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Yacht Elena
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How spec-built superyacht Elena became a winner

Photography by Emilio Bianchi

Heesen superyacht Elena is the outcome of one brave yard, one keen owner and one World Superyacht Award win for best displacement motor yacht of below 500Gt and above 40m.

Shipyards take their chances when starting a speculative build. Get it right and owners are lured by short waiting times and attractive pricing, since most of these boats are built on standard platforms; get it wrong and you’re left with a finished, yet unsold boat, ageing by the day and losing value. In this instance, Heesen got it right – but it was close. 

In April 2014, the 47 metre hull known then as Project Margarita was just weeks away from completion at the yard’s facility in Oss, The Netherlands. She wasn’t named because she didn’t have an owner, but then a customer visited the yard.

“He was looking for a 37 or a 40 metre,” Heesen’s sales director Mark Cavendish recalls. “But we also showed him Project Margarita, and explained that she was available and nearly ready. He had a look, then said he’d take her.” 

Elena’s quick delivery

The agreement was signed in May 2014, and by July the yacht was cruising in Norwegian waters with her new owner and his young family. August was spent in the Mediterranean, and in September she took her place at the Quai des États-Unis for the Monaco Yacht Show. She had a name: Elena.

The 10th in Heesen’s successful 47 metre displacement class, Elena is a five-cabin yacht with berths for up to 12 guests and 10 crew. A pair of hefty, 4,000-series MTUs give her a maximum speed of 15 knots, and with a 60-tonne fuel capacity her cruising range is said to be 4,000 nautical miles. She is built for going places. 

Her captain, Mario Merl, an Austrian veteran of some 14 years’ service on superyachts, both sail and power, from Italy, The Netherlands and Scandinavia, is full of praise for the yacht. On the foredeck he points to the excellent layout, deep, secure bulwarks and the vast stowage area in the fo’c’s’le, complete with workbench: “The guys (crew) really like that,” he says. 

Down in the beautifully engineered machinery space he singles out the power management system, while forward on the lower deck he remarks on how spacious and comfortable the new MLC 2006 regulations have made the crew accommodation.

Designing a yacht built on spec 

In spite of the last-minute sale, building such a large and expensive yacht – Elena’s asking price was €28 million – is not the gamble it might seem, according to Cavendish: “It’s something we do quite regularly,” he says. “Clients who might be wary of embarking on a three-year build programme, starting with nothing, are often prepared to come in with a year to go, when the yacht is well on towards completion. It’s the shipyard taking the risk instead of the customer.”

In Elena’s case that risk extended into an area the yard doesn’t usually have to worry about: interior design and finishing. “There is always the possibility of getting it wrong,” Mark Cavendish admits, “and producing an interior which might be too modern for the style of yacht, or too traditional.” He cites the example of the fast 50 metre Monaco Wolf, also exhibited at last year’s Monaco show, as a yacht that suited a modern, minimalist interior. For the steel-hulled Elena it was felt that something more traditional was in order. Heesen entrusted the project to Frank Laupman’s Omega Architects.

“Having no owner to talk to definitely makes the job harder,” says Laupman. “There was no detailed brief. So we set out to create a relaxing environment, with traditional forms and materials, in a contemporary ambiance.” The studio’s well-known use of a visual “horizon” came into play: dark tones like stained walnut and emperador marble below the line, and above it the brighter hues of light-stained oak, cream or off-white leathers and fabrics, and travertine.

Having no owner to talk to definitely makes the job harder. There was no detailed brief. So we set out to create a relaxing environment, with traditional forms and materials, in a contemporary ambiance.

Frank Laupman

Acutely conscious of the fact that he was designing a boat not for one owner but for dozens of potential owners, Frank Laupman knew his team could get so caught up in creating an interior with the broadest possible appeal that they’d end up with something bland. “Of course we worried about being too safe,” he says. “So we tried to follow the shipyard style, but also to make it 20 to 30 per cent different. You can’t just drive down the middle of the road – sometimes you have to go out to the edge. And we talked a lot amongst the design team, listening to all different points of view to arrive at a balance.”

There might have been no owner to lend his personality to the project, but according to Laupman the character of Heesen was itself a source of inspiration: “Heesen has its own style, and attracts people who know that style,” he suggests. “Once you work with two or three customers it becomes intuitive.”

Elena wins a World Superyacht Award 

This gave confidence to the final design – enough certainly to impress our World Superyacht Awards judges, who awarded Elena a Neptune in Amsterdam in May (for Displacement Motor Yachts of below 500GT – 44 metres and above). 

Areas of the accommodation are strongly themed: the dining area is a forest; the owner’s suite is inspired by the idea of a pond; and the earth tones of the guest suites contrast with the warmth and vibrancy of coloured upholstery and accessories. Furnishings have been selected from suppliers such as German firms Bergers and Pehl, with lighting fixtures by Cantalupi and Porta Romana, among others. There are numerous fabric designs from the likes of Fadini Borghi, Rubelli and Zimmer + Rohde. Engaging details lend the yacht a personality of her own: LED “starlight” in the upper saloon deckhead, for example, occasional tables of twig-like design, and the “tree of life” symbolism in the owner’s bathroom. 

Elena’s owner clocks up 5,600 miles in her first season

Elena’s sea trials took place in a stern North Sea, her captain recalls, and gave him not a moment’s concern. She operates purely as a private yacht and even though she is her owner’s first, racked up an impressive 5,600 miles of cruising in her first season.

Many owners enjoy the process of building their yacht, meeting engineers and designers and thriving on the pressures of decision-making. Some even admit to becoming serial yacht-builders, selling on completed projects to get started on the next one. But Elena’s owner is clearly more interested in using his yacht than building one, cruising widely, visiting far-flung anchorages and putting her to work doing exactly the job she’s designed for. Far from being a speculative venture, you might almost imagine she was built specially for him. 

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