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A superyacht for your superyacht? The rise of the support vessel

27 July 2021 • Written by Kate Lardy

Augmenting your boat with an extra vessel can change your yachting experience, discovers Kate Lardy

The year after Carl Allen sold his company, he gifted his wife, Gigi, a 50-metre Westport– naturally named Gigi – on her birthday. But he wasn’t done shopping. He then went to the Fort Lauderdale boat show and spotted a 55-metre Damen Yachting support vessel. “I didn’t even get on it,” says Allen. “I said that’s the one; that’s what we want.”

Axis, Carl Allen’s Damen Yachting support vessel
Credit: Jeff Brown

Allen personifies the down-to-earth, boat-loving, adventurous owner that gravitates towards tandem superyachting. “I never thought I would sell my company, but my wife and I looked at [the deal] and decided this gives us the opportunity to do some pretty wild stuff,” he says. Adding the support boat, which he named Axis, to his cruising program has made the wild stuff possible. “It has become the platform of everything we do, from Hurricane Dorian relief, pandemic relief, building Walker’s Cay (in the Bahamas), treasure hunting, recreational diving, fishing… The Axis has become the centre of the universe.”

Superyacht owners are increasingly seeing the benefits of augmenting their fleets with a vessel that takes the bulk of tenders and toys off of the mothership while also carrying extra stores, parts and fuel. It’s a solution that suits those cruising far and wide as well as watersports lovers closer to home.

Credit: Jim Raycroft

Hans Georg Näder is of the former group. A typical year sees him sailing 25 to 30 thousand miles in his 54-metre carbon Baltic sloop Pink Gin, frequenting South America, the Caribbean and Med. And his time on board has only increased since last December when he purchased 46-metre Pink Shadow, also from the Damen Yacht Support range. “We are now able to be in two places simultaneously. We are able not only to support Pink Gin but also to go ahead or after her, minimizing the wait during the time yachts take to cross oceans,” says the shadow boat’s captain, Oscar Vallejo.

For instance, last winter in the Caribbean the support vessel was on hand to help the sailing yacht get regatta-ready, offloading weight and assisting in the preparations needed to train the 20 hired race crew. Then Pink Shadow took off on a 6,000-mile run to Uruguay while Näder enjoyed more time on Pink Gin in the Caribbean, flying to join the support boat after she arrived at her South American destination.

Näder’s approach of separating the vessels to cover more ground is one school of thought. Other owners, like Allen, prefer to keep them close. It makes sense logistically, he points out; they raft up when on anchor and his 23 crewmembers between both boats work together on tasks like meal preparation, night watch and laundry.

In recent years, a new type of owner has emerged: those using the support vessel as their one and only. Along with this trend has come an improvement in accommodations. “Slowly they are getting more and more yachtie features,” says Damen Yacht Support product manager Wouter Kleijpoel, who confirms that two Damen vessels, B3 and Game Changer, always cruise alone.

Pink Shadow supports the sailing yacht Pink Gin

For Game Changer’s owners, a refit post-purchase gave them the vessel they wanted in the timeframe they wanted rather than buying a more typical yacht. “To them it’s a very cool expedition yacht with a submarine, helicopter and very serious dive centre,” says the owner’s representative, Mike Rouse. “But the caveat to that is we charter as a support vessel.”

While cruising 48,000 miles in a single year – stopping in Antarctica, Central America, Indonesia and Australia, among others – Game Changer managed to pick up charters supporting other yachts along the way. “The reasons vary why we get charters,” Rouse says. “In the Mediterranean it’s predominantly as a helicopter platform and security, but in the Caribbean it’s maybe security and diving, and in Antarctica it’s for expedition staff.”

72m Game Changer
Credit: Game Changer Yacht Media

Tom McManus, former owner of 67-metre Global, also managed a successful charter program with his vessel, a product of Shadow Marine, which converted commercial vessels into dedicated megayacht support vessels in the early 2000s. He found demand everywhere, from hosting overflow security teams to offering submersible adventures with Triton Submarines – SpaceX was even a client.

