Access to the water.

Published on May 13, 2020

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

This very famous sentence published in “The wind in the willows” in 1908 summarises all that yachting was in those early days of the 20th century. 

A luxury yacht today is mostly a base for all kinds of sports and amusement on the water: Water skiing, riding jet skis, wakeboarding, diving, and more recently several flyboard declinations. The kids are being towed on exotic floating gadgets for a nice speed rush. Tenders are fast and light and used more for enjoyment than just transportation. Very few of those toys have been around for more than a couple of decades.

In the heydays of large private yachting before WW2, and before the generalisation of air travel, large yachts were mostly used closer to home. Very wealthy permanent residents of the Mediterranean or Caribbean were few and far between. Yachts had vast expanses of uncovered decks where the owners and friends could enjoy as much as possible of the low sun that the latitudes of Rhode Island or the Solent would scarcely offer. More to the point in this article, the water was cold.

Yachts guests might want to have a short swim, some dinghy sailing or a bit of rowing. More often though, they would have the yacht conveniently close to country clubs to play tennis or golf. They would have parties on board and explore their cruise destination’s sights ashore, very much in the same way as today’s cruise ship passengers do.

The aft tender and bathing platform that is present on most modern yachts started to appear in the eighties. Even then, it was most often added as an afterthought. Yacht sterns retained substantial freeboard to satisfy seaworthiness and load line regulations.

How do we allow decent modern access to water from a classic yacht?

Most classic yachts have accommodation ladders. Those were the traditional way to embark on a tender and often extend to the water if needed. Parking and holding a tender in place while guests safely embark requires good fittings and skills. Some accommodation ladders have an integrated small platform at the foot to make embarkation safer. The ladder or platform can carry or incorporate a bathing ladder to allow swimming around the yacht.

For more space and sturdier access, a side platform can be used. We know of some ungainly side appendages that ruin the aspect of a vessel. A properly designed platform can be closed flush with the hull and be accessible by the accommodation ladder or through a shell door. It can even be the opening for a side garage. Here again, load line rules come in play and the architects must prove the safety of the design.

The main problem with side access is when there is a swell (which is pretty much all the time in some areas). Swimmers must be careful not to get caught in the ladder or under the platform. Furthermore, waves slamming on the underside of a platform can cause damage. A yacht using side platforms should best have thrusters allowing to create a substantial lee on the vessel, even when anchored.

Ships with a high enough freeboard and an overhang, large transom or counter can be fitted with a stern platform. The same can be done for a vessel that has a classic cruiser stern. If the freeboard is lower, a transformer style platform can be designed within the classic shape of the taffrail.

Whenever a platform is fitted, its height is critical. Too low, it will suffer slamming. Too high, it will create problems with tenders and risk for swimmers and toys. Mooring arrangements for tenders and toys should be independent from the platform allowing it to be at least partly raised between uses.

As to beach club arrangements, the ideal solution is probably an inflatable pontoon fastened to the yacht side or even tied to the stern. Some classic inspired yachts, however, have been provided with gorgeous side openings containing a spa and beach club.

Yacht etiquette (part 1)

  • Published on May 20, 2020

Etiquette for yachts, and other boats too for that matter, is a long, complicated and sometimes controversial subject. It affects many parts of the life on board and technical provisions made when building a yacht. We shall regularly come back to the subject as the Conservation Conversation evolves.

the week was quite busy for me, so today’s topic is a short one on technical provisions for showing the proper flags on board.

First, the ensign. It can fly either on a flagstaff at the taffrail, or at a gaff on the aftermost mast (which can be forward of midships if there is no other). If both options exist, tradition requires that the flag is transferred to the gaff as soon as the yacht gets underway (“underway” meaning neither moored, nor anchored, nor aground).

The proper size of the ensign used to be one inch of fly for every foot of waterline length. That could appear excessive for the larger boats.

A yacht should have at least one proper masthead position to fly a club burgee. That position should allow the flag to fly clear above everything else. If there is a triatic stay, or party lights, lines for dressing ship etc. the mast top should still be above and thin enough to allow proper setting. If it is not the case, burgees and “house flags” should be hoisted on a staff above the masthead.

