Still, nobody pays much attention as I wander up to the first of these beasts, the motor yacht Katara. Owned by the Emir of Qatar, it is thought to have cost around $300m. You don’t spend that much on a boat not to have anyone notice. Crew in white shirts and khaki shorts swarm over its decks, making final preparations to the scene. Everything is immaculate. Glasses and cutlery are laid on tables. Sun-loungers are set out on the teak transom, towels rolled in tight cylinders. On the top deck a helicopter waits. It all gleams in the sunshine.
At the end of the gangplank a steward stands with his hands behind his back. The boat is 124m long, he explains. He doesn’t own it himself. They are waiting for someone. He won’t tell me who. No, I can’t have a look around. That’s enough, thanks. His tone makes it clear that he does not want scruffy tourists loitering and that he has ways of enforcing this wish. As I leave I take a final wistful look up at the decking. It does look rather nice, I think, but then again that’s the whole point. More than any other status symbol, these boats are the ultimate projections of global hyper-wealth: floating embassies of a world that is highly visible but impossible to touch.