New Classics – Sail

In 1960, the Robert Clark designed yacht “Carita” left the yard of De Vries Lentsch. The 57m three masted schooner, today named “Fleurtje”, had the shape of an elegant millionaire’s yacht of the turn of the century. In the following years, classic lines inspired several designers to create reproductions or near replicas of famous boats. Those remained quite confidential though.

“Fleurtje”, arguably the original large new classic

In 1984, Astilleros launched the 62m topsail schooner “Jessica”. A few years on, Pendennis completely altered her looks, with longer overhangs and removing the topsails. She was one of the longest sailing yachts and still is today. (See top picture)

Jessica as built

On a smaller scale, several yards started to offer “new classics”. Having produced “Kim” with a classic look above a modern fin keel underwater body, Andre Hoek went on to design the “Truly Classic” range, still going strong today. He was also the designer for some amazing large luxury yachts including recently “Marie”. Finally, next to some of the new “J”, Andre Hoek designed a number of plumb bow sailing yachts inspired by the pilot cutters of the South of England.

“Adele” by Andre Hoek

Gerard Dijkstra is another famous architect of sailing yachts. Next to revolutionary designs such as the Dynarig, he produced several successful pilot cutter inspired designs including Hetairos and Kamaxitha. Dijkstra also shares with Hoek most of the “J” fleet of today. Many of those designs go for modern sail shapes, although some are very smart using full battens to create a forced roach emulating gaff sails with topsail.

Dijkstra’s “Hetairos”

Dijkstra was the designer for tall ships, sail training vessels that are not relevant to this article, except inasmuch as they gave lead to yacht inspired from them rather than by original classic yachts. “Athena” is one of those, but also the smaller Meteor and “Mikhail S Vorontsov”.

“Mikhail S. Vorontsov”

Bill Langan, formerly of Sparkman and Stephens, produced “Eos” and knocked “Athena” off the Nr 1 place at the time. In the tall ship style, we also find “Baboon” and “Montigne”.

“Eos” beats “Athena” in length by a whisper

Of course, next to the modern interpretations, there are some replicas around that have been built recently. We already mentioned the J’s for which one of the class requirements is that they are built on a period lines plan. Yachts such as “Elena” and “Germania Nova” are also very close replicas.

In this category, there is the particular case of Ed Kastelein. A scion of the Holland-America line owners, he became a hotel operator, then a serial classic yacht owner. Hist last projects include “Zaca a te Moana”, “Eleonora” and the magnificent “Atlantic”.

New against old: “Atlantic” races “Creole”

So to sum things up, there are basically three kinds of large new classics: Pure replicas, Tall ship inspired yachts and classic lines on a modern underwater body. 

The Windjammer project (Dijkstra)

To be fair, there are so many more large size modern sailing than motor classic yachts. It is impossible to be exhaustive here. One thing is certain: more will come. There are beautiful projects out there, in the books of the mentioned designers and others too. Our heart goes towards some of the Van Meer designs for a 74m topsail schooner, Dijkstra’s windjammer project, or maybe Hoek’s Expedition Schooner project. 

(c) All pictures from Google searches, except for “the Windjammer project” from “Dijkstra Naval Architects”

Yachting differently

The launch of yacht RAGNAR finally prompts me to write this piece about yachting differently. For those not in the loop, RAGNAR is a conversion from an ice-breaking PSV (platform supply vessel) into an exploration luxury yacht.

Yacht “Zee Egel”, a former patrol boat

As a youngster sailing with the sea cadets, I often saw ex workboats being used as yachts in our northern waters. The boats the cadets used were mostly repurposed patrol boats, tugs, anything large enough to hold a lot of young people in camping conditions and were not too expensive to operate.

A huge boat for little money!

Brave class ex torpedo boats. A project going south

I saw many people start a project with a dream, buy a workboat for a song, fail, try to sell, and finally the project would die and the owner be the poorer for it. Others, though, made it, mainly because they were realistic about the costs and size of the boat. They ended up with something that was not standard, often bigger than what they could afford as new build or even second hand yacht. They thoroughly enjoyed the boat and ignored any comments from outside.

