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The white stuff: On board the world's largest trimaran White Rabbit

The white stuff: On board the world's largest trimaran White Rabbit

She’s blissfully quiet, impressively efficient and comfortably cavernous. Oh, and she’s an 84-metre trimaran. Stewart Campbell follows the White Rabbit...

The obvious question, really, is: why bother building a trimaran when the rest of the world is cruising around in monohulls? Why go so radically against the grain?

Vindication can be sweet – in January the team behind White Rabbit picked up the Best Naval Architecture Award for Displacement Motor Yachts at the Boat International Design & Innovation Awards. It turns out that trimarans, done right, are quieter, leaner and more environmentally sound than monohulls. The owner of White Rabbit has known this for some time; he has never been anything but evangelical about their benefits. He has almost single-handedly proven the concept in big boats and now owns the world’s two biggest trimaran superyachts: the original three-hulled 61 metre White Rabbit from 2005 and now this 84 metre version, delivered just in time for Christmas last year. There’s also a large catamaran in the fleet, a 51 metre support vessel called Charley.

Let’s tick off some of those other benefits. You might think that a trimaran platform limits interior space, but you’d be wrong. White Rabbit carries 2,940 gross tonnes, so roughly the same as a 90 metre monohull. Sunrays, the 85 metre 2010 Oceanco, has an internal volume of 2,867GT. Solandge, the 85 metre Lurssen from 2013, has a gross tonnage of 2,899. The brand new DAR from Oceanco, at 90 metres, has an interior measured at 2,999GT, so only a snip more than 84 metre White Rabbit. All this volume is generated by the trimaran’s 20 metre beam, which makes it around five metres wider than equivalent-length monohulls. And she could be a lot more voluminous – the top deck, for instance, is fairly modest, while a bluff bow would generate even more GTs.

Such novel naval architecture surely adds to the cost, though? Not according to Mark Stothard, founder and owner of Echo Yachts, the Australian yard responsible for White Rabbit, who estimates the yacht was “significantly cheaper” to build than an equivalent-size monohull at a Northern European yard. You sometimes hear complaints about the ride of trimarans, and here, they have a little work to do. A comparison study by the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN) in 2000 showed that when bow-on to the weather, at speed or rest, trimarans are more comfortable than monohulls with equivalent displacements.

But in some conditions, particularly stern-quartering seas, the motion of a trimaran can be worse. To counter this, White Rabbit’s naval architects drew on the experience gained from the 61 metre boat, installing four enormous Naiad fins totalling 45 square metres that jut out from the centre hull. These have a limited range of movement and essentially act as aircraft wings under the water, planting the hulls and evening out the ride. Each of the three hulls also carries significant flare, generating buoyancy to dampen roll. The brains behind White Rabbit claim that trimarans, unlike monohulls, are far easier to fine-tune to find a ride motion the owner is comfortable with, simply by increasing or decreasing buoyancy in the outer hulls – “so the negatives are really not negatives”, says exterior and interior designer Sam Sorgiovanni.

The very same MARIN study points out the obvious, and massive advantage of trimarans: “When the same speed is required, the installed propulsion power [in the trimaran] can be reduced by some 40 per cent, leading to lower operational costs, a reduction in weight and less environmental contamination.” And there you have it – three slender hulls are better than a single fat one. Or, as Sorgiovanni puts it: “What would you rather be paddling in? A bathtub or a kayak?” In an age when all superyacht owners, regardless of bank balances, are casting a lingering eye over fuel bills and environmental impact, comes a concept that offers you better space, value and a cleaner conscience. So naval architects’ phones should be ringing off the hook with billionaires demanding multihulls, right? Right…? Not quite.

The problem is one of perception, says Stothard. Not necessarily on the part of owners, he says, but from an occasionally reactionary superyacht industry inexperienced with the multihull form. Sorgiovanni agrees. “Why would I build three hulls instead of one?” was one shipyard’s response to a trimaran design he presented. “Meanwhile, you’ve got big-name naval architects who in their whole career have never done anything like it, so why would they endorse it? Why would they endorse something they’re fearful or ignorant of?” Whatever the reasons for the inertia, it doesn’t look like the needle will be twitching in favour of trimarans any time soon. Which is a shame, because for all the above reasons and more, this platform makes all kinds of sense – as White Rabbit capably proves.

The Details

As a rough guide, the length-to-beam ratio of a monohull superyacht in this size range is around 6:1. By comparison, the length-to-beam ratio of White Rabbit’s centre hull is 13.7:1. You don’t need a degree in naval architecture to know which one will use less fuel, but the truly impressive thing about White Rabbit is the engineering underpinning her natural slipperiness. One key demand of the owner was that Echo Yachts limit noise – and therefore engineering – in the centre hull, where he has a cabin, so designers had to rethink the arrangement seen on the 61 metre, where the main engines are located on the centreline. “The owner sat us down and said, ‘Boys, with this thing I want some engineering boldness.’ He said what was important to him was smoothness and quietness,” says Stothard. “And he gave us the latitude to go out and explore solutions.”

