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From the archives: On board Blohm+Voss's 96m Palladium

24 June 2021• Written by Marilyn Mower

The 96-metre Blohm+Voss Palladium is a streamlined giant of the sea, dedicated to the owner’s passion for extreme water sports and a desire for perfection in everything...

The custom Cougar tender was waiting at the appointed hour on the quay of Vilanova Grand Marina. It was alone save for a flock of curious gulls. The blazing Spanish sun on this June morning made the limousine tender’s sleek hardtop doubly appealing. Stepping aboard, I immediately dived below, only to be shooed back on deck by Mark Smith, Michael Leach’s partner in Michael Leach Design.

"The project name was Orca; the mast – like the dorsal fin on the killer whale – is perfectly poised back from the tip," says Leach
All images courtesy of Michael Maynard and Bugsy Gedlek

Smith was determined I shouldn’t miss a single feature of this totally bespoke craft. From the multi-position boarding handrails to the multifunctional stern light, from the folding windscreens on the dual helmstations to the custom entertainment electronics, pop-up dodger and unique window shapes, Smith’s rapid-fire |look at this" and "here’s another thing" filled the trip. In fact the 10-metre tender was the trip until Smith paused for breath, looked up and said, "Oh, there she is."

She, in this case, was a two-tone, 96-metre vision of modern yacht design cleaved by a two-storey fan of glass reflecting a non-stop image of sunlight sparkling on the Mediterranean.

The yacht’s robust shell plating is designed on the scantlings of a RoRo ferry

Palladium was on sea trials and motored over to rendezvous with us about a mile offshore. No previously published photographs do her justice. The tender’s skipper obliged us with a spin around the mother ship, whose unique, dazzling, complex shapes revealed themselves in the dramatic shadows they cast.

Palladium did not represent an evolution in yacht design, but a new species entirely. Although the owner is no stranger to ownership, this is his first project emanating from a blank page. Zero to 96 metres in one decade is a learning curve of rocket-like trajectory, but he does nothing by half measures. Thus, the transition from the previous yacht to Palladium was bold.

Leach had designed this previous yacht, so was brought on board and tasked with upgrading and modernising the design. But modern in his vernacular does not mean geometric or militaristic. "The yacht’s angles are taken from nature... from sea creatures," he says. "The project name was Orca; the mast – like the dorsal fin on the killer whale – is perfectly poised back from the tip."

A series of undulating superstructure forms recall the streamlined power of a dolphin, with radii that are smooth yet purposeful, while floating circular awnings on the owner’s deck are reminiscent of moon jellyfish.

The new yacht was also designed around the owner’s water sports lifestyle and a request to minimise the distance between the sun deck and the water to keep all the guests in closer proximity to one another.

"We have known the owner for several years and have spent time on board his previous yacht with him, watching and learning from his crew," says Leach, who adds that there wasn’t a brief from the owner – it was a matter of designing the ultimate yacht for his needs.

Turning the typical yacht layout on its head, MLD created a seagoing version of a local private club, with a sun-drenched swimming pool on the main deck and lots of casual seating and lounging areas – some in the sun and some tucked under the stylishly curved overheads.

The impressive swimming pool and adjoining spa pool can together hold 41 tonnes of water

The pool, which is six metres long and has a 2.5-metre spa pool at one end, has both wave and current machines for exercise. Enough of the structure is recessed below the level of the main deck so that climbing in and out is effortless. This also means that the centreline pool doesn’t disturb the sightlines on the aft deck seating areas, or the view aft from the main saloon for that matter. To preserve the elegance of this area’s lifestyle, the deck cantilevers over the bathing platform and tender embarkation point below, obscuring the launch and retrieval of the water bikes and serving as a balcony on the scene.

"We didn’t put a beach club down there because it’s a technical space," says Smith. "It’s always full of action and at times resembles a Formula One pit, with mechanics, instructors and wetsuits everywhere." The central portion of the bathing platform, an area of about 12 square metres, lowers into the water and tilts forward to facilitate launch and retrieval of the toys.