Translated in our today world of glitter and glamour, I sometimes still see people smirk at similar endeavours, albeit on a larger scale. Let me give you a few examples of things that have worked well:

1.     Quite unusual.


This conversion of a large fishing vessel is definitely not following the canons of proper looks. She has a huge swimming pool/tender dock with landing barge style aft door. The master cabin is in the wooden structure on top of it. What do you think?

2.     Efficient and fast to build.

Olivia (c) superyachtfan

These two yachts had extensive interior refitting but the outside was barely altered. The result is that most changes are cosmetic and do not require structural dismantling. An additional perk kicks in when there are no class sensitive alterations requiring plan approval.

akula-(c) edmiston

It is not always possible to keep it down to cosmetics. In some workboats, spaces such as the engine and technical rooms take much more space than actually needed by the yacht

3.     Functional.

Alk (c) uboatworks

Sometimes, the repurposed boat remains covering part of its prior function. ALK, while sometimes used as a yacht, is principally the submarine tender and training ship of U-Boat Works. SARSEN was used as an exploration yacht, but also chartered out to scientific projects in which she would have mostly professionals on board.


Incentives and consequences.

Clearly the incentive to make a conversion that is not as extensive as that of RAGNAR is fast delivery and reduced cost. It is not uncommon though for such a project to drift into further refining and end up being as lengthy or as expensive as a new build with the same finish.

What you accept when undertaking such a project is instant devaluation. There is little to no chance that the final result will be attractive to a new buyer in the same state or configuration. One must thus accept that the yacht can possibly only be sold-on at the price the original conversion object was purchased, if that. Most of the cost done in the refit are probably forfeited.

ULYSSES (c) Superyacht World

One of the most striking example in the last years is ULYSSES. Not a conversion, but a new build yacht with “workboat” looks and non-faired no-high-gloss hull paint. The intention was clearly to let the world know that this yacht means business.

The owner of ULYSSES ordered a new yacht, almost identical but slightly longer, even before the first one was launched, putting ULYSSES up for sale at the same time. Within six months of her launching, ULYSSES was brought to a shipyard to be fillered, faired and high gloss painted. We can only assume that it was upon advice from brokers and market players for a better resale value. The second ULYSSES was launched with a faired high gloss finish.

Wings or no wings?

Breaking the Deadlock: Exploration ships and the Polar Code.

Following some comments on the launch of the first Damen SeaXplorer, let’s have a look at what exactly you should be ready to sacrifice to Polar capability in terms of stabilisers on your explorer yacht.

The Polar Code defines three categories of ships. To simplify to the extreme, A are ice breakers, B are sturdy ice classed vessels and C are all the rest. Category C vessels are intended to navigate in open waters. That can include waters with floating drift ice, growlers and thin new ice, but no compact first year ice. I have taken a small tanker up the St Lawrence river in February with no ice class. With care, that is possible but challenging.

Let’s have a look at some successful polar exploration ships, all falling under C category

In 1977, Willy de Roos crossed the Nortwest passage in one single season. His boat, “Williwaw”, was a steel sailing ketch of just under 15m. Two years ago, friends of mine visited Vernadsky base, the furthest South you can get without becoming bored. “Grand Jack”, their boat, is from the same shipyard and even smaller than Williwaw.

In a more professional league, the bark Europa has been successfully touring Antarctica every year since long before the Polar Code was created. They too regularly call in Vernadsky.

None of these boats have stabilisers, though we know that it’s exactly what masts and sails are. I put them there to show that a ship does not have to be a purpose designed ice breaker to safely tour the polar zones in summer. The arguments being about stabilizer types and ice capability, let’s have a look at the options.

Stabiliser tanks: compensate roll by allowing controlled movement of a liquid. Fuel is not a good option as the quantity varies, that leaves permanent water ballast. That is a serious waste of space on a ship that should dedicate all her capacity to comfort and supplies for her guests.

Retractable stabilisers are the best option. Usually there is not much waves or swell around ice, so the “wings” can be retracted for protection. Their housing however uses again a lot of space. In addition, they are not very good for “zero speed” stabilization. That means that you sacrifice some comfort all the time you are not in polar areas to those few weeks when you want to be there.

