Aesthetically untouched for a quarter of a century, the legendary Coral Ocean needed a particularly sensitive refit. Andrew Johansson admires the results...
"The only thing I really regret is getting off the boat. I really hate it – it’s crazy,” says businessman and serial yacht owner Ian Malouf, who took on what he believes to be the biggest self-managed rebuild to date. Taking on a yacht with such heritage and historical significance, ripping out its original Jon Bannenberg interior and building something new takes character, vision and a lot of guts.
Coral Ocean is a significant superyacht, one of the largest at launch and, despite (or perhaps because of) her secrecy for the first two decades of her life, an icon that marked a new era in yachting, especially for German shipyard Lürssen. As a result, when the Australian entrepreneur acquired her in 2019 with the intent to do a significant refit, whispered question marks over her future inevitably arose.
Malouf surprised himself when he decided to buy her. “The last thing I thought I would do is buy a boat of that age and it is a credit to Lürssen [that I did] really,” says the CEO of digital charter platform Ahoy Club. “We were looking at another larger boat and one of the guys from Lürssen – on hearing what I liked and was looking for – suggested that I look at Coral Ocean, which at the time was anchored just outside of Monaco. So we did,” Malouf says. “On the tender to the boat, I thought ‘Wow, I’m going to buy this boat.’ It was a bit of a like at first sight. It all unfolded very quickly after that.”
The visit he made with his wife and daughter only reinforced the strong emotion he felt before stepping on board. He recognised what had been achieved at the time of the yacht’s delivery in 1994 – she was a yacht of many firsts and a trendsetter at the time, with an original layout, folding balconies and a superb wellness area, for instance – and although he appreciated many of the spaces within the layout, he could also see new potential beyond the original tribal-inspired interior.
“Her history has instilled some good feelings. I think it was quite a fun boat for many years, and there is nothing wrong with that,” says Malouf with a chuckle.
He left Monaco on the yacht in October 2019 with his family to get better acquainted with the latest addition to their fleet. They spent a week on board, pulling panels off, brainstorming what should be changed and exploring where the work could be done before deciding on the Spanish STP Shipyard in Palma de Mallorca.
“Initially, we thought the project was too big to be self-managed at STP and that we wouldn’t be able to do a €6 million [£5.2m] project. In the end, we landed up there and did a €35 million project instead,” says build captain Will Kaye, who also manages Malouf’s European yacht fleet. A rebuild project of such magnitude would be a significant undertaking for any organisation.
When he returned to Australia, Malouf entrusted Captain Kaye to manage the project. “The biggest challenge at the beginning was to find enough subcontractors able to take on a project of this size. We had well over 100 contractors – nearly 200 when you include all the small ones – all working on the vessel,” Kaye recalls. “If we were a full-service shipyard, they would all be vying for our business, which would have given us quite a bit of sway to enforce deadlines. Holding individual contractors to their timelines and getting them all to integrate into the larger timescale was the biggest challenge.”
With the assistance of H2 Yacht Design, Malouf set out an ambitious plan that would see two and a half levels of the upper deck gutted and rebuilt, which added approximately 150GT to the yacht’s volume. The owner’s suite sits on the new owner’s deck with skylights that flood the space with natural light in combination with new, wider windows that offer 180-degree panoramic views.
Four spacious guest cabins are on the lower deck where a new full-beam VIP suite compares favourably with the owner’s cabin in terms of size and comfort. Adjoining this VIP cabin is a private lounge, which can be used as a cinema, coffee area and office. “All the cabins are really generous, but the VIP cabin probably rivals most of the master cabins on any other boat,” Malouf says.
Other significant changes include the removal of the original coral and blue mosaic-lined plunge pool and the addition of a new glass-bottom spa pool on the sundeck. Framed by a glass balustrade, the sundeck is an inviting setting, and the new pool and sunbeds are steps away from the fully stocked bar in the new upper saloon. To provide flexibility and enhance the enjoyment of the space, the refit gave the upper saloon floor-to-ceiling retractable glass windows, providing an indoor-outdoor experience.
“Ian had a very clear idea about what he wanted to do, but as with every refit, there are many things to consider when radically changing the layout of an existing yacht,” explains James Bermudez, design director at H2 Yacht Design. “The boat was well known for its deep central pool, so we toyed with the idea of how we could incorporate this into a new scheme. We decided to remove it but kept the pool’s location on the sundeck, so that the stairs and existing structure could be retained.” The aft deck areas were also important, as the boat had to accommodate large group events. Outside catering requirements needed careful consideration.”