A small hint for all the designers working on concepts for the next UK royal yacht: The royal yacht must have three masthead positions for ceremonial reasons, so basically three masts or smart alternatives.

Some yachts, mainly sailing yachts, have a fixed stick on top of their mast with the burgee permanently hoisted. This could be an issue that we shall illustrate when discussing flag etiquette, as the burgee could not be taken down easily without sending crew aloft (like for racing as required by the rules).

Other locations for flags are less critical. A starboard spreader halyard and a jack staff at the bow can be useful, and several other options too, but it is all depending on the yacht design, use and “ceremonial” requirements. Dressing ship will certainly be a consideration for any yacht that could be engaged in traditional events or ceremonies.

Is your yacht up to par?

Classic yacht tenders

  • Published on June 3, 2020

I have started a previous article by pointing out that the use people made of “luxury yachts” in the roaring twenties is fundamentally different from the expectations of the modern owners and guests.

A small yacht in the pre-war years would have one tender, often just a rowing dinghy. The main function of the tender is to bring guests ashore when anchored, or allow crew to bring in fresh provisions.

On larger yachts, the tender could double as a life boat then, maybe, there would be a second boat, more “finished” and possibly fitted with an engine, to be used as a lifeboat and as the shore taxi. They still would be noticeably smaller than a modern Riva. Only very large yachts had big tenders.

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The notion of water sports was not an issue, so fast and light crafts were not required. Guest tenders on very large yachts were roomy, heavy and slow. Some yachts may have carried one fast runabout for the owner. A very large yachts such as Delphine originally had a proper racing boat next to her owner’s 35’6” cabin launch, her two 25’ crew tenders and her four life boats.

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First order of priority for today’s owner, next to access to shore, is a fast tender for water ski and wakeboarding and some jet skis or wave runners. Obviously, the look and weight of the older type of classic tenders do not fit the bill. Fortunately, most classic yachts have a large foredeck where a crane can be discreetly fitted and tend to light craft. A semi rigid tender, or RHIB, is often used as the crew tender of general service boat, as well as the watersport support craft.

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On the smaller classics, there could be room for only one boat on deck. Very often, the modern alternative will be chosen, favouring function over looks. Most larger yachts can still have one or two nice tenders with a period look. Those tenders can be modern builds with more space and more functionality than original period ones.

Over the years, additional enclosed deckhouse space was added to most original classics reducing available deck areas for tender storage. Nero, a modern replica, has a very nice limo tender stored between side decks. Recent technology equipment is used to bring it to the water without sacrificing open deck areas. That tender makes a way more efficient use of volume than actual period craft.

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We shall expand this discussion with dedicated articles on storage of tenders as well as the types of boats used.

What tenders would you have on your classic yacht?

Choice of a classic tender

  • Published on June 11, 2020

It is very easy to take a shortcut and propose a nice Riva Ariston or some pretty and well known similar craft for a classic yacht tender. That would actually be a very bad choice. Let’s examine why.

A yacht tender fills three essential functions:

1.     Bringing people to and from shore.

A classic yacht large enough to carry a substantial tender would be able to take up to 12 guests, even more for passenger yachts or during parties on the anchorage. We would never dream of doing a guest run with less than two crew in the tender, one driving, and one ensuring transfers and guest safety. The capacity of the tender is thus reduced by two. A Riva Ariston can seat four…

Embarking in, and disembarking from the tender is a delicate operation, particularly on the yacht side. Crew must have space to handle lines and fenders, assist guests and control movements of the craft. Often, a third crew from the gangway team will step between tender and platform to assist guests. In an ideal world, the access is close to the middle of the tender, with a step built in, easy access down into the cockpit and possibly a handy handle to grab for safety. Surfaces should be non slip, so no 17 layers of high gloss varnish. Walking on the deck of the tender should not be necessary anyways.

Compare the Riva above, with this Hacker craft used as a tender for Talitha.

Note that the crew must also be given access to shore occasionally. That can be many persons too.

