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Inside the refit of dedicated scientific support yacht Gene Chaser

24 August 2021• Written by Miranda Blazeby and Cecile Gauert

Dr Jonathan Rothberg, the owner of Amels 180 superyacht Gene Machine, has opened up about his decision to refit the 55m support vessel Blue Ocean into a dedicated scientific support yacht.

Now named Gene Chaser, the YS 5009 Damen Yachting support vessel was originally launched in 2020 but emerged refitted earlier this year adorned with the custom fleet colours of Gene Machine.

The yacht was refitted according to Dr Rothberg’s specific customisations, which required the interior to be converted into a working research laboratory for scientific projects. The main saloon was transformed into a working wet and dry laboratory while other interior areas will be used for conferences and educational purposes.

Speaking about the project, Dr Rothberg said he realised he needed a dedicated support vessel to facilitate his scientific research during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. He put his work on “figuring out how to feed, fuel and heal the world” to the side and focused wholly on creating a “rapid diagnostic [test] for Covid” instead.

Gene Chaser and Gene Machine in New York
Images: Scott Roth

The aim was to “develop a rapid platform” that could be made “inexpensively and shipped around the world to allow people to do home diagnostics.” 

While Gene Machine is also fitted with an on board laboratory, this soon became crowded as the coronavirus pandemic got underway. “During the summer, the boat filled with laboratory people and we realised that we needed a dedicated boat for these efforts”, said Dr Rothberg. 

The testing facility on board Gene Chaser

After speaking with Amels, Dr Rothberg began the process of converting the brand-new yacht support vessel Blue Ocean to include facilities such as laboratories and workshops. Gene Chaser can hold up to 11 guests on board, which will include “scientists, engineers and academics”, alongside a permanent staff of four running the laboratory and workshop.

While Gene Machine is operated like a “Four Seasons”, Dr Rothberg decided that Gene Chaser should be run more like a “Holiday Inn Express."

Gene Chaser's laboratory

“We spent 60 days outfitting it so it could be much more self-sufficient,” he said. This included adding “an enclosed area” where guests can “self-serve breakfast” and a sundeck. The bow area is also set to be refitted to include a covered meeting area in the future.

The name meanwhile was the result of a naming contest held on board. “It made sense as [support yachts] are traditionally known as chase boats and we are literally chasing for genes that can solve the world’s toughest problems – so the name stuck,” said Dr Rothberg.

Elsewhere, Gene Chaser’s 225 square metre exterior deck is equipped with a 13 tonne capacity crane and enough space to store a Fjord 42 and Hatløy Maritime Oxpro AL8 landing craft.

Credit: Damen Yachting

Gene Machine’s captain Matthew Gow previously said that “extending the scientific and research side of Gene Machine” with a dedicated support vessel had been “on the cards for a while.

“The owner and his team can dedicate Gene Chaser and its onboard operations to the bold, extensive projects they have planned,” he added.

“It provides more lab space and room for essential equipment; importantly, it also enables them to separate this work from their family time on Gene Machine.”

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