Thunder was commissioned by an owner who wanted to be able to have breakfast in Saint-Tropez, lunch in Monaco and dinner in Portofino. The result was one of the largest and fastest yachts the world has ever seen...
There is magic at play in the heart of Thunder. The 50 metre Oceanfast has an interior that could stoke any imagination. And as with many things that cast a spell, there’s a slight tinge of something menacing here as well. Or at least that was the distinct feeling I got as I stepped into the yacht’s main saloon recently alongside IYC broker Mark Elliott. It’s a kaleidoscopic vision with sharp, oblong shapes, funhouse mirrors and immaculately upholstered pieces of furniture that curve and undulate like a body. As I looked around the space for the first time, my brain froze, overwhelmed by the cacophony of visuals. I heard Elliott, standing next to me, release a small sigh before saying, “If these walls could talk.” And then I heard another voice answer, “Oh but I think they can…”
I hadn’t realised we weren’t alone, and my head snapped to attention to see who had answered Elliott so confidently and cryptically. Standing at the forward end of the salon, near a stingray-skin-wrapped railing that slithered through hairpin turns, stood a small, wraithlike man with an ethereal smile. He gestured widely around him and finished his thought. “There are cameras and microphones all over the place.”
Though he didn’t immediately identify himself, I later found out the man was a former captain who steadfastly refused to have his name in print. His reluctance, he said, was due to his time aboard Thunder, when he rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s most powerful men. He hopes never to cross paths with their equally powerful enemies and has made himself a ghost, one of several associated with this singular vessel.
Thunder was famously commissioned in 1995 by the Greek shipping magnate Theo Angelopoulos with one goal in mind. He wanted to be able to have breakfast in Saint-Tropez, lunch in Monaco and dinner in Portofino. The result was one of the largest and fastest dayboats the world has ever seen.
Angelopoulos had hired the legendary Australian-English Jon Bannenberg to design the boat. Bannenberg set about drawing up one of his trademark creations, with an arrow-shaped bow section, low sheer line, and swooping yet understated lines along the superstructure. To match this aesthetic and to meet her original owner’s requirements, she needed to be fast – very fast. But the measly 5,900 horses offered by her twin MTU V16 diesels weren’t going to cut it. So, a third powerplant was added, a 4,600-horsepower gas turbine monster from Textron Lycoming, a company best known for building jet engines for airplanes. The resulting 10,500-horsepower package had Thunder A (as the boat was known then) flying at up to 40 knots.
But, of course, propulsion is only one part of the equation for speed, the other being mass. For this variable, the native Australian went home. Passing over the more known yards in the Netherlands and Germany and, working with SP Technologies in the UK and Australian naval architect Phil Curran, Bannenberg and the original owner decided that Oceanfast, located on Australia’s remote western coast, would do the job. And they’d do it in advanced composites, including carbon fiber. And with so much carbon fiber and main beams in bulletproof Kevlar, says Maksym Burgazli, another of the yacht’s former captains, Thunder isn’t just light and strong, she is also nearly impervious to erosion and osmosis.
“I think Oceanfast connected with my dad because of their fresh thinking, and of course the Australian thing,” says Dickie Bannenberg, Jon’s son. “They were able to do groundbreaking things with lightweight, high-performance and sharp-looking boats.”
Straight-line speed was far from the yacht’s only performance-related laudable. According to Burgazli, Thunder’s original military-grade trim system by Maritime Dynamics was the same equipment used to keep decks stable on missile launchers, and a great feature for guests. The jet-powered yacht’s top-notch emergency-steering system, which he said was much like a torpedo avoidance system, allowed her to change direction from port to starboard in under four seconds.
It’s unclear if these rather, shall we say, bellicose features would play a role in her future owner lineage, but it wouldn’t exactly be shocking if they did. After Angelopoulos, the yacht would be owned by Boris Berezovsky, a mathematics professor from Moscow who made billions from the privatisation of former Soviet state property in the 1990s. An ally of Boris Yeltsin and a one-time member of the Duma, he fell out of favor in Russia and was granted asylum in the UK. His close associate (and former guest on Thunder B), Alexander Litvinenko, died from radiation poisoning in 2006. Berezovsky himself would be found dead in his home under mysterious circumstances in 2013.
