Designer Terry Disdale talks us through the four and a half years, nine decks and 162.5 metres of the world’s second largest superyacht.
Terry Disdale didn’t set out to design the biggest superyacht in the world. “No one ever said to me, ‘I want a 160 metre boat’,” he says over breakfast near his office in Richmond, London. “When the yacht was still on the drawing board, there was a rumour going round that someone was building an even bigger boat, and the owner was asked if he knew about it. He said he didn’t, and that he didn’t care. Breaking records was the farthest thing from his mind.”
What he did care about was helicopters – he wanted to carry more than one; and the pool – it had to be big. There were also some early discussions about low bulwarks and big windows, and that was the totality of the brief for what would become Eclipse. “To be given free rein is actually a dreadful thing,” says Disdale. “I asked myself what I wanted: something timeless. How do you design something timeless that’s still going to look good and not be anaemic? It’s so easy to get carried away, but you’ve got to be able to look at it in 20 years and decide it still looks OK.” But that’s the trick, isn’t it? And the measure of a designer.
At least Disdale had some hooks on which to hang the design. “Part of what creates the yacht looking like that is you’ve got to land this huge helicopter on the front, so the superstructure is pushed back. The formation of the boat is built around helicopter usage. And we didn’t want the boat to look unbalanced when the helicopter is on the foredeck. Some boats have a foredeck that looks wrong whenever a helicopter sits there.”
The lines of the boat were dictated by another prerequisite: the two significant lifeboats demanded by Solas. The sheerline runs straight aft from the bow and steps up amidships, the high freeboard created giving visual support to the lifeboats. “If you’d had a different sheerline, the lifeboats wouldn’t have looked comfortable,” the designer says. This, plus the addition of a 15 metre pool aft on the main deck, meant that the overall length of Eclipse – 162.5 metres – was defined not by ego but by practicality.
“Everyone thinks that a boat starts with a sketch, some glamorous visual of the outside of the boat. But that’s not how things work in my office – we start with a plan, a general arrangement.” The project, from this first design stage to the boat’s launch at Blohm+Voss’s Hamburg yard in 2009, took four and a half years – a remarkable achievement given the scale of the yacht, which was only overtaken as the world’s biggest in 2013 with the launch of 180 metre Azzam.
Up to 20 engineers from Blue Ocean Yacht Management were present on site throughout the build, whipping it along to meet the aggressive delivery schedule. Disdale doesn’t recall any sleepless nights – “at least, no more than usual!” he laughs. The pressure of designing what was then the world’s top yacht – both inside and out – did obviously register, though. “It’s a huge responsibility building something of that magnitude, which is going to be under everyone’s magnifying glass. It’s not just ‘doing a job’, this thing is going to be scrutinised and analysed by everyone. There’s a responsibility to yourself as a designer.”
A decade from delivery, and more than 15 years from the moment Disdale first put pen to paper, he says he wouldn’t change a thing – and nor has the owner, who has kept Disdale’s designs largely unchanged. “For me, it’s more a clean piece of architecture than it is a piece of styling. The fact that you have a helipad on the front creates the superstructure to bow dimension, which is beautiful. If it wasn’t there, you wouldn’t have that length. And then when you get to the back of the boat, the swimming pool is dictating another piece of the story. I don’t know what I would change now. I don’t sit around saying, ‘I wish I did this or that’. Maybe I’d make the rear end look a bit more inviting, the way the staircases lead into the boat, but anti-piracy was a concern, plus there are a load of services and facilities back there. There’s a full-size pantry to serve the beach club, which very few boats have, and gull-wing doors with a pullout barbecue and pizza oven. There’s a lot you don’t see.”
Disdale’s long experience in the business means he is able to resist the temptation to force designs, or slavishly follow trends that flare and fade, leaving boats looking old before their time. “Eclipse is a handsome boat, and it looks like a boat. It doesn’t make any pretence,” he says. “The key word is elegance. Very few boats can make that claim any more. Modern boats are purposeful, aggressive, macho, which has led to them all having snub noses. They look angry. You could paint them grey and stick a cannon on the front and it wouldn’t upset their stance at all. Eclipse is not like that.” It’s a familiar sermon from Disdale, who famously posts his 10 “design commandments” up round his office. “One of the most important tools in your box is restraint. I can have complete freedom when designing a superstructure, but restraint is actually the most important thing – knowing when to stop gilding the lily. Don’t gild it! Use silver leaf.”
