Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Sinking Of The "Fortuna"

The King's giving up his boat. In these unfortunate economic times, the wheel of fortune has spun in the wrong direction, and the royal yacht "Fortuna" has been caught in a whirlpool spin and been dragged under the surface of public relations for an austere climate. When a nation has to give up its boys' toys, crisis can well and truly be said to dominate.

The yacht was a gift. Those who donated to its 21 million euro purchase in 2000 included at least four bosses of major hotel groups - Barceló, Meliá, Fiesta and Iberostar - as well as Juan Hidalgo of Air Europa (or Globalia, if you prefer). The Balearic Government also put its hands in its pockets - to the tune of three million - and there are those who now want the money back; it was a Partido Popular government which was kind enough to fund the King's marine lifestyle, hence the cries from the left demanding a refund.

Why, though, is the King giving the yacht up? It certainly costs to maintain it and run it - 20,000 euros alone are apparently needed to fuel its tanks - but as it was a gift, one that was made in the hope, a not unreasonable hope, that it would ensure the King and his family's regular visits to Mallorca and so help tourism, then it can't be claimed that the yacht was a regal or national extravagance. The names of those who parted with some loose change to help pay for the yacht indicate one of the reasons for their generosity; it wasn't altruism, it was hard-nosed business.

One could argue that it is impossible to equate levels of tourism to the royal yacht and so therefore to the royal family's regular holidaying in Mallorca. And it probably is impossible, but then so it is also impossible to make a straight-line calculation between expenditure on a Mallorcan tennis star gadding about on a different yacht, being filmed and ending up in a TV advert and with this advert's contribution to tourism. The royal yacht was an exercise in marketing by the Balearics. Three million would be met with cries of horror now, but in 2000, the government's part funding of the yacht was probably reasonable enough.

The yacht's PR value has lain with its potential for attracting tourism and for seducing various dignitaries of a business sort who might wish to cast their benevolence in the general direction of Mallorca or Spain. It is ironic, therefore, that PR is the main reason for getting rid of it. The King, as we all know, has been enduring something of a PR mare for several months. An act of contrition needed, one of the boys' toys had to go, and unlucky "Fortuna" has pulled the short straw.

It's not as though the King will be required to slum it when taking his holidays at the Marivent Palace in future and wishing to go for a quick sail around the bay of Palma. There are plenty of floating palacetes bobbing up and down next to a marina harbour wall on the waters around Mallorca, and there are probably plenty of businesspeople and others who would be only be too glad for a dollop of their own PR from giving the Spanish royals the run of the ship for a week or so. Last summer in fact, the King made use of a somewhat more modest affair than "Fortuna", a yacht belonging to the shipbuilder, José Cusi.

So, as there are any number of such vessels floating around, dispensing with "Fortuna" probably isn't such a big deal after all. It's not as if the King will be reduced to having only a royal rowing-boat or a royal pedalo; there are plenty of Fortuna-lites to be had as well as some Fortuna-fortunes-afloat (does Abramovic ever get himself over to Mallorca?).

More than anything though, the final docking of a royal yacht is a symbolic act, and not a positive one at that. When Britannia was scuppered, it was as though a last lament had been emitted for the going-down of empire; Britannia, it had to be admitted, did indeed no longer rule the waves. Spain doesn't cling to its imperial past in quite the same way as the British - its imperial glories faded well before those of Britain's - but there is still the memory of the rivers of gold and all that and of Spain's seafaring heritage and at least partial global dominance that came as a result of this tradition.

In this regard, given the distance of time, "Fortuna" can be seen as something of an anachronism. But if it is considered in purely pragmatic business terms - as the Balearics businesspeople in 2000 would have considered it - all the romanticism of a maritime past and the monarchical baggage of that past evaporates. Or should.

Personally, I have no feelings one way or the other about the royal yacht. But if "Fortuna" was performing a useful function, then its junking in the pursuit of better PR seems unfortunate.

Any comments to please.

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