Not retractable stabilizers are the most current option for most yachts. They are exposed and can become damaged if the navigation team does not carefully plan and monitor the passages around ice. That is a question of experience and planning. Experience of such yachts successfully cruising polar waters abound, and I will only mention Sherakhan and Planet Nine, both with “exposed” wings, that came back with no damage.

What will you sacrifice?

Since most polar cruising is done in the summer, the interesting places are accessible in mostly open water. Vernadsky is mostly accessible to cat C ships, but to get there you may have to wait a bit or skip around Lemaire Channel. The Northwest passage, as we have seen with “Williwaw”, is also a possibility, though despite Global Warming, two cruise ships had to turn back last season.

Also you may have to forego the traditional “I tow my yacht in ice“ photo shoot.

In the end, it all boils down to what the plan is: If one wants to do commercial charters specialised in polar regions, the vessel should be provided with either retractable fins or tank stabilization. On the other hand, if the vessel is a true explorer to visit all five oceans and six continents of our planet, compromise may lead people to go for the space gain and efficiency of traditional stabilization.

I would finish on a different subject: No one has commented the subject posts on the absence of life boats. Now if we get started on safety, in true exploration potentially far away from any rescue capability, there is no better way to ensure survival, while you wait for help, than having fully enclosed life boats, or the SOLAS approved equivalent limo tenders, for all occupants of a yacht.

SOLAS and other animals.

(Breaking the Deadlock series.)

In our industry, we often hear people talking about specific yacht certifications (LY3, PYC etc…) as opposed to SOLAS, the latter being considered as the certification for ugly dirty cargo ships. While there is a part of truth there, it may be interesting to explain how that all falls together in the end.

Port State Control (PSC).

While each state is free to create specific regulations applicable to their local shipping, their ships run the risk of being prevented from trading abroad if they do not satisfy international rules. That is mainly due to Port State Control, a system allowing states to examine visiting foreign ships on a “no more favourable” base with respect to their own shipping. In most countries, that implies compliance with SOLAS, MARPOL, MLC and other international conventions, while in the United States, that also implies compliance with the appropriate chapter of the “Code of Federal Regulations”.

Building a yacht under SOLAS.

If you want to build a ship strictly to the international rules, there will be a number of requirements that are normally not considered desirable on a yacht. To name a few, high door sills, life boats, no windows on the lower tiers of superstructure, limited hull openings, not to mention bridge windows that should be slanted forward, non smoked and non polarized. Designers will very quickly be faced with the need for some freedom from those requirements. There are three ways to deviate from the set standards: Exemption, equivalent arrangement and waiver.

The first option is an exemption. That is allowed under reg 4 of SOLAS Chapt 1. The main issue for flag states is that they are bound to declare and document any issued exemption to the IMO. An excessive number of exemptions or frivolous ones based on the will to register yachts may be frowned upon by the venerable institution and eventually result in a flag getting bad marks, and possibly being downgraded to a Grey or Black list. Nevertheless, there are issues for which exemptions are regularly granted, such as position of navigation lights, bridge visibility and other non-critical issues, for which a good justification can be provided.

The second option concerns equivalent arrangements. That is allowed under reg 5 of the same Chapt 1. The approval of an equivalent arrangement is based on a risk assessment and agreement on “trade off” to compensate for deviating from the strict requirement and restore a level of safety identical or higher than the one obtained by following the rule. Among the most common examples are the provision of a larger than required amount of life rafts in exchange of life boats. Another one is an increased level of survivability of the ship in case of damage as trade off for windows in the hull sides. There can be larger than allowed combustible materials in some spaces in exchange for a denser sprinkler system… This method requires the most work, but allows quite a large level of flexibility, and principally, does not carry with it the requirement to declare granted arrangements to the IMO. Nevertheless, it is good to have the arrangements carefully documented so that PSC inspectors can satisfy themselves of the maintained safety level.

