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Aviva: Inside the 98.4m Abeking & Rasmussen flagship yacht

Aviva: Inside the 98.4m Abeking & Rasmussen flagship yacht

She’s big — let’s get that out of the way. At 98.4 metres, Aviva became the 46th longest yacht in the world when she was delivered by Abeking & Rasmussen last year. Measured by her 4,966 gross tonnes rather than length, she shoots up the chart to number 30. There is no other boat of her length that can match her for volume.

Her 17.24 metre beam is so generous that the designers pulled in the bridge deck superstructure to add side decks — improving crew circulation and refining the profile — because “we just didn’t need that much beam”.

They were right: spaces on board are magnificently expansive, from guest suites the size of the master suite on a 50 metre to an owner’s wardrobe that is, designer Andrew Langton notes quite seriously, “bigger than my house in France”. The fact that scale sits fairly low down on the list of Aviva’s extraordinary features speaks to the imagination and belief-beggaring ambition of this project.

Aviva is the third yacht of her name delivered to owner Joe Lewis, British businessman and major shareholder in Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. The first, a 62 metre Winch design, was built at Feadship in the Netherlands; the second, a 68 metre Reymond Langton design, at Abeking & Rasmussen on the banks of the Weser river in Lemwerder, near Bremen.

For his grandest project yet Lewis returned to Abeking. “They were, surprisingly, much less conservative than other people. Maybe it’s because of the military stuff they do,” says Toby Silverton, head of design on the project, working with Reymond Langton, and who was also involved in Lewis’s two previous projects.

The yard’s biggest project had been 82.48 metre Secret and to take on Aviva it extended its build shed to accommodate yachts of up to 125 metres — a bold move into a larger size category. And its courage didn’t end there.

“Build a big yacht around a padel tennis court was the main brief, I guess,” says the yard’s project manager Andreas Hering, with admirable understatement. “In three years.”

A project of this size might easily take five years, even if the yard already had a shed big enough for the purpose. And this was a highly unusual project. Design was accelerated too: the complex interior was penned in six months, when they would have liked a year; and the exterior in just one month, when it might more comfortably have taken six.

Knowing that makes Aviva’s elegant profile even more impressive. “There was a lot of work to [visually] break up the mass, using facets,” says Langton. “We also tried to keep the lines long, so the sheer line is very long and jumps up forward with a clean line.”

They also minimised the details that act as size references, to disguise the scale. Rub rails are eliminated, stanchions replaced with glass, crew quarters windows are grouped to create long lines of glazing and even the anchor pocket has been elongated and disguised, lest a little square of gleaming stainless gives the game away.

Some upright elements of the silver superstructure were also picked out in a darker shade. “They disappear a bit, which makes the slope of the boat more raked,” says Langton.

The long bow adds to the effect, but the aesthetic is the beneficiary of a practical decision: this boat will roam far and the long covered bow makes it likely to survive the kind of rogue waves that have battered a few cruise ships over the years.

“I talked to the captain of the QE2 who went through a wave, and what happens is all the wheelhouse windows smash, they had four foot of water, you then lose all your instruments and they had no ability to control the boat, communicate or navigate,” says Silverton.

To strengthen Aviva he added extra watertight doors and armoured the two forward VIP cabins and superyacht wheelhouse so that they could be sealed off to save the boat. “You can lose everything on the bridge and you can still navigate and control the boat from the engine room,” he says.

Apart from safety, the main aim of the naval architecture was stability. Before the build of Lewis’s second Aviva, Silverton had been frustrated by a lack of data on how rolling motion affects passengers, so he put 36 people in a motion simulator for three days.

“There’s two things: one is the period of roll and the second is the way it rolls,” he says. “The typical roll period of the 62 metre would be around 7.5-7.8 seconds, one of two roll periods people were particularly upset by. And we found that if it was a soft stop and then a soft movement away again, people were much more tolerant of it.”

The design of the second boat addressed those concerns and the new Aviva’s hull — patent pending — is an evolution of that. It has a nipped in “waist” which bulges back out below the waterline. This both slows and softens the roll. Her near-vertical bow and narrow sailing boat-like stern (which helps reduce pitching) also aid efficiency.

So much so that they were able to go down two engine sizes from the original spec (she has two MTU 16V4000 M73Ls, which put out 2,880kW each) and still hit 20.3 knots in sea trials. Silverton notes that she runs most comfortably at a zippy 16.5 knots, despite an official cruising speed of 14 knots.

Supplementary electric motors offer smooth manoeuvring and silent 11 knot running at night, while extra solidity comes from MAGLift stabilisers aft and one pair of fin stabilisers forward.

But it is the padel tennis court that lies literally and metaphorically at the heart of this project. This high intensity squash-tennis hybrid is a daily routine for Lewis and his explorations with his previous yachts had been limited to destinations with courts.

“The original idea I had was to put it on the aft end main deck and have folding panels and sliding walls,” says Langton. “It never even entered my head to put it inside, because it’s so big.”

Not only would putting the court at the back have made for a profile that Langton likens to a pick-up truck, but Silverton notes that the court would not have been playable at main-deck level. “You’re way above the roll centre, so it’s moving sideways – humans can’t cope with sideways movement of the ground,” says Silverton. “So we looked at putting it as low down as possible.”

