Robert Smith, founder and managing partner of SHADOWCAT, has logged incalculable nautical miles over the years. Having climbed his way to the top of the commercial engineering ranks, Smith achieved an unlimited Class I license and worked as a chief engineer on board various cruise and commercial vessels as large as 45,000 GT. Recruited in the yachting world and looking for a challenge, he then served as chief engineer on some of the most iconic vessels in the world, including 112.8-metre Le Grand Bleu, 92-metre Tatoosh, 65-metre White Cloud (now named Falcon Lair) and 59-metre Helios (now named Treehouse).
From engineer to entrepreneur
After many years of working on board, Smith transitioned to technical and shoreside support and management in 2008, sharing his expertise in project management on several builds and refits, both with management companies and through his own firm, YCTS Ltd. With his commercial background, experience working on board some of the largest superyachts in the world, and an impressive portfolio of technical management projects, Smith turned his head to vessel development.
In 2016, Smith undertook the role of client project manager for what was to be 87-metre Lonian, a Feadship that was delivered in 2018 to much acclaim from the industry. With a technical specification written and developed by Smith, together with DeVoogt Naval Architects and Feadship, the yacht was ahead of her time. Launched with a diesel-electric capability thanks to her PTO/PTI transmission and battery bank, she was able to cruise in full electrical mode using only batteries or generators, and the ground-breaking D/C busbar system also allowed for system optimisation. Waste heat recovery was also introduced, where jacket water was used to heat the swimming pools and Jacuzzis—another example of maximising and integrating the most advanced technology available at the time.
For the same client, Smith was charged with researching options for a support vessel that would suit the specific needs of the owner. With toys, tenders, dive operations, a certified helipad and a submarine all in the brief, there was not a vessel on the market that was fit for purpose. With his knowledge of power catamaran hulls, which were being used extensively in high-speed commercial applications, Smith pitched this idea to the owner, proposing that they take a chance on the revolutionary idea. Aside from the obvious capacity advantages these wide-beamed vessels offer, and the inherent efficiency that catamarans afford, the stability offered for the launch and recovery of tenders and other heavy equipment is unmatched.
It was this project that led Smith to see a gap in the market and launch a bespoke support vessel company.
A new company sets sail
Given Smith's background, expertise and industry connections, he had built up a network that would allow him to not only build boats, but build a revolutionary new company focused on creating only the finest bespoke support vessels.
Once SHADOWCAT was formed, their first call was to Incat Crowther, a world leader in power catamaran design with over 800 boats in the water. Smith’s relationship with Incat Crowther started six years earlier when he helped develop one of its fast-rig monohulls as a support vessel for a previous client. Following this, the decision to work with Incat Crowther on the 66.2-metre catamaran Hodor was an obvious choice.
Collaboration with an innovative builder
After searching worldwide for a state-of-the-art shipyard to work alongside, Smith was impressed with Astilleros Armon’s shipbuilding operation in northern Spain. A group of six (now seven) shipyard facilities, Armon Shipyards is spread across the northern coast of Spain and is responsible for nearly 1,000 ships at sea.
With over 55 years of experience in the shipbuilding industry, Armon Shipyards has always been at the forefront of innovation and continuously adapts to the evolution of the market. The yard is known globally for building tailor-made vessels from basic design to final delivery. With this in mind, Smith felt the shipyard was most aligned with SHADOWCAT’s vision.
Together, SHADOWCAT and Armon have launched several award-winning boats, including Hodor and 68.2-metre Wayfinder, and Armon is now a trusted partner of SHADOWCAT and the preferred shipbuilder for the brand.
What’s next for SHADOWCAT?
Together with Incat Crowther and Armon, SHADOWCAT created a category of yacht—custom-made support vessels designed to owners’ specific needs. Designed by SHADOWCAT, the first concept in this category, Sustain, will be displayed on the SHADOWCAT stand at the 2023 Monaco Yacht Show, which the brand says will "demonstrate a route to a more sustainable future in the yachting industry". So, what’s next?
According to SHADOWCAT, plenty of new boats, ideas, designs and technologies are in the pipeline. Committed to looking ahead at the needs of the market, the brand is preparing to release new category breakthroughs.
“We will continue to look for ways to innovate and apply technologies to support owners, captains and expeditions," says Smith. "As leaders, we feel it is crucial to continually push ourselves to raise the bar on the various types of support vessels we design not only today but as we move into the future.
"We’re also very proud of our leadership role in citizen science and the partnership we’ve established with the Water Revolution Foundation to expand our knowledge and contribute to the new metrics of yachting. Yacht-based exploration and ocean conservation work is core to our mission of preserving our oceans and accelerating sustainability in the superyacht industry.”
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