Moving on from the technical space, the bathing platform level extends to the side decks, passing inside the stern corners, where showers are discreetly placed, to a tender garage where the custom Cougars and stacks of windsurfers reside. The shell doors to this area are in three sections: a half-height door in line with the profile, and upper and lower doors recessed about one metre inboard. The tender is launched with all three doors in their open and folded out positions, but then the profile door can be returned to its vertical position, shielding the deck from the odd wave but leaving full access to the garage. Alternatively, the lower inner bulwark can also be raised, creating a clean corridor open to both the air and the garage above rail height. The exceptional feature of this design is that a hidden fore and aft passage on the port side links the garage with the crew quarters, so the crew do not have to cross the owner’s pool deck to get to the tenders or bathing platform.

Set under 12 skylights the master bed, with its integral leatherwork, is a tour de force of furniture making

Continuing the club theme, forward of the pool area on the main deck is a lounge and cinema with a 105-inch plasma television screen. By day, it is a bright space courtesy of nearly floor-to-ceiling windows and very low bulwarks. By night, the pool deck also features a smoke machine and lasers, and a disco ball clips over the pool. A DJ station directs the fun from inside the saloon.

A large multiroom spa opens forward of this to port, while the starboard side ushers guests to the six main- deck suites via a spectacular atrium. A glass floor in the gymnasium above keeps the entire atrium open to the sky.

Aft, the large en suite’s sense of space is heightened by a mirrored ceiling and remarkable shimmering effects in marble and onyx

The phrase ‘windows on the world’ is particularly apt in Palladium’s guest suites, where the windows represent the maximum allowable cut-outs in the hull. By arranging them as stacked horizontals, views of the outside are available when sitting or standing. Unobtrusive nozzles can rinse away salt spray to maintain the view between washdowns. The furniture, by UK-based bespoke furniture company Silverlining, coils itself in flowing lines within the rigid but textured backdrop of Metrica-crafted walls and ceilings.

Instead of baths, all the guest en suites have very large showers (nearly three square metres) with enormous electronically controlled rain showers overhead. The walls and floors are Bianco Brazil marble and each organically shaped basin is constructed of backlit rare crystal onyx.

Backlit onyx squares are set into the floor of the stunning atrium like stepping stones

To the victor go the spoils, and in this case the owner’s deck is its own reward. By enclosing the forward working deck, the owner’s view out of his windows is of a vast expanse of teak – in all, the decks measure some 850 square metres – with an intimate seating area tucked under the brow.

The seating area and the bow sun deck – sized for helicopter landings – are accessible from the suite through doors port and starboard. The theme of glass bridging indoor and outdoor spaces is applied consistently here as well, with bulwarks kept purposefully low to enable great views.

The centre portion of the room, dominated by 12 skylights, is 3.7 metres high, sloping to 2.7 metres along the sides. A pair of spacious dressing areas separate the entrance to the suite from its 11 metre-long corridor from the atrium. To ensure the highest possible resale price for the yacht, the large en suite in the nanny cabin aft of the master suite can be opened to one of the dressing areas to create his and hers facilities for a subsequent owner.

Palladium is full of surprises; the design seems driven by repeatedly asking ‘what if?’ and pushing the boundaries of technology for answers. She’s also the symbol of an owner who is only interested in the best of everything. As the owner’s project manager, Alastair Bingham, notes, "This project has been six years of my life. It wasn’t about rushing, it was about excellence, and the yard stepped up, creating the most elegant solutions to each of the engineering problems we threw at them.’"

He adds, "We knew the yacht would be over 3,000 gross tonnes and we would come under SOLAS regulations. We also knew that there was a large passenger ship code in the works, so we aimed at that. If there was a question of meeting which rules or standards, we went for the highest and I think we can say it even went beyond highest, whatever that is."

First published in the September 2011 edition of BOAT International.

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