Most explorers are built with the intention of travelling to the farthest corners of the earth, that is, after they hit the water. So how does a yacht come to journey 37,000 miles with zero engine hours on the clock?
Project Victorious started life fourteen years ago in Northern Chile as a 77 metre explorer, but the confidential project, then named Gin Tonic II, ended up grinding to a halt after the shipyard ran into financial difficulty. It was New Zealand businessman and serial superyacht owner Graeme Hart who came to the rescue of the half-built yacht, transporting it in bits and pieces across the Pacific Ocean to his hometown in Auckland, New Zealand, packing the parts into 100 containers.
Renamed Project Weta, the yacht spent two years under construction in New Zealand by which time Hart had decided to move onto something a touch bigger (which turned out to be the 107 metre Kleven explorer Ulysses). The project found itself once again half-complete and without a home, or at least until the unfinished explorer piqued the interest of a new owner in 2016. After shopping around for shipyards to take on the project, the owner, quite boldly, decided to set up his own yard AK Yachts that would see Victorious through to completion in Turkey.
The ambitious undertaking started with extending the yacht’s stern by six metres to accommodate an indoor pool in the beach club, along with the addition of a two-metre bowsprit bringing the total length to 85 metres. These two major modifications bumped up her already considerable gross tonnage to just over 2,300GT. As for the interior, a last minute decision saw the owner switch from original plans to enlist the help of British design studio H2 Yacht Design, which pushed back the schedule from its original anticipated launch date in spring last year. The two had crossed paths a few years prior but at the time H2 were unavailable, already engaged with the design of Ulysses (now Andromeda). It wasn't until the owner approached the studio for a second time in 2019 that by a stroke of luck they were available.
“From starting a project to delivering some drawings and information to the shipyard could be 12 months on a normal build... we had to redesign the whole boat in three or four months,” said Jonny Horsfield, founder of H2 Yacht Design. The team weren’t starting from an entirely blank canvas, though. “The layout was sorted, as was the air conditioning and electrics, but it was just empty spaces. Some areas had no walls in place, it was just one big open space,” said Horsfield. “The higher up the yacht you went there was less and less.”
The 85 metre explorer needed to be appropriate for the charter market which meant stripping back some of the detailing and refining what was already there. “They had all the components in place, but they just didn’t know how to dress it for charter.” It was important that the yacht wasn’t too historical or traditional; it needed to offer a wide appeal. “It really isn't a show pony,” said Horsfield. “It's supposed to be practical and elegant, like a villa with the doors open and you can chill around in your bare feet.”
You won’t find any glossy surfaces on board, instead, the design takes a more subtle approach with warm natural woods, teak and white oak, and occasional use of deeper macassar. Rippled glass, onyx, silver travertine and calacatta marble add subtle glimmers here and there. “We're not here to shock people. People are there to just relax and not feel too intimidated by the decor in terms of finish or colour,” said Horsfield.
The guest cabins, for example, are a calm and muted affair. There are 11 guest suites in total, five on the main deck including a VIP suite with an adjacent lounge, and four on the lower level, finished to guest standards but intended to be used by staff. The remaining two sit up on the bridge deck with the portside cabin serving as a hospital room, equipped with an independent ventilation system and medical set-up (a post-pandemic essential). Unusually, the owner’s suite is aft facing. Floor-to-ceiling wooden “ribs” act threefold as a cool design structure, headboard and partition, and the space is complete with its own private aft terrace and spa pool.
In another break from tradition, where you would probably expect an open-air sundeck, H2 created a smart lounge reminiscent of a swanky gentleman’s club. It’s a cool spot in which guests can unwind at the end of each day, with a humidor, wine cellar, fireplace and curved sofas for evening soirees, illuminated by a fan of skylights that douse the space in natural light and draw the eye skyward. Guests can grab a breath of fresh air aft, but for serious sun lounging, it is the upper deck that reigns supreme. The aft portion offers the works, including a Jacuzzi, bar, lounge and dining for 16 guests, with the skylounge serving as a welcome retreat from the midday sun. “We wanted to make it somewhere guests are going to hang out a lot,” said Horsfield. Styled as an “Ibiza lounge”, H2 Yacht Design stepped it up a notch on the detailing, opting for a beach-house vibe with nautical flavour using rope set into the bar and bursts of marine blue.
The owner is a family man, Horsfield explained, and has owned a handful of family boats for cruising the Mediterranean. And so the interior required a child-proof design that didn't fall short of the level of refinement expected of a luxury charter offering. Walnut flooring became a sticking point when ironing out the design with the concern that little ones might come along and drop something, but in the end, they went for it. "He realised that the design has to be more than just functional, it also has to be beautiful," said Horsfield.“It was finding that fine line between being family orientated and keeping it swish enough for charter guests."
One key element of the design was a childrens' playroom that H2 transformed into a multifunctional space. “It was huge on the originals. We actually reduced it slightly because it was so big,” said Horsfield. In the original design, there was no dive store or storage cupboard on the lower deck as you'd expect with any big explorer. H2 took the playroom and turned it into a pre-expedition meeting room with an adjacent storage room for wetsuits and cold weather gear. “In the morning, before you go exploring you need somewhere to gather everyone together. You might have a scientist or a guide on board. It's just like when you go skiing and you have a ski lesson, you've got to meet them somewhere."
In Victorious, H2 Yacht Design took a conventional explorer and created an interior that wasn't too fragile or too complex, but a perfect balance of form and function. Set to splash in March 2021, after fourteen years in build, it is sure to be a victorious moment when she touches the water, and just in time to make the most of her maiden summer season in the Med.