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Bleu de Nîmes: The 72m navy ship that became a superyacht

19 October 2021 • Written by Risa Merl


Motor Yacht
Clelands ·  72.1 m ·  1980

Not only has the owner of Bleu de Nîmes taken on two rebuilds but he also set up his own yard to complete the work on both occasions. He tells BOAT about his yacht’s metamorphoses from naval ship to rugged explorer to charter champion.

“I wanted a ship, not just another yacht that looks like any other,” says the owner of the twice-rebuilt Bleu de Nîmes when asked why he chose her. Many an owner will embark on a refit for the sake of a project, enjoying the boat for a while after its launch, before looking for a new endeavour to sink their teeth into. For this owner, Bleu de Nîmes hasn’t merely been a momentary passion project, but a 20-year love affair encompassing two major rebuilds, each with its own set of challenges. The most recent rebuild finished last year and took her into another stratosphere as a superstar charter yacht capable of offering opulence in the most far-flung locations.

In her previous life (pre-refit), Bleu de Nîmes was a Royal Navy degaussing ship known as RMAS Lodestone
All images: Edmiston

Bleu de Nîmes’ owner is a lifelong boater. He recalls receiving his first boat when he was five years old – a small mahogany dinghy built by Baglietto that was a Christmas gift from his father. By 13, he took a four-metre Zodiac with a 20-horsepower engine from Portofino to Sardinia. He credits this first trip with giving him the travel bug and these days he spends most of his time cruising remote areas of the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Before Bleu de Nîmes, he had his fair share of motor yachts, including a 35-metre, 50-metre and 60-metre Codecasa. But he was ready for a ship capable of world adventure, and in 1999 he enlisted the help of broker Peter Insull to find it. He didn’t just want his new yacht to look like a ship; he wanted her to be capable of travelling to remote destinations with a huge amount of autonomy. “I wanted to be able to navigate in any conditions no matter the weather,” he says. The owner admired the conversion of Arctic P and looked at a few tugs, but his attention was eventually drawn to a 55-metre retired British Royal Navy degaussing ship formerly known as Lodestone, which was up for auction.

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The upper aft deck on board Bleu de Nimes

With most refits, you will hear horror stories of rusted steel and hidden hull damage only revealed after work begins. Bleu de Nîmes is the exception – her steel hull and superstructure were in fantastic condition. The owner credits this to the British Navy choosing the best-quality steel and keeping the vessel well-maintained over the years. “The hull didn’t even have one millimetre of corrosion,” he says. “I only kept the hull and a bit of the superstructure – everything else I changed.” At the outset of converting Lodestone into Bleu de Nîmes, the bones of a solid vessel were there, but there was absolutely nothing yacht-like or liveable about her. The main deck had a gaping hole through the superstructure, which itself was minimal without any exterior decks. In this sense, the project started from scratch, with the owner and his design team reimagining what was possible to carry on such a sturdy hull.

The main saloon is a place for convivial conversations. This is complemented by two smaller, cosier saloons forward for guests to have space to themselves. The interior decor fits the owner’s brief for a colonial motif and comfortable living

The owner sought a shipyard capable of taking on a major yacht conversion and rebuild, and he considered yards in the UK, Poland and Italy before winding up in Turkey, tempted by quality results at a lower cost. However, the chosen Turkish yard couldn’t guarantee elements of the job, so the owner decided to do it himself. He found a bit of land to haul out the yacht and hired his own team, which included yacht designer and consultant Peter Birkett and naval architect Halit Ertürk. To say the owner was hands-on would be an understatement – he travelled to Turkey a whopping 94 times over a four-year period until the conversion was completed in 2005, and he had a hand in every aspect of the design. “I even decided on the toilet paper that would be used on board,” he says with pride.

The conversion saw the bow raised and windows enlarged. The shape of the superstructure was maintained in the front, and at the back aft decks were built off each level. The owner has a large family and enjoys inviting friends on board, so the goal was to have as much space as possible, with the ability to accommodate at least 20 guests and 20 crew. The first rebuild gave the yacht nine staterooms – three triples and six double cabins. The owner’s cabin was found amidships on the lower deck, the most comfortable place for sleeping during overnight journeys. The interior design was by Pier Vittorio Cerruti, who has designed many of the owner’s homes. The owner requested a colonial motif with lots of rich American cherry wood, loose furnishings and antiques, including valuable Chinese vases. “I wanted her to be different from all the yachts I had previously,” he explains, referencing the more modern Italian styling of his Codecasas.

Between the four indoor and outdoor tables, the upper deck can accommodate at least 36 for dining

Completed in 2005, Bleu de Nîmes was used privately by its owner for 10 years, travelling to remote areas of Papua New Guinea, Greenland and the Aldabra chain off the Seychelles. She was perfectly adapted for these environments but, apart from a state-of-the-art dive set-up, the yacht lacked many of the traditional superyacht amenities. The owner had no interest in spa pools or swimming pools – “If I want to go for a swim, I’ll go in the sea” – and he didn’t see the sense of a cinema, as there were televisions and DVD players in each cabin. Even the steep, vertical staircases found on board were more ship than superyacht. But in 2016 he took the decision for Bleu de Nîmes to undergo another conversion to transform his ship into a stylish charter yacht.

