It’s usually a question of more space – a bigger beach club, perhaps, a gym or a stellar master cabin. But it’s quite rare to get a new boat built primarily to carry a larger tender. Nevertheless, this is how it was for the proud owner of the first Flexplorer to emerge from young Italian yard Cantiere delle Marche last autumn – 39 metres of elegant go-anywhere yacht.
He already had one of the yard’s first 31-metre Darwin 102 explorer-style yachts and loved the design. “I have spent about four months per season on board Galego and I have to say that she is probably the best vessel someone can have in the 100ft range,” he tells me. “As a yacht owner, though, you make more experience mile after mile, and you understand better your real needs, the difference between what happens on the drawings and in your real life, and you decide to build the next one closer to your needs.”
He’s candid about his prime motivation: the Darwin carried only a 5.8-metre Novurania Chase tender. “Most important was the tender’s dimension. I wanted at least a 7.5-metre jet tender or ski boat in my new yacht, yet I didn’t want to build a boat longer than 40 metres. I didn’t want too much heeling when launching that big tender too. And I didn’t want to compromise the interior volume because of the tender.”
This is the train of thought of an experienced yacht owner – one who understands their requirements very well and is able to translate them into design priorities. Those priorities fitted very well with a new Cantiere delle Marche design called the Flexplorer. Features such as a long open aft deck, an innovative carbon fibre A-frame crane and exhaustive storage throughout the boat immediately ticked the key boxes for the owner. And since he knew he already liked and trusted the yard, it was quite a quick contract to sign.
“You can pick up your phone and call anyone who is working on your boat, and their flexibility in accommodating your needs is beyond any expectation,” the Flexplorer’s owner explains. “It is a very lean company with fast decision processes.”
Of course, a yacht is much more than just a means of carrying the tender around. And central to the Flexplorer concept is this sense of blending Riviera-style luxury with the ability to go anywhere. “You can be in Porto Cervo having a fantastic party with DJs on the top deck and dancers hanging from the A-frame crane,” says Vasco Buonpensiere, sales director and co-founder of Cantiere delle Marche. “Or you can be in the Falkland Islands in complete safety, with two 40ft (12-metre) containers on the deck with scientists making experiments – or, as one client asked us, a painting studio and a small classroom for six children.”
At the heart of the Flexplorer is an over-specced, over-engineered technical platform that gives the boats their enviable efficiency and a high degree of redundancy for safe operation in inclement parts of the world. Twin Caterpillar C32s provide a combined 1,492kW of power, giving the boat a top speed of 14 knots and a cruising speed of 10 knots. The intention was for a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles, but the design has smashed through that ceiling. “Having sea-trialled the boat, we discovered that at 10 knots it arrives at an 8,000 nautical mile range,” says Buonpensiere, beaming. “In every aspect – sea-keeping, noise, range – it’s the best boat I’ve sea-trialled in my career.”
Of course, he would say that – he built it. But the evidence that this is not just marketing hyperbole lies in the fact that the next Flexplorer is going to the Northwest Passage. And it has only required some minor adjustments to the design to make it ready. That is in part down to the expertise of Sergio Cutolo and his engineering team at Hydro Tec. As well as drawing the underwater lines of the Flexplorer, Cutolo also designed much of the engineering and the exterior look. The bilges are a classic rounded shape, but with flatter sections aft to create the maximum prop shaft clearance – making for less noise and allowing a larger, more efficient prop to be fitted. There’s a chine forward to deflect spray and a heavy flare to minimise pitching.
“With this boat, we are really close to the bottom of where any improvement is still possible,” says Cutolo. “The fuel consumption is extremely low. Speed exceeded contract speed by at least one knot. The very impressive thing was we did zero to top speed in 20 seconds – which for a 400-tonne boat is not bad!”
Now, dull as it may seem, storage is the other key ingredient to a successful explorer: from toys to trash, freezer room to fine wines – everything you need to maintain your lifestyle for long passages or, more excitingly, when the yacht is cruising out of range of normal provisioning facilities. This is another great strength of the Flexplorer.
“We’re always very attentive when we design storage spaces,” says Buonpensiere. “If you want you can stay a minimum of one month without resupplying, using frozen food. No problem with water and the wine cellar. We have a sub-lower deck with a tunnel that goes from the engine room to the crew quarters. Where there is standing room, we have custom made beautiful stainless-steel refrigerators and freezers for extra storage on top of what’s in the galley. In the forepeak, we have extra refrigerated storage for garbage – also space for luggage storage in the sub-lower deck, and supplies.”
And when it comes to space for toys and tenders, the design really comes into its own. The A-frame can lift up to 3.5 tonnes, so the 8.5-metre Joker Boat Clubman 28 EFB and Williams Dieseljet 445 can be easily hoisted out and stowed on the aft deck. It could in fact also manage a submersible, such as the Triton 660/2. Though it was not the case with this first hull, Aurelia, future Flexplorers will have a crane that straddles the full beam of the boat, stowing in the bulwarks, so it is easier to store the boats side by side. Between the aft deck and the bathing platform, three large vessels can be securely stored, while a handy rack for surfboards, wakeboards and so on slides up out of the aft deck.
