The creation of the iconic yacht Dubai was far from straightforward, with the build changing hands three times. Dubai was the largest yacht in the world by volume at the time of her build, with a gross tonnage of 12,488GT. She was originally intended for one royal family but went on to be used by another royal entirely. Commissioned by the Sultan of Brunei’s brother, Prince Jefri Bolkiah, Dubai started her life in Germany with naval architecture developed by Blohm+Voss (now part of Lürssen Yachts), while design came from the UK’s Winch Design. In 1998, the project rolled to a standstill, with work completed on only the steel hull and part of the aluminium superstructure. The project was lying on a covered floating dock at the Blohm+Voss yard, and liquidators went out into the market to find potential buyers.
Her name gives the next part of the story away: the partially built yacht was sold to the Dubai government. “Once Jefri fell out with his brothers, his assets were seized, including the yacht which was at early stage of construction,” explains Kostis Antonopoulos, the former managing director of Platinum Yachts, which eventually oversaw the build of Dubai. “In fact, at that time I was working at SETE of Latsis group and we offered for the project, but Dubai offered more and they got it.”
Initially, the Dubai government assigned the build project to Karam Sadikoglou in Turkey. The dock, partially built yacht and containers holding equipment such as main engines and generators were sent to Sadikoglou’s facility in Turkey. However, progress was slow, and the Dubai government demanded the project be transferred to the UAE. With progress still slow and costs skyrocketing, Sadikoglou left the project. Antonopoulos was brought in to finish the build under the banner of Platinum Yachts, a subsidiary of Dubai World. The project had almost 800 people working on it, not including the hundreds of subcontractors. Antonopoulos’s job wouldn’t be an easy one – he had to reorganise the structure of the build team, restore confidence in the project and gain the confidence of the Palace. Sultan bin Sulayem, the chairman of Dubai World, served as the in-between for the owner and yard.
“The design of Dubai was quite ahead of its time, and although she had an enormous size the design did not flirt at all with the shapes of cruise ships,” says Antonopoulos. “And except for the hull, the rest was built and outfitted by people who had no idea what a yacht looked like.” Antonopoulos flew employees to the Monaco Yacht Show so they could see the details that make a superyacht. “It was great experience for them and a quantum leap to their knowledge and understanding,” he says.
The interior design was completed in-house by Platinum, and most of the build-out was by local contractors in Dubai. “The brief was simple: the owner wanted a floating Burj Al Arab – and he got it,” says Antonopoulos of the colourful interior which he describes as an “attack” on the senses. There are many custom details, such as the handmade tiles in the swimming pool, which are lit up by embedded optical fibres. Her massive volume afforded space for 48 guests and 88 crew. Dubai also had a cinema, disco, helideck, and a garage holding a submarine and a variety of toys.
As Dubai was built for a royal, security was a priority. “I asked a computer security firm to hack the yacht’s network, and while we thought that we had a very secure ship, the guys hacked it in 30 minutes! Of course, we redesigned the security,” says Antonopoulos. Another day, the owner came on board and discovered the lower decks did not have a clear GSM signal, so ceilings had to be ripped apart to add repeaters. Challenges to make the yacht SOLAS compliant were resolved by sending materials for lab tests to obtain class approvals.
Antonopoulos, who currently serves as managing director of Samos Steamship Co, looks back fondly at his time working on the build of the iconic yacht Dubai. “I enjoyed building a really good team,” he says. “When I arrived, the people in the project were working in isolation and there were competing teams… I managed to bring them together and make them understand that by cooperation and teamwork we can not only achieve successful completion of the yacht but we can also enjoy our time together!”
It’s been quite a while since the royally iconic yacht Dubai was finally launched in 2006, but Antonopoulos says she stands the test of time. “I think her design is timeless and she can even be considered a classic now.” Dubai sails under the UAE flag and is known to be an active yacht, recently spotted cruising in the waters off her namesake city.