Expert Advice: How To Face An End-Times Crisis In Luxury
Private islands, luxury doomsday bunkers, survivalist yachts—what’s next?
While the world faces a seemingly unending parade of self-inflicted crises that have upended any sense of global stability in modern times, there will always be a dime to be made from the fear economy. Last August, long before the tragic unfolding of the novel coronavirus that would cost thousands of lives around the world, there were already reminders that those with means will seek shelter in any storm, and preferably one with five stars or more.
A CNN report noted at the time that many hedge fund managers, sports stars and tech execs had already designed their own secret shelters to house their families in the event of catastrophe. “Bill Gates is rumoured to have bunkers at all his properties,” or so said the most trusted name in news. Who wouldn’t?
It’s a little bit horrifying, but also a little bit fascinating, that former community shelters have been transformed into private bunkers for the ultra-rich, where the privilege of a good night’s sleep—or any night’s sleep for that matter—will cost tens of thousands of dollars. A munitions storage facility in Germany has been transformed into hideouts carved from solid bedrock with options to add one or two floors, while in Kansas an abandoned missile silo offers a US$4.5 million cement condo that’s underground. One only imagines what Robin Leach would have made of that.
To that end, our editors have sought out the most outrageous examples of contemporary apocalyptic luxury not merely to inform and frighten (or possibly disgust) you, but also to amuse you with what absurd lengths people will go to attain any sense of comfort amid the chaos, if only they have the money to do so. If things really get bad, think of this like a treatment for an episode of Afterlives of the Rich and Famous.
1/4 Isolate Yourself On An Island
Only a medieval monarch would buffer themselves from the chaos of the outside world with a moat of water. Think bigger. Why not acquire your own private island and trade that muddy ditch for sparkling azure waves stretching as far as the eye can see? There’s suddenly a seller’s market for such retreats.
The future isn’t all plain sailing, though, as there’s an entire archipelago of considerations to take onboard (not to mention the ethics and optics of following in some rather villainous footsteps these days) before buying an island. As in all real-estate transactions, location is everything. The tropics might seem to have the best year-round weather, but they’re also especially susceptible to natural disasters, including hurricanes, mosquito-borne diseases and rising seas that threaten to submerge your new investment even before you actually need it. Logistics may be tedious, but proper planning will dictate whether, come doomsday, your hideout remains a fortress or crumbles in the mêlée.
Chris Krolow, of Private Islands Inc, has an enviable job as CEO of one of the largest marketplaces for islands of all shapes and sizes across the globe—from wild, remote atolls in Palau to fully developed dream homes afloat in the Maldives. Recent listings have included Rangyai Island, a kidney-shaped 44-hectare property off the coast of Thailand, offered for US$160 million; or if you’re not ready to put down roots just yet, a floating Amillarah glass duplex that’s currently somewhere in the Maldives, but can be relocated “anywhere on a body of water”. (The price is listed as “upon request”, but, really, if you have to ask...) Although most of Krolow’s clients are looking for an undisturbed holiday investment, some buyers have their minds on security.
“We get enquiries from people who want to start their own country,” he says. “We have sold some islands that were set up like a bunker: one guy in the Bahamas developed a small island with a bunker and a full hardware store—there were batteries, gas tanks, blankets, canned food and everything you could imagine for Armageddon all set up.”
Even for buyers who do not want to go to such extremes, Krolow advises finding somewhere with natural elevation or looking in places like Belize for undeveloped mangroves, which can be built up into artificial islands. For a safer, long-term investment, look for freehold purchases, as islands in most of Asia and the South Pacific are leasehold only. Think of the practicalities, too: is there a mainland nearby with access to supplies, fuel and medical care? Is the island fortified for climate change? What would Gilligan do?
Krolow asks: “Are you going to be able to get to the island when there are more hurricanes? Your insurance premiums might be US$30,000 a year for hurricanes.”
Among the most future-proof investments in Krolow’s current roster is the “completely self-sufficient” Victor Island Escape in the Whitsundays, Australia, boasting a four-bedroom villa with solar power and water-harvesting technology just a 15-minute boat ride from the mainland. The tiny Funk Caye in Belize is also a good shout, kitted out with a reverse osmosis unit and rainwater collection system for fresh water on tap, as well as space for a helipad and large dock.
2/4 Sail Away On Your Superyacht
Buying a superyacht is no longer the ultimate luxury— as Noah would remind you, it may be the difference between life or death. There are few better ways to escape a threat than setting out to sea, and if you pick the right boat, it won’t even feel like a hardship, unless you’re prone to seasickness or fear of pirates, of course. Oddly, most yacht companies don’t advertise the prices of their boats online, but a Towergate Insurance report cited by Forbes magazine in 2015 noted that an average 100-meter superyacht fit for a crew of 50 should cost about US$275 million, salaries, insurance and docking fees not inclusive.