The obvious benefit of a single designer being responsible for the interior and exterior of a yacht is a seamless flow between the two, and that is absolutely true of Eclipse, whose interior conforms to another one of Disdale’s mantras: “beach house not penthouse”. “If you’ve got a dining room with satin on the chairs and gold braid around them, but you live in a T-shirt and shorts, then you’re not comfortable,” he says.
The pool is a vast entertaining space, with 3.2 metre overheads and a retracting glass sunroof. “The ambience of the pool is as important as how it looks. You’ve got to want to sit by it.” Or dance on it: the blue granite bottom of the pool rises up to sit flush with the deck. It can also be lowered a touch to create a paddling pool.
The interior of any boat should be about “pure relaxation”, says Disdale. “People are on vacation, people are chilled.” He relates one story of an Arab client in the 1980s, who he dissuaded from fitting gold taps to his superyacht. “I told him he already had a 65 metre on the quay – he had already made his statement. It was a process of trying to quieten his ostentation.” You get the feeling no such effort was needed with the owner of Eclipse. “He had already owned three yachts to our design, so consequently was very familiar with my way of working and the habitat I create.” It’s impossible to miss the very deliberate warmth of that habitat and a design miracle that, despite using broadly the same colour palette throughout, nowhere do you tire of the ochre-like shades.
This uniformity wasn’t applied to the lobbies between decks: different artists were tasked with creating unique works to give each lobby a flavour, so there is no confusion about what deck you’re on – a problem when you have nine. One of these pieces is a wooden sculpture made up of seven pieces, the design for which was hand drawn by Disdale and sent to Japan for manufacture. It’s a stunning work and symptomatic of the detail shown throughout – even in more mundane pieces, like the sideboards in the cabins that were designed in Europe and crafted in Chile.
With no clear-cut brief on the yacht’s layout, Disdale was forced to second-guess, “but that’s my job”, he says. “You have to work out how people will move around the boat.” The benefit of an LOA like Eclipse’s is the owner can swallow serious acreage without impacting the guest experience. It’s not about avoiding guests, but being able to operate independently of them.
It would be easy to mistake the guest suites for the owner’s own quarters, such is their footprint. There are 18 guest cabins in total, served by 100 crew. From the moment the guests arrive by chopper, mainly on the top helideck, they’re absorbed in the comfort of the boat and have access to the main stairwell and elevator. It’s a transition of which Disdale is particularly proud. “It came from understanding how a boat is used. When you get out of the helicopter, you’re blown to pieces, and then where do you go?” The answer is an intimate lounge, where you can freshen up before entering the interior proper. It also gives pilots somewhere to conduct safety briefings, he points out. Eclipse is able to travel with multiple helicopters on board because one can be housed in the forward hangar, one above it on the retractable platform and another on the sundeck.
At the other extremity of the boat, the convenience continues with a huge bathing platform and staircases that fold down into the water for easy boarding – even for those wearing full dive gear. The beach club wasn’t maxed out, with a comfortable lounge along the centreline preferred to a big open area that is harder to secure. Beyond, though, the lower deck opens up into a huge 77 square metre gym and spa area, complete with massage room, beauty salon, sauna, shower areas and the yacht’s second plunge pool. Visual interest is added by banks of portholes with views into the swimming pool, which dapple light across this whole space. Choosing somewhere to relax on deck is slightly harder – where do you start? The options are endless but special mention has to be made of the wood-burning fire pit on the upper deck – perfect for nights on deck under the stars.
Disdale and his team were present in June 2009 when the boat appeared from the giant drydock in Hamburg. No butterflies – he claims to have been pretty zen about seeing her free of scaffolding and plastic. “Although you design every part of it and you see it being built, nothing prepares you for the feeling you get when you actually see it in the flesh. The tug pulled it out and there was the thickness of a mattress between the wing stations and the shed walls. Literally – they tied mattresses to the stations. When it appeared I was gobsmacked.” As was the owner, pleasingly for the man who’d dedicated nearly five years to the project.
“It’s like cars,” explains the car fanatic. “I was talking about Lamborghinis the other day. They used to have the Miura, a beautiful car. But they replaced it with the Countach, which looks like it was carved from cheese. One is ageless and one looks stuck in time. Elegance is the most important thing. The Miura is elegant, the Jaguar E-Type is elegant.” He’s too modest to say but Eclipse belongs in that league – beautiful for ever.
First published in the April 2016 edition of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW