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Enter the Giga-Yacht

Throw away your measuring tape, as the trend in super- and megayachts is toward the ever more superlative, over-the-top, out-of-this-world.

October 4, 2007
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What in blue blazers is going on in the yachting world? Big yachts getting bigger-so big they’re calving submarines. Big yachts looking like small yachts-enormous versions of what are essentially open and express cruisers. Yards and builders getting bigger. Heck, even owners getting bigger, with larger-than-life characters: American and Arab and Russian and Chinese. (Which of course means the bodyguards are getting bigger, too.) Wherever you look today, yachts are straining to escape the bounds of gravity and even at times credibility, and as we try to put our arms around these trends, the word that comes to mind isn’t super, or mega…but giga.

We have entered the era of the gigayacht. And here are the trends to prove it.

Supersize It!

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Big yachts are getting bigger. The increase in length is an easy statistic to use, but it doesn’t tell the story by far. When you go from 150 feet to 300 feet, it is not twice the yacht, but closer to six times as large in terms of interior volume, tonnage, complexity and cost. As I stood in Oceanco’s yard a few years ago, gazing at the 312-foot Al Mirqab, one of the builder’s staff could not help making the obvious comparison with two smaller superyachts floating alongside. “How’d you like to be the owner of one of those, and arrive to see your new 170-footer looking like a runabout?”

The last year or two has seen several launches of yachts that would dwarf Al Mirqab, including Octopus (410 feet) and Pelorus (377 feet), both from Lürssen. Although recent months have been short on announcements of such megamonster deliveries, they have not gone away. Often bound by draconian secrecy clauses, the builders refuse to talk about these supersized superyachts, but a few clues escape.

Lürssen recently delivered Northern Star (210 feet) and Air (300 feet), and a 453-footer is reported from the yard this year as well. (For more on Northern Star, see this month’s Superyacht Report.) Besides her length, Air is newsworthy for her propulsion system. With no gearing, shafts or rudders, she is powered by eight diesel generators. The generators supply electrical power to a pair of electric motors directly driving propellers. The motors are encased outside the hull in watertight pods that rotate for steering, hence azimuthing, giving rise to the name: Azipods. The advent of such systems, and the technical reasoning behind them, was foretold by Yachting in our June, 2001 issue (“The Pod Squad”); expect to see more of them.

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Germany doesn’t have a complete monopoly on the large ladies, but it certainly seems to be in the lead. In addition to the Lürssen deliveries, both Blohm + Voss and HDW have delivered significant yachts in the past and are actively promoting new projects at this time. Blohm + Voss launched the 344-foot Lady Moura in 1991 and, with Lürssen, the 525-foot Golden Star/ Platinum more recently. Latest information from Blohm + Voss shows their Project M-147, a 482-foot yacht that carries a helicopter topside, a drydock for the tender at the stern and a submarine garage integrated into the hull. Design is by Hermidas Atabeyki.

HDW grabbed the headlines several years ago with the 452-foot Mipos, now Al Salamah. A more recent delivery is the 303-foot Tatoosh, owned by Paul Allen as he worked his way up another 100 feet to Octopus. More recent information from HDW shows Crystal Ball, a strikingly modern 460-footer with a glass-enclosed superstructure. She is from the boards at francisdesign.

In addition to the German yards, two of Holland’s builders have toyed with the big time. Amels Holland has built yachts into the 250-foot range and with its huge Schelde yard, a former naval shipyard, was negotiating at one point for a 525-foot yacht. Feadship, amid strict secrecy, delivered the 282-foot Ecstasea last year and is busy completing facilities and hiring workers for a third yard intended for even larger yachts.

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While U.S. builders are not yet knocking at the door with 300- and 400-footers, they are closing in on 200 feet. Trinity Yachts launched the 180-foot Mia Elise this spring, the largest steel-hulled displacement yacht built in North America in the past 75 years. Palmer Johnson’s La Baronessa, launched several years ago, was 195 feet, and even the fiberglass builders, including Delta Marine and Christensen Yachts, have grown beyond 150 feet recently, continuing to push the limits of the material.

Let’s drop the top and party…

Not only are big yachts getting bigger, smaller ones are getting bigger, too, while keeping that sportboat feel. Open day boats and express cruisers have crept past 100 feet with 108-foot models from both San Lorenzo and Sunseeker. Not content with that, Pershing and Riva have pushed upward to 115 feet with fiberglass yachts and Codecasa with aluminum models, last year’s Maria Carla being the first issue with a second delivered this spring.

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More traditional motoryachts, large and small, are opening up to the great outdoors as well, with sliding and convertible tops and glass aft bulkheads that retract to create huge alfresco areas; many are adopting sleek superstructure lines that mimic the day boats. The Azimut 116, Palmer Johnson’s 120-foot Cover Drive and Baglietto’s 135-foot Just Cavalli are but three examples.

…But party sensibly

While yachting has the reputation of a relatively carefree recreational pastime, security concerns cannot be overlooked. Royal yachts have long had various levels of protection quietly built into them. One, to my personal knowledge, has a very secure area deep within the hull that quarters a couple-dozen commandos, very serious-looking individuals who constantly monitor a bulkhead full of video screens and alarm panels, ready to react to any threat. Another has been rumored to carry SAM missiles. Most far-out claim (in Vanity Fair, so add salt): that Paul Allen was offered torpedoes on Octopus, but declined.