There are six generators on board – four Caterpillar C32s outputting 940ekW and two C18s outputting 550ekW, each brought online and off by a Kongsberg power management system. The engineers should get plenty of life out of these units because the boat can run at a 12-knot cruise with just two gensets engaged. “I’ve been on sea trials up the coast using just two C32s – and that will be cruising at 12.8 knots, with 75 per cent power to the drive system and 25 per cent, or 500kW, to run the house,” says Stothard. “That’s with four generators offline and a burn of about 320 litres an hour for everything. The crew even think they could do 12 knots on one C32 and one C18.” The boat’s eco-cred doesn’t end there: she barely creates a wake. Sea trial images included in this feature show the yacht running at around 15 knots, but she might as well be idling for all the wash she generates. The owner does a lot of coastal cruising and wanted the “ability to operate without detrimental wash impact on surrounding vessels and foreshores”, says Steve Quigley, One2three’s managing director.

The team quickly decided to go diesel-electric, with generators in the outer hulls powering STADT electric motors in the centre hull, in turn spinning two Rolls-Royce variable pitch props. Other ideas were discussed and thrown out: waterjets because the boat would be sitting idle in Singapore for lengths of time, so divers would be required to go down to pump out the jet tunnels and then plug them; Voith thrusters because the yard felt it a “bit early for them to be able to gear up to such a project”; and azimuthing pods because they would have required too much volume in the centre hull. They also looked at putting everything – engines, motors, shafts – in the outer hulls, but studies revealed the ultimate solution to be the most efficient. Just how efficient is best exemplified, again, by way of comparison: according to White Rabbit’s naval architect, the Sydney studio One2three, it requires 91.5 metre Equanimity, which has an equivalent gross tonnage to White Rabbit, 7.2MW of power to reach its top speed of 19.5 knots; White Rabbit requires just 4.2MW of power to reach its top speed of 18.7 knots – some 40 per cent less.

All this has resulted in a very quiet boat. In the lower deck master cabin Echo Yachts recorded sound levels of just 40db at 13 knots. Up on the main deck those levels dipped below 40db. “The owner was walking around with his own sound meter,” says Stothard. “He didn’t even bother going up top.” The diesel-electric set-up on White Rabbit has the added benefit that you can carry less fuel. The trimaran’s fuel capacity is 166,200 litres, for a range of 5,000 nautical miles. Solandge? 222,000 litres. Sunrays? 285,000 litres. Equanimity? 271,000 litres. That’s a lot of weight she’s not lugging around.

Life on board

Smaller fuel tanks free up space, of course, but the designers weren’t fighting for volume here: there’s plenty of it. On the main deck, the boat gets very beamy, for a length-to-beam ratio of 4.3:1. Fat, but without looking it. That’s down to the skill of Sorgiovanni, whose office is not far from the Echo Yachts facility in Henderson, Western Australia. He’s the first to admit that the layout of White Rabbit is very idiosyncratic and has developed more “conventional” versions with beach clubs, gyms and bigger master cabins. But his brief from this client, with whom he worked on the 61 metre White Rabbit, was very clear: this is a multigenerational yacht, built for family use, but with a necessary corporate function. Translation: lots of cabins – two masters, three VIPs and six guest – for a total guest capacity of 30 and a wide open main deck to host upwards of 200 people when alongside in her hometown of Singapore.

“You’re spanning three generations in terms of functionality as well as style,” says Sorgiovanni, who travelled to Singapore to spend time with family members and hear each of their wants. “The overwhelming comment was, ‘We love what we’ve got, we just want it bigger.’ The words were: ‘We want [61-metre] White Rabbit on steroids.’ They literally meant it. As we started to develop the boat we realised that whatever we presented kept coming back to what they loved, which was their current boat. In a way it’s flattering to think they enjoy and love that boat so much, but it has evolved. The bigger boat has a far more sophisticated approach, both inside and out, but nevertheless there is that link there to something that is familiar.” The art deco edge on the smaller yacht has been rounded off a little on the 84 metre, but there are still references throughout – in the light column at the huge bar in the main saloon, for instance, and wall sconces.

The colours used are rich enough to keep you interested, but not so much that the spaces feel stuffy or overly formal; you’re never afraid to put your glass down. The tactile, chequer-style wall panelling used all over the yacht, made of brushed Tasmanian oak, helps with this, and brings a bit of nature to the saloons. All the cabinetry and furniture was custom made by Alia Yachts in Turkey, who Sorgiovanni worked with on 41.3 metre Ruya.

He was so impressed by their furniture skills he asked them to pitch for White Rabbit’s interior, which was fully assembled in Turkey, allowing Sorgiovanni and Echo’s project manager, Chris Blackwell, to walk through it making changes before it was disassembled and shipped to Australia for installation. This was a considerable undertaking considering the 1,200 square metres of guest area on board. The amount of space proved one of the designer’s biggest challenges – just what do you do with it all?

