Bigger, Faster, Sexier, Safer

29 Jun 2016
5 min read
With summer fast approaching it’s time to start thinking about putting your sails up. Cutting-edge design, technology and systems are making superyachts more spectacular than ever, writes Kim Kavin in FOUR’s Luxury supplement…

As surprising as it sounds, a megayacht able to hit 30-plus knots of speed is no longer a rarity on the world’s waters. The new Mangusta 132 out of Italy can do it, as can the new Flying Sport 102 from Rodriguez Group in France. Even the new 90 Sunreef Power can do it, and she’s a catamaran built in Poland, where yachting tradition is far less storied.

When megayachts become superyachts, though, growing longer than 150 feet, speed is often sacrificed to achieve exponential increases in volume. If you want a yacht that can hold, say, a private cinema, a gymnasium and enough cabins for two dozen crew, then the hull needs to be a lot longer and wider—and heavier and harder to push through the water. That’s why Seven Seas, the 282-foot Oceanco owned by film director Steven Spielberg, tops out at 20 knots. Serene, the 439-foot Fincantieri owned by Russian vodka distributor Yuri Scheffler, also has a top speed of 20 knots. And Eclipse, the 536-foot Blohm + Voss built for Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, has a maximum speed of about 22 knots.

There was thus great surprise this summer when sea trials began for Azzam, a brand-new Lürssen that, at 590ft long, now ranks as the world’s largest superyacht. Her sheer size was of course dumbfounding as she emerged from the German shipyard, heading into the North Sea, where reports soon leaked that she had achieved 31.5 knots—the fastest speed ever believed to be recorded for a superyacht of more than 300 feet long. Apparently, that’s what having a staggering 94,000 horsepower onboard will do for you.

“Yacht owners look for something that makes their vessel unique, something that makes it stand out from the rest, to make it as individual as they are,” says Ray Steele, the London-based director of Burgess Technical Services and leader of the technical team on Azzam’s project management. “Cutting-edge technology is one way of achieving this. Azzam represents the very ultimate in innovation in this respect, from her propulsion to her electronic systems and the uniqueness of her design.”

Azzam is just one example of a superyacht breaking new boundaries these days. From design elements such as fold-out decks to décor options previously reserved for the wildest imaginations to onboard security systems that thwart armed pirates, superyachts continue to redefine the meaning of the word ultimate.

Take, for instance, the 164-foot Big Star, a $30-million superyacht being built at McMullen & Wing in New Zealand. She has a superstructure wrapped in glass panels, like a ring of windows around the entire top of the yacht. It’s a design element that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.

“We’re using a lot of photochromic glass, where you can control the tint from near-blackout to pretty much clear and everything in between,” says Gregory C. Marshall, the British Columbia-based naval architect who designed Big Star. “That allows you to do things like put floor-to-ceiling glass around a pilothouse, where you wouldn’t have done that before because you’d have baked the poor guy at the helm. We can put sensors around the boat so that as the sun is moving around, the tint on the vessel is changing. It allows you to create structures that you wouldn’t have dared before.”

Yet another design trend, Marshall says, is indoor-outdoor spaces such as fold-out terraces and water-level beach clubs that start at a yacht’s swim platform and continue inside, with seating areas and bars where things like tenders and jet skis used to be stowed. Owners want their superyachts to be ever more enormous, but at the same time, they are realising that they don’t want to lose the feeling of being onboard a boat.

“As these boats get bigger and bigger, you get more and more removed from the water experience,” Marshall says. “We’re seeing big push back with things like fold-out platforms and beach clubs. What drives those features is a desire to get closer to the water.”

Dickie Bannenberg of London-based Bannenberg & Rowell Design sees the same trend. His firm did the interior décor aboard the just-launched, 213-foot Heesen Galactica Star in the Netherlands. She has a water-level indoor-outdoor beach club that includes a steam room and sauna. Above, on the main deck is a plunge pool with a glass bottom, connecting the two areas to let water and light surround guests.

“On yachts 60 meters [196 feet] and above, there is a much greater sense of connection with your environment and the sea,” Bannenberg says. “Fold-out balconies and terraces, beach clubs and spas, those kinds of spaces are coming out of the background from where they were often squeezed into a space that might have been a garage or a technical space serving a double purpose. They’re becoming a separate space with more attention to their individual design.”

Indoors, meanwhile, the trend has become literally anything that yacht owners’ desire. Whereas the largest yachts of yesteryear looked like matching gentlemen’s clubs, today’s superyacht interiors resemble everything from modern-art museums to decadent palaces. Bannenberg describes the interior aboard Galactica Star as “cool, de-saturated, quite minimal and stripped back,” while comparing it to the just as beautiful, but far more opulent, 200-foot Benetti Diamonds Are Forever, which was built in Italy with interior by London-based Evan K. Marshall. Diamonds Are Forever is rich in Italian marble, onyx, gold leaf, mother of pearl and Marieux crystal, whereas Galactica Star boasts textured and layered woodwork, stainless-steel accents and contemporary fixtures.

“And for every Galactica Star, there’s plenty of people who want mahogany and blue carpets,” Bannenberg says, describing the traditional superyacht décor. “There’s room for everyone in the yachting market these days.”

All of these technological leaps and interior investments need protecting, which is why superyacht security is also evolving beyond traditional boundaries. The 241-foot Nobiskrug Mogambo, built in Germany, is just one example of a superyacht with a safe room, a space conceived for ballistics, communications and long-term use, as help can take days to arrive in some cruising locations. Such rooms are only one component of today’s superyacht security infrastructures, which include panoramic thermal cameras and algorithmic intelligence systems to monitor approaching threats within a several-mile radius, as well as acoustic-blast devices that turn back intruders without deadly force. Former military personnel may even be brought aboard in destinations where specific threats exist, such as piracy in the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Somalia, where superyachts may need to transit between seasons in the Mediterranean and South Pacific.

“Many of the people who were putting in yacht security systems in the past were AV kind of people who bought off-the-shelf systems and put them on the yacht, then walked away and left the crew to figure out how to use it,” says Brian Peterman, former commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Command and now president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.,-based security firm Command at Sea International. “The trend now is to take an almost lifetime approach to the security. When possible, we want to know the yacht’s itinerary in advance and do assessment of potential threats, and then decide what measures might even need to be enhanced.”

Perhaps most interesting of all is that today’s trends in superyacht design and systems are in fact borne of the age-old passion that inspires yacht ownership in the first place—and that may see some of the most interesting future launches arriving in even more surprising shapes and sizes.

“We’re definitely seeing the boats going bigger and bigger,” Marshall says. “Our average project 10 years ago was 100 feet. Five years ago, it was maybe 140 feet. Now it’s closing in on 200 feet. The counter to it is that we’re also seeing a lot of people who can afford the 200-footers going back to a 100-footer. They just want to go boating.”

© REX/Image Broker, Mogambo, a cruiser built by Nobiskrug, length 73.5 feet, built in 2012, French Riviera, France; Sunreef Yachts, by concept designer Robert Blazejak; AZZAM © Klaus Jordan; Big Star © McMullen & Wing. ; Big Star © McMullen & Wing; Mogambo Sun Deck lounge © Bruce Thomas; Galactic Star interior, as designed by Bannenberg & Rowell, London, images © David Churchill