World Superyacht Award winner Al Waab was delivered in just two years despite the complexity of the project and a global pandemic to contend with. Sam Fortescue takes a look on board...
Yacht names are famously subjective, but the latest 55 metre from Alia Yachts and Vripack gets very close to the mark. Her Middle Eastern owner has called this powerful, elongated boat Al Waab, an Arabic word that refers to a boom town in Qatar and translates roughly as “vast area that accommodates things”.
Al Waab, the yacht, was born of the collaboration between Dutch design studio Vripack, owner’s rep Francesco Pitea of SF Yachts and Turkish shipyard Alia Yachts.
Vastness was not the focus of this project at the outset. But the concept grew during the early design phases, as is often the case. “We had a platform that we had started with Vripack, and I proposed it to the customer,” explains Pitea, the owner’s project manager.
“It wasn’t what he was looking for, so we developed a new platform for him. She sets the world record for the longest steel and aluminium vessel below 500GT. We were not looking for the record, but at a certain point in the design, the owner said, ‘I want 55 metres.’”
Al Waab stands alone for her arrow-like foredeck and sleek lines, when you look at other yachts in this size range. Her 9.1-metre beam completes a slender hull form, which is one of the keys to understanding this yacht.
“When you do slender, you encounter propulsion efficiency and comfort,” says Bart Bouwhuis, Vripack’s co-owner and creative director. “You can do the same speed with less power. You have relatively small engines, which means a relatively small engine room, which means you achieve more interior space.”
With her twin 522kW Caterpillar C18s, Al Waab was designed for cruising at 12 knots maximum, but she hit 14.5 knots in sea trials. At the same time, she burns around 35 per cent less fuel than comparable 499GT yachts - no mean feat when you’re comparing a heavier steel-hulled vessel to all-aluminium craft.
“Yachts are getting longer and wider, but owners still want to stay below the 500GT mark,” says Alia president, Gökhan Çelik. “We’ve seen increasing interest in this kind of yacht and so to be one of the first with such an impressive project is an important milestone for Alia.”
As Çelik points out, the job of building a boat is much more than just welding a few plates of steel together – it is bringing a project to life. There was challenging engineering behind this project and, astonishingly, it was delivered within a brutal 24-month deadline, in the grip of a pandemic.
“The key element for finishing this project is our integrated build system,” Çelik says. “Our in-house capabilities range from full-on engineering to interior furnishings, stainless-steel fabrication and so on. Having all of these under one roof proved invaluable – especially during the pandemic. We could move things around from one side to the other.”
The boat is designed with an unusual boxy bilge, which delivers more usable floorspace below decks. Together with the compact technical space, it has created room for no fewer than six large en suite guest cabins on the lower deck, all accessed via one staircase, “limiting the amount of corridor space, because that is essentially wasted”, says Bouwhuis.
The two largest cabins share a common wall that breaks into panels and recess into dedicated housing. The single bed in each cabin is mounted on runners, which allows pushing them together into a large double bed in what becomes a gigantic VIP cabin with dual bathrooms.
Aft of the engine room there is plenty of space for a gym connecting via steps to the beach club or to the saloon above. With large sheets of glass forming the transom here, this is an incredibly luminous space that can transform into an extra cabin with a sofa bed. The gym’s dayhead serves as a shower room in this case.
“The owner sails with guests, family, business partners – to accommodate all, you need a flexible layout,” says Bouwhuis. “He was very clear: ‘We like space and we definitely like comfort. The boat should be like a beach house on the Med – for weekends and holidays. We won’t be crossing oceans because it’s boring!’"
The outcome of those priorities is clear when you look at the boat’s styling, also from Vripack. It has an architectural quality, with a warm, informal feel and lots of glass. Wood panelling, used on ceilings, walls and on some cabinetry, is all in sustainable bamboo, not dissimilar-looking to teak. “More people should use it – it’s widely available,” Bouwhuis say. It’s more affordable too.
Upholstery is in muted greys, browns and beiges from Hermès and others – “friendly” colours. And there are porcelain tiles on the floor of the main saloon, which is a rarity in boat design. “The owner felt that if he wanted to come inside the yacht with his shoes on, he should be able to,” says Pitea from SF. “It’s not complex, and when you enter the main saloon, you don’t notice it. But this is where you understand we have exactly followed the wish of the customer.”
The glass is another matter. We’re not just talking about the nearly floor-to-ceiling panes that line the saloon. There are glass bulkheads, too, giving you unexpected sight lines, not to mention the glass doors, glass-lined stairwell and glass bulwarks. It lets the light wash in everywhere, giving a sense of openness where the tendency in yachting still is to divide volumes up into little blocks.
