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I Dynasty: Creating the most complex yacht in history

Building the most complex yacht in history was not what Richard Hein, founder of Monaco-based studio The A Group, originally intended, but with I Dynasty, that is exactly what he achieved.

Designing for a client who wanted to cruise regularly with more than 12 in his party, Hein faced a choice: design the 100-metre-plus motor yacht to Solas passenger ship rules or to the new Passenger Yacht Code (PYC), created specifically for yachts with 13 to 36 passengers and still in development.

To build to PYC would grant more design freedom but its regulations for safety and materials were a moving target. Realising this standard would be the wave of the future, Hein and his client took the road less travelled: I Dynasty is the first yacht delivered to full PYC certification without additional restrictions. 

A bit of backstory on the project is useful. Besides being a naval architect and designer with The A Group, Hein was also a yacht builder, having served as president and equity partner in the Dutch yard Oceanco from 1992 to 2004. After selling his interest in the yard, Hein travelled extensively and discovered an affinity for Japan and its culture. He was impressed with the quality of Japanese commercial and patrol vessels and invested with a Japanese partner in a new manufacturing facility, opening an office in Tokyo for his project management company, VegaYachts.

Vega’s first contract was for an 86 metre yacht to be built in Japan. Just before construction was due to start, the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck, followed by the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. “Besides the potential radiation contamination issue, Japan’s manufacturing efforts shifted almost overnight to rebuilding its infrastructure,” says Hein. “We had to seriously consider starting over outside Japan.”

The client, however, was not discouraged; quite the contrary. Not only did he ask Hein to engage a European shipyard, he asked him to enlarge the vessel. He was adamant that Hein would serve not only as the naval architect but that he and his team would be the conduit through which I Dynasty was built. In essence, VegaYachts was employed as owner’s representative and general contractor for a turnkey project that included Studio Massari as the interior designer.

“The owner had some clear ideas: creating a multi-generation yacht with high manoeuvrability and heavy displacement for continuous cruising and boarding in all seas, efficient propulsion to minimise carbon emission and lots of pools and direct water access. Other things he left up to us,” says Hein. By the time the design was complete it was clear that I Dynasty was going to have to meet the newer, more comprehensive rules of PYC 2012.

“Starting the project after the adoption of the 2012 rules gave us a higher standard than those yachts that laid keels before 2012,” says Hein. “We had the option of applying for exemptions but the owner felt that if there was a guide for building the safest possible yacht we should adhere to it, and I agreed. We all had to discover the consequences of implementing the new Passenger Yacht Code to the normal design and construction process.”

The last sentence speaks volumes. PYC’s impact was ubiquitous at the Peters Werft yard in Wewelsfleth, Germany, where Kusch Yachts was building I Dynasty. Insulation materials, the all-steel construction, the bridge wing stations’ arrangement and the number of stairway escape routes were all guided by the PYC’s demand for fire containment. In the unlikely event of a fire starting (given the restriction on flammable materials), it must be contained via fire doors, use of low-flame-spread surfaces and fire breaks or areas where non-combustible material such as stone, steel or A60 fire-rated glass separate two combustible materials. 

Every interior area has a worst-case combustion heat load, and it’s up to the designer and builder to work out material trade-off to stay below each area’s allowable load. Hein notes that Lloyd’s Register and the Cayman Islands (flag state) worked closely in co-operation with the project team and Kusch to meet the PYC requirements for I Dynasty.

“I do not think it is possible for a designer to create a PYC yacht without involvement of a shipyard; it is just too complex a balancing act. It requires the designers, builder and engineers to be in a constant revision process to achieve the desired goal without compromising the appearance, the luxury or the liveability,” says Hein.

Visually, I Dynasty is a stunner but it is the amount of “hoop jumping” to meet the new code – with materials and finishes that either didn’t exist or were not in use on yachts prior to PYC – that makes her remarkable. Take, for example, a typical yacht design scheme that pairs pale leathers with the dark mahogany in the corridors: an impossibility with fire loading.

Rather than forego the elegance imparted by elaborate mahogany cornices, the project team found a supplier who could articulate the style using non-combustible plaster and faux wood paint. The fabric wall panels that designers typically rely on to cover large areas and/or absorb sound can’t be made fire retardant enough, but leather can, so beautiful stamped or woven leathers are used with abandon.

With 4,437 gross tonnes, I Dynasty offers her family tremendous interior volume and many special areas, such as a cinema, beach club and lower arrival lobby, sauna, hair salon, massage room, hammam, gym, dive centre with changing room, a forward-facing observation lounge, and main and upper saloons connected by a spectacular open staircase. Eleven cabins, including the owner’s suite and two VIPs, are concentrated on the main and upper decks.

Alessandro Massari, who designed the interior of the client’s three previous yachts, had the task of marrying The A Group’s contemporary exterior profile – with its outstanding use of glass – to an interior that honours classic design themes and a leitmotif of decorative floral elements. The owner asked for a cosy family yacht with “wow”.

Studio Massari chose warm honey-coloured woods, primarily anigre and madrone burr veneers, to form the background for stunning handmade marquetry that fronts the cabinets and built-in furniture on I Dynasty. The main saloon sole is patterned parquet because Massari believes it is more formal than carpet. 

This saloon on I Dynasty is a multifunctional space aft of the dining saloon with several comfortable seating areas, including one around a fireplace, a games table to starboard and a library with a baby grand piano to port. Flanking the piano, a magnificent open staircase creates a tangible link to the upper saloon. “Together with Richard (Hein), we discussed how to deal with the number of family members cruising; that is why the two main saloons are directly connected,” says Massari.

