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Project Phoenix: The 58m former cable-laying vessel in line for an extreme makeover

21 December 2021 • Written by Holly Overton


Motor Yacht
Smit E J ·  54.74 m ·  1968

From humble days as a cable-laying vessel to 30 years cruising as a private yacht, this 58 metre project is now ready for a new life as a rugged explorer with an extreme makeover courtesy of ICT Yachts.

The story starts in 1968 at the E.J. Smit & Zoon shipyard in Holland where Project Phoenix was launched as a commercial cable laying vessel. Built with a steel hull and above-average volumes to accommodate large cable drums, the North Sea became her stomping ground.

Such credentials make an attractive proposition for conversion and caught the eye of one owner who saw the vessel’s potential and transformed the hull into a luxury superyacht in the 1990s. She sailed as a private yacht for thirty years under the stewardship of several owners, known as Fils de Grace and Sir Arthur J and most recently Touya. But when her owner passed away, the vessel found its way to Turkish shipyard ICT Yachts where she lies today, stripped back to her bare steel framework.

Project Phoenix is asking €29,500,000 with Ocean Independence

The vessel's arrival in Turkey would mark the beginning of a new chapter for Touya and also the start of a partnership between ICT Yachts, Omega Architects and Ocean Independence, who set to work on creating a new vision for the vessel with their sights set on the expedition market. "She is the ideal basis to be an explorer yacht because she has proven to be out there in the worst weather," says Peter Hürzeler, managing partner of Ocean Independence. "There are very good naval architects out there who can design fantastic new hulls, there's no doubt about it, but here, there is a proven hull that already exists.”

Joris Manders, exterior design at Omega Architects, says the hull itself was a “gift”

In spite of her solid bones, the yacht was dated. A canoe-stern was no longer practical, and while such classic characteristics might appeal to a small consort of owners, the market is demanding more space for toys and tenders and a better connection to the sea.

ICT enlisted the expertise of Frank Laupman and Omega Architects to create the designs for a globe-trotting explorer that retained a hint of its original character. Although, it was not the first time the studio and this vessel had crossed paths. Six years ago, the former owners had approached Laupman and designs were drafted for a trawler-style conversion. Due to family circumstances, the design never came to fruition, but the potential of the boat was indisputable so the team went back to the drawing board.

Touya before she was stripped back to her steel framework

“We first tried to design the vessel with an aft-leaning superstructure,” explains Laupman. But as the design evolved the superstructure was placed further forward which is more typical of a modern explorer. “With a traditional or fashionable explorer you would put the superstructure extremely forward so you have a lot of space out of the wind for your toys and helicopter aft. But given the construction of the vessel we were not able to do that.” Instead they opted for a mid-leaning forward superstructure for a “more rugged, explorer feel".

The result is a cool, five-deck explorer with an 11,000 nautical mile range and an additional four and a half metres added to its length. Notably, the canoe stern has been replaced with a swim platform, hexagonal dipping pool and an open-air beach club that stores a nine-metre tender when underway. The bow has been raised to accommodate two small tenders concealed beneath the foredeck, while an additional deck has been added to its height.

Laupman points to some of the classic qualities retained in the design such as the seven windows at the front of the superstructure where the owner's suite now sits, as well as the wide walkarounds offering a “turn-of-the-century” feel. “We decided to keep much of its classic character," he says.

Joris Manders, of Omega Architects, says the hull itself was a “gift”. “When you start designing a new vessel, you don't get that sense of history. And if you try to create something really classic when actually it's a new design, it doesn't really match.

“Because this ship was built a long time ago they did things differently. The hull flair is quite substantial, compared to modern ships where they're more focused on internal volume,” he says. “And additionally, you have the deck that rises quite significantly. These are very classical elements that today, if you were to build a modern ship, according to modern standards, a shipyard would not easily be willing to do simply because of cost.” The ultimate goal was to blend old and new.

Project Phoenix can accommodate a total of 12 guests split across six staterooms: three guest cabins on the lower deck, a VIP on the main deck, and the upper deck dedicated to the owner’s apartment. The owner can choose whether they want to position the owner's cabin facing aft and an observation lounge forward or vice-versa, with a walk-through wardrobe connecting both spaces.

The bridge deck above is home to a spa pool with sunpads to either side while the sundeck offers the best seat in the house for sunset views wherever she finds herself in the world. 

“The project is well timed,” says Ilker Tahincioglu, owner of ICT Yachts. He is referring to the booming expedition market that grew by 33% in 2021 (according to BOAT International's Global Order Book) as more owners opt for tougher hulls and long-range capabilities.

But also, with shipyards reporting healthy order books for 2022 and beyond, and some even operating at 100% capacity, extreme refits offer an appealing alternative for those who are not so willing to wait for a new build slot to become available. “When you start from scratch it’s easy to get lost in ‘which builder do I chose, which designer do I chose, but in the case of Project Phoenix, you have a ready-made proposal and a strong team," says Lukas Stratmann, yacht broker at Ocean Independence. 

Hürzeler agrees. “Yes, you can go somewhere and start new with a blank sheet of paper, but before you can actually order the steel you are already 10 or 12 months down the line at least.” Project Phoenix joined the brokerage market in May 2021 asking €29,500,000 with Ocean Independence and is available for delivery as soon as 2023.

More about this yacht

Smit E J   54.74 m •  1968

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