The third and easiest way is a waiver by the administration to enforce a given requirement. SOLAS expressly states that possibility for administrations in specific rules, but the administration could satisfy itself that waivers can be granted in other cases. There is clearly a risk there as PSC could identify the waiver and call it a deficiency.

REG, MI and other “yacht” flags.

As seen above, the best option is to obtain agreement on equivalent arrangements for the desired deviations. The process is cumbersome and the risk assessments are difficult to pass through class and flag. I was involved in a refit with a list of 37 issues to be passed. The documenting and clearing of those took several months of intense efforts, meetings and communication back and forth.

Some flags of the Red Ensign Group which were traditionally more involved with yachting decided to come together and create a code that essentially is a list of standardized trade offs. They keep their finger on the pulse of yacht design and have advance knowledge of the demands that will be made in terms of arrangements, materials and other particular design features. That has allowed them to produce the original Large Yacht Code. That code is ratified by IMO and the involved deviations can be granted systematically, as long as they strictly follow the code.

After a few years, the same group followed with the evaluation of the case of small passenger ships (maximum 36 pax), and the trade offs that IMO could accept in that case. Passenger ships are notoriously harder to certify than vessels carrying 12 passengers or less.

The Marshall Islands and several other non REG flags have followed the same path and also certify yachts on the base of a code approved by IMO.

The same flags strongly encourage private vessels, in theory exempted from SOLAS, to follow the codes at the design and building stage to protect owners from unexpected PSC problems, but also mainly to guarantee safety at sea. Indeed, if there should be a serious accident, the owner of a yacht that does not follow any code should be ready to do a lot of explaining.


The code vessel will have a flag certificate of inspection confirming its status, but will also be issued the necessary statutory certificates (cargo ship safety or passenger ship safety), along with a declaration of exemptions granted with reference to the code.

Truth of the matter: Is a code vessel over 500 GT a SOLAS ship?

The answer can only be yes, she is SOLAS, with exemptions under the applied code.

The case of the Local Boat

By “local boats”, I mean a boat or ship, built in a particular country, flying the flag of that country, and operated exclusively within the waters of that country. The most obvious examples are Turkish Gulets and Croatian luxury cruise “yachts”, but there are many other countries with extensive territorial waters where the local cruise industry flourishes.

Many of those vessels would be registered under a local code giving them extended possibilities for local trading, but effectively preventing them to enter foreign waters or ports. Most professional buyers or brokers are aware of the need to change the flag or the status of such vessels to operate them in other regions that the ones they were designed for.

Where it is important to be very careful is the case when a vessel has international certificates that appear to be giving her an internationally recognized status. Sometimes, exemptions will be documented within those certificates, but other “deficiencies” may have been ignored or accepted over time in the original flag system, without proper documentation.

The risk here is that the ship could not be flagged under another register without extensive work. Even after that, the ship could still face issues from Port State Control, ITF and other international bodies. Those issues can sometimes be handled, but sometimes, it is just not worth the hassle.

So, whenever a potential buyer considers a ship operated under a local flag: red alert! Get a competent surveyor in to perform a gap analysis towards the intended use by the new owners.


As I was recently catching up on my maritime and yachting news reading, I happened on an article where the famous Cap 437 regulation was still referred-to. That reminded me of amusements and struggles we had to face when participating in the design of helicopter facilities for a recent yacht rebuild.

The yacht already had a landing area of sorts, and the brief was simple: We want a certified landing pad for a 3 ton, 12m D helicopter (say Eurocopter 135). In a first step, together with the naval architects, we asked around and visited some companies who had experience in fitting helicopter landing areas on ships. Most of what we obtained was either impractical, like Cap 437, or required too much retrofit and modifications to what already existed. Those rules are for Offshore installations in the North Sea, in all seasons and almost all weathers. Surely yacht operations can be intrinsically safer. On the other hand, helicopter instructors will often tell you that a pilot can land anywhere he feels comfortable, unless expressly forbidden. So what exactly are the applicable rules?

