Bon vivants will always have their free-flowing Champagne and Saint Tropez docking spots, but a new generation of yachters is taking high-end boating to a whole new place—and it isn’t always easy to get there.
One of the growing trends in boating is adventure travel on the high seas, made possible by the rise of the “explorer” superyacht, a specially outfitted vessel capable of sailing to the farthest ends of the earth, carrying enough high-tech gadgetry on board to give a James Bond villain a run for his money.
For the luxury market, Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, heralded the trend in 2003 with his 414-foot expedition ship Octopus, which is still the world’s largest explorer yacht.. It accommodates 26 guests and, among other amenities, features a basketball court, a recording studio and a cinema. Its explorer bona fides are evident in the two helicopter landing pads and the two submarines on board, one of which carries 10 people.
“Clients tend to be a bit younger than they used to be,” said Veronika Schmid, a yacht designer and a principal in New York-based Gill Schmid Design. “They don’t want to sit in port in Monaco and be seen. They want to experience different parts of the world. They want their vessels to perform in a multitude of ways.”
Technical advances in shipbuilding and the desires of a new crop of owners more comfortable with displays of wealth are driving a couple of changes in superyachts. Many of the new superyachts are greener, sleeker and definitely bigger than older ones.
Mystique by Gill Schmid Design
The Rise of the Megayacht
The 200-foot yacht, “what we used to think of as normal,” said Brooklyn yacht designer Carl Persak, is being dwarfed by the penchant for megayachts. The longest yacht in the world, built in 2013, is Azzam, which at 591 feet is nearly 100 feet longer than Allen’s Octopus, itself once the record holder.
Though nobody knows how or where the superyacht will top out in size, Mr. Persak said the impetus to push the envelope in design concepts is in and of itself a trend—generally a welcome one.
“We’re definitely seeing an acceptance of some level of daring,” said Mr. Persak, a naval architect and partner in the design firm of Persak & Wurmfeld. “Ten years ago, maybe even less, people would put out some extraordinary ideas, and a lot of other people would turn up their noses. These days, those same people are willing to push the envelope in all kinds of directions.”
A prime example of the new boldness is Sailing Yacht A, whose radical design divided the yachting world before even launching last year. Designed by Philippe Stark for Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko, the ship was likened to something from “Darth Vader’s navy” by one critic. The world’s ninth longest yacht at 469 feet, it sits aggressively in the water owing to its wedge-like silhouette. The superyacht appears all the more massive due to nearly invisible windows. Most striking, or incongruous, depending on your take, is its three 100-foot masts for sails that can be hoisted to assist the vessel’s hybrid propulsion system.
Sailing Yacht A, Philippe Starck (starck.com)
Sailing Yacht A, Philippe Starck (starck.com)
Though the idea of an efficient superyacht seems a contradiction in terms, a number of innovations beyond more fuel efficient engines and hybrid propulsion systems are making their way into some newly built yachts. “People are embracing these efforts and want the industry to go that way,” said Jim Evans, director of SuperYachtsMonaco, a brokerage and charter firm.
Many of the innovations are trickling down from advances in commercial shipbuilding. “In the shipping industry there has been a lot of work done to harvest every possible BTU that machine makes. There’s been a lot of heat waste recovery ideas and water recovery ideas,” Mr. Persak said. “An example is exhaust gas that leaves the ship. They will do things like try to heat water with that gas, so it leaves the ship cooler and you get warm water.”
Expedition superyachts are particularly suitable to some of the new systems, which help them stay at sea for several weeks, allowing the passengers on board time to explore icebergs or go heli-skiing or diving in remote seas.
For instance, the explorer yachts carry systems to make potable water, said Crispin Baynes, a broker in the New York office of Burgess, a worldwide brokerage and charter firm.
“And now, because of some of the protected waters that people want to go to, a lot of the yachts compact all of their own waste and do all of their own waste processing—nothing goes outside the vessel,” he said.
Gill Schmid Design made a splash in the yachting press last year, when the firm revealed plans for the 250-foot ice class explorer ship Mystique, designed at the behest of a gastronomically inclined client. Along with an amphibious lightweight aircraft, a submersible and a catamaran, the vessel will carry a solar-powered fish farm, hydroponic garden and food lab. The vessel is to be built over three years in Germany by Doerries Yachts.
“With the explorers, what we try to do is give a sense of sustainability,” Schmid said, noting increased interest in explorer yachts the last two to three years.
Trends Inside and Out
Beyond the wow factor of superyachts’ increasing size and ever-more attention-grabbing features, a few less flashy changes are afoot.
The plumb bow—a bow that drops straight into the water rather than at an angle—is emerging as a popular fashion for newly built superyachts, said Chris Cecil-Wright, owner of the London-based brokerage and charter agency Cecil Wright. “And long boats are the trend at the moment, so instead of going for big fat boats with loads of decks and loads and loads of interior volume, you find boats tend to be lower and sleeker,” he added.
And even though the interior may be smaller in volume, the space may actually feel larger due to the movement toward open-plan living areas on yachts. Interiors are beginning to look more like modern penthouses, with floor-to-ceiling windows at water’s edge.
“Both myself and my partner, we’re architects, so we’re very much into this idea of open-plan living,” Mr. Schmid said. “It’s more multi-functional, more flexible.” As such, Mr. Schmid said, a 180-foot vessel can end up carrying the same amenities as a traditionally laid out 240-foot boat that “is very compartmentalized, every space with a specific function.”
“I’ve walked on some really big yachts and they feel small on the inside because you’re kind of walking through a little maze of rooms,” Mr. Persak said. “So this is like what people want in their homes, less of a barrier between the outside and the inside, and once you’re inside it’s just more expansive. And that feels good.”