Achieving such a large area in that position was an engineering feat but the results are spectacular. Its dimensions short-circuit spatial understanding — it seems impossible that this towering 6.65 metre tall space could be accommodated in Aviva’s profile.

But it is, and it functions beautifully. “We’re running along at 19 knots, white horses everywhere, and they’re downstairs playing padel having no idea that there’s any sea at all,” says Silverton.

This sort of intelligent ambition has transformed every space on board into something special. “The owner has been in many businesses – hospitality, hotels – so he really understands how spaces work,” says Silverton.

Apart from strategically placed pantries and concealed crew entrances, there are three massive dumb waiters, a lower deck entrance for loading supplies, a dedicated crew galley and much more. The final GA was version 57.

On the more glamorous side of this equation, the upper saloon is a highly functional family room that’s comfortable, bright and airy. The sofas are extra squashy, and there’s a games table as well as a sculptural Bogányi piano.

The head height is 2.6 metres and nine metres of openable full-height windows run along each side of the room – with balconies. Rather than the usual glass, doors to the aft deck are leather clad, making the room feel more private. In fine weather, with those doors open, glass panels slide out to surround the aft deck dining area, creating one long, protected inside/outside space.

Designing such a huge area without pillars for support was a challenge and the corners are, says Hering, packed with extra structure. “Also, in the ceiling, all the girders are very thick because the unsupported length is just enormous.”

In contrast to this space, the main saloon below is a glamorous introduction to Aviva, up the sweeping superyacht staircase from the swim platform and inside to take in starry pieces from the owner’s art collection from a round of sunken seating. Adding a dash of intrigue there’s a secret cinema forward of the space, behind a hidden door.

The master suite is in the nose of the main deck rather than higher up, for extra stability. It stretches from a full-beam cabin to a massive bathroom centred with a monolithic Corian bathtub (there’s a spa just aft of the cabin for even more serious pampering), to a wardrobe-cum-dressing room of spectacular scale and glamour, inspired by Chanel boutiques.

But while some spaces are grand in scale, others are decidedly intimate. Rather than a dining saloon, there are two art-filled “bistros” on board for cosy meals, and many other small dining areas elsewhere. The owner’s bridge deck office is also modestly proportioned, with a conference room next door for larger meetings.

In terms of interior style, the owner’s brief was for something revolutionary. “He didn’t want anything to be symmetrical, it had to be curvy or organic,” says Langton. “He wanted it to be very different. No wood, nothing traditional.”

From the furniture and fittings to walls and overheads, there is barely a straight line on this boat. That was no mean feat for Abeking & Rasmussen’s outfitter Rodiek, which, as well as building most of the yacht’s bespoke furniture in organic forms, produced undulating wall panels from high density CNC-milled foam. “Five or ten years ago this was only used to do models or moulds for the car industry. It is very expensive,” says Langton.

It is, however, perfect for creating curves. “For this boat we decided to use a lot of new materials, even for the base materials, because of the big curved ceiling spaces,” says Hilmar Westermeyer, COO of Rodiek, who had to buy a new CNC milling machine for the project. Rodiek works only for Abeking & Rasmussen (and vice versa) in a symbiotic relationship.

In terms of the interior styling, the ethos was love it or lose it — at least visually. “This door disappears when it is closed and becomes part of the wall,” says Langton in one of the forward VIPs, swinging it to the latch, where its undulations perfectly meet those on the wall. “You either make a door a feature, make it beautiful, or you make it disappear.” The same goes for handles: those on wardrobes are invisible, but ones used on cabin doors are gnarled and textural, incorporated into a cracked bronze plate “like desert clay”.

“Because we’ve not used any wood, basically the whole interior is a mixture of leather and lacquer, it’s really almost tailored.” Take the artfully stitched cream leather of window frames, or the iridescent shot silk that runs down the broad main deck corridor, printed with a bespoke cartographical motif.

A neutral palette is enriched with precious materials: sunset-toned onyx, vanilla marble, shagreen, shimmering leathers. There are glossy panels dripping with resin and acrylic by Alex Turco in the lobby, and panels of velvet mottled with gold, by Sabina Fay Braxton, above guest beds. Staircases are works of art; one with floating treads like turbine blades, another a leather and glass form that spirals up from the floor.

This interior — where, as Langton puts it, almost every surface has “richness and form” – melts into the deck spaces via visual tricks: organic patterns in the Esthec decking that continue in the interior carpets; or the bar that is half in the main saloon and half on the aft deck, a mirror image joining the two spaces.

The superyacht sundeck is the exterior equivalent of the upper saloon — a comfortable family lounge. This massive space, with sunshine yellow upholstery, runs from a shaded central area for dining, with a projector for movie nights, to an aft sunbathing area with sunpads (with a wedge shape to sit as well as lie) and another forward around a spa pool, set low against a glass windbreak for spectacular views.

This forward end is a cosy space like so many on board. It’s that understanding of usable, enjoyable spaces, of human scale, human comfort and passions that makes Aviva a truly grand design. Those 98 metres just help pack it all on board.

First published in the April 2018 edition of Boat International.

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