When a Filipino client – a passionate boater who owned an 18.3m yacht – came to Mark Prangnell in 1999 asking for advice on a $35 million Feadship he was thinking of buying, it set in train a series of events that even Prangnell could not have foreseen.
Prangnell, an engineer with experience both on yachts and with Prometheus Marine in Singapore, had headed to the Philippines in the 1990s and liked it so much, he decided to stay. Working as a one-man band, and acting as distributor for Onan in the region, business had been brisk.
He looked over the Feadship’s GA and specs, and offered one piece of advice: why not buy an old boat for a fraction of the cost, do it up, and use it as a trial for the owner to determine what he really wanted? That was 1999, and that project became the first conversion by Harbour Yacht Services (now HYS Yachts), Prangnell’s company based in Subic Bay, northern Philippines.
The chosen vessel was the 52m, former Japanese maritime cadet training vessel, Taishu Maru. In 2000 she emerged from the yard as a 55m cruising superyacht called Tiara II.
‘The owner had liked the idea,’ says Prangnell, ‘as it worked out to be 10 per cent of the cost of the Feadship. I got naval architect Simon Jupe – whom I had met in Singapore a few years previously – to do the design for the conversion on a vessel I found in Japan, and that was the start of Harbour Yacht Services.’
As it turned out, Jupe joined HYS Yachts as a partner, and the owner of Tiara II became a shareholder.
In 2003, a Swiss client came along and offered to buy Tiara II from the original owner, so it was sold.
‘He bought it just before New Year,’ explains Prangnell. ‘He went for a short cruise in the Philippines and a week later, in Manila, he arrived with a list of improvements and modifications he wanted doing.’
These included adding a bulbous bow and Quantum four-fin zero speed stabilisers, filling in the forward well deck to create a tender garage, and extending the saloon over the garage, along with other functional upgrades to bring her into the league of modern expeditionary superyachts. And he wanted the finished yacht in the Galápagos 10 months later. ‘It became our second project,’ says Prangnell. She was relaunched in 2004 as Galapagos.
In 2009 the yacht was sold again, this time to a friend of the original owner. On his recommendation, Galapagos motored back from Gibraltar to the Philippines and returned to HYS’ yard for her third transformation.
Once again the refit was radical, including completely new superstructure styling; the addition of a square transom and bathing platform to mask the old rounded stern, a wet exhaust; a full helipad aft on the upper deck capable of taking the owner’s Augusta 109; with a secondary touch-and-go pad on the master cabin roof; new side coamings; and a new, open-air sundeck.
Further, the interior was to go through a complete makeover, with a new master suite forward on the main deck, a new gourmet galley on the lower deck, the conversion of an office and gym to a second VIP cabin and a main saloon brought up to date with the latest AV equipment. It would be an 18 month project to turn Galapagos into Ark Angel.
Walking through the yacht just after she had returned from a maiden cruise as Ark Angel, it is apparent that she has come a long way from her days as Taishu Maru. Her hull retains some of the sheer that marks her more utilitarian background, but that is about the only clue to her origins, except for her distinctive underwater profile. The first obvious change is forward where the original well deck, retained on the first conversion to Tiara II, is now an enclosed tender and toy garage with shell doors in the hull.
Her profile is markedly different even from her prior incarnation as Galapagos. Gone are the superstructure uprights and fashion plates, and instead the main and upper decks appear to float above the hull line, an effect emphasised by the dark green paint applied to the recessed superstructure sides – an idea suggested by the owner’s wife.
The lower edge of the main deck profile mirrors the sheerline of the bulwark below, while the extension to the rear of the upper deck – which now forms the permanent helipad – gives her a long, lean and low look. The stern is perhaps the most interesting addition; this new section looks like it was part of the original design, until you open a door to one side of the transom to be confronted with the rounded stern of the original vessel.
The lower deck features most of the guest accommodation, set to port, with a VIP cabin aft and a second, full beam VIP amidships, with further cabins for staff and a nanny. To starboard, an impressive, long galley – extended from that of Galapagos – hints at culinary delights for those on board, and a snug table in the aft corner will surely be one of the most visited spots for guests.
Aft of the galley is a laundry and a separate ironing room, while various dry stores and additional fridge/freezer space is located aft in the original rounded stern.
The bulk of the crew accommodation is forward and one deck down, below the well deck tender garage, where cabins radiate from a central mess area. In the after part of this deck lies the mechanical space, where the original low-revving Hanshin engine takes pride of place. Part of the refit work included giving the engine a full overhaul, along with upgrading much of the piping and other engine room systems.
Among these upgrades was the addition of an eco-friendly, smokeless wet exhaust. The control room off to the port side of the engine room is a curious mix of old and new, where modern monitoring equipment sits alongside some of the original switchgear and dials from the yacht’s days as Taishu Maru.
The engine is a remarkable contrast to today’s efforts: it pumps out 1,300hp at just 320rpm, and when under way it is so quiet that you can stand next to it and hold a normal conversation. In addition to the other engine room upgrades, three new generators were installed as part of the refit, along with new air-conditioning systems, a five-bladed propeller, a Headhunter freshwater system, and a new bowthruster drive system.
On the main deck, the forward saloon area of Galapagos, which led through to two double cabins, has been re-configured as one giant master suite. An island bed sits among the warm browns of exotic woods, while an extended wooden bed head separates the sleeping area from an open plan en suite.
Aft of this, the main saloon has been refreshed to provide a comfortable, colonial club feel, while the AV systems have had a thorough upgrade – a perfect spot to watch a movie. A dining table aft on the starboard side provides a pleasant mix of formality and relaxation by retaining contact with the seating area.
Above, the bridge deck has also had an extensive makeover. The bridge itself has been fully re-configured with brand new navigation and comms equipment, while behind it what was a chart room and gym on Galapagos has been transformed into an impressive captain’s office, leading through to a double captain’s cabin.
The deck spaces also received considerable attention. Aside from the sundeck extension and the addition of the DNV-standard, three-tonne helipad (Ark Angel also carries aviation fuel with refuelling facilities), the sundeck now features a saltwater spa pool and observation area. One deck below, a large dining table aft offers alfresco dining for 12, while aft on the main deck is a bar and an inviting seating area with loose, rattan-style sofas and chairs.
It is interesting to note that at certain points in the superstructure the original side deck doors look as if they are slightly skewed on the vertical. This hints at how the trim of the vessel changed during her three conversions, and while the effect seems odd on paper, it does act as a focal point, a curiosity that adds charm and character to this fascinating yacht.
The fact that everything, from the superstructure changes to the interior cabinetry and the paint job, was done at HYS Yachts is testament to the ability Prangnell and Jupe’s yard team has developed.
Throughout, the standard of finish is excellent, and with a range of some 12,500 miles (and, too, completed at a fraction of the cost of building a new 55m yacht) it is clear to see why conversions such as this are proving more and more popular for serious yacht owners. Converts to the cause, you could say…