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Planet Nine: Inside Admiral's 73m super explorer built for heli-skiing adventures

17 September 2021 • Written by Sam Fortescue

Planet Nine was built for heli-skiing adventures in the world's coldest cruising grounds. Offering comfort and limitless cruising in a mighty 73m package, Sam Fortescue steps on board Admiral's star explorer...

From the quay, Planet Nine all but obscures the sight of Mount Vesuvius, which looms over the Gulf of Naples. With her high bow and broad helipad aft, she appears the very essence of an explorer yacht: purposeful and uncomplicated. Elegant, for sure, but designed for more serious cruising.

To characterise Planet Nine as an explorer alone is to do her a real disservice

Her long passerelle is like a slender bridge to another world. Behind me are stuttering mopeds and the sing-song arguments of local fishermen and contractors crowding the dock at Marina Molo Luise; ahead is calm, serenity and hugely welcome air con. And as I’m about to find out, it’s all underpinned by some effortless-looking interior design, which balances comfort and looks, without jeopardising the boat’s go-anywhere vocation. “The core idea was to build the best of Europe,” says skipper Rob Williamson, who also represented the owner for most of the project. “We wanted German machinery combined with an Italian build.”

The bare hull shape of the 73.2-metre explorer yacht took shape at Cantieri San Marco in La Spezia, before moving a few miles down the coast to The Italian Sea Group for the interior fit-out and finish. “The client was very demanding in terms of quality, style and for the interior,” says The Italian Sea Group’s vice-president Giuseppe Taranto. “But the result has been excellent.”

"We wanted German machinery combined with an Italian build," explains skipper Rob Williamson All photography by Thierry Ameller

Ice classified 1D by Lloyd’s, Planet Nine has been built with thick hull plates, strong frames and bulkheads, and careful protection for her seawater intakes, to protect them from ice and the very cold temperatures encountered in high latitudes. “That is why the owner went to a shipyard [to build the hull], not a yacht builder,” says Williamson. It means she can deal with sea ice up to around 15 centimetres thick, making charters to Greenland or the Graham Land peninsula of Antarctica a possibility.

To ready her for Antarctic waters, the helipad was carefully designed with a lifting platform, so that the aircraft can be stowed away safely in a hangar when not in use. What this means is that the yacht can accommodate two choppers – one in the hangar and one on deck; so there will always be one free to take on board an ice pilot, for instance. “We can effectively operate a heliport,” says the captain.

Much of the furniture was designed specifically for Planet Nine by the London-based studio Mlinaric, Henry & Zervudachi

“Guests can arrive by chopper, while the owner’s machine is on board.” And not just any chopper, either. The design team chose to scale everything to fit an AgustaWestland AW109 Grand – preferred for its large seven-passenger capacity. It also has a maximum weight of 3,175kg, so the helipad has been designed to support at least 10 tonnes. The boat’s current helicopter is an MD Explorer 902.

She’s undoubtedly a capable yacht but to characterise Planet Nine as an explorer alone is to do her a real disservice. Exterior designer Tim Heywood is adamant that there’s no contradiction between go-anywhere abilities and real luxury. “Planet Nine displays a constant state of great comfort and elegance,” he tells me. “The fact that she is wrapped in an ice-class hull only adds to her luxury.”

At 73.2 metres overall, any yacht would be impressive enough in its own right. Add in high latitudes looks and there is really no need to go over the top on the design. With an experienced owner taking a close interest, Heywood responsible for the lines and London-based studio Mlinaric, Henry and Zervudachi (MHZ) styling the interior, Planet Nine is a study in purposeful restraint.

“The client was looking for a 73 metre world cruising yacht with a crisp, timeless style in the design language of another of my designs, the motor yacht Ice,” Heywood explains. “I am extremely pleased with the proportions of the yacht, the overall form and the subtle sculptural features.” He singles out the trademark wing stations and mast structures, not too big, and the forward roof shapes. “All have been built as I imagined. “There is a really harmonious balance to the way the helipad and hangar have been accommodated using the same exterior styling as the main guest decks.

The superstructure is a relatively modest three-storey affair, but huge volume has been created within the hull’s tall topsides. All the tankage and machinery have been relegated to a single technical deck below the waterline. “By putting the engine room on what would traditionally have been the tank deck, we have completely freed up the lower deck,” says Williamson.

This, in turn, has been given over to five guest cabins and a staff cabin, opening off a long central corridor that connects to the beach club aft. “You don’t see that often and it’s tough to engineer,” he adds. “It is really quiet in the guest cabins, because the builders used the right materials for soundproofing. And guests can get directly to the beach club.”

The owner loves books, and wacapou bookcases are everywhere on the private main deck. Note the careful use of indirect lighting here in the owner’s lounge

Nearly the entire main deck above is given over to the owner’s suite of rooms, which total an agoraphobia-inducing 250 square metres. These include a huge bedroom with acres of sofa space and a pop-up television (the owner tolerates rather than embraces television so everywhere on the boat screens retract into elegant wooden pedestals). Sliding doors give access to the side decks, which are in use only for docking manoeuvres and therefore largely private.

