The sky’s the limit for popular charter yacht Force Blue following a transformative refit that has made her even more desirable, learns Risa Merl.
As I approach the recently refitted 70.6-metre explorer yacht Force Blue, moored alongside the historic port of Nice, France, the dance of charter guest changeover is in full swing. The yacht’s crane flies overhead with a sizeable pallet of provisions, which is deftly lowered onto the ample working foredeck while the tenders are being stowed, decks washed and stainless steel shined.
Force Blue has just disembarked guests who spent eight weeks on board, and her crew is busy getting ready for new charterers arriving that very evening. She’s been consistent in attracting charter business, but this latest refit – which included a seven-metre stern extension, updated interiors and added performance – aims to make her even more desirable.
“The key to the refit was to refresh the yacht and improve her charter capabilities,” says Force Blue’s long-time captain, Ferdinando Tarquini. The previous summer, pre-refit, she racked up 13-plus weeks of charter, which she is set to easily surpass this year – it’s only halfway through the Mediterranean season when I step on board, and she’s already booked 12 weeks. As the captain tells me, the owners have yet to spend an extended period on board themselves since the refit. What mattered most was to maximise her charter potential.
Force Blue has a long and rich history. She was launched by Royal Denship in 2002 as 63.3-metre Big Roi to a design by Tom Fexas and Ole Steen Knudsen with original interiors by Ole Rune Design and Christensen & Rottbell. She had a subsequent redesign and several refits of varying degrees over the years. However, with tastes and habits evolving, this burly expedition vessel was due for a rethink of how she could best be used, lived in, and appreciated by her many return charter clients.
With a lofty bow, an open forward deck storing a wealth of tenders and toys and a Portuguese-style bridge, Force Blue is clearly fit for exploration. And she has an 8,000-nautical mile range to back it up. The refit, which was carried out at the Lusben yard, aimed to maintain the exterior attributes that make her exceptionally seaworthy – such as her high bulwarks – while slightly toning down her workboat looks.
“The brief was to add a new transom and to deviate from the trawler-expedition style, for which we suggested painting the deckhouse in black and removing the fashion plates,” says Gianluca Sist, H2 Yacht Design’s design director. “Force Blue’s [new] exterior has the essence of a traditional yacht while showcasing a more contemporary style and details.”
The full effects of Force Blue’s extension are best appreciated from the stern. A voluptuous cascade of stairs, leading down to a massive swim platform that wraps around on either side, has replaced a formerly flat transom. This has enhanced her aesthetics, functional capabilities and performance all at once. Pre-refit, a transom door folded down to create a small swim platform. “Now, when boarding Force Blue, the guests are welcomed by the grand staircase, which leads them to the main deck,” says Sist.
The main deck has also benefited from the extension. Captain Tarquini says the aft deck felt rather cramped before, a mere mezzanine. With two L-shaped settees and plenty of floorspace to spare, the new aft deck is an area worthy of greeting guests before they enter the main saloon.
One suggestion from the captain was to wrap the swim platform around the sides, making room for her two new tenders to tie up while leaving the aft open for guests to sunbathe or slip into the sea for a swim. When shaded with umbrellas and scattered with seating, the massive swim platform becomes the ideal al fresco beach club.
“The whole stern of the yacht is redefined, creating an exceptional open lounging and sunbathing area at sea level,” says Daniela De Marco, Fraser’s head of charter management Europe, which represents Force Blue for charter. “This fantastic new space connects directly to the yacht’s well-being area to offer an incredible space for relaxation and pampering, and also offers direct access to the water to jump straight from treatment to the sea.”
Indeed, the beach club leads directly into the spa, which is the pièce de résistance on board. Or, as Captain Tarquini describes it, “the pearl of the yacht.” Many yachts today have spas, but the one on Force Blue is more akin to something you’d find in a luxury resort on land. It is inspired by wellness brand Chenot from Switzerland and offers Chenot Method spa treatments. “Even the therapist is Chenot-trained,” says Tarquini. Force Blue has a full-time therapist on board who oversees the spa and gym.
Candles line the black-tiled walls of the spa, ushering visitors into a realm of relaxation. There is a hair styling and make-up room, a separate massage room, a hammam and an “emotional shower”. On either side of the shower are alcoves with Chenot-derived pieces of speciality spa kit: a heated table used for mud wraps and a hydrotherapy bath for improved circulation and jet lag recovery. Stairs from the saloon lead directly to the spa, so it is easily accessible and can be enjoyed even when underway.
Aside from the grand staircase, a second guest entrance, predominantly used when the yacht is moored alongside, is a main deck portside lobby that doubles as a lounge or casual dining room. “We created a new lounge area on the main deck, close to the formal dining room (which also acts as a conference room), with a beautiful corner sofa in blue velvet, designed by me for this project, where guests can have dinner in a cosier space,” says Michele Bönan, who was tasked with Force Blue’s new interiors.
