A few years ago, Perini Navi’s Burak Akgül stood on the top deck of a very large aluminium and steel structure near Istanbul, his hard hat nearly grazing the roof support beams despite the fact that he was in one of the largest construction sheds the company owned. The biggest yacht (in gross tonnage) the company had yet built was well on her way to becoming Grace E, the third and by far the largest of the Vitruvius-designed Picchiottis to date.
Fast forward to spring 2014. Nearly finished except for a few final touches, the superyacht is docked between sea trials at Perini Navi’s Picchiotti shipyard in La Spezia, Italy. From her inviting aft deck with a pool and welcoming lounge to her large saloon with picture windows; from the decadent spa (an entire deck of sheer bliss) to the electric power control room, Grace E looks an impeccable blend of design, craftsmanship and technology. In other words, a superyacht through and through. At 73 metres and 1,876 gross tonnes, she represents a big leap in size for Vitruvius Yachts.
The brains behind the name (Vitruvius was a Roman architect, engineer and author) are naval architect Philippe Briand and business partner Veerle “Cookie” Battiau. The experienced sailors took their vision for a range of efficient, go-anywhere, more environmentally friendly motor yachts to Perini Navi, a builder known for its innovative sailers with the space and comforts of motor yachts. It was, says Akgül, “a commercial meeting of minds”.
The first two vessels born of this collaboration were the all-aluminium 50 metre Exuma and the blue-hulled ice-class 55 metre Galileo G, built at the Picchiotti shipyard. Grace E is the third. The vast differences between the three vessels exemplify Vitruvius Yachts’ promise to build “unique motor yacht designs [which are] fully customised to our clients’ preference of navigation and lifestyle on board”.
The birth of a ‘zen’, greener superyacht
The owners knew of Vitruvius’s virtues when they commissioned Grace E. “They were intrigued by the concept of better efficiency,” Briand says. “They wanted comfort and space, but it was very important for them to build a yacht that was ‘Zen’. Efficiency directly produces a greener boat through reduced consumption, but it also creates a boat more pleasant to navigate. That is another way to make a boat Zen-like.”
Grace E has many innovations to reduce her footprint on the areas she will visit, from systems to mitigate the exhaust fumes to those for trash management and storage. “Our intention was to be able to go to any area in the world and retain everything on board in the event of a lack of (disposal) facilities ashore,” captain Eddie Cooney says.
When they commissioned Briand to design their next luxury yacht, the owners had a smaller model in mind. But the project grew (as projects often do) to increase the comfort for everyone on board. Another outcome of that added volume was more garage space. “We used to tow a large tender,” Cooney says. “But we wanted to avoid having to do that due to the restrictions it imposes.”
Having once had to change plans when a generator failed on their former yacht, the owners were also keen to tackle the issue of redundancy on Grace E. Cooney says it was this that led the project management team to consider one of ABB’s diesel-electric plants and Azipod propulsion.
The use of an unusual diesel-electric propulsion system
The main electrical plant powers the entire superyacht. Although this requires more technical space than a traditional shaft-propeller arrangement, with a large electric switchboard room that allocates power from multiple diesel-driven generators, this power plant also promises increased efficiency and a more serene ride.
“The combination of generators powering the yacht can be selected so that each one of them operates close to its optimum. They run at constant speed, facilitating the design of resilient mountings to avoid harmful structure- borne noise,” ABB’s Thomas Hackman explains. More about the noise factor later.
ABB, a supplier of equipment to the cruise ship industry and, increasingly, very large yachts, provided Grace E’s power plant. This includes two steerable Azipod propulsors, each with a motor built inside the submerged pod that powers the propeller via a very short shaft.
“The Azipods are steerable, so you can direct the thrust in any direction, which means it gives the boat a completely different dimension of manoeuvring,” Hackman says. “In contrast to a normal propulsion shaftline that pushes the yacht through the water, this one pulls the yacht since the propellers are forward-facing. There are no brackets or appendages to cause turbulence and disrupt the flow of water and Philippe (Briand)’s team did a good job of shaping the hull to maximise the pods’ efficiency.”
The efficiency of superyacht Grace E
Briand confirms that he modified his hull design to accommodate the large, deep Azipod units. Tested at the Marin institute in the Netherlands, the Vitruvius hull proved efficient. Initial results reveal Grace E uses about 284 litres per hour at 12 knots through the combination of the Briand-designed hull and the Azipods. However, the power management system is the key element of the engineering, and what matters most is the efficient allocation of power and optimal generator use – it is over longer distances that the numbers will reveal the whole story.
Grace E will have plenty of opportunity to cruise those distances, too. A range of 7,500 nautical miles enables her to roam freely for months just about anywhere in the world. That even includes visits to marine parks with strict no-anchor policies. An interface connects her Azipods to a dynamic positioning (DP) system by Kongsberg Maritime that allows the yacht to maintain her heading in a current and wind.
This system also allows the captain to hold the luxury yacht in a set position without deploying anchors, minimising the risk of damage to the seabed. It further means Grace E can arrive discreetly without startling the neighbours by rattling down the anchor chain.
