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Iconic yachts: The story of Paul Allen's 126m Lürssen superyacht Octopus

10 June 2021By Sam Fortescue

When the late Paul Allen’s Octopus was launched in 2003, she stood alone in the yachting world. At 126m length, she was easily the largest explorer yacht ever built, and one of the biggest yachts outright. But in many ways, she heralded a new era of owning very large boats – one where science and research were every bit as important as luxury finish, spas and swimming pools.

Images: Klaus Jordan

Allen himself was said to have commented that his yacht was more of a Land Rover than a Bentley. It’s a view that pays homage to capabilities including an ice-class 1A steel hull, hangar space for two helicopters, a battery of tenders, submersibles and remotely operated vehicles plus a comprehensive dive centre including a hyperbaric chamber. But the boat also has a lavish interior.

Octopus was built by Lürssen in Bremen and Kiel with external styling and design work from Espen Øino. He remembers starting work on her back in 1998, when she was the largest project of his career. “It was a very ambitious brief, because none of the tenders, tools, RVs, subs, helicopters could be outside – they should all be concealed,” remembers Øino. “Particularly the very large tender and the sub. We came up with an interesting solution for launching those through the big transom door, and the travel lift.”

The solution was revolutionary for a private yacht. When the transom door folds up it reveals a world straight out of a Bond movie – a high walkway alongside a 36 metre internal wet dock area overhung with big cranes on gantries. Øino chuckles at the memory: “The stern dock is just an amazing space,” he says.

Allen’s motivation for all this was his love of diving for shipwrecks, which has driven Octopus to many remote corners of the oceans. Her 10-person Pagoo submersible was custom built for the boat – there was no alternative at the time. Subsequently, an autonomous unmanned vehicle was added to the arsenal of equipment, capable of scanning the seabed for features of interest for hours before returning to the mothership. She has six tenders and numerous toys besides.

Images: Klaus Jordan

Among the notable missions undertaken by Octopus was the recovery of the ship’s bell of HMS Hood, sunk by the Bismarck in 2,700m off Greenland, and the discovery of the Japanese warship Musashi 1,000m down in the Sibuyan Sea.

For all that, Octopus is a true superyacht, fitted out in luxurious style by Jonathan Barnett. The interior finish includes an antique bronze door from the 1930s, and is said to set a “harmoniously rugged” tone. There’s solid furniture, lots of wood panelling and serious-looking stainless steel handrails.

She boasts an owner’s deck with a private jacuzzi and dining area plus a dedicated owner’s lift. Other features include an observation lounge, beach club, pool (which converts into a dancefloor), gym and spa. Most notably, Octopus is fitted with a large cinema and a fully-equipped recording studio – something that has hosted artists from Mick Jagger and Bono to Usher and Joss Stone. “Mr Allen’s interest in music was enormous and the acoustic quality was nothing less than a shore-based one,” says Øino. “There were 54 tonnes of AV/IT equipment aboard. A very complex boat in many ways. I think he loved it.”

The boat sleeps 26 guests in 13 cabins, as well as 57 crew. She had an extensive refit at Blohm+Voss in 2019 and is currently for sale at an asking price of €235m.

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