You’d be forgiven for thinking that the classically styled 90.1-metre Nero has been sailing the seas for centuries. Dig a little deeper and you'll find she is an architectural confection of old and new, as Holly Margerrison discovers.
Nero is a yacht of many secrets. For years, she was home to a plump, ginger stowaway from the Chinese shipyard she was built in. Named Nelson, the cat stayed with the owner on board, only going ashore if guests were not fond of the feline, and he even had his own chair in the wheelhouse that he scratched to pieces. Everyone gave up trying to replace the armchair and eventually threw a blanket over it.
Frederica Findlater of Burgess recounts a beautiful photo of the yacht taken from the stern. You’d be mistaken for thinking Nero was the subject of the image. Instead, sat on the capping rail, tail straight down, is Nelson, lapping up dusk’s soft light. Oh, to be the stowaway on Nero and to know the stories she holds.
Several years and two substantial refits later, these nostalgic traces can still be found throughout – if you know where to look. On a bright day off the coast of Monaco, I tour the modern-classic build, witnessing the wealth of details that make her such a revered yacht.
For example: Tucked behind the door in the owner’s suite is the epitome of British naval power. Poised high on the top shelf is a bust of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson (from which the cat borrowed its name) – a charismatic legend who led the British fleet to victory against the much larger French and Spanish fleets in the Battle of Trafalgar.
Follow the compass-embossed marquetry a little further along the deck and you uncover the next jewel in Nero's trove. Here lies another bust, this time of Lord Byron, a figure heavily connected to the Greek War of Independence and the author behind the 1814 poem The Corsair. The poem tells the story of a wild and ruthless pirate, and served as inspiration for the name of one of the largest privately owned vessels in the 1930s, a 103-metre classic named Corsair IV that was itself the inspiration for Nero.
These treasures, along with model yachts that evoke the spirit of sea battles in their golden age, imbue Nero with a maritime history that goes much deeper than her clipper bow, black hull and iconic yellow funnel. It was British entrepreneur Neil Taylor who commissioned and designed Nero, initially setting out to restore a true classic. But when a suitable donor yacht wasn't available, he built a replica design of Corsair IV, owned by finance and industry icon JP Morgan in the 1930s.
Taylor inserted himself in the traditions of early 20th-century yachting and created something which both looked and felt like a time-honoured yacht. He pays his respects to JP Morgan across Nero with ubiquitous intertextual links. For a start, Corsair Yachts, the yard that Taylor created specifically for his build, is a nod to Morgan’s Corsair series of yachts. The bust of Nelson also honours the financier's fascination with the naval figure, who spent his life collecting ephemera and memorabilia.
John Leonida, consulting superyacht industry advisor from LP Squared Ltd, shared much of his extensive research into Nero. He said: “The level of detail is extraordinary. It’s the bringing together of so many nautical themes that makes this such a spectacular boat.” Speaking of the figurehead of Byron, he added: “It’s an easter egg. If you don’t know it’s there, you don’t know that’s Byron. It adds another dimension.”
Her exterior is equally as captivating. As Captain Paul Bell explains, her sheer line “[rises] up as if it were an old-fashioned yacht. It’s taken from the time, so it’s architecturally correct. It’s the only boat I’ve worked on that has one of those, apart from an old-fashioned sailing yacht. She feels like a mix of a motor yacht and a sailing yacht because of her full-length keel. When she’s sitting at anchor like this, she feels like a sailing yacht.” He adds: “It’s quite relaxed, it’s not like a modern-day superyacht.”
It wasn’t always so relaxed inside and, for this, interior designer Laura Pomponi is to thank. As she puts it, she “transformed the yacht from a gentleman’s club to a lady of the seas”. Pomponi was tasked with the 2016 refit in MB92 in Barcelona, under a new owner whose brief was “contemporary, classic elegance”. Pomponi explains the biggest challenge of this refit was balancing a fresh aesthetic while “keeping the soul of the vessel”. To accomplish this, she introduced considerable light, cream interiors that are anything but clinical, and an amalgamation of cosy textures throughout.
Light in colour yet springy underfoot, the handmade bouclé carpet on the main deck invites guests to take their time as they walk across it. When it came to sourcing the fabric (of which there was 3.2km in the first refit), she explains “we pick up a little bit here, a little bit there. We don’t like well-known brands, we look for something special”.
Prior to the refit, purple, black and gold tones were a common theme on board, and they have since been replaced with nautical-hued furnishings, while dark high-gloss woods have been substituted for lime-washed oak and brass fittings have been stripped and dipped in chrome to resemble silver.
The mix of old and new artwork, chosen in collaboration with the owner and sourced predominantly from Italy and America, heightens the maritime theme with a contrast between tall ships and steamships.
The result of the first refit? A tactile, retro yacht where guests are encouraged to enjoy the space. Not cavernous yet also not claustrophobic, Nero encapsulates all that is to evoke “quiet luxury” – not defined by the amount it cost to build her, nor her refit costs.
Fast forward to 2021, when Pomponi’s expertise was called on once again. This time, the brief was more technical and focused on a wellness boat that would appeal to charter clients, aligning with an upgraded programme.
With this in mind, the snug was converted into a self-serving gym on the top deck and the previous gym was converted into a beauty saloon-come-massage room. They also changed the loose furniture and the owner opted for new colours, allowing Pomponi to weave in greens and yellows amongst the teal and blue. The sofas, designed and upholstered by the studio, demand to be sat on – the level of formality stripped in favour of ergonomic design. The floor surrounding the skylounge bar was also changed to wood to be more universally appealing.
The gym was Pomponi’s challenge for the 2021 refit, not least due to the technical constraints of the camber and the sheer of the floor. To make the ultra-modern kinesis fit, her team removed the floor and replaced it with technical cork panels, which are also easier to maintain. She then harmonised the contemporary and classic ambience with glass mirrors produced by an Italian company, Sicis, that specialises in glass mosaics. The mirrored cabinets are coated to give an antique effect.
In a testament to how the boat flows, this “quiet luxury” extends to the service provided by the unobtrusive yet attentive crew. They refute the formality of a silver service associated with a yacht of this size in favour of a more personable approach.
While little is known about the name behind Nero, there are certainly some characters who tell her multifaceted story. Nelson – both the feline and the naval figure – certainly have a part to play in this. For now, Nero will play host to charter guests – next stop Tarragona, before the Antigua Yacht Show.