Next in line in the yacht’s ownership history was Boris Kogan, a Ukrainian businessman with close connections to a group of weapon logistic contractors known as the Odessa Network. Kogan (who died of natural causes in 2017) had a taste for the wild side, and it extended to the decoration of his newest toy which he named Lady K.
For starters, he painted the exterior silver and gold – not just the colors, but actual flakes of metal inside a clear coat. “There were flakes of gold in there that were as big as your fingernail,” Elliott recalls. As if having a yacht with a jet engine wasn’t flashy enough. (The current yacht’s owner, a fan of Jon Bannenberg’s work, had Thunder repainted during a 2021 refit, which also eliminated the central turbine for fuel efficiency’s sake – although it is available and carefully stored in a box, should anyone want to reinstate it.)
Kogan was also responsible for Thunder’s current unprecedented interior. A 2015 refit transformed the interior. According to his former captain, a Ukrainian interior designer worked closely with Roberto Cavalli’s Visionnaire design company to create the same baroque motif Kogan enjoyed in his houses, offices and planes. He says the transformation was upwards of €9 million ($9.6m) – not including the paint job. The effect is just a bit… polarising.
I remember thinking that this article would be difficult to write because there is so much going on in the yacht’s interior and so little to compare it to. So here is my best stab at describing it: imagine if Salvador Dalí had won the lottery, licked a hallucinogenic toad, and then gone furniture shopping.
“It’s a sharp intake of breath when you walk inside Thunder, isn’t it?” Bannenberg says. “I think that interior is a good example of taste being subjective.” If the silent part of what the younger Bannenberg says seems damning, then I’m happy to advocate for the devil. Because frankly, when it comes to Thunder’s interior, I kind of love it.
The woodwork, including inlays and joinery, is so pristine as to approximate the sublime. Fractal patterns emerge nearly everywhere your eye could possibly land. The skins of poisonous and man-eating reptiles line the railings and flat surfaces, even the toilet bowls. A bathroom on the main deck has a sink that is a massive, chrome human head, with the faucet pouring directly into the top of the skull.
The accommodations level is no less provocative. The amidships master is awash in black crushed velvet and more mirrored surfaces than is necessary for inspecting one’s evening attire. When I posted a photo of myself online sitting on the black velvet bed with crisp, white piping, writer Thomas Chatterton Williams commented, “My God, man, it looks like you made $250 million in porno!”
Ill-gotten gains aside, my absolute favorite part of this yacht – and one of my favorite interior spaces on any yacht I’ve been aboard – are the mirroring guest staterooms toward the bow. These cabins are remarkable for a few reasons. For starters, they are separated by a wooden wall that undulates like a snake between them for no other discernible reason than an aesthetic principle.
They each also have highly lacquered, wooden lounges that form seats that aren’t terribly comfortable, but my goodness, are they gorgeous.
With its gently sloped planes and delicate angles, all this woodwork is bathed in natural light that beams through ornately decorated and massive portholes, which originally were draped with breezy linens. There is an old-school beauty in these cabins matched with a delicious, non-utilitarian conceit that strikes at the very best of what this yacht can be.
I say “can be” because there could very well be some changes in store for Thunder’s interior. After all, she is on the market – listed, at the time of writing, at $8.8 million even though Elliott estimates a similar hull would go for $25 million new – and the Alice in Wonderland vibe in the interior certainly narrows down the buyer pool.
With an eye for a potential refit and to restore the spirit intended by the yacht’s creator, Bannenberg & Rowell has drawn up some elegant and understated renderings for the interior that hark back to the yacht’s Greek commission with a white and Aegean blue color scheme. And Elliott would like to see some minor refit decisions that would create maximal change, including taking out some of the mirrors and making the ceiling all one uniform color, as he feels the geometric shapes there currently tend to crunch the space.
The broker believes Thunder can be a premier charter boat in the Bahamas with or without these modifications. “With jet drives, she only has a 5ft draft, so she is perfect for the Bahamas,” he says. “You can beach it if you want. You can take this boat to the Abacos, and nobody has a boat this size there [because of the shallow water]; they are all in the Exumas. This boat can go where other large yachts can’t. She’s ready for a new adventure.”
More accurately, Thunder is ready to continue her adventure and carry forward a history that is at once proud, marbled and full of life force. And any future owner will be able to add his own pages to one of the world’s most storied and distinctive superyachts.
First published in the August 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.Shop Now