Robb Report (USA)

The History of Luxury in

An alternativ­e look at the products, ideas, and shots in the dark that shaped the modern world.


History’s first superyacht owner was Ptolemy IV, who ruled Egypt from 221 to 205 B.C.E. Among his royal fleet was a 300-foot catamaran that towered 60 feet above the Nile, propelled by thousands of enslaved men. But it was his descendant Cleopatra, reigning nearly two centuries later, who has captured the imaginatio­ns of poets, playwright­s, and Hollywood producers. Cleopatra’s barge was the first nautical fashion statement, a blazing vessel that included silver oars, colorful sails, and a goldencrus­ted hull.

Shakespear­e’s reference in Antony and Cleopatra was so inspiratio­nal to George Crowninshi­eld Jr., who hailed from a wealthy merchant family in Salem, Mass., that he named his yacht Cleopatra’s Barge when it launched in 1816. At a time when no one cruised for mere recreation, the 83-foot schooner was considered America’s first superyacht. The wooden hull and ostentatio­us interior reportedly cost $100,000, or $2 million today.

Inside, Cleopatra’s Barge was a pleasure palace of ornate paneling, gold beams, velvet ropes, fireplaces, and chandelier­s. The formal dining room used the best porcelain, silver, and crystal. The year after taking delivery, Crowninshi­eld and his crew sailed for Europe and, as a goodwill gesture, opened the vessel to the public. While it was in port at Barcelona, thousands boarded. Crowninshi­eld died seven weeks after returning to Salem, and Cleopatra’s

Barge was eventually sold to Hawaii’s King Kamehameha II, who owned it until it wrecked on Kauai off 1824.

Despite just eight years afloat, it establishe­d a precedent for modern gigayachts, from Aristotle Onassis’s lavish 325-foot

Christina O, converted from a WWII Canadian naval frigate, on up to Jeff Bezos’s recently launched 417-foot

Koru, the world’s biggest sailing yacht.

 ?? Illustrati­ons by Scott Chambers ?? Cleopatra’s Barge
Illustrati­ons by Scott Chambers Cleopatra’s Barge

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