MOSCOW, July 5 (Reuters Life!) - The glitzy casinos of Monte Carlo and the posh Alpine ski resorts of Courchevel and St Moritz have become familiar with the Russian accent. Now, wealthy Russians are invading the open seas, swapping fancy cars for multi-million dollar yachts with a sharp increase in the number of high-class boats over the past year.
Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of English Premier League club Chelsea, already boasts a fleet of yachts, one of which cost at least $300 million.
Russian businessman Ruben Khokhryakov has tried to capitalise on the craze by building a unique three-masted sailing ship, tailor-made for his deep-pocketed compatriots.
The special design of the boat enables it to float much higher than most other yachts of its class, generating a top speed of up to 20 knots and prompting Khokhryakov to name the ship "Running on Waves".
Chris Weafer, expert on Russia's business elite, told Reuters that for many Russian oligarchs owning a yacht is simply a way of showing off their wealth to their peers.
Weafer, who is chief strategist for investment bank Uralsib, said that yachts are this year's must-have toy.
"But for many new owners of these expensive toys the enjoyment is more about ownership than actually taking it out on the water," he said.
"Many of these yachts will simply stay moored to jetties on the Moscow River or on the side of one of the many lakes surrounding Moscow and St. Petersburg, where they will host parties rather than sail on the water."
Khokhryakov disagreed, saying his mega-yacht, with room for 45 passengers and 12 crew members, will sail for the Red Sea later this year before cruising the Mediterranean next year.
The yacht is equipped with jacuzzis, tanning booths as well as a huge sun deck and satellite TVs, expected amenities for luxury cruises.
British explorer Tim Severen -- attending the boat's presentation in the Polish city of Gdansk -- praised its unusual design and the technology on board.
"I've seen a lot of sailing ships in my life, but I must say there is no other boat like it," he said.
Sailing does not come cheap, however, with the price for a week-long trip ranging from 3,500 to 35,000 euros ($46,960) per person.
The man behind the project said it was his childhood dream to create a sailing boat that is both unique and can withstand the roughest waters the open sea can throw at it.
One thing that worries Khokhryakov and his business partners from the United States, Britain, Germany and Israel, are the pirates in the Indian Ocean near the northwest coast of Africa.
"It's true, we were planning a trip to the Indian Ocean but had to cancel it," Khokhryakov told Reuters.
Nevertheless, the businessman said he expected to make a profit within five years. "We have solid investors and can weather any financial storms threatening global economy from time to time," he said.