The ambitious rebuild saw the yacht extended by 16 metres in total, with length added in the amidships and at the stern. This brought her new LOA to 72.25 metres and increased her volume by nearly 600GT. Unfortunately, much like the first rebuild, the chosen yard – this time in Italy – was a non-starter. The yard went bankrupt, and it fell on the owner to once again step in, take over existing contracts and set up a build team.

Bleu de Nîmes stayed at the yard’s defunct property near Genoa and subcontractors were overseen by the yacht’s captain, Mascia Poma, and 10 crew members. “She has been with me since the beginning,” the owner says of his captain. It’s obvious he’s proud to have a female skipper at the helm. “In principle, when women do what is normally a man’s job, they do it with more passion and attention to detail.” Mario Nattero was hired for the naval architecture, while Cerruti came back to design the interiors. New areas on board keep in line with the previous styling, with plentiful American cherry joinery and iroko wood floors complemented by black-veined marble.

The owner’s suite is now found forward on the upper deck, but during overnight passages Bleu de Nîmes’ owner still plans to sleep on the lower deck
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If the original conversion created a yacht-like ship, then the second rebuild birthed a true explorer superyacht. It’s apparent not just in the enviable list of amenities that were added, but in her looks as well – the extensions took her previous squat superstructure and made a longer, more elegant profile. She also got a full mechanical rebuild, which included overhauling all the pumps, generators and sewage systems and upgrading the insulation and communication systems, to name a few items on her extensive checklist. Per the owner’s request, the rebuild also brought her to Passenger Yacht Code (PYC), enabling her to legally charter with 28 guests, 23 crew and four staff.

Room for the additional accommodation and charter-friendly amenities was achieved by the extension. Bleu de Nîmes was cut in half and lengthened by 11.7 metres amidships, while a new stern block is 4.5 metres longer than the original transom. “The extensive hull modifications have resulted in a complex re-engineering of all aspects of the yacht, inclusive of specific custom design assessments (several FE and CFD calculations have been performed) and stability, plants and systems calculations,” says naval architect Mario Nattero. “Not to mention that the request to gain Passenger Notation implicated further engineering and design complexity.” Among the many requirements to meet PYC was the installation of 39 fire doors, four watertight doors and 16 watertight hatches.

The amidships extension made way for a lift, rising six decks from lower to sundeck, and a grand staircase, so there’s no more scurrying up steep stairways. The main deck now has a larger saloon, as well as two cosy lounges forward to port and starboard. Previously, accommodations were found on the lower deck, but the rebuild has seen the addition of two VIP suites on the main deck. The upper deck has become a grand space for entertaining, with two indoor and two outdoor dining tables seating 36 guests, complemented by a secondary galley on this deck for ease of service. Clear away the loose furnishings on the aft upper deck and there’s a touch-and-go helipad. This deck also hosts the owner’s suite with its dual bathrooms, walk-in closet, study and lounge. The owner is using his new suite for now – but for overnight crossings he plans to be back down on the lower deck, which now has 10 cabins. There is also a new lower deck garage, stowing two of the four tenders on board, while the two others are on the forward deck.

The stern extension made space for a beach club, which Nattero says creates “a smooth transition between internal guest areas and the swimming platform, which enhances the onboard experience while not distorting the original ‘expedition’ nature of the yacht.” And indeed, she is still an expedition yacht with a range of 20,000 nautical miles at 12 knots. As far as autonomy is concerned, there are three walk-in cold storerooms set at different temperatures. “If I want to, I can stay at sea for a year feeding 40 people,” says the owner. Another major update of the rebuild that will be appreciated during voyages is the redesigned hull. “Integration of a new bulb, keel and the aft swimming platform have improved hull stability, course-keeping and efficiency,” says Nattero.

The colonial interior design is defined with rich woods, rattan furniture and white soft goods. The owner wanted the interior to be elegant, comfortable and different from modern, minimalist motor yachts

Bleu de Nîmes is now capable of world roaming at an even higher standard. Other charter amenities include a large gym and wellness area on the bridge deck and two spa pools on the sundeck, but the owner still prefers a dip in the sea. That doesn’t mean he’s not enjoying the new Bleu de Nîmes. “She has improved in many ways – she is now sleeker, safer and more comfortable,” he says. “She’s so stable now, it doesn’t feel like she’s even moving.”

Between the yard bankruptcy at the beginning of the rebuild and Covid-19 hitting at the end, the project stretched from a timeline of 18 months to four years, with the yacht relaunching in 2020. That summer, she cruised in the owner’s old stomping grounds of Sardinia before heading down to the Maldives. She was back in the Mediterranean by summer 2021 and has already proved a popular charter yacht, netting nine weeks this year alone.

Bleu de Nîmes is currently for sale (asking €47,000,000 with Edmiston), as the owner wants a smaller yacht in the 30- to 50-metre range. He is looking at the brokerage market this time, rather than delving into another refit. But the owner is clear that he only intends to sell his current love for the right price. Otherwise, he would happily use her for years to come. “Who knows,” he muses, “you might be interviewing me in another 20 years when I’ve fixed her up again.”

This feature was first published in the November 2021 edition of BOAT International.

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