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How a 77m Soviet icebreaker became the ultra-tough explorer Legend

2 July 2021 • Written by Caroline White

We revisit the story of Legend, a former Soviet icebreaker that was transformed into a sumptuous 77 metre explorer.

Lightning strobes across the horizon as our tender slogs through the heave and chop of the Mediterranean just off Beaulieu-sur-Mer, towards 77.4 metre explorer yacht Legend. Whipping rain, cracks of thunder — it certainly feels as if the Côte d’Azur is lavishing its most melodramatic weather on this ultra-tough vessel.

Images courtesy of Jeff Brown/Breed Media

But it’s not making much of an impression. The thing you notice, as you step on to Legend’s stern platform from a rolling tender, is her rock-like stability. For her, this doesn’t really count as weather. 

Legend started life in 1974 as an icebreaking tug from Dutch yard IHC Verschure and was redelivered in 2016 as an ultra-luxe explorer yacht after a 12-month refit at Dutch shipyard Icon Yachts. Jan Verkerk was the mastermind behind the rebuild. After spending years exploring the Antarctic aboard his classic yacht Sherakhan, he saw a “gap in the market” for a true expedition yacht and the potential of Legend’s hull to fill it. [Legend has since changed ownership but remains available for charter with Y.CO.]

"She was built as a Class 1 icebreaker - an icebreaker, not just Ice Class. This is something important. As is her reasonable fuel efficiency and her obvious safe and solid structure,” he says. “I was able to create a vessel that can go anywhere in the world, but also provide the luxuries that have become standard in the superyacht industry.” 

Legend certainly feels solid. Her 6.4 metre draught is nearly twice as deep as many yachts her length, and the same can be said of her weight. Aesthetically, she also balanced Verkerk’s portfolio nicely. “Legend was built for the Soviet Union during the Cold War and has seen active service. I like this part of her history and I believe that this shines through her personality. I say ‘she’ but with her powerful lines Legend really is a ‘he’. Sherakhan is more of a classic, old lady. She was built just a few years before Legend, but in those years shipbuilding technology saw significant changes,” he says.

While Verkerk admired the boat’s bone structure, he was bold about the rest: by the end of the refit at Icon, 100 tonnes of new steel and aluminium had been added. Major structural changes put function first. “Legend had a canoe stern — round, closed — but the use of the boat really asked for a big swim platform, where you could moor the tenders and have a closer relation to the water,” says Hans-Maarten Bais, creative director and naval architect at Diana Yacht Design, who was responsible for the exterior design and engineering of the rebuild.

Legend's rugged exterior belies her lavish interior

The answer was lengthening Legend’s stern by 3.6 metres, allowing for not only a new swim platform but also a massive 16-person superyacht spa pool — with waterfall — for when the ocean is not suitable for a dip. And there were other fundamental challenges further forward.

“There was a huge tender amidships, which really broke up the boat into a fore-ship and an aft-ship,” says Bais. The solution was removing a massive secondary mast from this space, adding an extra deckhouse and extending the forecastle deck back to join more substantially with Legend’s aft deck. There’s still tender storage amidships - both on this deck and the one below - but Legend’s two halves feel united. As Bais puts it, the change “brings back the balance”.

Legend's interiors got a complete revamp as part of her 2016 refit

Also added to Legend’s adventurous kit was a commercial-standard superyacht helideck on the owner’s deck aft, suitable for a six-person Eurocopter EC135, along with its state-of-the-art fire extinguishing systems, an eight tonne helifuel storage tank and bunker systems. There will also be a smaller chopper, for emergencies, to be craned from the helideck to sit on the extended forecastle deck. Rotor blades will be stored neatly in new foredeck lockers and both helicopters vacuum-wrapped to keep them pristine on crossings.

Legend packs in every superyacht water toy a guest could hope for as well as the necessary extra staff — she can take an expedition crew of 10 (helicopter pilot, doctor, expedition leaders, naturalists and so on) on top of the 28 regular crew. Their accommodation is forward on the lower, main and boat decks — giving easy access to every level of guest accommodation. The captain’s cabin and the ice pilot’s, meanwhile, are up behind the revamped wheelhouse.

The gym on Legend is situated to starboard of the on-board cinema

“The new bridge layout is intended to reflect the atmosphere of the old passenger liners,” says Legend’s [former] captain Bernard Vivegnis, “so you have free-standing consoles rather than a steering desk up on the windows. It is quite nice as you can actually walk up to the window in front of the consoles and check the view. The consoles themselves group navigation, conning and communication in separate units in an efficient way so that the watch is always an easy task.” There’s also a conference corner to plan the next day’s activities with the guests and expedition team.

Up front, the Legend refit project extended the foredeck tender garage so it could accommodate two snowmobiles (fitted with trackers in case guests lose their way) and the ultimate exploration gadget - a three-person U-Boat Worx C-Explorer submarine. Lifted by a foredeck crane through a hatch in the ceiling and into the water, it can dive to 300 metres with two guests and a pilot, and do seven 45 minute dives a day.

“I made a dive with it in the Norwegian fjords,” says Thom Beerens, Legend’s [former] purser. “It’s a really cool, strange experience, sitting there like you’re in a car or an airplane. You see the water level rising, it gets dark, then you switch on the lights and see whatever’s in front of you. We were suddenly looking at a shipwreck.”

