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Serenity: The surprising and relaxing yacht from IAG

A beautiful painting of a swan is the focus of the main deck dining room on board the surprising 40.52 metre yacht Serenity. It’s an interesting symbol for the latest and most complex yacht to emerge from the Chinese shipyard IAG Yachts (now part of Sunbird). Although there is nothing unusual about a builder reaching higher standards with each project, much credit for what was achieved with IAG’s new launch goes to Chris Heatley.

The owner of a successful commercial paint company based in Illinois, he’s been handling decisions regarding his family’s boats for years. The new Serenity, the third boat over 24 metres that they’ve had, succeeds a 35.23 metre Lazzara of the same name (now Long Aweighted), which was not only a much-liked family yacht but also a successful charter yacht.

The adventure of building the new Serenity began about four years ago. “I started to get the itch for a bigger boat, something that could take us a little further, to the Caribbean, more comfortably,” says Heatley. The new Serenity needed to cater to a fun-loving multi-generational family, plus be an appealing option for people looking to charter. In addition, Heatley’s sister has limited mobility and he wanted to ensure that all four decks would be accessible to her.

With a mind bubbling with ideas, he hired an architect to do a first concept and began shopping for shipyards in earnest. Eventually, circumstances and a personal connection led him to IAG, which was building the 42 metre King Baby at the time, an ambitious project that gave the relatively new yacht builder credibility.

In IAG’s American representative at the time, Doug Hoogs, a broker with Atlantic Yacht & Ship, and designer Evan K Marshall, Heatley found a team willing to realise his ideas no matter how unorthodox — for instance, a wading pool on the superyacht sundeck.

“If they had not wanted to do that, I’d have found somebody who would,” says Heatley. But they had no intention of denying him. Stretching the envelope was appealing to the shipyard, which was then looking to make its mark on the US market, and to Marshall, an accomplished designer with an open mind.

Marshall recalls fondly his early meetings with Heatley as they worked on the layout and drew Serenity’s lines. “He sent me an image of a boat with a reverse windshield and said ‘I really like the look of that. What would it look like?’ So we modelled it up quickly and we both thought, you know what, this is cool. Let’s go for that,” says Marshall.

Designing Serenity was truly a collaborative effort, with sketches going back and forth between client and designer. “I have a portfolio full of them,” says Marshall, who wanted to keep a family look with previous IAG boats, particularly King Baby, which he had designed, but was game to hear Heatley out.

“He is really an interesting guy, full of ideas and willing to take some risks, which is always fun for a designer who doesn’t want to play it safe,” he says. “From the outset he said he really wanted to have balconies.” Heatley wanted to be able to step outside to take in the views and the sea air, like you can on a cruise ship, an experience he remembers fondly from his childhood. Neither of them wanted complicated contraptions that require a crewmember to intervene any time someone wants a breath of fresh air.

So Serenity has three fixed superyacht balconies — two off the master stateroom forward on the main deck and one off the sky lounge — all easily accessible through automated sliding doors. These permanent fixtures added to the project’s complexity. The new Serenity, which flies the American flag, was built to comply with RINA class and MCA regulations and, naturally, surveyors had to sign off on everything.

The build captain had some reservations from an operational point of view, particularly when it came to the lower balconies. However, where there is a will, there is a way. Ballistic-grade glass, watertight seals and a steel banister, which is painted light grey to match the yacht’s hull, were part of the solution. A custom-designed inflatable bumper can be fitted beneath the lower balcony to protect it during mooring.

In addition to the balconies, a “bay window” built into the superstructure on the top deck extends the sky lounge over the water. Large enough for two armchairs, this special little corner is one of many interesting spaces on board Serenity. “It’s my favorite place to sit. You can look at the whole length of the boat and see the waves at the back,” says Heatley.

This nook is a short distance from the superyacht elevator, which goes all the way to the sundeck. An elevator on a boat of this size was a design challenge in itself, says Marshall. It opens on two sides, the galley side on the main deck and the corridor, allowing it to function not only as a guest elevator but also a food lift. There was no space left for stairs in this central location, and so they were moved to the aft part of the deck, on the starboard side. Marshall designed them in such a way that they would not obstruct views, which was important to the owner.

Marshall is very pleased with the results, not only with the sleek and original styling but also the interior design of Serenity. “It’s very relaxing and with so many places connected to the water, you can really enjoy the sea. Even the aft deck, which we had to raise because of the tender garage below, is a destination spot and, with a fold-out TV, a great outdoor area to watch sports.“

The interior was a true collaborative effort as well between Marshall, interior outfitting company Yacht Next and the yacht’s owners. Some of the colour scheme is repeated from the family’s previous yacht and the underlying Asian influence comes from Heatley’s home. The family wanted to achieve a feeling of relaxation to go with the name Serenity.

