“This is really a floating heliport, that’s what it is.” Speaking to Rose Damen, commercial director of Damen, it’s clear that one feature stands out above all others on board 69.15 metre Game Changer, the latest member of the Dutch yard’s Yacht Support collection.
She is not just the largest of the fleet to date; she is the only one with an explosion-proof hangar under her fully certified, SOLAS approved, five tonne helipad. This cavernous space can swallow up a Bell 429, Leonardo AW109 Grand New or an Airbus H155. Whichever model is carried, there is enough fuel on board (10,000 litres) to keep the chopper topped up all season. “You can’t really compare it to a yacht from a helicopter operations perspective,” Damen adds. “It’s a different story.”
But Game Changer is not a one-trick pony. Described by her builders as a crew paradise, this superyacht support vessel was designed to lure the best staff, with enviable accommodation and service facilities: she sleeps 21 crew members in 11 cabins, and boasts a restaurant-grade galley, SOLAS-approved hospital and even an on-board gym. The wealth of space allows the crew to work on rotation and properly relax when they are off duty and not worry about disturbing guests — because the guests are on another boat.
Kenan Seginer, former captain of Garçon, a 67 metre version of Damen’s Yacht Support vessel, is in no doubt as to the benefits of running such a boat alongside a yacht. It’s not just about carrying a larger helicopter or more crew, he argues, but thinking outside the box in terms of what the superyacht experience can be.
“You can play around with it — you can have your support yacht sitting off Pampelonne beach and your mother yacht sitting in Monaco. All you have to do is transfer guests by helicopter — it takes 15 minutes and job done. The spontaneity is worth it.”
But with a range of 4,500 nautical miles at 16 knots and some seriously rugged naval architecture, Game Changer is by no means tied to the Med. The design is unashamedly utilitarian, with purposeful lines that draw on the yard’s commercial heritage. “It’s all about the axe bow,” explains Wouter Kleijpoel, Yacht Support design manager at Damen. “It literally slices through the waves, like an axe.”
The yard reasons that a 75 metre mothership served by a 69 metre support vessel will have the combined capabilities of a 97 metre superyacht, but at only 70 per cent of the cost. This is evident in her toy and tender storage. Game Changer’s 250 square metre amidships deck can carry 350 tonnes of cargo, loaded via a seriously chunky davit crane that can lift 11.45 tonnes, slew around 360 degrees and reach up to 16 metres. And there is a secondary crane too, dedicated to launching the crew tender.
For her debut voyage across the North Sea, Damen loaded up a Wajer 38 dayboat, a 10.5 metre military-style RIB and a U-Boat Worx personal submarine. Inside, her fully stocked dive centre has plenty of room for a decompression chamber, should an owner want to add one, while the 48 square metre workshop allows Jet Skis and smaller tenders to be serviced in a weatherproof, air-conditioned environment.
Even with all this kit on board, Game Changer’s quadruple MTU 16V 4000 M63L diesel engine set-up generates a grand total of 12,000hp and delivers a top speed of 20 knots.
Game Changer is the ninth Yacht Support vessel to launch, closely followed by the 55.3 metre New Frontiers, which was splashed in July. With an 11th vessel already under construction, this range of floating launch pads seems to be taking off as fast as its choppers.
First published in the November 2017 edition of Boat International.