If the yacht has space for a larger tender, one can consider shelter from bad weather and more speed, giving raise to limo style planing boats. That requires a heavier engine and more heigth. We shall discuss that again when dealing with the storage of tenders in another article

2.     Carrying cargo.

Call it luggage, supplies, spares or rubbish to be dumped, tenders are used a lot to carry cargo. Unless the yacht is large enough to carry a dedicated crew tender, the proposed craft must have sufficient carrying capacity. Another flaw that some classic craft have is a dedicated engine compartment under a full width deck. See the hacker craft below compared to the one of Talitha.

3.     Water sports

Tenders are also used to allow guests to have fun on the water. The modern standards require a high towing tower as well as particular wave making hull for waterski and wake boarding. There is a large range of towable toys for the younger guests to enjoy. Carrying and handling all equipment and the guest enjoying it takes space too.

While the requirements for ski cannot always be met in a “classic” looking boat, speed is often enough to fit the bill. Torque for a fast start, combined with a light boat makes the experience more enjoyable.

All this said, if the yacht is large enough and the owner wants a Riva that he/she can self drive to take family and friends about, by all means have one too.

As usual, this article is not intended to be an exhaustive lecture on its subject, but a conversation starter so we can exchange views in the comments below.

May we recommend a look at the “tenders” page of Hodgdon yachts as an example of modern building combined with classic looks and the elements we mention above.

Another worthy document is this one on the tender of “Malahne”, from the drawing board of Jack Gifford (G.L. Watson)

What would you have for a classic yacht tender?

Large classic sailing yachts.

  • Published on June 18, 2020


Classic sailing yacht are single decked small affairs. When they are not exclusively used for racing, they tend to be converted fishing smacks and pilot cutters more suited for the occasional traditional boat rally… or are they?

There is a marked trend these days to go for sail rather than motor with some prospective owners. The arguments are comfort, silence, environmental awareness, you name it. But what if an owner wants a large yacht able to carry toys and offer long range cruising abilities, and why not exploration? Could it still be a classic?

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Let’s review the options in three categories: New build, refit and originals.

1)   New build.

In a previous article, we have mentioned “Jessica” (pictured above), now “Adix”, and “Atlantic”, both very classic but still single deck racing affairs. Granted, they can be used for serious cruising but they will still be challenged to carry the suitable tenders and toys in style. Yacht such as “Baboon” did have more extensive deckhouses and larger displacement, making them almost two deckers and allowing to carry luxury tenders.

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Then, in 2004, Huisman built the schooner “Athena” (above). That yacht epitomizes all that is classic inside and outside, but with the volume of a large motor yacht. The larger “Eos” (more modern rig) and several smaller vessels with the same philosophy have been built since, but in my mind, “Athena” is still the largest true classic sailing yacht… at least new build.

Some architects such as Olivier Van Meer or Gerard Dijkstra have plans on their books for large sailing yachts, sometimes in dual purpose with sail training or otherwise.

2)   Conversions and refits.

In 2007, a Dutch owner bought the former research vessel “Dana” to convert her into a sail training vessel for classes afloat. She became the “Gulden Leeuw” (pictured below). Of course, she is not a luxury yacht, but she could have become one. Many of the sail training vessels operating today could be converted into very nice floating palaces. They have good displacement, large internal volume and often a long history of proven sailing ability.

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While most large sail training vessels do not have the “yacht” look, there is one ship that was actually designed with a smaller yacht in mind. Inspired in part by the schooner “Gloria”, the “Star Clipper” has the flat bowsprit and long counter overhang of much smaller racing yachts. I fiddled a bit during long winter hours to evaluate the volumes available in her for a conversion from 160 passengers to 36 luxury yacht guests.

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In the same vein, the former STA schooners “Winston Churchill” and “Malcolm Miller” have been converted to yachts, one better than the other. Both have lost the charm of the gaff rig though.

3)   Existing yachts.

Large sailing yachts went out of fashion in the late XIX century. Some of them became famous, like “Sunbeam” à Lord and Lady Brassey (below). But If an owner could afford a large yacht, he could also afford the comfort and reliability of steam. Nevertheless, some wealthy people, few and far between, wished for the quiet, peace and cleanliness of sail. Some of the resulting vessels are still around, albeit in a very modified form. They traded till recently, some still do, as passenger or tourist boats, for instance with the “Winjammer” cruises.