Interestingly, the colours grow gradually darker as you move up from lower to upper deck. Serenity’s sky lounge is quite masculine, “more of a man cave,” says Heatley. Here is a nice bar with stools, a central credenza containing a humidor and a cosy lounging area facing an electric fireplace that puts out a lovely glow in the evening. It’s a subtle change that works well, particularly since there is continuity in the materials, including a wall finish that resembles a wood veneer from Maya Romanoff.

Although Marshall designed most of the furniture on board Serenity and suggested an interesting leitmotif found on doors throughout the boat — a stylized swan — Yacht Next selected the fabrics from brands such as Rubelli, the wall finishes, and many lighting fixtures.

Yacht Next’s owner, Joanne Lockhart, worked closely with the Heatleys, aptly navigating between the son’s desire for a more contemporary feel and his mother’s preference for a more classic look, evident in the choice of material and colours in the owner's cabin on Serenity’s main deck. “I think Joanne and my mother did an excellent job,” says Heatley.

Still, many of Serenity’s standout features were his idea. “I gave Evan a strong vision for the concepts I was looking for, the design of the superyacht spa pool, the wading pool, the skylights, the table that adjusts, the waterfall, the rock floor, the backlit columns, the full-beam stateroom downstairs that converts according to the needs of the family or charter guests. It goes on and on. When you walk through the boat, you can see a lot of different details,” he says.

It’s an accurate statement. Exploring Serenity is like playing a puzzle game that reveals surprises at each turn. I took great pleasure in getting more acquainted with this unconventional yacht as she cruised from Miami Beach after a boat show back to a marina near Fort Lauderdale. Through her large windows I watched the skyline unfold as Serenity slowly made her way through the shallows surrounding Miami Beach.

Standing by the master stateroom’s starboard balcony, listening to music softly playing from overhead speakers and watching clouds recede as the sun set proved a serene experience, worthy of the yacht’s name. Later, as Serenity headed out of the ship channel into a dark sea still reeling from a recent storm, I retreated to the darkened bridge bathed in the red glow of four screens switched to their night-time navigation mode.

Serenity forged ahead at a steady 11.5 to 12 knots, softly rolling off the tops of the waves, as efficient fin stabilisers and the hull design proved their worth. Italian naval architecture firm Axis Group Yacht Design worked with the yard to modify the hull of the IAG 127. It was extended, partly to accommodate a superyacht beach club and large swim platform, and was fitted with a bulb for better fuel efficiency.

Most of the equipment on board is from reputable American companies at Heatley’s request, in part for ease of service, as Serenity will cruise primarily between the East Coast of the US, the Bahamas and the Caribbean — Cuba is also in the plan.

At anchor the sundeck is an amazing entertainment area. In addition to the first-ever wading pool, mentioned earlier, it has an elevated round spa pool with waterfall, a bar, an up-and-down table that accommodates 12 guests, plus bar stools positioned along the side to enjoy views and, if desired, slushies made in the adjacent ice machine.

These are not just novelties born out of a fertile mind. “I love to design and I like the challenge of coming up with something that is functional,” says Heatley, who has experience designing houses. “At our home, we have a zero-entry pool that allows kids to play in two inches of water and we like to bring our lounge chairs into the water and enjoy the coolness. I thought ‘why not do this on the boat?’”

The challenge here was to overcome objections about the practicality of added water weight on top of three skylights. “You have to work everything out with RINA and MCA and all the governing bodies when you build a boat of this calibre.”

From the original idea of having the waterfall from the spa pool overflow into a holding area to create the wading pool, the team came up with a far easier solution. A simple water hose is used to fill the area to a water depth of about two inches. Once Serenity is ready to leave her mooring or the dock, the water is simply pushed to drain over the sides.

Heatley also wanted a welcoming and functional galley with beautiful finishes and windows “so it does not feel like a dungeon” for the chef, who is as important to the family — all cooking fans — as he is for charter guests. The crew, says Heatley, is instrumental to a successful charter program, maybe more so than a well designed yacht, even one with as many tricks as Serenity has.

Heatley readily admits that he had to be more involved than he’d really wanted to be during construction and had to bolster his build team to ensure that the shipyard would meet his expectations. “It was imperative to make sure no corners were cut,” he says. “At the end of the day the quality is top notch,” he says — well worthy of the beautiful swan at the heart of the interior design.

First published in the May 2017 edition of Boat International US

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