Feature: Sunborn superyacht sails in to Royal Victoria Dock
10:00 28 May 2014
At a staggering 16 metres high and 120 metres long, the Sunborn superyacht is an impressive new gleaming addition to the Royal Victoria Dock shoreline.
For the owners, it was the obvious place to moor the latest addition to their international fleet of floating hotels, having previously moored a yacht nearby at the other end of ExCel.
But project director Michael O’Brian says its replacement, worth a whopping £60million, is here to stay.
“The east is growing and we have City Airport on our doorstep and then Stratford, Westfield and the Olympic Park so we are surrounded by great landmarks,” he explained.
“When we first came here, ExCel was not long open and was nowhere near the capacity it is doing now. We saw the potential it had and we continue to do so.”
Believe it or not, staying on yachts isn’t an everyday occurrence for me.
I was slightly fearing seasickness after a dodgy Egyptian cruise way back when and was amazed how easy it was to forget that you’re on the water (even though, of course, the yacht is static).
I was particularly impressed by my room’s balcony which had tranquil views across the dock and the tablet through which you could check what’s available for room service, find out more about the area or browse the internet.
The Molton Brown goodies in the bathroom were always going to win brownie points and the waffle dressing gowns and slippers added to the luxurious feel - while for caffeine addicts, the Nespresso coffee machine would be a godsend.
Dinner was equally lavish with fantastic presentation and it was lovely to enjoy a glass of wine on the outside deck afterwards.
It was a real novelty to be on the river and see the city in a different light.
But the true piece de resistance was the very comfy – and ridiculously large – bed, always the mark of a good hotel in my eyes. After an extremely restful night I think yacht life might just be for me.
The Newham Recorder stayed at Sunborn London (sunbornlondon.com). Nightly rates start from £220 + VAT.
Yet despite Michael’s enthusiasm and best efforts, getting the four-star yacht hotel to its new resting place wasn’t plain sailing.
When the yacht reached Newham after being pulled for six days from where it was assembled in Turku, Finland, a bridge leading into the docks proved a challenge – when it was realised the vessel was too tall to fit under it.
A 250m crane was needed to remove the mast and funnels so it could pass under the bridge, yet work could not take place while flights were operating from City Airport or on Sunday afternoons due to agreements with local residents.
In the end, most of the work had to take place during the night – and the yacht passed under the bridge by just 50cm before being artfully re-assembled ready for visitors.
Oyinda Bashorun is proud to be one of the first points of contact for visitors to the Sunborn yacht.
The 23-year-old receptionist, who lives just around the corner in Custom House, says she is pleased to be doing her bit to contribute towards the regeneration in the area.
“We already have thousands of people coming through the doors of ExCel every day and this [the yacht] will just add to that,” Oyinda, who previously worked in Westfield Stratford City, said.
“I really like where it is because it is so close to home and there will be a lot more tourists.”
She says the yacht is already attracting a lot of attention from passers-by who are intrigued by its appearance.
“When people see me on the deck they shout up and I have to go down and try to talk to them,” she added.
Concierge Claudio Camacho, 27, who lives in Canning Town, is enjoying showing off the best of what Newham has to offer, and admits he has learned about the borough where he lives through his research.
“There is a lot of history around the docks and the reason I like to do my job is because you are always learning new things and meeting new people,” he said. “I try to show tourists the best of Newham and what London has to offer, to promote the area.”
For him, taking a job on the yacht was a no-brainer.
“I have a background in hospitality so I thought why not try working on a luxury yacht?” he explained.
“It is something different, a new experience and brings its own challenges.”
Now the hotel, run by ISS, is almost ready for business, with the official opening currently expected to take place on July 1.
There are 136 rooms and suites, including two with their very own private saunas, as well as a spa treatment room and state-of-the-art gym.
Other features include an 80 cover restaurant, lounge bar and private dining room, an auditorium and three meeting rooms.
There’s plenty of outdoor deck space, with the bow decking providing amazing vistas of the Canary Wharf, the Emirates Airline and the O2.
136 rooms and suites
124 square metres of space
75 members of staff
But as well as entertaining tourists, the yacht will also make a worthy impact on the local economy as more than half of the “crew” has been recruited from Newham.
Although this was compulsory due to planning restrictions imposed by the council, Michael says it is something that Sunborn were pleased to do.
“We were happy to comply as there are lots of advantages to employing local people,” he said.
“If the staff are local they don’t have difficulty getting to and from work and we have learnt from them that the local area has got a lot more to offer than we realised when we came here.”
An open day for prospective staff at ExCel drew in 500 people, which were whittled down to 22 through several rounds.
Now, almost 80 per cent of operative staff are local, and are paid the London Living Wage.
“It has been a great way to create a team because they all started at a similar level,” Michael said.
“You can educate people on the hotel side of things but you can’t teach somebody to smile or be positive and happy to be here. They understand the opportunity and responsibility that they have been given.”
He believes the novelty of a yacht stay combined with good footfall will make the yacht a renewed success.
“From a guest perspective, it is different,” Michael said. “You soon get bored of staying in hotels but there is nowhere else like this anywhere in the UK.”