Producing a wow factor in terms of design and layout is only one part of a successful charter yacht. The other half of the equation falls to the crew and quality of service. Malouf considers himself to be easy-going but when it comes to service, there is no doubt about his expectations, on or off charter. Service was a key driver that led to the addition of dedicated storage, such as cabinets recessed within the fashion plate for glasses on the upper saloon, and workstations such as pantries, which were created without significantly taking away from guest areas. “All of this was thought of right from the beginning,” Kaye says. “Having enough space as a crew to operate properly was all considered.”
“It was a good learning experience and it also meant that we could do what we wanted without being tied to certain parameters,” Malouf says, reflecting on the success of the project. “There were some things we changed as we went – the upper saloon was going to be a gymnasium and thank God we did change [this plan], because now it is one of the most awesome places on the boat.”
Kaye says this was one of the most significant change orders during the project and it required quick alterations; design and build had to happen simultaneously to keep up with the timeline. Now, the sundeck is home to an upper saloon that is double the size of what the gym would have been and is a key attraction on board. It features a new carbon-fibre roof and sympathetic styling cues on the exterior to ensure the modifications look original and in keeping with the overall design.
From very large details to minute ones, no expense was spared and with a €790,000-a-week fee for charter, details make a big difference. For instance, the teak decking was replaced with 120-millimetre-wide planks and white carpet was installed on the interior to ensure superior comfort underfoot. “People expect a lot and so they are getting a lot on this. Normally, as soon as you buy a boat, you start to think about what you’ll do to the next one, but I’m not thinking like that at the moment,” Malouf says.
“I don’t feel like anything is missing. The other day, we had a fantastic time in the lounge near the formal dining area where the whole side of the boat opens out. Even the boat deck is fun to hang out on because it completely opens up. Looking at the year this boat was built and the spaces that it has, it is amazing. When people see the door that opens out to the side of the boat, they say ‘Wow, is that new?’ but, of course, it was there before, and Jon Bannenberg put that in boats way back then. That is what made this boat so ahead of its time.”
The completion of Coral Ocean’s rebuild was celebrated at the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix, with a guest list of 100 that included the senior team from the German superyacht builder. Philipp von Arnim, head of business development at Lürssen, was there and says what he saw was a different yacht. “What they have done is impressive,” he says, adding that many factors worked in favour of making the rebuild a quicker process. While Coral Ocean was enjoyed by its first owner for 22 years, an interim owner oversaw a conversion at Lürssen in 2016 that made her commercially viable.
The 1994 delivery of Coral Island – renamed Coral Ocean after its conversion – was the start of major yacht development at Lürssen, and as such the yacht holds a special place for members of the German shipyard, especially Peter Lürssen, managing director Frithjof Schmidt and sales director Michael Breman, who were all present at her launch. “They have such an attachment and association with that yacht that when Ian bought the boat three years ago, there were naturally voices internally wondering what was going to happen,” von Arnim explains.
“Ian is known in the industry for being a bit of a disruptor and wants to do things differently. However, when we were able to step on board and see what he had achieved, we were pleasantly surprised and came off the boat with big smiles. We applauded Ian for maintaining some of the features and layouts that were there before; even the name is still the same. He respects heritage while also looking forward. He saw what needed to be done to get the yacht in a good state for charter but also for himself and his family.”
The launch party for the boat was also an opportune moment for Malouf to share his thoughts on Lürssen’s build quality. “Ian repeated to me and Michael how impressed he was that, after 25 years, there were some things that he simply didn’t need to touch and that the build quality was very good,” von Arnim recalls. “Hearing this was a very proud moment for us. Everything else is design, which you can like or not like; the same is true for the layout. Hearing from an owner that he had bought something of substance here and that he’s happy to have bought the yacht is what you want to hear as a shipyard.”
Charters booking right from the start and a full calendar for the Caribbean season ahead are plentiful rewards for the team’s efforts and Malouf’s investment. “It has had a good charter season and has come out of the blocks running, with big names having already been on board and they have all been happy,” says Malouf, who admits that he doesn’t like leaving the boat and will spend as much time on board as he possibly can. However, when all is said and done, this project has been one of passion and commitment that required vision, a large investment and a high degree of trust.
“From when the real works began until the boat was finished, I never stepped foot on it. There were plenty of video calls but that was as close as I got and that shows the trust I have in the team as well. Trust is a big deal, because you can easily get ripped off with bills coming in and you don’t even know what half of it is,” says Malouf. “It isn’t for the faint-hearted and if I didn’t have Will there, I wouldn’t try it again.”
However, try it he did and the yacht’s fame hasn’t diminished. Coral Ocean pulling into a port or marina is still an event celebrated by yacht fans the world over.
First published in the November 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.shop now