Private yachtsmen with lesser concerns nevertheless are facing a changing reality and adding increasingly sophisticated monitoring and alarm systems. It is not unusual for crew members to take training in defensive skills, or even for a crew cabin, or perhaps the “nanny cabin” adjacent to the owner’s suite, to be occupied by a bodyguard. At least one super-sailboat has been built with bullet-resistant glass and with Kevlar laminated into the deckhouse, not for structural strength but for ballistic protection. Safes and gun lockers are not new, but they are becoming more common, and while we’ve not been able to confirm it, there are rumors of virtually impenetrable “safe rooms” aboard some superyachts.

The Russians are coming, and the Chinese, too

Russians are getting into yachting in a big way. Ecstasea, the 282-foot Feadship, is the third smallest-yes, “smallest”-yacht owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. The other two are Le Grand Bleu, a 354-footer originally built for John McCaw by Bremer Vulkan, and Pelorus, the 377-foot Lürssen. Other Russian oil barons have also dabbled in the realm of megayachts, but changes in both the oil and yacht markets and in the domestic political situation leave the realities of some current ownerships a bit muddled.

At the lower end of the size range, from more modest superyachts on down to 40-footers, sales are booming in Russia. Most of the early yachts were imported, but now domestic shipyards are starting to take up the slack. Marinas are being developed to moor the yachts and there is at least one Russian-produced yachting magazine to satisfy the growing demand for news and information.

Not to be outdone, and spurred by a booming economy, the Chinese are taking an increasing interest in yachting. Far East builders such as Cheoy Lee have established new yards in mainland China, but it is not only the builders that are involved. While Chinese ownership of superyachts is limited, they have taken an interest, much like the Russians, in chartering on both an individual and a corporate basis. One broker recently reported what is thought to be a first: a Chinese company chartering a superyacht to entertain clients in Cannes.

Love means never leaving a friend ashore

The Russians and Chinese are only the latest converts to the joys of chartering, and the selection of yachts available is broader and more numerous than ever. Almost all of the new superyachts are built to MCA safety standards in order to qualify for charter service, whether initially intended for that service or not. International treaties limit the number of charter guests to 12 in many cases, but with the supersizing of yachts, it’s a limit that does not enable the owner to take full advantage of the yacht’s interior volume. To overcome that restriction, some new charter yachts are being built to tougher passenger ship standards and are carrying up to 36 guests. That’s a boatload.

Built by Greece’s Neorion Shipyard to a detailed specification by Liveras Yachts, and with design by Alpha Marine and H. Poulias, the 280-foot Annaliese was delivered last year in time for the summer Olympics. Her sister Alysia was completed this year, and another 36-passenger charter yacht for Liveras, the 295-foot Mia, will be completed in 2007. With the enthusiastic response they have enjoyed toward the first two yachts, the company is busy working on plans for a 351-footer, Eleni D.

Alysia has a 1,300-square-foot master suite, plus an adjoining twin-berth stateroom for children or personal staff, on a private owner’s deck. A VIP stateroom is situated on the bridgedeck, as is a twin-berth special-needs cabin that has wide doors and a special shower room. Ten additional guest staterooms are on the main deck, and four more are located on the upper deck. Whether dining inside or out, all 36 guests can be seated at once.

Oh, cabaña boy…

The level of amenities aboard Alysia, equaling those of the world’s best resorts, is perhaps a step above many yachts, but such pampering is becoming more common. Nanny cabins and owner offices are appearing on many superyachts, as are wine cellars, spas and gymnasiums. Entertainment systems often allow on-demand viewing for each stateroom from a selection of hundreds of movies, and audio libraries can be customized to each guest’s preferences.

Alysia still goes them one better, though, and a peek at her crew list gives a clue. In addition to the captain, mates and engineers, she carries nine in the steward’s department, a chef plus three in the galley, a nurse, a masseuse, a beauty therapist and two laundry staff. Her wine cellar has a capacity of 500 bottles, and is temperature and humidity controlled. Her laundry is open around the clock. She has no mere gym, but rather a health center with a multi-gym, treadmill, rowing and cycling machines, and free weights. For guests who are a bit out of shape, the post-relaxation/treatment areas-one for men and one for women-each include a sauna, steam room, cold plunge pool, whirlpool spa and shower. There’s also a beauty salon, facial/body treatment area and massage room. For guests who are seriously out of shape but can’t resist the gym anyway, Alysia offers her twin-berth medical suite with a nurse on call 24 hours a day.

All that pampering is nearly irresistible, but for those who just can’t leave the working world behind, she has a business center on the bridgedeck with an internal LAN for connecting computers and peripherals. There’s a digital PBX phone system with ISDN capability, with a total of 80 lines, five of which are satellite ship-to-shore connections via Inmarsat.

Sail away

Sailboats are getting bigger, too, and a lot more sophisticated. Wally Yachts just signed a 100-foot version of their innovative Y3K, and has a 143-footer in the works, too. Vitters will soon be delivering the 180-foot Adele. The typographically challenged MITseaAH, a 157-footer built by Pendennis, has a variable-geometry hull bottom that allows her to plane under power. Mirabella, 247 feet and built by VT Shipbuilding, carries all her sail in a sloop configuration with the world’s tallest mast. Athena, a classically styled three-masted schooner, is at 295 feet the world’s largest private sailing yacht since the Great Depression; the Royal Huisman beauty cannot be sailed without her complex and powerful hydraulic sailhandling system. To be launched later this year is Perini Navi’s 286-foot Maltese Falcon. She will definitely be an attention grabber with her DynaRig sail plan, looking something akin to a Star Wars square-rigger.

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