The lobby-cum-lounge is looked over by a piece of art by Peter Beard – an abstract background overlaid with a portrait of cheetah cubs. The art on board is a melange of nature shots, 3D abstract pieces and scenes of Monaco. Off the lobby is a straight set of stairs leading down to the lower deck accommodation, a spiral staircase leading up to the owner’s deck and a lift that takes guests from the main deck all the way up to the sundeck.
The owner’s brief for the interior was for Bönan to create a sophisticated and elegant interior in line with the history and shape of the boat. This included upscaling the interiors as well as improving the functionality of some areas on board, such as widening the gym entrance or creating a small pantry close to the outdoor bar on the pilothouse deck.
“The owner wanted all the spaces on the boat, even when they are a working space or a back-of-the-house space for crew, to maintain the luxury interior standards of the rest of the yacht,” Bönan says. Above all, he wanted to create a place where charter guests would feel at home. “We worked on the refit with this thought: we would like for each client who does a charter to feel like they are the owner of the boat.”
The general arrangement remained intact, so the challenge was designing within the constraints of the boat as it was. “Working on an existing layout and trying to do a refit quickly to high standards is always the biggest challenge,” the designer says. Bönan has designed a Sanlorenzo 44Alloy as well as boats for Leonardo Ferragamo. He’s an admirer of classic yachts himself and is the proud owner of a 1963 Benetti. This appreciation and experience helped him create the classically inspired interior on Force Blue and improve the yacht’s functionality.
The interior design blends classical materials and patterns, adorned in mahogany, striped wallpaper and Carrara marble finishes. The colour palette reflects a blue-and-white marine theme with some red accents, mixed with natural materials such as the raffia used for headboards in the bedrooms.
“We have the luxury of Dedar fabrics, and a touch of timeless elegance is added by the glossy mahogany wood used for the furniture,” says Bönan, who designed many of the furnishings and materials, including the nautically chic striped carpets. Tables in the main saloon come from Unopiù’s C’est La Vie Collection – with their glossy mahogany finishes, they fit perfectly with the overall design ethos. The wall lamps in guest cabins have been custom designed by Bönan and produced by the Italian company Estro. “The final aim was to add my personal touch as much as possible, designing and creating ad hoc pieces, always using Italian brands and artisans,” he says.
All the guest cabins and their en suites have been redesigned and feature new upholstery, new carpets and new blinds. Some of them were reconfigured as well, for instance the lower deck VIP cabin. Here the bed was moved to port to allow for a partial dividing wall to offset the bedroom from a lounge area with a convertible sofa. “So it can be two kids [in the bed] and a nanny in the lounge, or a couple and their child,” says Tarquini.
In the bathroom, a soaking tub replaced the former Jacuzzi bath. Spanning the entire beam, the VIP cabin is a worthy rival for the master stateroom two decks above, which is ideal for the boat.
“We often get two families chartering at once and are popular with dual charterers,” says Tarquini. The starboard side twin cabin – one of four other guest cabins on the lower deck – was also augmented so the twin beds can be converted to a king-size bed.
Besides a full-beam bathroom and bedroom, the owners’ domain on their dedicated deck encapsulates a private lobby, expansive saloon and a cinema with seven leather-clad reclining chairs. The saloon has a working fireplace to create a cosy atmosphere on colder days. While there is a formal dining room on the main deck, Tarquini says that this saloon is a popular place for dining with the addition of a table for six, which can be extended to 12.
Captain Tarquini, who has worked on Force Blue since 2005, stayed on board when the yacht’s ownership changed and served as build captain during the refit. “It’s a love affair,” he says of his longevity on Force Blue. “The owner said, ‘You’ve been the captain for 16 years – you tell me what should be changed.’”
Besides the wraparound swim platform, the captain also suggested new stabilisers and updating the audiovisual equipment and Wi-Fi, to name a few more technical items. There was a concern that the new swim platform and stern shape would impede the yacht’s performance, “but actually, it improved performance – we gained at least a knot of speed,” Tarquini says.
Refits can often dredge up hidden problems in a yacht’s build, but, fortunately in Force Blue’s case, the extension was relatively smooth sailing. Tarquini attributes that to the fact that the yacht has been well-maintained over the years, and was well-built to begin with. The main challenge was in supply-chain issues slowing down the part deliveries. But despite this, the build was completed on time, beginning in October 2021 and wrapping up seven months later. The team at Lusben, says Tarquini, was a pleasure to work with. “They are really accurate and really present,” he says, noting that daily meetings, reports and an overall sense of proactivity helped make the refit process as smooth as possible.
The owners were reportedly satisfied with the refit, but Tarquini says that they are already looking for new ideas for the next charter season to help Force Blue retain her reign as a highly coveted charter yacht, such as updating the ample toy box annually. Twenty years on, Force Blue looks to have a bright future.
Force Blue is available for charter with Fraser.
First published in November 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW