolously bourgeois.

Today the pools have gone and been replaced by mooring docks for about 100 enormous motor cruisers. The only competition is to be “in the swim” boat-wise. This means spending anything up to $5 million on a cabin cruiser, usually with two radar pods mounted above the bridge deck, the better to detect craft on the other side of the canal. Thus equipped, you can motor up and down the reservoir or, if you feel more adventurous, make voyages of discovery up towards Dmitrov and Dubna. Not even Christopher Columbus got that far.

Or you can do nothing more than check your mooring lines and climb up to the after-deck with a party of guests and hand out pink gins. I have been told that the bigger the boat, the less often it moves. The owners seem not to have understood Ratty’s point in Wind in the Willows: “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Perhaps that is understandable given the scale of the investments involved here. These are not so much boats as personal floating social contexts. For capitalists as much as for communists, going boating simply for fun must seem irredeemably bourgeois.

The Royal Yacht Club has a Potemkinish aspect too since it is not so much a club as a business. It concentrates on cruisers rather than yachts. And of course it is not in any meaningful sense “Royal”. But if you want to feel like royalty you can rent apartments in the neighbouring development at up to $30,000 a month. That was the first thing I was told when I arrived at the “grandiose gala-evening”. Perhaps Ratty was wrong and that really there is nothing half so much worth doing as messing about in expensive apartments. Let’s flog the boats! After all, this show is about sales, not sails.

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