The main deck is the main event – and where the boat’s 20-metre beam is most evident. “And it could have been even wider,” says Sorgiovanni. “But I was very conscious about keeping it human scale. It’s just a massive area.” The designer has split the space into zones, according to generations. Upon entry, and beyond the spectacular staircase leading to the upper deck, the saloon splits – to port is a more informal lounge for younger members of the family, and to starboard a slightly stiffer seating area for elder generations. “The saloons are separated but not completely separated, because the owner didn’t want the generations split up,” he says.

Beyond, all ages come together around that attention-grabbing bar and games area and dining space. The owner dictated that there be no televisions in any of the cabins (except his), forcing kids into the light and demanding that they spend time with the rest of the family. If they want a screen, they’ll find one only in a communal area. In direct contravention of the modern vogue for massive, floor-to-ceiling windows, meanwhile, the owner was deliberately modest with his glazing choices, but the windows still usher plenty of light across the 20-metre expanse.

The upper deck saloon is tiny by comparison and used as a media lounge and karaoke hangout by the family, complete with baby grand piano. The focus of this deck is really accommodation, for both guests and crew. Strangely, the guest cabins on this level either have very little or no cupboard space, but they do have benches, “so guests can put their stuff out”, says Sorgiovanni. “They said they didn’t want any wardrobe space as guests are expected to live out of their suitcases,” which suits the kind of cruising guests are expected to join for – weekends and overnights. Up again is the sundeck, with another games area and forward-facing cinema with seats that shake to mirror the action on screen. “From a sound point of view, it’s in the right spot,” says the designer. “You can really crank it up and you’re not disturbing anyone.” The deck spaces up here are ample – and the site of the only spa pool on board – but they are under-exploited. Sitting in the sun is clearly not a priority for this family, and nor is charter a fixation. This is, and will remain, a private yacht.

The real master cabin is on the main deck, close to the family action, but there is an alternative on the lower deck of the centre hull for passages. It’s a strange feeling walking down to this level – almost like going underwater. Hull windows reveal the tunnel between the centre hull and the starboard outrigger. It’s an unusual view, but also quite an exciting one as water rushes between the hulls at 18 knots. “We decided to make a feature of it,” says Blackwell. “All the underwater lights are deliberately in this centre hull so they shine under the outer hulls as well, so you get the benefit of glow here. It creates a different ambience and shows off the trimaran concept.” The art subtly plays on this underwater sensation. “On the lower decks the artwork is all scenes from below the water; on the main deck it’s all on the water and then it’s above the water on the upper deck,” says Sorgiovanni.

The 30 guests are served by a crew of 32, who get plum real estate forward on the main deck in the shape of a huge cafeteria-like mess and crew lounge. “The boat is on call 24/7, so the owner wanted very specifically to have the crew in a very comfortable space on the main deck, with large windows,” says Sorgiovanni. In an alternative universe, this might be reserved for a vast, full-beam owner’s cabin, with crew moved to the lower deck, or voluminous guest cabins. In the same universe, those rear VIP cabins in the centre hull would become a wellness and spa area, with direct access to the water through a folding transom door. Maybe in that universe trimarans are the norm and everyone’s cruising the world using a lot less fuel than in this one. I’m not saying trimarans are the answer for everyone – obviously berthing is a key factor and some people just might not like the look of them – but the benefits definitely deserve closer attention.

It’s something the owner of White Rabbit has learned through long experience. He started out in a monohull Feadship in 1989, built another in 1995 before experimenting with a catamaran in 2001. Then came the first trimaran in 2005, and, finally, the 84 metre White Rabbit. He’s a true convert. As is Mark Stothard, the Echo Yachts boss: “If anyone is serious about building a yacht this size and they didn’t make the time to come and have a look at this boat, they’d be mad. I’ve been in this game since the early 1980s and I’ve been on some really impressive yachts in that time and this thing blows my mind. Regardless of whether we build it or not, it is unequivocally doing everything that we said it was going to do... and then some.”

Perfect Timing

With the owner of White Rabbit based in Singapore, a Western Australian shipyard was an easy-access choice. Plus, Sorgiovanni’s design studio is based near the shipyard in Fremantle, and the owner had previous Australian experience, as his 61 metre White Rabbit was built in Tasmania by North West Bay Ships. For Echo Yachts, the planets aligned on this project. The shipyard had been working on rebuilding barges for the oil and gas industry, but work slowed in 2014 as the resource downturn hit. The company started to get contracts for wind farm vessels and fast ferries but then the owner of White Rabbit approached them about this project. “I firmly believed that if we were ever going to be able to gear up to do something like that, then that was the time,” says Stothard. “The mining boom had slowed and the shipbuilding industry in general was very quiet. So I thought, yeah, I reckon we can do this. And away we went.” Steel was cut on 27 October 2014, with delivery almost exactly four years later.

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