“When I saw the first layout, I was a bit anxious,” says Elkin Yildirim, project manager at Alia. “The first thing that I could think of was how to run all those pipes and cables, and the amount of glass did not help at all,” he says. “We took the unusual decision to complete all of the cabling outside of the boat, having reserved one of our sheds for this process, which allowed us to run nearly five kilometres of cable in five days.”
A prime beneficiary of this glass is the breakfast nook off the main saloon. It fits the owner’s multifunctional brief, offering a quiet spot where the family can breakfast privately. Sliding glass doors and a drop-down bulwark bring the sea view right in but it also has views all the way aft through the glass-filled saloon.
The open staircase is another integral part of the interior design. It runs from the lower deck to the upper deck, and besides its floating steps and glass side, it is bordered by a wall of glittering, gold-studded acrylic a full three decks high.
Naturally enough, the owner was adamant that his cabin should be at the forward end of the superstructure, with unobstructed views ahead. He also wanted fold-down terraces where he could take his morning tea. The bathroom had to be moved down a deck, along with two cavernous dressing rooms to accommodate these wishes. “The compromise is that you have to walk down a couple of steps,” Bouwhuis says. He intimates that the owner took some persuading over this. “It’s a very open-plan configuration. We had to explain how the light would come through the glass panels of the balustrade above and from under the sofa.”
You need to be on board to see it, but this solution works. The steps down hardly intrude on the cabin, while light flowing from above and from hull windows makes the bathroom beautifully bright, like the rest of this boat. And the benefits of the forward views are evident. From the large double bed, you can see the sea all around, and enjoy private access to a foredeck lounging area, complete with a four-metre spa pool and the same horizon-to-horizon views.
Not that lounging space is in short supply elsewhere on Al Waab. Her length gives her 42 per cent more exterior deck space than a typical 499GT yacht, according to Pitea – 286 square metres in total. A glance at the general arrangement confirms it. Besides the huge beach club with its bar, armchairs and loungers, there are three distinct exterior zones, each with their own different characters and uses.
“We have large outside spaces that blend interior and exterior,” Pitea says. “They don’t count as gross tonnage, but they are well-protected areas on the aft decks. The owner will use them almost like an interior area.”
On the main deck, it’s all about relaxed dining in deep, comfy seating, and lounging in armchairs. Vripack has carefully designed this as an extension to the main saloon. The floors are flush, and the ceiling design, with its bamboo slats and synthetic leather panels, runs right through. Even the indirect lighting is designed to be continuous.
This lighting was another central part of the owner’s brief. “He was clear he didn’t want direct light in his face, so there are no ceiling spots,” Bouwhuis says. “We’ve played with indirect lighting instead. We were really keen to understand how light works and reflects on the materials. It’s been a steep learning curve.”
Diffuse lighting gives a sophisticated contrast to the black panels under the overhangs of each deck. LED panels are also sunken into the decking and LED strings recessed into the bulwarks, where they add subtle accents in a warm tone. “The main focus of the owner was lighting – the boat had a huge lighting budget,” Pitea says. “He wanted a different kind of set-up for the lighting, with dimmers everywhere.”
The exterior space offers a more formal dining setting on the upper deck, with up to 12 guests arrayed around a striking ceramic-lined table. The structural raked back supports for the sundeck provide a natural windbreak for diners. But on fine nights, they can take to the sofas further back out under the stars, where a vast flatscreen television rises smoothly from a console to offer movies with real atmosphere.
On up again, the 78-square-metre sundeck offers yet another feel. Loose furniture, including sun loungers and elegant sofas and armchairs from Paola Lenti, can easily be pushed aside to create a dance floor or a mingling space for guests. There is a well-equipped bar with a concealed fridge and barbecue to be enjoyed on quieter nights – even an ice cream-maker and a pizza oven.
Connecting all these spaces is a well-considered plan for crew circulation, which means that no part of the boat is more than a few steps away from a cold drink or a hot meal. In addition, with a dedicated crew staircase, there is never any need for heavily laden crew and carefree guests to squeeze past each other in corridors or on side decks.
This is an impressive boat under any circumstances, but it is outstanding in the context of a 24-month project completed in the teeth of global supply shortages. Why such a rush, I wanted to know. “He just wanted it like that,” says Pitea with a shrug.
His pride in the project is evident. “This boat doesn’t need a salesman – she needs only a client and a sea trial,” he declares. “A northern European yard would never have taken on this project – it was crazy challenging. But, now that it’s built, it’s easy to understand.”
Alia Yachts had the tenacity to see Al Waab through to delivery, and project manager Yildirim comes back on that word “crazy”. “When we started the project, there was no pandemic and we were geared to deliver the boat on time,” he says. “It was challenging, but it became crazy. We gathered a team who had the capability and dedication to finalise such a difficult project in this time frame.”
And now that the dust has settled, the result is abundantly clear: Al Waab is filled with comfortable spaces where guests will never want for sea views, comfort or light.
First published in the April 2022 edition of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW