Princes of Science

The year is 1876, the place is Burlington House in Mayfair, London. A group of gentlemen are discussing their passion: scientific research. Since 1854, Burlington House is occupied by the Royal Society and several other distinguished association. Most of those societies, essentially former dining clubs for gentlemen sharing a common hobby, have premises across London. The Royal Geographical society is established on Saville Row. This is definitely a posh crowd.


That same year, the HMS Challenger expedition, funded by the Royal Society, and the HMS Discovery Arctic voyage, funded by the Admiralty, laid out the foundations of modern oceanography. Likely the Discovery expedition inspired the Geographical society to fund voyages by Scott and Shackleton in the following decades on another vessel named Discovery.

In those days, navies and governments are just beginning to fund scientific research. Science had always been an expensive hobby reserved to wealthy men. Even so, funds are reserved for “useful” expeditions, such as the charting of the world’s oceans and currents. Universities are also turning towards applied sciences, but the funding for research remains scarce.

Only extremely rich men have the time and the resources to engage in real research. Because it remains private, there is no structure, but the discoveries made during that second half of the 19th Century still influence our lives today. Young king Carlos of Portugal was possibly influenced by his visit on HMS Challenger in Lisbon. He will engage four successive yachts all named “AMELIA” in oceanographic research.

His friend and correspondent Prince Albert I of Monaco shares his passion and shall also engage four consecutive yachts in research. The Prince does not stop there and funds two of the most eminent oceanographic institutes of the time, in Paris and Monaco. A few years later, Jean-Baptiste Charcot, a wealthy doctor, himself with good connection with the Vanderbilt’s and the French navy, uses his four successive yachts called “POURQUOI PAS?” in progressively ambitious scientific expeditions…

… and today, over one century later, can we see the same trend rising again?


Among the largest of luxury yachts since the late XXth century, some were converted research, or ice capable, vessels. To name a few: Olivia, Arctic P, Enigma XK, Legend…

Some actually do “expedition” in the sense that they allow their guests to reach places away from the traditional yachting scene and provide extraordinary discovering experience. Some others are simply used as yachts.

A few former patrol or scientific vessels have been modified with less luxury in mind, and thus are priced in a range that could make them affordable for governments, NGO’s , universities etc… for actual scientific work. Sarsen is one of those, although she was never very visible and appears to be now idle again.

In the “luxury” market, a few exceptions exist. One is OCTOPUS, à Paul Allen. That yacht, while offering everything an owner can wish for his own enjoyment, also boasts an impressive range of scientific tools and the versatility to go on research trips. She has already several major discoveries in her log.

Octopus’s garage… more like a hangar really

Another is YERSIN. The yacht, owned by French businessman François Fiat, has been sent on a three-year round the world scientific expedition under the auspices of Monaco Explorations and HSH Prince Albert II. The vessel is a new build and was specifically designed for scientific work.

Finally, the ultimate dream of any scientist will appear soon under the provisional name REV. That ship is the brainchild of Norwegian industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke. The project, originally planned at 160m, keeps growing as additional needs and facilities are accommodated. She should be delivered in 2020 and will also be a showcase of Norwegian knowhow. Be sure to look her up.

Finally, a little known fact: Another well known research vessel, Calypso, officially the ship of the Cousteau Society, was secretly rented out to Cdt. Cousteau for a farthing by British Millionaire and mecene Thomas Loel Guinness.


(All pictures from Google image searches)



Conversions and Refits: how does it work?

Most new build yachts are based on a specific order and reflect exactly the intentions of the owners. The designers and companies taking care of the engineering have applied the best available technology to make everything fit perfectly together.

In the case of a conversion, rebuild or refit, the end result can be disappointing. This article reviews some critical steps that can go wrong.

1. The perfect ship.

Looking at a ship, one wonders if something nice could be done with it. Then someone has a vision. This could be the perfect… (expedition yacht, party boat, support yacht for my sailing schooner…). Way too often, the project is started, meaning the vessel bought, at this stage of the reflection.

