Peter Allen samples the high life at sea level, aboard a superyacht where your every wish is someone else’s command.
Among numerous fascinating facts I learned about the Axioma superyacht during a long weekend aboard was that she was originally called Red Square. The thought puzzled me at first: what on earth did a £50 million-plus floating palace have to do with a Moscow landmark still firmly associated with Soviet parades and the last resting place of Vladimir Lenin? Gliding majestically around billionaire playgrounds such as St Barts in the Caribbean, it struck me that it would be a bit like naming your Mayfair mansion after Chairman Mao, or your Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning racehorse Jeremy Corbyn.
In fact, Red Square pre-dates communism and is as much a testament to Tsarist majesty as the miseries of a failed socio-economic order championing bland conformity over dazzling excess. In turn, the Axioma is everything that modern multibillionaire oligarchs cherish — a private island of luxurious perfection in a global sea of security threats, high taxes and potential revolution.
Holidays should be all about distraction — a chance to make the trials and setbacks of ordinary life disappear for a set period — and the Axioma really is the ultimate escape. For three incredible days I was able to lose myself in a fantastical world that is technically only really available to the fabulously wealthy. Assisting in the process were exceptionally calm seas, warm January sunshine, a galley full of Michelin-starred food and fine wines, and the kind of good-looking and hugely talented crew you usually see staffing hi-tech secret bunkers in James Bond movies.
My adventure started with a nine-hour flight from Paris, a night in the Dutch island territory of Sint Maarten, and then a short burn out to the Axioma on one of her sleek, super-fast tenders. Fittingly, the £300 million-plus Eclipse, one of Roman Abramovich’s yachts, was moored alongside. The distant figure jogging up and down on the aft deck in a white tracksuit could easily have been the Russian owner of Chelsea FC himself, but I pretended not to notice.
Celebrities pop up everywhere when you’re on the Axioma, but relaxed indifference is the key to dealing with them. When we dropped anchor close to St Barts, Mariah Carey was aboard the neighbouring Arctic P, which belongs to her fiancé, James Packer. We also cruised past the yacht in which Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall were celebrating their engagement. If you’re lucky, you might bump into a few big names on board the Axioma herself: Formula One motor-racing champ Lewis Hamilton enjoyed some time on her last summer, along with reality TV star Kendall Jenner.
But that’s enough about the celebs: the impeccably mannered Axioma crew members treat all their passengers like stars. There are more than twenty, including qualified masseurs, diving instructors and those offering expertise in numerous other fields, including how to get the best out of your air guitar on karaoke night. You could get them to sort out a couple of jet-skis for you from the toys centre down below, or activate the vast blow-up contraption which allows you to slide into the sea from amidships while screaming maniacally.
A maximum of twelve passengers are allowed on the 72-metre yacht, meaning everybody has a huge amount of space. There are six bedrooms in all — a master suite, three VIP staterooms, and two twin cabins. I was assigned the so-called Yellow Cabin, which felt like one of the larger rooms in an upmarket country-house hotel. There were all kinds of five-star essentials, and everything except the bathrobes could be controlled by a dedicated iPad, although I never did quite work out how to use it, instead relying on one of the crew to press all the buttons.
The late yacht designer Alberto Pinto put all the Axioma’s passenger accommodation on the main deck, so there’s no question of anybody being stuck underneath the waterline. That said, the lower deck does contain a brilliant 3-D cinema. Another guest enjoyed it so much he spent a night down there watching Planet of the Apes movies on loop (he was from Indiana). Other facilities include a swimming pool, gym, Jacuzzi, bars, and steam room.
If you’re interested in the technical details, the Axioma has twin Caterpillar engines that allow her to cover 6,000 nautical miles at 12 knots. During my trip, Captain Mark Giblin first steered us across to Anguilla, the British overseas territory, which made for a delightful visit. There was an interesting museum containing details of the island’s two revolutions against the Queen in 1967 and 1969 (don’t worry, nothing was seriously damaged, apart from a few trees) and ancient tribal sites, but the best bit was sitting on a beach sipping freshly made piña coladas, again served by Axioma crew (they are the ultimate man-to-man markers of the bespoke leisure sector).
You can plan the entire itinerary for your stay, but my small party left it all to the very capable Captain Mark, mainly because he was always sober. This is the whole point of being on a magnificent craft like the Axioma — professionals take care of your every need, leaving you to concentrate on the views, the swimming, and the sheer, unadulterated fun of it all. The main event at all times is the yacht itself. There’s a non-stop party going on, and this inevitably centres on the exquisite food and drink.
Chef Stephen Paskins was happy to be scrambled at 4am to rustle up a late-night snack, be it cheese and tomato pizza or an Aardvark soufflé with a scattering of grated truffles from a specified Tuscan field. Stephen’s range is exceptional — he does everything from burgers and full English breakfasts to exotic Asian dishes made with unpronounceable herbs. Fresh ingredients are sourced from the islands, and if essentials are not available they are flown in and then couriered to the boat. This means Beluga caviar, Japanese Wagyu beef and jamón ibérico are as ubiquitous as bottles of vintage Cristal. Everything is made from scratch, including bread and cakes.
Beyond eating and drinking, you can do absolutely anything you want on board. Chief stewardess Suzy Sawers arranged all kind of treats, from a Bob Marley tribute dinner to a visit by a professional magician with a novelty French accent. When Kendall Jenner was on board, she asked if she and the fashion model Bella Hadid could jump into the sea from the top deck while wearing black wetsuits, before posting a video on social media. Each to their own, as they say…
By the time we had to disembark, I was supremely relaxed and exhilarated. A trip on the Axioma was not just luxurious, but absolute holiday perfection. Our ultimate host — the yacht’s owner — was not around to thank, unfortunately, but if he had been I’d have given him a big hug and a massive thank you. Needless to say, he was rumoured to be another Russian tycoon (not all oligarchs are as upfront about their assets as Mr Abramovich, meaning his name was never revealed) so ‘spasibo’ would have been the appropriate word.
Once back on dry land in Sint Maarten, I wanted to return to sea immediately but was politely reminded that a week on-board the Axioma costs a minimum €525,000 (£400,000), and that’s before food, drink, fuel and other extras including tips. The tsars have probably got more chance of returning to power in Russia than most of us have of enjoying regular holidays on the Axioma, but this shouldn’t stop any of us dreaming.
The Axioma has some availability for charter in the Mediterranean this summer and is now booking for winter 2016/17 in the Caribbean exclusively through Yachting Partners International (YPI)