Custom Heesen Lady Petra

When Frans Heesen decided that he wanted a boat for his retirement, it's no surprise that he selected Heesen Yachts as the builder. With 154-foot motoryacht Lady Petra, Heesen Yachts charts new waters for its most exacting client yet. Feature from our December 2012 issue.

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Two years ago we reviewed 4YOU, a 154-foot motoryacht built by Heesen Yachts. Today, we report on our visit aboard Lady Petra, another 154-foot motoryacht from Heesen. Except for the overall length and the quality of the build, these two yachts are strikingly different. The earlier yacht was all-aluminum and employed a semidisplacement hull form and powerful engines to achieve a top speed of 24 knots. Lady Petra, by contrast, has a steel displacement hull, and with engines producing less than half the power of 4YOU's, tops out at 15.5 knots, which is more suitable for the owners' extended cruising agenda.Jeff Brown / Heesen Yachts

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Perhaps more remarkable than the differences between the two yachts, however, is the identity of Lady Petra's owners. They are none other than Frans Heesen, founder of the shipyard, and his wife, Petra. They are the proud parents of three grown children and the grandparents of seven, so following the sale of the shipyard and Frans' retirement, they commissioned a yacht to travel the world with their family.Jeff Brown / Heesen Yachts

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Frans Heesen founded Heesen Yachts in 1978 intent on building the world’s fastest yachts. His demanding clientele couldn’t find what they wanted in a market dominated by steel displacement yachts built for long-range cruising. The Dutch yard has come full circle, not giving up its specialty in the higher-speed arena, but adding a series of displacement yachts to round out its portfolio. It was clear during my visit that one of the new designs had caught the eye and heart of the patriarch, a man who has lived most of his life at a fast pace, on land and water alike. I had a rare and exclusive opportunity for a one-on-one with a more relaxed Frans Heesen as he and Petra watched the bustle of the Monaco Yacht Show from _Lady Petra’_s spacious and well-appointed afterdeck.Jeff Brown / Heesen Yachts

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We shared a drink and a trip down memory lane, recalling Heesen’s start in the industry. First came his purchase of the yard, which was then building aluminum sport-fishermen under the Stryker name, and then the formation of Diaship for building fast motoryachts, which was my first brush with the imposing yet affable Dutchman. Soon thereafter, he made the provident decision to take full control and put his own name on the yachts he was building, and the results have been remarkably successful. The yard has grown to encompass nearly 500,000 square feet and has built more than 150 yachts. Today many of these vessels are designed on standard platforms, but nevertheless, each one is a true custom creation suited to the desires of her owner.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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Heesen — man and company — built their reputation by being unafraid to try something a little different. Different never meant reckless, however, as the advances were always backed by solid engineering and planning, and then executed with skill and precision. First, it was building yachts that were faster than others, including a number that set records for their speed, all without sacrificing comfort or seaworthiness. The innovations continue today, and there is no reason to expect them to stop any time soon (see “The Wizard of Wings” on page 33 of our December 2012 issue).David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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The Heesen family yacht is no exception. While her engineering and construction are largely traditional, with well-proven features, the interior arrangement and decor of_ Lady Petra_ explore new frontiers. I had an opportunity to share an extended tour of the yacht with her designer, Dickie Bannenberg of Bannenberg & Rowell Design. The company's studio is in London, England, not far from where his father, the legendary Jon Bannenberg, penned so many innovative yacht designs a generation ago.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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Jon Bannenberg's Carinthia VI, built in 1973 and perfectly proportioned with a blue hull stretching 233 feet, is still considered one of the most beautiful yachts ever built. She was so perfect that owners Helmut and Heidi Horten kept her for more than 30 years. Dickie Bannenberg's work for the Heesens proves that the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

