To answer your question about the status of yacht ownership in the U.S. vs. Europe, I think it's important to look at things regionally.
Consider that large swathes of the U.S. are landlocked, so it is understandable that yachting would not have prestige in places lacking a maritime history. And while the same could likely be said for some parts of Europe, in general most Europeans live not too far from some major body of water. Even the Swiss enjoy the proximity to Lake Geneva and Lake Garda, two very popular sailing spots that attract an incredible number of boats.
By contrast, if you travel to the Eastern U.S. seaboard, particularly places with a very rich yachting tradition, like Newport, Long Island Sound, New York, and Charleston, you will find that yachts retain their well-deserved status as dream objects for many people. Traveling east through Long Island Sound, one is impressed by the number of yacht clubs sprinkled along both sides - Larchmont, American, Marmaroneck, Oyster Bay, Newport, Marion, Hyannis Port, etc. In those places, you find a significant number of people investing in sailboats and, for the most part, actively using them.
Admittedly, the economic downturn of the past 5 years has put a damper on the entire industry, though with a few bright spots - e.g., the explosion of the new J 70 class, and the relative health of sport boats in general. In Long Island Sound, big boat racing has suffered, particularly in IRC - recent attendance at the popular American YC "Spring Series" was down significantly this month, for example. And, from what I can tell, not a lot of new boats are coming into the area, though, again, I think this is largely the economy.
One area where the U.S. lags far behind Europe, however, is in corporate sponsorship of sailing events. Apart from the Americas Cup (which, to be quite honest, couldn't do what it does without massive infusions of private money), corporations are not inclined to spend their marketing dollars on a sport which, in terms of demographics, is a decidedly niche market. Meanwhile, in Europe (at least until recently, since there, too, they are feeling the cold economic winds blowing), many of the largest corporations spend millions of euros on sponsorsing all manner of local, regional and international yachting events. If you caught the start and finish of the recently concluded Vendée Globe RTW Race, there were almost 300K fans in attendance, and at least that many probably passed through the event compound in the weeks leading up to the start. The event also attracted millions and millions of media "impressions" through TV, radio, print and Internet channels.
Frankly, there is nothing comparable to this in the United States, where the largest events - e.g., Key West Race Week, St. Francis YC Big Boat Series and the NYYC events - attract almost no attention outside specialty media, and rely on the largesse of a handful of sponsors like Rolex and Audi.
And if you'll allow me a personal reflection, I frankly believe that American culture has lost the appetite and appreciation for the kind of adventurous spirit that sailing embodies. Today, kids idolize the "money" sports like basketball, baseball and American football, or lose themselves in the virtual realities of video games. While the same is perhaps true in Europe, I suspect there remains there a stronger fascination with the lure of the sea, with many entities in place to promote that fascination and help make it a reality.
In a way, corporations actually do their part to promote the sailing ethos. I can tell you for sure that MACIF's return-on-investment for François Gabart's Vendee campaign was massive (pun), not simply because he won the race in very exciting fashion, but because he is, in my opinion, the living embodiment of what every parent would want their child to be. And you could make a long list of similar figures - sailing role models, if you will. I challenge you to make a comparable list of American sailors today. I'm not saying they don't exist - although the entire roster of Oracle Team USA contains only 2 Americans - but they are not promoted as part of a sailing lifestyle that parents would want their children to embrace.
Anyway, this is way too long and in the wrong forum. My apologies for hijacking the thread. Back to very interesting boats.