At about half that size, Sanlorenzo’s 500Exp model in its Luxury Explorer Range accommodates up to 12 guests in its 47-metre-long hull—meaning there’s still plenty of room for the whole family. The yacht has a range of 4,500 nautical miles cruising at a speed of 11 knots, so can carry you from New York to the UK with fuel to spare. And in case you need to make a speedy escape, the 500Exp also has a helipad and plenty of storage space for jet skis or tenders. Gym optional.
A smaller but faster option is the Azimut Grande S10. Made partly from carbon fibre, this nearly 29-metre-long superyacht can reach speeds of up to 35 knots, so it can outrace all but the fastest vessels. And with four stylish main cabins and multiple outdoor and indoor lounges in which to relax, the Grande S10 isn’t too shabby a place to plan your next move, so long as you have any friends left to impress.
If fuel is no longer available, then a sailing yacht like the Wally Tango is your best bet. Designed in Monaco, the Tango has been optimised for stability during high winds and can turn as sharply as a racing yacht. It houses six guests in three cabins, has a large galley area and extensive space on the upper deck to soak up the sun—so you might never want to dock again, even if you could.
3/4 Call In The Experts
For a long time, society’s perception of a “doomsday prepper” was limited to conspiracy theory-pushing, tinfoil hat-wearing folks. But in recent years, more affluent figures including the likes of CEOs, technology executives and major players in finance are investing in the steadily growing industry known as survivalism.
In 2017, a reported half of Silicon Valley’s billionaires were preparing for a possible apocalypse, according to Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn. In the words of John W Hoopes, a professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas who dedicated years of his life studying the myth that the world would end in 2012—“fear sells even better than sex”.
When planning for an impending apocalypse, the world’s elite are choosing to leave it to the professionals, hiring the likes of ex-military personnel and survivalist experts to channel their inner Katniss Everdeen and ensure they are stocked up and skilled to take on dystopian doom.
There are various approaches to survivalism; consultants like Practical Preppers, based in South Carolina, emphasise the importance of sustainability, which may not actually be applicable in this scenario, but is an admirable sentiment nonetheless. “As a Prepper I strive towards self-sufficiency, energy efficiency, alternative energy, conservation and helping others do the same,” says founder Scott Hunt.
On the other side of the coin, there are the more militant preppers who consult the likes of Kyle Harth, who served for 14 years in the US Special Forces and for four years as an infantryman, on the necessary equipment and weapons (and how to use them) in the event of an apocalypse.
4/4 Hunker in a Bunker
Panic rooms, bunkers and bomb shelters—are they an investment rooted in paranoia or pragmatism? With natural disasters and extreme weather caused by climate change, civil unrest around the world and a return to volatile strongman leaders, a desire to own a bunker no longer seems as loony as the plot of a sci-fi movie.
“Think of it like an insurance policy; no one plans to have a home fire or automobile accident but we purchase insurance for it anyway. The same thought process applies here,” says Gary Lynch, managing director of Rising S, a luxury bunker manufacturer in Texas that has sold shelters all over the world. According to Lynch, clients spend an average of US$2 million building these emergency hideaways.
Aside from essentials like power generators, water and first aid kits, clients and builders are getting creative with new ways to ride out an apocalypse. Luxury bunkers now include hydroponic farms to grow fresh produce (there’s only so much frozen or canned food one can eat), swimming pools, cinemas and soaring ‘windows’ with artificial albeit realistic digital landscape views—you know, for sanity. “We’ve thought of new ways to make people feel more like they’re at home,” says Lynch.
Following the election results in 2016, some members of the American elite—including Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and hedge fund honchos—started buying land in New Zealand and building—in some cases, shipping—survival bunkers to the peaceful and politically stable island nation. In the event of an emergency, they’ll hop on their private jets and retreat to safety. “These threats range from simple storms or home invasions all the way up to civil collapse or nuclear war”, says Lynch.
For those who aren’t keen on a future of total isolation, there are a growing number of shelter compounds—think of them like underground apartment complexes—up for grabs, such as Vivos Europa One in Germany, a by-invitation-only set-up converted from a shelter originally built during the Cold War. These complexes normally have common areas that include offices, classrooms, restaurants, hair salons and even (at least in the case of Vivos Euoropa One) a DNA storage bank.
These shelters might not be used by this generation, and perhaps—if we’re lucky—not even the next. But if it can serve as a place of safety for a future loved one, then these preppers feel that it’s worth every penny. After all, when it comes to preparing for the worst, it’s all about thinking ahead.