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Lang Walker's top 6 tips for building custom yachts
Have a clear mission statement
Serial superyacht owner Lang Walker has overseen the build of three custom yachts — the Kokomo series — the last of which was the 58.4 metre sailing yacht Kokomo (III) which was delivered in 2010 and has had considerable success on the regatta circuit. As he prepares to open a Fijian island paradise of the same name, Walker draws on his years of experience to detail his philosophy for building world-class luxury yachts.
Have a clear mission statement
The starting point in any new construction project is to produce a mission brief so that the project manager, designer and builder are able to completely understand the owner’s overall aspiration. In Kokomo’s case I wanted to take a step up from my last two boats, getting higher performance, more comfort, plenty of open spaces and an extremely sleek design.
I specified that performance should be increased by not limiting the mast height to the 66 metre maximum required for a Panama canal transit and having a deeper keel — but one that can be lifted for accessing the best anchorages, harbours and beaches.
We also wanted to keep her under 500GT to avoid the stricter regulations but this was a particular challenge as we also wanted the tenders to be stowed beneath a cambered foredeck, and the volume of this space was included in the 500GT total.
Choose your management team wisely
One of the most crucial factors in a successful new construction project is the choice of management team. This might save an owner being unnecessarily disturbed during the whole build process and certainly ensures that he obtains a better quality, and more valuable, product — as well as a stress-free life!
The complexity of a sailing yacht makes decision making more critical than when building a motor yacht. A sailing yacht has so many more moving parts, from the mast, sails and rigging to the keel. Having the right people around the table, all ahead of their game, allowed for any risk to be identified and calculated.
A good management team, including designer, builder and construction manager, understands the aims and the challenges and is not afraid to bring in specialists, recommend research and development investment and push the limits in an effort to find new and better solutions using ever-evolving technology.
Find a good construction manager
Superyacht builders have their own in-house project coordinators and the builder ultimately takes responsibility for the end product being delivered on time, on budget and performing to agreed criteria. However, I believe that having an independent construction manager acting solely for the owner - who has invested considerable sums in the project — is vital for a successful outcome.
Obvious reasons for this include the monitoring of suppliers and sub-contractors, identifying potential issues and making timely recommendations on how to overcome them, as well as keeping a check on costs and continuously motivating all the people involved over the long build period.
Employing Peter Wilson of Marine Construction Management (MCM) to lead the management team ensured continuity, a superior outcome and a smooth transition to sailing and on-going operations.
Learn from experience
Kokomo is my third superyacht and, as once again Alloy Yachts and Dubois Naval Architects were involved, one could imagine that the end result might simply be the same as the previous boat — everything just being that much bigger. This was not the case.
The first Kokomo measured 40.4 metres and the second came in at 52 metres. That step-up of nearly 12 metres was big enough to avoid the ‘upstairs-downstairs’ feel of a smaller yacht and gave us the ability to have one social area flowing aft from the bridge, through the saloon and out to the semi-enclosed cockpit. When it came to building the third Kokomo we could draw on this experience to create a true world cruising yacht built to be safe and quick under both sail or power and able to go anywhere in the world in a comfortable, seaworthy and secure fashion.
Unforeseen challenges can lead to outstanding results
So much of the decision-making involves debate over which technologies to employ and how far to go. Building one of the largest carbon-fibre masts in the world was not one of our aims but loads increase exponentially as the boats get bigger and you have to work out how to safely harness the energy and power generated from larger sails and gear.
We pushed the limits but we never lost sight of safety as Kokomo’s sail plan and rig took shape. As a result, many of the features on Kokomo are leading edge. Others are perhaps better described as bleeding edge, with an inherently higher risk factor as they were not tried-and-tested in practice before being constructed.
I believe many other features of Kokomo are individually commendable as examples of stand-alone product development:
- Her 130 tonne lifting keel is cleverly integrated and concealed within the interior design
- The slide on/off mainsail cars allow the fully-battened sail to furl into the boom
- We fly the largest asymmetric superyacht spinnaker in the world
- Kokomo’s flush foredeck contains twin 6.1m tenders and an eight-person spa pool
- The design incorporates large raise/lower glass windows around the cockpit
I have always enjoyed the journey and the challenge that each project brings. This Kokomo is my third with the same team, and she certainly meets my mission’s ultimate goal.
Combining all her features in one yacht, testing each piece, ensuring everything was fit for its purpose, delivering and installing in a ‘just-in-time’ manner, while making it look effortless requires immense management. Having everything work equally well on the blackest of nights in the Southern Ocean or when cruising through the Marquesas with my family and friends is, of course, the real proof of a successful outcome.
In the end, everybody benefits and shares the credit for creating a superyacht that I hope will still be sailing hard, looking good and providing as much enjoyment as she does now, for many years to come.