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One of the largest sailing yacht ever built is still sailing under the name “Sea Cloud”. She has had a very exciting and checkered history, but remains as beautifully timeless today as she was when built in the thirties as “Hussar V”. She is also one of the 8 remaining pre-war yachts over 80m.

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Would you refit one, or have one built?

Fairing and gloss paint for a classic?

  • Published on October 8, 2020

Over the last years, I have been offered many times ceramic treatment to restore the gloss on our ship. That tells me that some people did not do their homework as not only does our ship not have gloss paint, but the hull is not even faired.

When I was researching small classic yachts for the refit of “Orient Express”, I was surprised to read a sentence in an Uffa Fox book stating that steel was not appropriate for anything under 50 feet. That was in 1936. I knew then already that Dutch and Belgian yards were producing very nice steel boats way smaller than that. The fun bit was that riveted steel hulls were faired to hide the plate overlaps and make the boats look like they were made of wood. It is only in the inter-war years that steel was left bare and painted, proudly showing its true nature. Of course, in those days, the steel was thick enough, and the craftsmanship good enough, so that no fillering was required to give an illusion of fairness of the surfaces.

Today, definitely the way to go for authenticity is visible plate overlaps and standard marine grade semi-gloss paint. Several recent refits have been faired and painted high gloss to satisfy modern taste. Some others are just faired, but I think that of the ones in service as a commercial yacht today, SS Delphine is the only one with an original looking hull.

Of course, if there have been some clumsy attempts at (re)creating the hull shape, the choice is gone: Faired it must be

Given the choice, what would you do?

The exotic bow of SS Delphine. (Form vs Function)

  • Published on November 23, 2020

The ram bow became popular in the second half of the XIX° century. It fitted nicely with the tumblehome of the first heavy cruisers and battleships of the time. The battle of Lissa (Vis in Croatia today) is famous for being one fought also by ramming as a way to sink enemy ships. It was little used for yachts, barring maybe that proverbial lumbering monstrosity: SMS Hohenzollern.

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Fast forward to the early XX° century. The sometimes excessive tumblehome has become something of the past. The ram bow remains in use for very large ships with long range guns. In those days when gunnery control was still a manual activity, you don’t want unexpected bow slamming to upset a very critical and expensive salvo. The ram bow shape would plough through waves, making the decks very wet indeed, but without shocks. It was used for Dreadnought battleships and remained popular with ships of the line design in the USA till the end of WW1. (A still existing example is USS TEXAS.)

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When the USA joined WW1, Horace Dodge owned a steam yacht named NOKOMIS. That yacht was requisitioned by the navy. Several month later, his next yacht, NOKOMIS II, was also commandeered. The first one was sold to a third party after the war, but the navy kept NOKOMIS II in service. Legend has it that, when designing his next yacht, Delphine II, Horace Dodge planned it to be easily converted into a naval gunboat, so he could get it back in almost original configuration after the next war.

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The legends aside, there is a very pragmatic consideration involved. Let’s consider three ships: SS Delphine, Nahlin (above) and Nero. All three have very much the same displacement and gross tonnage (hence inside space), however, Nahlin and Nero are both a full 12 metres longer overall. If your main sailing area is inland, like the Great Lakes, and the Welland Canal locks (below) are 260 ft long, your yacht cannot be over 258 ft. SS Delphine is 257,8 ft.

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Today, I have the rare privilege to look at SS Delphine docked next to Haida 1929 for the winter. Haida is 71m long, against the 78,5 of Delphine, but her GT is around 700 while Delphine is 1342, and the displacements are also in proportion. Compared to Talitha, Delphine with the same length overall, has a displacement 30% larger. This is a very clear case of function before form. In an age when all US tycoons had they yachts adorned with a clipper bow and stern overhangs, Horace Dodge, the “new money” guy, simply chose for the largest volume his home waters would accommodate.