When Aurelia is at anchor, the aft deck transforms into a superbly flexible 135-square metre social space with the tenders bobbing astern. A six-metre length of each bulwark here folds down hydraulically to add nearly a metre to the usable beam of the boat. And there are discreet anchoring points for custom-built sunshades, as well as a fridge and a small bar here. But the upper deck is where guests will spend most of their time, split between the sumptuous 10-person outside dining table by the yacht’s interior designer Francesco Paszkowski and a lounge-cum-cinema with a three-part sliding door. This is also where the wheelhouse is found, in whose shadow lies a capacious foredeck lounging area.
Above this is a sundeck that can extend to 35 square metres or more, but not on Aurelia. On this first Flexplorer, it is known as the “private Jacuzzi deck” up here. The owner wanted it to be a small, exclusive space on top of the boat, with a decent-sized fridge, a bit of storage and a large spa pool. “The 130 has a very peculiar layout because they didn’t even want a sundeck – just a small portion open with a Jacuzzi,” says Buonpensiere. “They created an alcove, a cosy place up there for the two of them, so the crew can’t go there.”
It is a move which reflects how confident this owner has grown. Confidence in his own requirements and confidence in the process of yacht design. There are other clues below. Although the Flexplorer 130 was designed with five large cabins in mind, Aurelia’s owner deferred to his chief stewardess, who told him that she would like some extra technical space. Where the fourth guest cabin should be amidships on the lower deck there is a 16-square metre laundry. “What we suggested to him is still to have a bathroom in there, like a guest cabin, so in case of resale, it’s very easy to retrofit an extra cabin,” says Buonpensiere. “We also added a Pullman bed in that laundry, so when they’re travelling with, say a Divemaster, he can sleep there.”
No less individual is the boat’s interior decoration, which is the work of the renowned Francesco Paszkowski Design in collaboration with Margherita Casprini. It is like nothing else I’ve ever seen aboard a yacht – more like a chic warehouse conversion in London or New York City. “The brief for Aurelia was to create a peculiar interior – it had to reflect the owner’s personality,” confirms Paszkowski. “He doesn’t like a boat interior furnished with famous brand furniture, he likes objects and furniture which have a special feeling and vibe, which tell a story and have a flavour.”
This has manifested itself in a palette of muted colours and an industrial style. Panels of plywood bearing a wafer-thin coat of concrete butt up to steel girders overhead. Brushed oak floorboards underfoot are intentionally cut to different widths to give an irregular, repurposed look. There’s more concrete on the walls, as well as steel framed-furniture, slate surfaces and sofas upholstered in vintage leather.
It’s a theme that works really well – in part because of the depth of detail. For example, the wiring for the lights on the boat is carried through brass piping fixed in plain sight to the ceiling. Outside the wheelhouse, there’s not a hint of touchscreen trickery on this boat; even the light switches are old-fashioned industrial boxes that stand proud on every wall. It won’t please every eye, but it has real depth of character. “Up until now, the percentages are better than we expected: seven to three in favour,” jokes Buonpensiere.
A feature that is likely to win over even the hardest-hearted of modernists is the wine cellar. Instead of stashing the Grand Crus in the bilges, they are out on display for all to marvel at: in a “lift” down the centre of the main staircase. It’s actually two separate cellars, designed by Romagnoli (an architectural metalworking specialist based near Ancona) and the yard, in a series of rotating racks containing 44 bottles each and accessed from the main and the upper decks. But the impression is of a lift shaft full of bottles running unbroken between the two decks. “We are very proud of the iron staircase with the steps covered with leather surrounding the wine cellar,” adds Paszkowski. “We like it, as it fits with the industrial vibe, but the leather gives a special sensation under your feet.”
Every major item of furniture has been rescued from a previous life, or at least inspired by a vintage piece. A daybed resembles a World War I mattress, recreated at stunning expense in precious Ralph Lauren fabric. There’s a lamp whose mantle once adorned an airfield as a landing light, discovered by Paszkowski in a flea market in Florence. “This design gave us the opportunity to explore unprecedented design solutions on board,” he says.Every major item of furniture has been rescued from a previous life, or at least inspired by a vintage piece. A daybed resembles a World War I mattress, recreated at stunning expense in precious Ralph Lauren fabric. There’s a lamp whose mantle once adorned an airfield as a landing light, discovered by Paszkowski in a flea market in Florence. “This design gave us the opportunity to explore unprecedented design solutions on board,” he says.
And exploration is what this yacht is all about. She is bound for cruising grounds in Ushuaia and the Pacific with an owner who expects to spend months and months on board. An owner who knows his own mind and, in a relative rarity even for an explorer yacht, really plans to explore.