Back to basics: we have a Panama flagged, SOLAS certified, commercial yacht? Everybody chipped in, the yard, the naval architects, a specialized company that had been approached to certify the helideck, the classification society… We finally agreed with the yard that only SOLAS contained an applicable hard set of rules (Chap II-2 reg. 18). There was nevertheless a set of guidelines from the International Chamber of Shipping, which we found essential to adhere to as the physical requirements stated therein are close to most of the UK regulations. The only setback was that, while Cap 437 refers to the ICS guide for poopdeck landing pads, the ICS all but limit the paragraph on those by stating that they are unsafe and should be avoided if possible. Our yacht having the helideck open to the stern pretty much applies the requirements for an amidships pad with no aft obstructions.

Class was involved in the design of the refueling facilities, but it was a difficult issue between, again, Cap 437 and a set of rules for the containment of flammable liquid cargo on “non tanker” ships such as offshore supply vessels. The yard came up with a proactive solution almost reaching the required capacity but with little additional modifications in the aft part of the ship. There, we have a design. Case closed.

The certification bit, while not strictly necessary, proved harder than the actual building. There were commercial reasons for us to pursue some kind of third party recognition. Added to those were the considerations of obtaining Antarctic permits through the UK administration. In all fairness, since most yachts fall under the Red Ensign Group regulations, it is useful to consider the evolution of yacht helideck regulations in the UK.

The first set of rules for yachts, in LY2, was little more than copy-paste from Cap 437, making it all but impossible for a yacht to be certified without very large “interpretation”. LY3 was a bit better and, finally, the PYC gave a workable set of standards. We agreed with the certification body to apply those with some flexibility where practical. Once that was cleared, they were very smart in their approach and endorsed all our decisions with little fuss. There you go. Case closed. Note that today, the new integrated REG code appears to have even less stringent rules, with more references to outside publications, much more in line with what is achievable and safe on a yacht, but still based on UK aviation standards.

One story, however, illustrates how hard it can be to get through the set habits of people in position to offer a judgement: The helipad was built, certified by class and flag, but still in progress for the third party certification. We had been working out manuals and procedures and I supplied those as final documentation, together with the actual pictures of a helicopter landing on our helipad, the crew at safety stations etc… I had a quite upset reply from the certifying body, with a lot of quotes from CISR (Cayman Islands) regulations explaining how utterly unsafe and dangerous that helicopter operation had been, simply on the base that no certificate had been issued yet. We calmly explained that CISR was not competent in our case, that the operations were totally legal and safe at the location under our flag. The certificate was issued some time later without additional remarks or modifications.

Mood boards for a steam yacht

A typical exercise when planning a yacht interior is creating mood boards.

A general theme can be chosen for the whole ship, like cities, musicians, writers, sports etc… Then we must plan a voyage to take our guests on upon arrival. Joining the yacht must be an experience from the first minute.

The subtle differences in tone in each space will encourage the guests to visit and compare cabins and lounges, and will give subject for comments and appreciation right at the beginning of a cruise.

The mood boards shown here are themed on vanished steam yachts, the personalities and countries associated with them, and can be extended for sports, cars, famous trains and so on.

Link to the mood boards (PDF)

Key words for the settings.


North America, the great lakes, Chicago

Horace and John Dodge, FD Roosevelt, Churchill, Princess Stephanie

Tiffany style,

Automobile, racing



Ireland, Scotland, India, China

Thomas Lipton

Edwardian crosses Laura Ashley

Sail racing, America cup



Germany, Norway

Kaizer Willhelm II

Art nouveau, Jugendstil

Sailing, rowing



Belgium, Norway, Azores, Belgian congo

King Leopold II, Stanley, Tintin

Art nouveau, Horta, African colonial

Hunting, African collections



Lisbon, Algarve, Azores

Dom Carlos I of Portugal, Dona Amelia, Manuel II

Portugese neo rococo, Azuleijos

Oceanography, marine painting




Albert I de Monaco

Victorian accents, casino, bains de mer

Oceanography, sailing


Victoria and Albert

England, British Empire

King Edward VII, Georges V

Edwardian, obviously (or Follies Bergeres)

