Into the great beyond
In all walks of life there are those who prefer the comforts of home, and then there are adventurers. In yachting, the majority of enthusiasts are drawn into the high society of the sea, a kind of elevated cadre of schmoozing and entertainment, still visible to the hoi polloi, and definitely within walking distance of the shops. But there are others who simply want to discover the world. And for those who do, there are yachts designed with expedition in mind.
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Think of superyachts and many people's first idea will be of luxury vessels, sat neatly in glamourous ports in Spain or France. But now there are a new breed, designed not just for marinas – but to venture out into the great unknown.
There are dozens of yachts in the world that have been thought of as ‘explorer,’ though in truth, few of these are in fact true, go-anywhere vessels with the capacity needed to be self-sufficient from port.
The first and most important characteristic of a true explorer yacht, is the composure and determination of the vessel’s owner, crew and guests— the vessel should be defined by the ambitions of those aboard. Once the ambitions are set, what quickly becomes key is storage of fuel and food: the ability to remain self-sufficient for weeks or months at a time. In the past several years, a number of yachts have emerged that redefine what an explorer yacht can be: Big Fish, Galileo G, Pegaso, Enigma XK, SuRi, and Yersin.
McMullen & Wing’s Big Fish, designed by Greg Marshall, was designed for her owner to provide a sleek, modern platform from which to explore the farthest reaches of the world’s oceans. Proven systems and technology was paramount to the planning – everything that went into Big Fish, from gearboxes and navigation systems to water makers and electrical components, were selected for trouble-free cruising and independence from shore-side repair facilities.
Her main engines were selected for their reliability, being long lasting, fuel efficient and low-maintenance models. Their oil system needs changing twice a year, and with 92,000 litres of fuel (about 40 per cent more than most vessels of equivalent size), her cruising range at eight knots is well over 9,000nm, which means she can remain at anchor off remote islands for up to three months at a time. The build team even calculated storage for the required volume of oranges that would provide guests with fresh orange juice each morning for weeks.
The magical sharktooth mountains of Moorea, just a short sail across the Sea of the Moon from Tahiti
Perhaps one of the most obvious badges of exploration-readiness a yacht can carry is an ice class notation in its classification documents, which establish strict criteria with which to categorise and insure vessels. Of the handful of yachts that have voyaged to Antarctica, Greenland, Svalbard or through the Northwest Passage, few have actually been ice class. Galileo G, the 55 metre Picchiotti Vitruvius is Ice Class 1B, which despite the nomenclature, does not qualify her as an ice-breaker. Yet the yacht is winterised with reinforcing in the hull for navigating comparatively thin, first year ice. She carries ice-detection sonar, has ice knives on the rudders, specialised props, a powerful bow thruster for manoeuvring between ice floes and heated gaskets for hatches, doors and other exposed equipment like life rafts. Her watermakers have their own heat exchanger to warm up the water to 5°C before it is circulated around the yacht, while her distinctively large satellite dome houses a dish that connects the yacht to the global communication grid up to and beyond 70° North and South.
The question of explorer yachts looks a curious one. Take for example the 2012 research vessel Pegaso from Freire Shipyard in Vigo, Spain. A massively capable, go-anywhere boat, styled to look not out of place alongside any of the 70 metre gin palaces in Cannes. Her looks go against the perceived notion of what a research vessel should be – she’s sleek, white and resplendent with cascading aft decks, festooned with awnings and lounge furniture: the very opposite of a commercial trawler or ocean-going tug. Lone Ranger is perhaps the most memorable example of this other approach to explorer styling. She is a 77.5 metre salvage tug built by Schichau Unterweser AG in Germany, converted into something of a camouflaged luxury yacht, in the mid-90s, for her owner who simply had a penchant for rough-and-ready looking boats.
Pegaso is proof that in yachting, form does not always have to reflect function. Much of the appeal of explorer yachts lies precisely in their rugged styling and the promise of adventure in the same way a Porsche Cayenne or Range Rover hints at off-road capabilities. But a rugged looking explorer yacht has one advantage over its white boat cousins – they manage to avoid recognition of what they really are because they still look like fishing vessels. And in the realm of the explorer, keeping a low profile and running figuratively below the radar is crucial.
The Amazon river can now be safely navigated up to at least Manaus, 900 miles from the Atlantic Ocean
A helicopter on board allows for aerial expeditions and awe-inspiring vantage points for photography
One of the best examples of hard-edged explorers that still manage to convey a splash of luxury include Enigma XK, a former Scottish fisheries research vessel that was lovingly rebuilt to accommodate luxury guests on worldwide tours to remote regions. She retains her workaday interior deck heights—no lofty staterooms here—but has been redesigned both inside and out with a modern twist that elevates the experience of the vessel to something distinctly considered and beautiful.
Plans for two former offshore supply vessels, code-named Leviathan and Goliath are underway at an undisclosed location in the Middle East, and provide another angle on how former workboats can be reconceived as autonomous and luxurious pleasure platforms. The conversions will include a change in the vessels’ profiles to more stylish and contemporary looking plumb bows and two-metre extensions on the transoms to create broad, open swim platforms and access points to the water. Most of the lower deck tankage will be removed, providing enormous volume for fuel and other storage, thus giving the vessels range exceeding 10,000nm—nearly twice across the mid-Atlantic.
Again, the focus is on independence, with design considerations given to huge food and refrigeration stores. Deck hatches have been incorporated to allow supplies to be craned down on their shipping palettes. Leviathan and Goliath will have refuelling capabilities for both the helicopter and the sport fisher boats. The layout provides in excess of 1,000m² for 12 guests, while space for 30 crew is planned, including service staff cabins arranged for those who will form part of the entourage which will arrive and depart with the boss.
Up-close encounters with most large marine creatures happen only in relatively secluded, remote locations.
The client is a tremendous fishing enthusiast and when he realised that remote, deep ocean locales provide the greatest opportunity for exhilarating sport, he sought vessels he could leave on station for a couple of months, then join with friends as his schedule allows.
In the case of a new build, as with a conversion, the choice of shipyard is paramount. New build clients must feel the yard they choose has the technical capability to deliver the project they’ve envisioned with a level of technical superiority that invokes total confidence. The recently delivered Yersin, built by Chantier Piriou in Concarneau, France, is an example of a relationship between an owner and shipyard based on close interaction and an understanding of price, quality and performance.
Yersin is an innovative 76.6 metre vessel designed to operate safely and comfortably in ambient temperatures of between –20°C and +50°C, which is a first for a private yacht. A diesel-electric drive train is coupled to Schottel twin-propeller pods for full dynamic positioning capability, augmented by a powerful pump jet instead of a bow thruster. The relatively shallow draft hull for navigating shoal waters is reinforced to Ice Class 1C criteria. Passenger ship-certified with two laboratories, a media room, an infirmary, landing craft and an array of other winterised tenders, the result is a multipurpose vessel that combines the comfort of a superyacht with the go-anywhere vocation of an explorer and the scientific facilities of a research ship.
Along with the ambitions of the owner, crew and guests, true explorer yachts should also have added capacity for personnel such as guides, scientists, ice pilots and expedition leaders who can join a voyage and enhance the experience for the owner and guests. Another upgrade is a top-shelf, go-anywhere tender with long-range capability and rugged, easily repairable machinery.
But in truth, the styling, capacities, and tools a vessel has aboard are merely extensions of a true sailor or seaman’s approach to going to sea in search of adventure. Self-sufficiency, ingenuity, preparedness and courage are the most important attributes of a true adventurer—attributes which ideally, lie at the heart of all true yachtsmen.