Then there’s a library and conference space, lined from floor to ceiling with books, a further double bed and a separate office. It’s a space that would feel grandiose in a townhouse, but on a yacht it is an extraordinary luxury. “The owner was very active in business at the time and wanted private rooms away from the guests,” explains interior designer Tino Zervudachi. For my money, though, the VIP suite on the wheelhouse deck is the favourite. It is smaller, of course, but cosier, with a dressing room and ensuite bathroom. And the real draw is its own private aft deck, complete with sofa-style sunpads and an intimate dining area.

There are two lifts on board serving the five decks – one for the owner and guests (handy to get from the cabin to the sundeck) and a smaller one for the crew, which is used mainly for ferrying supplies from the store rooms below to the galley. “I was sceptical at first about the crew lift,” says Williamson. “I wanted a young, fit crew that suited the adventurous nature of the boat. But it’s proved its worth for the galley.”

The finish is meticulous, with much of the furniture built by German luxury outfitter Fitz Interior. At its workshop in Bavaria, the company built each space for a detailed walk-through and to make any changes, before the whole interior was dismantled again and shipped to Italy for installation. “We built the interior based on our substructure system, which allows every owner of the vessel to change the wall, ceiling or furniture cladding in no time,” says Fitz project manager Markus Jechnerer.

Zervudachi led the interior design, based on experience gained during work on several of the owner’s homes. “There were a few words, not a proper brief,” he says. “I understand him very well, and he made it clear that the boat had to be extremely comfortable, but masculine and streamlined.” They sourced exotic woods and fabrics from across the globe, in reference to the yacht’s go-anywhere capabilities. The finish in each cabin is different, creating a subtle variation: American elm, tropical olive wood and wacapou. Each bathroom features glass panelling, again with varying tints to it. “We decided we didn’t want any marble on board,” says the designer.

Elsewhere in the boat there is a wealth of textures and finishes that sit very comfortably together thanks to the restraint of MHZ. These range from the owner’s suite’s coveted African fabric for upholstery, woven in Dakar for Aïssa Dione, to a silk-linen blend from Twill Textiles on the walls in the guest cabins. Then there’s hand-woven abaca (from a Philippine banana palm) on the walls and ceiling of the main and upper decks, while limed oak and mutenye woods also appear in the wheelhouse and staircases.

Zervudachi led the interior design, based on experience gained during work on several of the owner’s homes

And the door to each guest cabin has a different colour of rich Garrett leather on the corridor side “to help guests more easily identify their own cabins – and to keep the interiors from being too serious”, explains Dennis Pyle of MHZ.

The feature is repeated in the so-called boot room, where the lower deck meets the beach club. Here guests can leave shoes and personal items when going for a swim or preparing to go ashore. The opening transom has lights set into its teak surface, to illuminate the beach club when open. It’s the sort of detail that only an experienced team would think to include. Or, as Heywood puts it, “a truly international team of engineers with, possibly, more experience between them than any other yacht builder.”

The boat has an interesting double personality. On the one hand she is set up for the maximum comfort of the guests, with more than 20 crew, copious lounging space, top-notch audiovisual, spa and steam room, spa pool and bar on the sundeck and a super-surround sound cinema, with 11 speakers and two subwoofers, on the main deck. But on the other hand, she has a no-nonsense feel and a kind of restless desire to get stuck into some bad weather, to explore off the beaten track. “She is a true world cruiser,” says Heywood, “designed and built to withstand the harshest conditions, to cut through savage seas and not skirt bad weather. She was built with a confidence that is infectious!”

Bridging the two is a really comprehensive package of toys and watersports equipment, clearly pitched at the charter market. Besides the two businesslike 10-metre Rupert RIBs (one set up for watersports, the other with a little cabin for inshore work), there is a brace of Seabobs, more wetsuits and dive kits than you can shake a stick at, a pair of Sea-Doo personal watercraft, water skis, paddleboards and more. I suggest a small sailing boat, which skipper Williamson likes the sound of. At one point, he throws open a cupboard door on the side deck to reveal a beautifully designed rack containing a pair of heavily sidecut skis – for snow, not water. And why not? If you’re visiting far-flung polar regions and your primary tender is an Agusta Grand, heli-skiing is definitely on the menu.

How capable is Planet Nine?

At her cruising speed of 14 knots, Planet Nine has a range of more than 6,000 nautical miles – thanks to the 340,000 litres of fuel she can carry. Slow her twin Caterpillar 3516 engines down to a perfectly respectable 10 knots and that range rises to more than 10,000 miles, enough to cross from Sydney to Ushuaia and on up to the Caribbean, without halting for fuel.

“That’s including fuel for the generators,” says Captain Rob Williamson, who oversaw the redesign of the power systems to reduce the hotel load to a single 275kW Cat genset, although there are three aboard. Couple that with her ice-class hull, 9,000 litres of aviation fuel (“around 10 times the range of an Agusta Grand”, says Williamson), 40,000 litres of freshwater, plus the ability to make around 18,000 litres more per day, and you can see she has phenomenal range and autonomy. Perhaps the limiting factor is fresh food. There is plenty of cold storage on board, down on the machinery deck in the bow, including several cold rooms and a walk-in freezer. “We can store luxury food for about a month,” says the captain. There’s storage for plenty more but after that you’d start relying more on tinned and ambient stored produce. So the effective range is a matter of taste for the owner or his guests.

First published in the September 2018 edition of Boat International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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