To be fair, the bow could have been just plumb like other American builds of the period. Did Horace really have a beef with the navy?

What do you think?

The mini ISM soup.

Breaking the Deadlock

One of the principles I use when planning ship’s administration is: “Help the surveyor help you”. That means that the certificate file is sorted in the order of a typical surveyor check list. The same goes for maintenance files and archives.

For ISM, I always made sure that the base manual for the systems I wrote was numbered in accordance with the articles of the ISM code. But one day, I had to think of streamlining a standard manual for mini ISM. Then it hit me.

The ISM code has a very simple and straightforward way to look at all the requirements of a safety management system. Articles 1 to 4 define company requirements, while the following ones, 5 to 12, are more concerned about what happens on the ship (see table at the end of the article).

I have examined the requirements of two codes for ISM of ships below 500GT (the mini ISM): The Republic of the Marshall Islands (MI-103, Annex 1) and The Red Ensign Group Yacht Code (Part A, Chapter 23A)

The writers of these codes have gone to extreme lengths to try and make their contribution yacht specific. The text of the ISM code in itself is very flexible and could be used as-is on any non-convention vessel. However, the RMI and REG codes are a combination of simplified requirements and more prescriptive rules, even down to lists of training and procedures (typically “including but not limited to”…) that a vessel should have in place.

The mini ISM requirements simplify sometimes too much and take away some of the added value of the ISM code (which, remember, was inspired by the ISO 9000 series of standards). Thus there are provisions for reporting accidents, but not non conformities, near misses or hazardous situations. That, in a way, removes the “continuous improvement” aspect

There are requirements in both codes for a “competent person” to be delegated to be responsible for the policies, but no direct link to top management, nor management commitment and the provision of resources.

To make things more awkward, the REG code handles four functional issues in a strange way: Policies are defined in par 4, then again in par 9. Procedures for safe operations are described in par 5, but further developed in par 12. In the same way, Par 7 sets a short requirement for reporting accidents, which are then to be handled as described in par 14. Finally responses to emergency situations are listed in par 8, but then the associated drills are described in par 13.

While both yacht codes prescribe reviews of the system, we can wonder why the REG code is satisfied with a review once every three year by the company/owner only. It is not clear how the REG flags verify the implementation of this chapter. RMI gives more precise descriptions on how both the company and the AR shall review the functioning of the system every 12 month at least.

For a management company dealing with vessels both above and below 500GT, and with several flags including RMI and REG, this can be a daunting documentary hurdle. My recommendation would be to stick to the standard ISM structure. Frankly, except giving a few more details on some practical issues and simplifying the narrative, I can’t see why these flags could not do the same in their codes.

Company DPA’s and compliance officers can make tables of equivalences to help surveyors and auditors find their way more easily inside the systems.

1General, definitions, application, SMS21, 2, 3
2Policies34, 9
3Company responsibility, organization…Back to 26
5Master’s responsibility and authority410
7Plans for operations65, 12
8Emergency preparedness78, 13
9Reporting of accidents, NC’s, near misses (not in RMI or REG) 7, 14
10Maintenance of the ship915
11Documentation controln.a.n.a.
12Company review, evaluation1016 (3 y?)

What’s in a name?

Why “The VV team” ?

The name of our senior partner, Vivegnis, comes from “les Vi Vegnes” meaning “the old vines” in the Walloon language. Vivegnis is also a village on the outskirts of Liège where wine was produced in the renaissance period, on the North bank of the Meuse river where the sun was favorable and the soil was rich.

An old vine is the age of reason. The roots are deep. The crops are less in quantity, but so much richer in quality, more balanced. The wines express the terroir that nurtured them and its personality. One must take the time to appreciate them, for they have a tale to tell.

At The V.V. team, that is our vision. We take stock of a long past in order to help shape a strong, enjoyable and reliable future. We dedicate ourselves to the evolution of the marine and yachting sector in the light of the best if its history and tradition

Our motto, Ex Vineis Veteribus (from the old vines), confirms that vision.
Our logo represents two old vines protecting the old anchor of our maritime past.
(That is actually the anchor from China, but thereby hangs another tale)