Sarafsa was once owned by the Saudi royal family

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Sarafsa: The story behind the 82m superyacht once owned by the Saudi royal family

13 April 2023 • Written by Risa Merl

When 82-metre Sarafsa joined the brokerage market she presented a ripe opportunity for refit, but her dated interior called for a buyer that could see beyond the brocade. Risa Merl tells the story of the former royal yacht...

There are private yachts, and then there are royal yachts. The opportunity to get a glimpse inside the latter is incredibly rare, making the chance to finally see a yacht like 82-metre Sarafsa in the flesh all the more intriguing. Designed inside and out by Winch Design and launched in 2008 at Devonport Yachts in the UK, for the past 15 years the yacht’s interior has remained a mystery, with her capacious volume only hinting at what wonders might be held inside. It was only when Sarafsa was listed for sale by Burgess that BOAT International had a chance for a closer look at the yacht originally built for Saudi Arabia’s Prince Fahad Bin Sultan.

Sarafsa was sold shortly after BOAT International stepped on board and has been renamed Pure

With her gleaming joinery and ornate furnishings, stepping on board Sarafsa feels a bit like stepping back in time, but in truth she was ahead of her time in many ways compared to yachts of her day. From her staggering 3,200GT of volume to the two-storey owner’s apartment and the explosion-proof lazarette built to carry a Mini Moke car, she is full of forward-thinking features. Moored nearby in Monaco at the time of our visit is another 2008 launch, the 85-metre Abeking & Rasmussen B2, which at 2,150GT is still nearly a thousand gross tons smaller than Sarafsa in volume. “They are the same length, but from a distance B2 looks like a 60-metre in comparison to Sarafsa,” says Rupert Nelson, Burgess director and senior sales broker.

Sarafsa’s designer, Andrew Winch, agrees with Nelson that she was ahead of the pack in terms of volume. “Most of the 80-metre yachts back then were probably half the volume,” says the Winch Design founder, noting another comparison, that if you put Sarafsa side-by-side with the 92-metre Lürssen Phoenix 2 that Sarafsa is still bigger by volume. “I think she was 10 years ahead of the trend that ‘big is beautiful’ without making her so big that she can’t go in most harbours or into the dock in Monaco,” he says. “This is a yacht you could live on board for three to four months, you could make it your island, your own floating home.”

Winch Design created the previous Sarafsa as well, a 54-metre launched at Amels in 1998, now named Faribana V. That project had started out at 28 metres and nearly doubled in size. The 54-metre Sarafsa was one of the first yachts that Winch Design created and marked the beginning of a fruitful partnership with both the shipyard and the owner.

Winch Design created the interior for the previous Sarafsa, a 54-metre Amels.

The designer soon learned of the original owner’s love for classic Mediterranean glamour and the coastal hotels that are beacons of bygone luxury, such as Belmond's Splendido Hotel in Portofino and Hotel Cipriani in Venice. “The first Sarafsa embodied those ideals,” says Winch, recounting an interior filled with marquetry panels depicting different Mediterranean scenes. “It was the sense of sailing into the Monaco of old, Prince Rainier’s Monaco, and taking in the aura of these places when you step on board.” The former owner was a lover of Riva runabouts, and the first Sarafsa had a wooden transom that opened to reveal a custom Riva tender.

Eight years later, the client came to Winch requesting a yacht with more space and more amenities, such as a gym, swimming pool and helipad, to name a few. Like her predecessor, she is a love letter to the French Riviera and the classic Rivas that plied these waters. “The principal’s passion was the Cote d’Azur,” says Winch. “The concept of Sarafsa centred around his admiration for the ocean and time spent in the harbour of Portofino or Monaco. He loved that whole Princess Grace era. He had a very romantic and engaging admiration for those times when leisure was happy and relaxed. Life on board was about good food, a glass of wine, laughter and sunshine on your face.”

Andrew Winch soon learned of the original owner’s love for classic Mediterranean glamour and the coastal hotels that are beacons of bygone luxury, such as Belmond's Splendido Hotel in Portofino and Hotel Cipriani in Venice.

The second Sarafsa was built at Devonport Yachts with naval architecture by Burness Corlett and Three Quays. The exterior was intended to be purposefully understated. “It’s less of a statement, more of a stately elegance,” says Winch. “When she’s anchored in a bay, it’s about calm. The yacht isn’t shouting ‘look at me’ and there isn’t music blaring. If there was going to be music, it would be Bocelli singing privately indoors.” The yacht’s logo, which Winch penned as well, was an eagle and an anchor, and he also designed the original crew uniforms.

Despite her more recent state of disuse, Sarafsa’s interior has been maintained incredibly well over the years and showed surprisingly few signs of ageing in terms of the surfaces and soft furnishings when we stepped inside. Her joinery gleamed as if it were new and the carpets looked as if they had hardly been trodden on. Though she is certainly dated, with old televisions – walls of multiple TVs, in fact, to watch multiple channels at once – and corded phones dotted around that give away her age. Sadly, the same well-maintained condition could not be said for the exterior, which showed a desperate need for a paint job. Many of the systems on board, from the electronics to the engines and spa equipment, were also overdue an upgrade.

Sarafsa is one of the biggest superyachts built in the UK.

