Columbus 40S Hybrid brings hybrid power mainsteam
by Caroline White
While Palumbo’s 40 metre Columbus 40S Hybrid superyacht boasts luxurious interior and distinctive exterior designs, her most fascinating feature are her clever engines, which are flexible, fuel efficient, greener and quieter.
‘These engines were pushed to the owner by the shipyard, which came into yachting with a big interest in environmental preservation,’ says Gianpaolo Lapenna, project manager of Palumbo Shipyards. ‘Our first boat, Prima, presented two years ago, was one of the first to be classified with the RINA Green Star Plus. We’re working on this because most of the products on the yachting market are similar, so you need to push new technologies, innovation. A zero impact boat will never exist, but hopefully things will get better and this is the road we have to work on.’
Sergio Cutolo of Hydro Tec, who designed the Columbus 40S Hybrid’s naval architecture, exterior styling and lines, describes the propulsion system succinctly. ‘We have two diesel engines and we also have two electric engines,’ he says.
‘We have three modes of operation: diesel mode is absolutely conventional, you can go at 22 knots maximum speed, or a consumption of 150 litres at 14 knots. The second mode is diesel-electric: you switch off the main engines, put the three generators in parallel (the diesel engines are also generators) and feed the two electric motors that drive the boat at eight knots. With 40 decibels in the cabins, you can make navigation during the night.
‘The third mode we call shaft generator – we drive the main engines, these drive the electric motors (which are also generators) so you switch off the diesel generators and make the power for the boat through the main engines. So you save fuel. It’s a very flexible system.’
The biggest challenge, Cutolo adds, was fitting all this into an engine room. There is no separate control room for the engineer, but instead comprehensive touchscreen control panels in the engine room, the wheelhouse and even the crew mess. ‘From these panels you can choose whatever you like to have on the screen,’ says the captain, ‘and you can control everything on the boat: valves, pumps, lights, curtains, engines, generators, everything can be controlled from the touchscreens.’
While similar engines have been used on smaller motor yachts, this is the first large yacht to employ them, and so the first to encounter the problem of class – how would the classification society RINA categorise the yacht? The solution was that, working with Palumbo from the beginning of the project, RINA would invent a new class – Hybrid Propulsion – so it could offer the yacht the legal protection of official certification. It also gave her a Green Star Plus for her environmental credentials. The result of all this is that the Columbus 40S Hybrid has dragged the hybrid engine into the mainstream of superyachting. The captain confirms that, as well as using less fuel, in diesel-electric mode the Columbus 40S Hybrid is quiet, with very low vibration.
The quietness of the propulsion reinforces the relaxed, family-boat nature – with a sporty edge – that the owner desired. His brief for the interior was a feeling of openness (including excellent headroom) and a connection with the natural environment. In the open-plan main saloon these requests are particularly well reflected. Large windows, reaching from thigh to head height, offer expansive views even when sitting down at the dining table forward, and Cutolo went to great lengths not to compromise them. ‘The owner wanted no distraction from the sea,’ he says. ‘So we have these transparent bulwarks, like windscreens, so you see through and there is nothing in the way.’
This is true in the central portion of the space, where to port and starboard of the low, comfortable seating area, three metre-wide French windows concertina open, and long balconies fold down. ‘When you are on open sea and sit down there you feel like you are seated on the sea,’ says the captain.
The saloon leads out via a bar to a covered aft deck with a small dining table and sofa seating. The upper saloon has been minimised to allow as much outdoor space as possible. This includes not only a good-sized sunbathing area but also a shaded sofa and wet bar. Along the side-decks on the foredeck, sunpads and a spa pool offer a more private outdoor area when moored stern-to.
The owner’s suite forward on the main deck features a spacious en suite with a double shower, a dressing room, as well as an adjoining office and seating area. But at the opposite end of the deck below is a space that can be made almost as luxurious: the wall separating the two aft cabins can be slid away, one of the beds folded into the wall – disguised behind a leather panel – and a sofa and coffee table added in its place to create a full-beam VIP with his and hers en suites. Aside from a small visible section of the sliding door’s frame you’d never know the space had once been divided. Downstairs are four more standard en suite cabins.
Deep window recesses and low furniture (by the yacht’s Italian interior designer Hot Lab as well as Moroso for the sofas) impart a relaxed atmosphere, while there are excellent head heights throughout. The interior scheme in general is simple with subtle design cues, for example, a variation in the ceiling panels on each deck – a soft curve in the upper deck and sharper lines on main and lower decks. Spare detail, such as textured wood on cupboard doors in the master suite, highlights rather than obliterates the natural grain. The effect complements the natural connection the owner requested. ‘The initial idea was to work with the roughness of materials, especially woods, to obtain a natural, neutral feeling, extremely warm and relaxing,’ says Enrico Lumini, a designer at Hot Lab.
Cool, natural luxury may have been the desired look, but the interior designers could not forget they were working on an aluminium sport boat – and one with environmental concerns. A challenging balance. ‘We worked on two main principles: be light and be recyclable,’ says Lumini. ‘All marbles are only four millimetres thick, mounted on a recycled aluminium honeycomb. All woods are FSC certified and with a high growth-rate. All paints are water based, without aggressive chemicals. Also, in the production process, we tried to eliminate any unnecessary transportation of goods, concentrating shipments: so very few trucks actually left from Milan (the production base) to Naples (where the shipyard is).’
The bridge is integrated and most equipment is hidden in long drawers – all systems can be checked and operated using a touchscreen, so the traditional controls are a back-up. For navigation the captain uses the Xenta joystick. ‘Pressing T, I can use it as a bowthruster; pressing C, I can use it to manoeuvre the boat,’ he says. ‘I also have a wireless one (hung around the neck like a camera) – I can make my manoeuvre from the stern, from upstairs, from wherever. If you want you can give an IP address to the system and move your boat from home; that is something not recommended – but it can be done. This is state-of-the-art technology.’
The yacht’s exterior design reflects this high-tech nature. Cutolo’s modern, muscular lines and the silver and white paint job chime with the yacht’s remit as a 21st Century sport yacht, while the vertical bow, he says, ‘is mainly aesthetic but it gives you some advantage on the waterline. The only problem you have to solve is spray – but we tested the boat even on windy days and it was dry’.
Indeed, Palumbo has pulled off a very modern synthesis: a sporty boat built to be green and thrifty, a high-tech boat with a natural atmosphere.