Polo, sailing




Mustapha Kemal Ataturk

Ottoman, Topkapi

Horses, dogs, Bosphorus



Australia, Oceania

Lord and lady Brassey, Horace Hutchinson

Colonial, far east, Malaysia

Golf, writings, kangaroos



US West coast, Cuba, Alaska, Hawaii

JP Morgan

Cuban, Hawaiian, New York

Skyscrapers, big



Russia, St Petersburg

Alexandre II, Nicolas II

Russian, mosaique

Snow sports, horses

So, you want a Classic?…

Someone asked me recently if there was an old classic yacht available for sale in the 80m+ range. It gives me the perfect opportunity to make a short list of pre-war classics still around today. They are mostly motor yachts, although one is a sailing vessel and two others are steam ships

So, first, the 80m+ category (let’s make it above 78.5)

El Mahroussa: 1863, 146m, originally compound engine and paddle wheels. Now steam turbines.

The state yacht of Egypt started life as a paddle steamer. Three refits and two enlargements later (see title picture), she is the largest, but also the oldest yacht in this list.

Savarona: 1931, 136m, steam turbines now replaced by diesel engines.

Savarona’s claim to fame is having briefly belonged to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey. She was exposed in some scandals recently under private charter, and returned to full state control.

Sea Cloud: 1931, 96m, Diesel and sails.

Built as a yacht, she is now operated as a luxury cruise liner, retaining a rig close to the original one.

Nahlin: 1930, 90m, Steam turbines converted to diesel.

Recently salvaged and completely refitted as a private yacht, Nahlin’s claim to fame is a secret cruise made on her by king Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.

El Quosseir (formerly Faqr Al Bihar): 1930, 85m, propulsion unknown

Reportedly training ship for the Egyptian navy (thanks Daniel Taylor for the hint). Shown here alongside El Mahroussa

Norge: 1937, 80m, Diesel

Born as Phylante, she towed and tendered for Endeavour II during the 1937 America Cup challenge by T.O.M. Sopwith. Nowadays she is the Norwegian royal yacht

SS Delphine: 1921, 79m, Quadruple expansion steam engines

The largest privately owned steam yacht afloat, she was completely rebuilt in 2000 to modern passenger ship standards, but respecting the original 1921 drawings for public spaces. Her claim to fame is a direct involvement with the preparations of the Yalta agreements while she served as the US Navy’s CiC floating office.

So here above is the answer to the question. There are seven 80m+ pre-war yachts still in commission today. Four of them are state yachts and definitely not for sale. One may argue that Christina O belongs in this list, but her conversion is very much post-war.

The shape of those yachts tends to be either modern or influenced by the past. SS Delphine has the same bow as period US capital ships, while Norge looks like a small version of the passenger ships of the day. On the other hand, as we can see from Nahlin and Savarona, the late twenties were marked by a fancy for the lines of 19th century steamers, with tall masts, clipper bows and long stern overhang. The Krupp shipyard in Germany produced a series of such yachts, some of which are still in service today:

Talitha: 1930, 75m, Diesel

Haida 1929: 1929, 66m, Diesel (still the original ones)

Rossy One: 1931, 65m, Diesel

All three were originally quite similar, although Talitha was later adorned with huge twin funnels giving her a bit of the look of Savarona, and hiding all modern arrays and appliances.

From the Copenhagen naval dockyard comes the Danish state yacht Danebrog, in the same style and close to Talitha at 74m.

Madiz, at 61m, is a bit smaller. She is also almost an original 19th century steamer having been built in 1902 with coal fired boilers and compound engines.

The yacht from the late thirties were way more modern in shape, along the same profile as Norge:

Shemara: 1938, 64m, Diesel

Marala: 1931, 59m, Diesel

Alicia: 1930, 51m, Diesel (currently being rebuilt to her original lines)

Malahne, 1937, 50m, Diesel

… and smaller famous little ships like Blue Bird and Fair Lady, Kalizma (God, what have they done to her?).

Also across the pond, there are a few noticeable yachts still in existence: Thea Foss, Taconite, Caritas, and that wonderful steam yacht Cangarda.

Summary table

All pictures from Google searches or as credited

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.