Some details are already important, such as access to the water and storage of toys. We have seen ghastly stern platforms added on very nice looking classic hulls, totally nonfunctional drop down platforms, stern or side, but also hull rebuilds that add to the beauty of a ship while giving the added access and storage spaces.

Maneuvering and parking in modern crowded marinas also impose some thought on feasibility, addition of thrusters and simply draught constraints. All this can be reflected upon while looking at a vessel alongside an odd lay berth

In an ideal world, there is a more defined project before the actual purchasing takes place. It outlines the number of guests or owner’s party, the spaces they will need and the services they will require.

(Former presidential yacht Williamsburg. She finally sank and was scrapped)

2. the project.

The project will define the flag to use, statutory status of the ship and classification society most suited. There is no ideal solution between a purely private yacht and a full-fledged passenger ship. What you can gain in tax flexibility and number of guests will be lost in ease of operation and freedom of anchorage, pilot restrictions and ISPS considerations.

The project will consider the navigation areas, meaning weather, sea states and range. The type of operations has bearing on the choice of tenders and toys, but also their handling. We have seen some serious failings on ships with beautiful tenders that could not be launched in any swell. Expedition experts will also tell you that fast launching and access to light and flexible boats is critical to not miss sightings and photo opportunities.

Does the project include a submarine, helicopter, range of jet skis and wave runners, wheeled tenders and landing barges for the cars and bikes? What about interior creature comfort? We may want a cinema, spa area, massage rooms, sauna and Turkish bath, professional gym, in and out swimming pool converting into a disco…

(Yacht refit project ROSSY ONE, from

3. The budget.

When the project is defined, it is still a dream. Putting figures onto it makes it more real. So to the question of “how much will this cost?” I would tend to reply “What everybody told you times three”. The brutal truth is that, quite often, a prospective owner gets an idea of the costs from his agents, the seller, consultants or other interested parties. Can he afford just that at a stretch, or is he happy with the possibility that the budget will treble and so will the delays? If not, go for new, or go for smaller.

It is almost impossible to factor everything in advance, and we have been involved in projects where most of the existing structure had to be scrapped to adapt to current regulations. I know of a yacht that had two successive rebuilt of her stern: one to give access to water, the next one because the first one had made her too heavy for load line regulations. There is at least one refit project on sale today with portholes so low that they will all have to be welded shut for classification, meaning loss of accommodation space.

Thinking about the budget we shall also have to consider the next step, which in my view is the most important one and must be looked into as early as possible: the operation model.

(Just a few months before, this was a “ready to use” space… think again)

4. The Model.

Assuming we know everything about the rules, type of ship, operation area etc… we still need to define the way it will happen. This regards, crew, size, appointment of spaces and so on.

The crew for instance: We know of two yachts of similar lengths, say around 80m for 12 guests, both private. One has 45 relatively cheap crew guaranteeing full time staffing of all service spaces. They are generally happy but live in conditions close to the minimum acceptable under the MLC. Chances are that they have high rotation rate and are not extremely motivated or mentored. The other has 16 crew, all in individual cabins and with great salary and social packages. The owner gets top notch service at all times as none of the crew wants to face discharge. Basically, you must kill someone to get on that yacht.

The nationality of crew will affect the mood on board, costs of flying the crew home and back, accessibility for the yacht to some countries. If you want to go fully commercial, do you wish a variety of languages available. Also a wealth of non marine related talents, such as musicians and great party organisers among the troops.

The same goes to space allocation. Do you fancy reducing the size of guest suites to allow the cinema or gym to be larger? Do you want provision space for six month, paint for the next refit and spare lubes in case something wrong happens? Even at the original refit design stage, the mode of propulsion will define the necessary space, particularly now with hybrid and electric propulsion and pods.

Do you have access to a various local work force to make things happen? We were once required to man all four bars at all times when guests were awake. That is four crew when the service team is only three strong. A ship with fixed navigation areas or working in collaboration with an expedition agent will be able to delegate some work to local people, which also allows saving office space and equipment on board and avoid losing a staff member to be the concierge and cruise director.

