Exclusive - superyacht Kibo's timeless design
by Stewart Campbell
Boat International gets an exclusive look at Abeking & Rasmussen’s 81.8 metre superyacht Kibo.
Kibo boasts a saloon you can sit in and she doesn’t have a pool or even a spa-tub: what kind of a superyacht is this exactly? One that will last thanks to her timeless design, says Terence Disdale of his creation.
Kibo doesn’t so much defy convention as embrace it. The Abeking & Rasmussen motor yacht stands like a rock against eddying trends and delivers in the ways a yacht should: solid, sensible design; practical, common sense spaces. You wouldn’t call it cool, but that’s just fine, because cool doesn’t last.
There’s no better guide to the yacht’s design principles than the one hanging in the office bathroom of_ Kibo_’s designer, Terence Disdale. Disdale is not one for out-there concepts or form over function, points which are rammed home in his “Ten Commandments”, framed for everyone to ponder after flicking the door lock to Engaged.
Number Two: “The layout takes precedence over the look” – and Three: “Shy away from the wow factor” – seem particularly unfashionable right now but they’re principles that have been positively poured into Kibo, which became the second biggest Abeking & Rasmussen ever when it was launched in 2014. It’s a yacht that looks like a yacht; a design that makes sense. It’s traditional, I proffer. “No,” counters Disdale, “It’s timeless.”
We meet in his Richmond, UK, office, the lower floor of which is all his (the team work upstairs). It’s a very personal enclave, opening onto a private garden and soundtracked constantly by 1970s rock music: an apposite audio background for a man who dresses exclusively in black and sports shoulder-length hair and a beard.
There’s more than a bit of guru about him too, as he patiently explains where he thinks so many of today’s designers are going wrong: “Perhaps I’m turning into a grumpy old man, but I keep seeing designs that freak me out. They are different for the sake of it. Floor-to-ceiling windows: why does anyone want that? All you see is bulwarks and it creates havoc for the crew. A yacht needs an outside environment as well as an interior one where you can find sanctuary. A glass box during the day is just a room full of curtains after dark.”
He’s on a roll: “I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and (in that time) you learn about crew demands, about deck storage and a thousand other practical things about a yacht that are very, very important, like fendering. I look at some wild yacht designs with balconies and full-width superstructures and wonder how the crew could ever fender it against the kind of swell that rolls into St Barths. Imagine owning a yacht that can’t be moored stern-to without crashing into your neighbour!”
It’s good, gritty behind-the-scenes stuff, this, the minutiae of yacht design, the kind of detail you don’t always pick up on when cooing over the latest designs at the Monaco Yacht Show. There’s a standout example of Disdale’s design philosophy on Kibo: a track in the recess above the guest cabin windows to make it easier for crew to keep all the glazing clean. “In the virtual concept world, there’s no spray, no humidity. In reality, Kibo’s windows get cleaned every morning, so we have to be practical, but discreetly so,” he says.
If the outside of Kibo is made up of 1,000 tiny, but equally important design moments, the inside offers an endless constellation of them. The beach club alone – to the layman a fairly straightforward space to design – is exhausting to pull apart. There’s the specially commissioned artworks lining the port-side wall, lacquered to protect against humidity, the carved wooden panel hiding the TV that is only found, and will only ever be found, on this boat, while the ceramic models made to look like coral are one-offs by a French artist. There are probably 20 countries represented in this small space alone. In the three lounges, that number shoots up. Natural shapes and textures are clearly an inspiration, exemplified by a simple side-table in the upper deck saloon. Looks like fish skin, I joke. “Yeah, puffer fish,” Disdale confirms, deadpan.
The geography of it all is staggering. Disdale himself is a regular buyer of art and curios on his trips around the world, picking up a vase in a Philippine craft market, for example, or coming home from a trip to South Africa with whalebone stuffed in his suitcase. It all ends up in a warehouse, from which he can pick and choose for the boats he designs. And if it’s not him, it’s Daniela, the second in command at his London office, which doubles as a showroom. On the day I visit, a conference table is layered with a huge selection of materials and textures for an inbound owner.
The design throughout Kibo definitely fits with Disdale Commandment Number Four: “A yacht should have more in common with a beach house than a penthouse.” The same easy tones seen in Kibo’s beach club are replicated across the rest of the boat, subtly becoming a little darker the higher you climb through the yacht, with the upper deck saloon offering a more after-dinner, members’ club atmosphere. I suggest to Disdale that it’s a muted design, that it’s not challenging, to which he responds sagely: “Well, you’ve got to live with it and the wow factor becomes offensive.”
There’s nothing deliberately sensational about the layout of Kibo (Number Nine: “Do not gild the lily.”). The main deck saloon gives onto a central atrium with lift and stairs for access to all decks. Further forward of this are the five guest suites – four identical doubles and a VIP forward. Up the stairs and forward is the owner’s quarters, entry into which is via a private study. There are his and hers bathrooms, while the main cabin, with huge views through the 180-degree windows, sits right at the front of the deck. The sundeck offers the first real jolt: there’s no spa pool. In fact, Kibo has no pool at all.
This was a very deliberate choice of Kibo‘s owner, who didn’t want to spoil the views on offer at the very top and front of his yacht by sticking a hot tub in the way. “The owner said to me, ‘Who sits in a Jacuzzi? Really?’ He was right – you don’t want to be sitting in water when all you want to do is watch as you’re coming into harbour,” Disdale says. He filled this space instead with a forward-facing curved seating area perfect for, simply, sitting.
“I don’t think anyone gives the same level of attention to detail as we do,” Disdale says. That’s a hard claim to dispute. It’s little things, like the curve in the passageway leading to the guest suites, designed to interrupt your view forward (“Who wants to look down a passageway half a mile long?”), or the very precise ridges on the leather screen in the master cabin. It’s symphonic, bringing all this together in a way that doesn’t jar, only Disdale is playing as well as conducting – he laid all those lines on the leather screen himself.
Principle Number Seven – “A five star yacht will not properly function without five star pantries” – has been well applied too. Every piece of cutlery for the dining table, for instance, is kept in a pantry in the dining room, saving time and crew miles they would have spent walking to and from the galley. On Kibo‘s deck, meanwhile, fender lockers are sensibly placed and a shoe cupboard is just aft of the main deck saloon as the owner has a particular dislike for scattered footwear. Such practicality extends to things like the lift shaft, which has been designed to stop humidity creating unsightly condensation.
The hours fly by, and by the end I have learned a valuable lesson: great design can ease your path as well as stop you in your tracks. What Disdale has created in _Kibo _is longevity. This is a superyacht that will see decades of use and pleasure by owner and crew, and it will still look great in 20 years time. That is a real and rare achievement. “It’s simple,” says Disdale. “You just need to follow the rules.”
Photography by marchantandgonta.com