“The interior is beautifully classic, but it could be changed to suit a contemporary style as well,” says Winch. At the heart of the yacht is a showstopper of a staircase that spirals up through a grand atrium. There are main deck entrances to port and starboard, so no matter how she’s docked, there’s no disadvantage to the owner.

The day head bathrooms are wheelchair accessible and a lift goes from the lower deck right up to the sun deck – likely these accessibility decisions were made with elderly family members in mind. In terms of privacy, guests can step aboard at the starboard-side waterside dock and have the lift whisk them to any deck without having to walk through the boat. “No one sees them going there, so it’s very discrete,” says Winch. There was even a security cabin down at this entry point that any guests would have to pass by.

The commissioning owner also was inspired by the Castello Brown in Portofino, which gave Winch an immediate connection as this castle was actually owned by his step-grandfather. Sarafsa’s beauty salon has bottle glass doors that were directly inspired by Castello Brown, and the doors to the formal dining room were inspired by the castle as well. The enormous wood table in the formal dining room sits at least 16 and can be used as one large table or be separated into two separate tables for more intimate dining.

The first Sarafsa had the owner’s cabin forward. For the new boat, he wanted to be higher up and sleep with the windows open, so Winch put the bedroom aft, with a stern-facing bed that opens up onto a private terrace. The owner’s deck is set above the wheelhouse and beneath the sun deck. There are two cabins on the owner’s deck, his and her bedrooms, if you will. This deck also has a forward observation lounge and a cabin for the valet.

“The client took a wonderful pleasure in clothes, so there’s a dressing room as well as a wardrobe where the valet would assist him,” adds Winch. “And the forward lounge looks out over the bow, so if you’re cruising down the Amalfi Coast, you can see everything the captain would see without having to go into the bridge – it’s like his own wheelhouse.” Harry’s Bar in Venice was the inspiration for the owner’s forward lounge, with pear wood joinery setting the serene scene. Somewhat unusually, the sun deck above was also considered part of the owner’s private domain. Stairs lead up to the partially covered sun deck, which houses a gym, spa (including hammam and sauna) and a therapy swimming pool. “It’s the only yacht I know with an owner’s duplex,” says Winch.

The wheelhouse deck, with a cinema, aft lounge and winter garden dining area, was the realm of entertainment. The dark and dusky aft piano lounge has a sunken bar, which was inspired by another favourite hotel of the commissioning owner, the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan. Here, the owner could sit in a normal lounge chair while at the bar, with the barman standing two steps below, which he much preferred over perching on a high bar stool. The first Sarafsa had a sunken bar as well, and the client had asked Winch to go stay at the hotel in Milan to see the bar and recreate it.

Guest cabins are spread between the main and wheelhouse decks. There is a nod to the original owner’s love of the Mediterranean in the naming of the cabins, which include the Portofino, Monaco and Santorini suites, all decked out in different hued soft goods and artworks that speak to the theme of each port or island.

The lower deck has nine staff cabins, which are entirely separate from the crew accommodations. “The staff cabins are very unique to a royal yacht,” says Nelson. “There’d be bodyguards, maybe a massage therapist, second chefs, nurses and doctors. We didn’t manage the boat then, so can’t say for sure who was in the entourage. But you could fit 13 or 14 people in the lower-deck staff cabins, not to mention the valet cabin up on the owner’s deck.”

The crew cabins are set forward of the engine room, connected by a continuous corridor, which was one of the first yachts to have this on the lower deck, Winch notes. Sarafsa has a huge crew remit, with room for 23 crew. “There’s a big crew mess, which is great for us,” says captain Gordon Percy, who was hired to be the interim captain during the sale of the yacht, but is reported to be staying on during the refit with the new owners. There is a crew galley, crew mess and an additional staff mess.

Sarafsa joining the brokerage market presented an interesting opportunity for a refit project, with an owner able to secure a large yacht in a short period of time. “The shipyards are saturated,” says Nelson. “You’ve got a lot of issues with lack of build slots, supply chain issues and inflation. And the time it would take to build this boat today new is four to five years. She’s not a 50, 60-metre yacht. She’s more than 3,000GT and 82 metres – she’s a big lady.”

She could also be fitted out to be a world-class expedition yacht, Winch notes. “She could go cruising up the Amazon or to Antarctica carrying six tenders – not many 82-metre yachts can do that,” he says. “And if you wanted to carry a submarine as well, she already has this cane designed to lift a car that could lift a sub.” Should the new owners decide to offer her for charter, she could be a charter star with plentiful room for toys.

Now renamed Pure after her sale – secured in just seven months – Sarafsa is on the verge of a major refit project, which is to be managed by JMS Yachting. If the buyer prefers traditional high-gloss joinery, they could save the bones of Sarafsa and update the soft goods and furnishings. There are certain design details that stand the test of time – it would be a shame to tear out the grand staircase, for instance.

But the new owner’s exact plans for refitting the yacht remain under wraps for now. Whatever the new owner has planned for Sarafsa, one thing is for certain, she has the beam and volume to carry nearly any design one might dream of. The new owner, says captain Percy, is “motivated and willing to consecrate the time and money to bring her back to her former glory and some more.” This former-royal yacht will have her day in the sun once again.

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