(When the dream has become a viable reality)

5. Conclusion.

Like with new building, a conversion or refit starts with design. If someone falls in love with a boat and just wants to make something out of it, then the program and model must still be realistic and tailored to the optimal possible use of the finished product. On the other hand, if the project goes before the ship, then the market should be observed extensively until the perfect base is discovered.

We at MaST, have a team that has been working very long in boating, commercial shipping and the last few years in luxury yachting. We were fortunate to work with ships of many sizes and different designs, so we can appreciate what works and what does not.

Most of all, we love to talk about boats and ships, so never hesitate to drop us a line.


Modern classics: 1) Motor

Recent trends in the classic yacht revival.

I assume there were always people with nostalgia trying to reproduce the looks and feel of objects from the past. It is true for cars, houses, and also for yachts. In the nineties, in my view then pretty much limited to reading “Classic Boats” and the like, this started in yachting with sailing boats such as “Kim” and the “Truly Classic” range for smaller sailing yachts. Many small or semi-custom builders had at least one “modern classic” in their range. I still have somewhere a Standfast drawing from that time. For Motor boats, the “Andreyale” series really impressed me.

At the time, I was busy trying to refit a 1923 “bakdek cruiser”. My club, the BRYC, had a complete 1923-1979 collection of of the Belgian yachting magazine “Sur l’Eau”. I had a ball doing the complete research. Little did I know at the time that a movement towards the revival of classic looks in new built superyachts was already starting.

In 2001, The Turquoise shipyard introduced a 47m neo classic yacht with a clipper bow and long overhang more typical of the late XIX century. She has had several owners since, the most famous being (reportedly) Johnny Depp and JK Rowling. Recently sold again, she is now named ARRIVA.

This inspired a few other similar boats, unfortunately often too small for the number of decks that were crammed on top of the hull, then crowned by a tiny stub of a funnel for looks. The Netherlands also produced the yacht “Grace” later renamed “Elsa” along the same concept. She was sadly lost last year on the rocky shore of Saba.

In 2007, a yard set-up in China under the name “Corsair Yachts” built a 90m boat along the same concept. She was inspired by J.P. Morgan’s “Corsair IV”, albeit with the addition of one and a half extra decks to give her the space required by modern yacht volume standards. “Nero” still turn heads everywhere she goes.

In 2009, the Burger Boat Company produced “Sycara IV”. Since the brief required the yacht to be able to negotiate inland waterways, the number of decks was kept in line with proper aesthetics and she is extremely graceful for a smaller new classic.

The trend does not need to be limited to Clipper bow yachts. In 2007, the Classic J “Velsheda” needed a support ship. JFA built the Rhoades & Young designed “Bystander” to fulfil that role. Again, she has too many decks to accurately reflect older designs, but every effort has been made to give her the period feel that her ward deserves. Pictured above is a drawing of another, still unfulfilled, project by Rhoades-Young

Among the already built new classics, let’s note “Taransay” a near exact replica of a 1929 yacht with the same name. Delivered in 2015, she went on to win a MYS award for her originality and distinction.

In the meantime, firms like Laurent Gilles have had classic yacht projects on their books for quite a while. Project “Nelson” is reminiscent of the royal yacht “Britannia” with her three masts, albeit slightly smaller. Rossinavi, the builders of Taransay, have a comparable 80m design in progress.

Turquoise is currently building an explorer yacht designed by Hoek Design. At 56m, the classic looking ice class ship has something of a vintage tugboat. Very little details are available.

Fraser and Royal Huisman presented the Frers designed “project Marlin”. Sleek and fast, that concept takes us back to the “Andreyale” and extrapolates on the fast commuter look. A look that also partly inspires Spirit Yachts with the Rhoades-Young design “Royale”.

So with all this afloat and on the books, it is certain that, while still marginal, the modern classic yacht has some potential for further new builts. Of course, there are still a few real classics afloat, some of which are sadly lacking attention today. And what about modern sailing classics? Those subjects are for another day.

Here are a few “also ran”: B&V project Vintage (top picture), and a drawing from that popped up in Pinterest, and that immediately brings our own s/s Delphine to mind. This concept is credited to “Werner Yacht design” of Volendam for a refit project.

(all images from goggle searches and the sources cited in the text)