The absence of noise
Clearly, silence is golden for these superyacht owners. An important benefit of the pods’ efficient self-contained architecture is that they are supremely quiet. Hackman says: “The yacht owner really appreciated the fact that because the hydronamics are so good the system is very silent as well.” Decibel readings make the case for the system’s efficacy as eloquently as any words. With the yacht cruising at 14 knots, sound levels are just 42.6dB in the master suite and 45.5dB in the saloon (both quieter than the sound of light conversation, measuring 50dB).
Other noise-dampening measures, such as excellent insulation and an exhaust separator and underwater release system by Soundown, also contribute to a serene environment on board Grace E.
Given this, it seems fitting that Grace E looks big but is in no way a “loud” design. Instead, the motor yacht has a subtle beauty that comes from within; her styling by Briand is quietly elegant rather than flashy.
The beauty of Grace E
Briand says a Vitruvius yacht is foremost about the hull. He recalls a comment by industrialist Marcel Dassault, founder of Dassault Aviation: “For an aircraft to fly well, it must be beautiful.” The same applies to a yacht, he believes. “In our culture as sailors and naval architects, the hull comes first. If the hull is efficient, then it is beautiful,” he says.
The extended hull lines that account for Grace E‘s outstanding seakeeping abilities benefit her looks topside as well, elongating the profile and minimising the girth like a well-tailored striped garment. A flush deck forward lies on top of a garage for two of the yacht’s tenders. Briand also dedicated thought to movement around the decks. “We worked very hard on opening up the yacht,” he says, a legacy of his background as a sailor perhaps.
“The inside and outside of the boat fit perfectly – they just dovetail together,” says Dirk Johnson, who represents Picchiotti Yachts from Perini Navi’s office in Newport, Rhode Island. “The Vitruvius in my mind is about the shape of the boat: the full-bodied hull shape, graceful lines and balanced superstructure.”
The combination of the plumb bow, wide beam and deep hull also boosts the interior space significantly, letting designer Rémi Tessier to realise his relaxed minimalism on a grand scale. The superyacht’s owners envisioned Grace E as a bright, comfortable home for family and friends, and by extension charter guests.
To achieve this she has large openings, wide passageways, high ceilings (nearly two metres in the master suite) and a light-filled stairway that spirals around the lift connecting the decks. In addition, Tessier has used materials and textures that reflect daylight, including palladium leaf on the ceilings and stainless steel detailing on furniture (much of it from Tessier’s own collection), while gold threads were woven between the glass panels around the lift.
Natural textures and tones add earthiness, balancing the cool design with warmth. Tessier trained as a cabinetmaker, so loves working with wood. The main types aboard Grace E are a light sycamore, bleached wenge for the flooring and high-gloss ebony as window frames – “like those on a painting of a beautiful seascape,” Tessier says.
Though certainly palatial, the master suite remains serene. The sycamore that clads the walls has been “sandblasted, bleached and then polished as if the wind, the salt, the sea, the sand and the sun had produced their texture, giving them a sensual touch,” Tessier says. Matching the stitched leather headboard, Hermès leather blinds descend with a barely audible electric hum to screen the windows.
Only without daylight do you appreciate the suite’s elaborate lighting – another design and mood element throughout the luxury yacht. Light brushes across the ceilings, washes down walls or stripes the reveals in the joinery. The idea, Tessier explains, is that guests onboard Grace E experience the light but not its source. For the owner and guest spaces, he chose LEDs in the blue/white end of the lighting scale, which makes these areas pleasant in low light.
The same design principles – contrast, a natural ambience, large structural openings – are repeated in the guest cabins (two on the main deck, four on the lower deck) and on the bridge deck, where guest areas are dedicated to entertainment and dining.
The ultimate sundeck spa onboard Grace E
The owners also specially requested that the top deck be designed as a spa and wellness sundeck. Soothing sandy tones and big windows are used in several treatment rooms. An observation lounge, sunpads and a plunge pool also allow guests to cool off after treatments or to warm down minds and bodies after a workout in the panoramic gym or a brisk walk around the deck. Guests can sunbathe on rotating chairs with built-in biminis that Tessier designed. There’s also a hair salon in case guests need to control wind-tousled locks.
Not that Grace E is solely about the well-being of her guests: the owners wanted to extend the feel-good factor to the crew, too. Cooney says: “The crew area is exceptional and that came about as a direct involvement from the owners.”
The crew quarters, which include a 70 square metre lounge, span two decks, although all the cabins except the captain’s are positioned on the lower deck. The captain enjoys a comfortable cabin adjacent to the pilothouse. Tessier says that its design was inspired by Rolls-Royce, which perhaps explains the big leather banquettes which flank a stylish, space-efficient bridge by Radio Zeeland. A second, smaller crew gym is located on the lower deck.
Grace E received multiple accolades at the Monaco Yacht Show, including the prize for best interior design. Exerting a power of subtle seduction, she even caught the eye of a sailing yacht owner or two.
Superyacht Grace E specification
Displacement 1,740 tonnes
Gross Tonnage 1,876GT
Owner and guests 14
Naval architecture and exterior styling Philippe Briand
Interior design Rémi Tessier
Construction Steel hull; aluminium superstructure
Generators 4 x Caterpillar C32 876kW; 2 x Caterpillar C18, 492kW
Speed (max/cruise) 17.5 knots/14 knots
Range 7,800nm @ 14 knots
Builder/year Picchiotti/Perini Navi Group/2014
For charter Burgess New York