“Part of the family could be downstairs while the rest is above engaged in a different activity entirely. It really is the heart of the yacht. The stairs minimise the feeling of being in two different spaces.” A custom five metre chandelier from Cenedese of Murano creates a waterfall of light.

The “wow” factor of I Dynasty’s décor is particularly evident in a fantastic stone foyer where dark Port Laurent marble recreates a design by Michelangelo across a field of white and Calacatta Gold marble. The light marble is the backbone of the staircase that wraps around a large glass elevator leading to the upper deck. 

A wrought iron balustrade with gold-plated details takes up the floral motif. “It embraces you while climbing the stairs,” says Massari. Gold leaf appears throughout in accents and tray ceilings. While gold leaf itself is not low flame spread, the sealer is, according to Massari.

Each of the cabins on I Dynasty is a world unto itself with enormous space and rare marbles, some with powerful veining and striations, creating an unusual colour scheme. All of the guest cabins feature a backlit 3D oyster shell headboard with fan patterns mimicking the paving stones in Italian piazzas. 

The mix of traditional and contemporary continues outdoors, where multiple dining areas, a covered cinema, pools and sundecks fore and aft, plus a float-in tender garage/salt-water pool, provide plenty of options for living at sea. Equally impressive are the spaces Hein dedicated to machinery, workshops, dry and cold stores, laundry, guest services and quarters for the 32-strong crew.

“From the beginning the stated goal was to design a very robust vessel built completely in steel to prevent dissimilar metal distortion while cruising,” says Hein. “Plate thicknesses in excess of that required by class were used to reduce distortion due to welding, thus minimising the use of expensive filler, while also adding a margin against future corrosion.

“From a technical point of view, our main goal was to maximise all engineering and construction solutions to prevent the unnecessary use of diesel power and related exhaust gas emissions.”

The diesel-electric powerplant on I Dynasty utilises a full package of Rolls-Royce equipment and five engines, with power generation limited strictly to electrical load demand, thus hindering unnecessary fuel consumption and inherent gas emissions. Huge particulate filters occupy an exhaust silo underneath the mast, allowing clean emissions at anchor or in port. 

The yacht’s power management system is seamless and offers surge-free power with a clean supply from 690 to 110 volts. I Dynasty does not rely on battery banks for smoothing peak loads but on generators of variable sizes that start or stop automatically. As propulsion and hotel loads vary, the full range of operating scenarios can be covered efficiently. “This is an important achievement,” says Hein. “This isn’t about propulsion any more, it is power management.”

The wheelhouse on I Dynasty is a masterwork designed by Rolls-Royce and the client’s captain after he spent substantial time in the Rolls-Royce bridge simulator. It looks like an updated version of the bridge from Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. Two custom high-tech helm chairs slide back and forth on rails to suit the preferences of the helmsman. Each of the chair arms are fitted with controls and the ability to switch any combination of information displays to the centre LED screen.

There are also full control stations port and starboard on the console and, of course, wing stations outside. A large navigation area is behind the con to port with a monitoring station to starboard. The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System station and a night-time working area with night-vision-safe low-level illumination are aft of the bridge proper. 

I Dynasty is highly manoeuvrable – she turns in her own length at 16 knots thanks to a pair of Rolls-Royce Azipulls. Used with the bow thruster, they provide I Dynasty with a full dynamic-positioning mode useful in deep water or fragile seabeds, as well as for positioning the tender side-boarding platform away from the wind and waves.

The naval architecture, engineering and exterior design also contribute to the owner’s demand for “wow”. The floodable 10 metre tender garage holds a custom Pascoe limo tender launched via a system engineered in collaboration with Kusch Yachts. When I Dynasty’s tender is deployed, the space becomes a huge pool deck with light and air also flowing from a 12.5 metre starboard-side shell door that opens to launch a Riva.

A brilliant piece of engineering allows the tender to clear the stern opening while maintaining a closed pool for children to swim in. To keep water from sloshing unpleasantly, a teak-planked slope aft dampens motion and allows water to spill back to the sea.

The exterior lines on I Dynasty are slick and fresh and the walkaround side decks are so large they invite placement of steamer chairs. Glass is both a feature and a structural element, with floor-to-ceiling windows on the main and upper decks capped by glass “shark fins”.

A signature attribute, they form a windbreak and a visual transition from the strong horizontal lines of the lower profile to the top of the mast. The A Group and Massari worked closely to design exterior living areas that, thanks to hidden glass doors and windows, are usable in all weather. 

Although I Dynasty passed PYC certification with flying colours, Hein admits there are still parts of the code that make it challenging to meet owners’ expectations. For example, rules mandate additional crew and extra escape routes via stairs rather than ladders, which use considerable space in both owner and crew areas.

Hein does not take issue with the extra research and design, build costs, the eight mandated watertight zones on the two lower decks or the continuous double-bottom requirement. It’s that some of the rules demand materials that are yet to be developed to acceptable yacht standards, such as fireproof and waterproof exterior deckheads. It’s also the lack of transparency that leads to different interpretations of some of these rules by surveyors and flag states.

“At The A Group, we don’t just design, we design to build,” says Hein. “Designing to build to previously unknown rules has been a challenge for me as the naval architect and exterior stylist, and also as the owner’s representative and partner in the building process with Mark Dethlefs of Kusch Yachts. To accomplish this in three and a half years’ build time is, as I look back on it, more than we could have imagined possible.”

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