But to get her 22 guests to such fantastical locations, rather more prosaic considerations had to be taken into account - especially with a charter yacht that needs to meet standards for a passenger vessel. “The use as a PYC-classed vessel required major modifications of the staircases and fire-retarding bulkheads,” says Jen Wartena, co-founder CEO of Icon Yachts. “Other safety systems required replacement of all ceilings.”

Legend was refitted by Dutch yard Icon Yachts

Verkerk’s experience of cruising extreme latitudes also served to bulk up Legend’s safety credentials further. “Because the approach is to sail in Antarctica — he has a lot of experience sailing there with Sherakhan — and the aft windows were quite low to the water and massive, he didn’t want to have the risk that a big wave could blow them out. So we made them smaller. The total area of glass is the same, we just extended the area of the windows and divided them into smaller portions. And we made the glass really, really thick so they can withstand the biggest waves.”

In terms of the engine room, as Wartena puts it, “the only things that are still the same are Legend’s beautiful and very powerful main engines, gearbox, shaft and propeller. It is really impressive to see them, and is wise to keep them as part of the history of the boat.”

Legend was originally used as a Soviet icebreaker. Photo: Mac Mackay

They certainly seem to work well in concert with the capable hull. “Legend handles nice and easy in any sea state,” says Captain Vivegnis. “Her draught and inertia make for a very easy rolling that the stabilisers compensate for adequately. A following sea is sometimes more annoying as we have built new nice social spaces very close to the sea aft, so that is taken into account when planning a day’s navigation. “I brought Legend from Italy in 2014 without stabilisers. That was in January and Biscay was wild, but the ship handled well then. Now, with the refurbished stabilisers and new software, it has become a really easy ride.”

It’s also important to note that Legend complies with the IMO Polar Code that came into effect on January 1, 2017 and covers safety measures and environmental protections for yachts venturing into defined polar waters. She satisfies technical requirements for her category of navigation and has cruised extensively in Antarctica since her re-launch.

The spa pool of explorer yacht Legend is fed by a waterfall

Verkerk and Verkerk Yachting Projects planned the interior design with assistance from Beerens — selecting materials, creating sketches and mood boards. They passed these on to an interiors company for technical realisation. “Our main goal was that every door you open you say, ‘wow’,” says Beerens. “We wanted to make a walk through Legend an adventure by itself. Even if we had clients on board for four weeks, in the third week they should still be finding new things. With the destinations Legend is going to, they stay on board much more than they do here [in Europe], where at night you can go out for dinner. In Antarctica there is no restaurant.”

Legend's helideck is a great spot for soaking up the sun

A sense of fun and excitement certainly comes through in the design but it is most apparent in the lobby forward of the main saloon where guests will find a whisky bar and (air treated) cigar room. Legend’s décor has a nautical glamour, with wood panelling, monochrome floor tiles centred with a compass star and sofas in a smart humbug stripe.

“We’re going to get a big chunk of ice from Antarctica and put it in a cooler with a glass vitrine,” says Beerens. “So our clients can take a 30, 40, 50-year-old vodka or whisky, take 2,500-year-old ice with a hammer in their glass and drink it.” To port from here there’s a 14-seat cinema that feels - in the spirit of glamorous adventure - like sitting in the first-class carriage of a classic train. To starboard you will find Legend’s superyacht gym with gear by Life Fitness Parabody, including an inset treadmill for taller guests.

The owner's cabin on board Legend features Parisian inspired styling

On an explorer yacht it makes sense to promote this space from its traditional position lower down, since guests spending long periods on board Legend will likely use it more than Med cruisers, who can opt for an evening stroll on shore. They’ll appreciate the light and being close to social life on board. And, as Beerens notes, “one of the crew is a fitness instructor and two are masseuses”. The latter will pummel muscles in Legend’s Balinese spa below the saloon, with its decorative woodwork, a central spa pool, sauna and massage rooms.

The large saloon is the cosiest area on board Legend with space to dine in company. Up a level, the aft boat deck saloon is a modern, light indoor-outdoor space that gives the feeling of relaxing al fresco even when conditions won’t permit actually venturing on deck.

Legend's saloons feature Opti-myst fireplaces

Inside, there’s a bar, TV lounge, self-playing Mason & Hamlin piano and white modular seating around a central artificial fire. Out on the aft deck these shapes are echoed, with a circular barbecue grill taking the place of the fire. The 13 en-suite guest cabins on board Legend include two VIP suites, five double and five twin cabins (some convertible) and a forward owner’s suite ranged across the owner’s deck. “Her accommodation is designed around big cities, with each room containing an element of the city it has been named after,” says Verkerk.

The colours and ambience inform the accent tones and materials - particularly evident in the VIPs Moscow (dark glossy wood and red leather upholstery) and New York (sweet little Art Deco bar). In cabins and throughout Legend there are artificial Opti-myst fires that run on steam, for cosy nights in frozen places.

Legend's new décor was designed by Verkerk Yachting Projects and Beerens

The master suite, Paris, features the muted tones of pale grey and warm woods. There’s a central bed, a little sitting room, a big bathroom and it can be joined with the suite just aft (Amsterdam). With Legend there’s a balance between cosiness and adventure, toughness and romance. As Wartena notes of the spa pool: “It must be great to bubble in this mega hot tub while sailing between icebergs, orcas and penguins."

Legend was sold to a new owner 2019 but is still available for charter in the Mediterranean and Antarctica with Y.CO.

More about this yacht

IHC Verschure   77.4 m •  1974

Yachts for charter

Icon Yachts   77 m •  22 guests • Price from €545,000 p/w

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