Designers on the superyacht refit process

20 January 2015• Written by Louis Postel

With apologies to Bob Dylan, it is fair to say that a megayacht not busy being born is busy dying. The only constant is change itself, which means major refits have become as integral to the yachting experience as seltzer and submersibles.

And while owners and designers are willing to accept, even welcome, the exigencies of rebirth, the nature of the game has become faster paced and more complex.

To explain how this has occurred, consider the subtle changes taking place in the practice of yacht interior design overall. Where once there was a single owner to please, now there are many stakeholders whose needs must also be satisfied.

The one writing the cheques is obviously the first stakeholder, but the tastes and expectations of future charter guests also must be factored in to maintain the yacht’s value, as well as the amenities required by experienced crew members to retain the best crews.

There is yet another powerful stakeholder in the design process when it comes to refits, one with a big personality impossible to ignore: the roving spirit of the hull itself. One cannot simply hide such a monster under a paper doily. For that reason, the hull’s spirit as stakeholder can represent one too many for some of the world’s sought-after designers.

Terence Disdale, of Terence Disdale Design, is one of them. ‘We generally do not solicit or undertake refits,’ he says. ‘However, in the case of the vessel being one of our original designs, we loathe the idea of another designer carrying out the refit and, consequently, might embark on such a project.’


Jacques Pierrejean, of Pierrejean Design Studio in Paris, France, is familiar with high-octane, occasionally mercurial stakeholders – heads of state Jacques Chirac and Silvio Berlusconi among them.

Nevertheless, when his proposal for a megayacht met with a non-committal shrug from a prospective client in Dubai, he was not quite sure how to take it. Weeks of research had gone into the plan, which was followed by an ominous pause.

Two weeks later, it was Dubai on the line. What were his thoughts about ‘a little military conversion’.

‘How little?’ Pierrejean wanted to know.

‘One hundred thirty-five metres,’ said Dubai.

Pierrejean pursed his lips in the inimitable French way, followed by a barely audible puff of resignation mixed with surprise, even delight, whereupon his team got to work.

‘We proposed a dolphin shape. With a 14m beam, about half the size of an ordinary yacht, the profile would be incredibly sleek, in a class by itself,’ says Pierrejean.

‘When our prospective client saw the new plans, he immediately said, “I want that!” But what we showed was simply an artistic view. There was no telling we could actually make it. The interior was cramped, there were no balconies, few windows, and narrow corridors.

‘To this day there are some places on what became the Swift 141, and later the motor yacht Yas, where one cannot stand to full height. To counterbalance this, we designed a huge window for the front, like a dolphin’s nose, which would extend the profile to 141m,’ says Pierrejean.

Pierrejean estimated five years for the project.

‘No way,’ said the client. ‘I need this boat now – for my anniversary!’

Stumped, Pierrejean came up with a novel solution. As an experienced aircraft designer, he replied, ‘Why not do the refit the way Airbus assembles a plane? Order different parts from different vendors around the world and then put it all together in Dubai. This will save a lot of time. And it will be a big feather in your country’s cap.’

And so it was – and is.

Polar Star

The 63m Polar Star had a sun deck that was rarely used. For crew delivering drinks it was a long hike, with ice cubes melting halfway up.

So the yacht’s new owners asked designer Aileen Rodriguez of Plantation, Florida, to create a new paradigm: a sun deck that would double as a nightclub.

First on the scene were the plumbers and electricians to install icemakers, refrigerators and drainage. Then out went the immovable L-shaped sectionals, and in went a bar with a cantilevered section of backlit-recycled glass: hence, the new ‘Ice Bar’.

Day beds with clamshell awnings, specifically custom made to fit all three of the owners’ daughters at one time, we also added. Care to scoot up and watch the movie? The day beds are on coasters that lock in place. And the turquoise waterproof fabric actually feels cosy.

‘Like chenille,’ says Rodriguez, ‘made by Perennials Outdoor Fabrics; it’s not as flat as what Sunbrella first came out with.’

Indeed, family members, those lucky kids snuggled up on Polar Star’s clamshell daybed, for example, represent yet another stakeholder in the refit process.

A successful refit must meet at least some of their needs along with all the others. Admittedly, it’s a lot to do; but, then again, a megayacht not busy being born…

July 2012