I don’t know if you are one of the 5m or so viewers who have been attracted to a Wall Street Journal video of Andrey Melnichenko’s superyacht on YouTube. If not, I’d recommend a nosey because it’s not often that a billionaire superyacht owner opens his hatches to a film camera.
But then there’s little about Melnichenko that you would class as ordinary. You can see that from his Philippe Starcke-designed yacht, A, that looks like a cross between a nuclear submarine and the cruiser Aurora that sparked the Russian Revolution.
Other yacht designers can be quite bitchy about Starcke but there’s no denying his playfulness that clearly appealed to his client. Among the highlights of the video are the ship’s hidden “nookie room”, the stingray hides coating one cabin wall and the square patch of lawn provided on deck for poodle poos.
Melnichenko isn’t the only owner to enjoy having his pet on board his yacht. I’ve met a few owners with dogs and have heard of some with cats although cats can be a problem on yachts if they’re foolish enough to go jumping around too much.
That said, there’s a long history of cats at sea, as long, probably, as that of rats in ships. One of the best-known wartime cats was Oscar, the ship’s cat of the German pocket battleship, Bismark.
When the Bismark was sunk, Oscar was rescued by the destroyer HMS Cossack. Cossack was torpedoed and sunk a few months later and Oscar survived to be adopted by the crew of HMS Ark Royal that again was torpedoed and sunk. When Oscar was plucked off a piece of floating wreckage he was renamed Unsinkable Sam.
There’re two ways a sailor might look at Oscar’s chequered sea-fairing career. On the one hand, he was lucky to be around in the event of disaster; on the other hand, he might have been considered something of a Jonah.
Whatever the case, that was the end of his active service and he lived out the rest of the Second World War, first with the Governor of Gibralter and finally in a Belfast home for seamen.
I should say here that some historians have questioned the authenticity of this story. You would think they had better things to do.
Another famous ship’s cat with mixed fortunes was Mrs Chippy who accompanied Ernest Shackleton on his ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic in 1914. Shackleton’s boat, the Endurance must have seemed like a floating kennel at times with 70 sledge dogs in addition to the cat.
When the ship became icebound and the expedition became a struggle for survival, one by one, the animals were put down and poor Mrs Chippy, who belonged to the ship’s carpenter, was the last to go.
Killing the cat soured an already fragile relationship between Shackleton and the carpenter, Harry McNish, a dour but practical Scot. McNish never forgave Shackleton but he did fashion covers for one of the lifeboats, The James Caird, that made it seaworthy enough to cross 700 miles of Southern Ocean to South Georgia and salvation.
When polar medals were awarded after the crew and explorers were rescued, McNish’s name was studiously omitted from Shackleton’s list.
The presence of so many dogs on the Endurance meant that Shackleton included a vet in his party. This brings me back to Andrey Melnichenko and his poodle. What happens, heaven forbid, if the Melnichenko poodle is taken ill at sea? Suppose it’s seasick?
The question of caring for pets on superyachts had never entered my head until I met Siobhan Brade who has established herself as a dedicated superyacht vet, the only one in the world as far as I know.
“I focus on small mammals, usually dogs and cats,” she says. “There’s a demand for veterinary services on superyachts so I’ve set up Superyacht Veterinary Services to look after that.”
She also provides consultancy for owners who may be unsure of the complex import and export laws covering animals as yachts move from port to port.
“It can be quite complicated, working out just what’s needed and we can both explain the procedures and provide all the forms and instructions for import and export that owners will need.
Often, pets travelling on boats don’t ‘fit’ the import model, as they may have been many places in a short space of time (something the written regulations don’t account for), she explains on the SVS website, superyachtvet.com.
“We will liaise directly with the official government veterinarians, requesting dispensation or individual consideration as needed to ensure the process for import is a smooth one,” says SVS.
In my second book, The Future of Work, I identified what I called ultra niche occupations as something to strive for among those who want to capitalise on their skills.
Too much of the jobs market today has been commoditised. It happens in yachting as much as anywhere. Captains are always looking for crew, but, if you as a potential crew member can demonstrate expertise in a range of areas, or some highly specialized areas, it not only improves your marketability, but also your bargaining power.
Siobhan will not be the world’s only superyacht vet for long. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that she’s the first. She’s grabbed that all important web name and she’s building relationships that will establish her as the go-to expert in the superyacht market.
Her business will be extended by word-of-mouth and reputation in this relationship-based market.