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Embracing what Bannenberg calls “Dutch industrial design references,” he has created an interior that defies convention. Dutch design, as a recognized genre, has been described as minimalist, experimental and quirky among other things. True to form, Lady Petra bears these hallmarks.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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Frans Heesen made his livelihood working in a Dutch industrial setting, so it seems appropriate that the predominant theme running throughout his yacht’s interior is that of perforated gray steel plates, angles and flat bars — elements more often found in heavy-duty shelving and modular construction. It’s used extensively in trim, combined to satisfying effect with finer and more expected materials such as mirrors, gray marble, honey onyx, dark-varnish mahogany, polished stainless steel, supple leather and pale brushed spruce.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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It takes a masterful hand to combine these materials without making the interior look disjointed, but Bannenberg & Rowell has succeeded admirably, creating a mood that I found surprisingly comfortable and relaxing in spite of the overtly industrial intent. Their talents extend beyond the decor, however; they worked closely with the Heesen family to create an arrangement that defines what a custom yacht should be: perfectly suited to the owners’ lifestyle.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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In the case of the Heesen family — and make no mistake, this is, first and foremost, a family yacht — Bannenberg explained that the couple’s cruising most often includes some or all of the extended family. The main salon with dining area is magnificently large and open, but each section is defined by slatted overhead light-diffusion panels of differing heights. A small entry hall aft and a larger central foyer forward anchor the area, with a spiral stair spanning the lower, main and upper decks, so that guests can be welcomed whether the yacht is moored alongside or stern-to.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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One important detail was so subtly executed and so completely integrated into the overall decor that it totally escaped my notice until Bannenberg pointed it out. A chair lift travels along the stair from the main to the upper deck, with the track blending so smoothly into the overall industrial theme that it seems just another styling element until you open the cabinet concealing the chair at the upper deck. A duplicate installation, again with the function seeming almost secondary to the form, serves all three upper decks at the starboard exterior stairway. This goal could have been accomplished with an elevator, but that would have consumed a great deal more interior volume. In Heesen tradition, it’s an innovation that sets a new benchmark.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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Forward past the central foyer on the main deck, I expected to see a large and luxurious master suite. Instead, we arrived at a full-beam space that ashore would be called a family room. It combines a study and exercise area aft and a media room forward, where two angled white leather sofas face a 65-inch screen. It’s easy to visualize all of the adults comfortably seated, with grandkids snuggled closely or sprawled across the deck with their movie snacks.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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Lying between the family room and the foyer are the galley and, to starboard, a large twin cabin that is “multipurpose,” to use Bannenberg’s term, equally suitable for a couple of family members, a guest chef or a nanny as the need dictates.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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Belowdecks, four spacious staterooms await their guests. Two have twin berths plus a pullman, and two have queen berths. They are of equal size and similarly appointed. As Bannenberg says, “What parent wants to decide which of their children is the VIP or, more importantly, which is not?”David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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The Heesens’ master suite, with an adjustable king-plus-size berth and a private breakfast room, is located abaft the wheelhouse and captain’s cabin on the upper deck, commanding one of the best views afloat. A clever arrangement with three stairs and no side decks amidships allows unobtrusive access to working areas for the crew, and direct routes to public dining and lounging areas forward and aft for the guests, while maintaining complete privacy for Frans and Petra Heesen.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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The top deck, with its whirlpool spa and multiple dining areas, is a sun worshipper’s paradise. Even the most bronzed of tanning devotees, however, needs a break, and that’s when the sail shades, forward of and abaft the central hardtop, come out. They are held aloft by removable columns that are constructed of carbon fiber for strength, stiffness and light weight. Tenders are stowed forward on the upper deck as well as in a stern beach club.David Churchill / Heesen Yachts

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Lady Petra is a tribute to Heesen Yachts and to Bannenberg & Rowell Design, but perhaps most of all to Frans and Petra Heesen, experienced owners who knew exactly what they wanted and weren't afraid to break a few rules to get it. She is a refreshing reminder that one can depart from the ordinary while still remaining within the mainstream of modern yacht design and construction. It's a great formula for success, one that Heesen — man and company — seem to have perfected.Jeff Brown / Heesen Yachts