But the year before he sold Global in January 2020, the vessel was involved in a very different kind of operation. After Hurricane Dorian wrecked havoc on Grand Bahama and the Abacos Global was first on the scene to provide assistance. “We made it our mission. It was something that needed to happen. We had the perfect platform and more ability than most to execute it in a scalable way,” McManus says.

Using their helicopter and amphibious car to reach inaccessible areas, the crew worked with the Global Empowerment Mission and volunteers from World Central Kitchen to bring supplies and set up kitchen facilities to serve the islanders over dozens of trips between Fort Lauderdale and the Bahamas.

Allen, who bases his yachts in the Bahamas, also found Axis to be essential in the weeks following Dorian. “We brought over a million pounds of supplies, not including diesel, water and gasoline. It was a really exciting time for us, being able to help like that,” he says.

Allen’s latest endeavour has been to resurrect Walker’s Cay, a former sportfishing mecca in the northern Bahamas, which had been deserted since the 2004 hurricane season, which left its marina and hotel in shambles. He praises Axis for its cargo-carrying ability during the redevelopment, and says the boat will be central to the new marina, which will have its soft opening this spring.

Credit: Game Changer Yacht Media

When he’s not busy on the island, Allen uses his yachts to scour the shallow Bahama Banks for shipwreck treasure, aided by Axis’s Triton submarine, Icon amphibious airplane and extensive dive facilities. His permit covers the shoals that snagged many a ship that missed the turn to Europe in bygone centuries. “There are thousands of wrecks out there,” he says. “We’ll probably open a museum next year in Lucaya to show off some things we found.”

Allen’s retirement adventures epitomise the endless possibilities that a support vessel brings. With their enormous aft deck, they are essentially a blank slate that can be moulded around anyone’s dream. For instance, Rosetti Superyachts had been speaking with two potential clients about a 43- and 55-metre support vessels, both custom designs by Hydro Tec and wildly different in their intended uses.

Credit: Rosetti Superyachts

The 43-metre was for a client who wanted dive facilities and a helipad for extreme fishing and hunting expeditions. The 55-metre would be used to carry containers of bicycles and scuba diving equipment for the owner’s annual bike trip with friends. Outside of that voyage, the containers could be placed dockside and the deck becomes a vast space for his seven children to stretch their legs off the mothership.

While each vessel must be customised for an owner’s programme, a few common features have emerged that define a great one. Naturally cargo-carrying ability is one. And while utilitarian in looks, it must have a modicum of aesthetic appeal to blend with the superyacht crowd. Finally speed. A support boat best be able to outrun the mothership, whether to beat it to the next anchorage or to catch up after picking up toys from the last one.

Several players entered this market with an advantage when it comes to speed. Damen, Incat Crowther and Rosetti Marino Group (parent of Rosetti Superyachts) all have long experience building or designing supply vessels for offshore platforms. Working in the uncompromising oil and gas industry, these boats must be comfortable and quick in all weather.

Hodor was born from Incat Crowther’s knowledge of fast ferry catamarans
Credit: Clint Jenkins

Damen got into the yacht support business after Roman Abramovich’s fleet manager ordered two of its 50-metre offshore supply vessels to accompany 163-metre Eclipse and company. The Dutch shipbuilder realised there was an opportunity here and presented a yacht-adapted concept at the 2009 Monaco Yacht Show.

The idea took off and it has since built vessels ranging from 46 metres to a 75-metre (currently in build), with the most popular size being 55 metres, which tops out at 20 knots. Oscar Vallejo, captain of the 46-metre, gives the design the thumbs-up. “It is surprisingly good at sea. I was not expecting that. We have an axe bow that extends 3.5 metres down, the deepest point on the boat and it’s just like an axe. We don’t pound into the waves; we break through the waves. It’s incredible.”

Credit: Clint Jenkins

The ShadowCAT, designed by Incat Crowther, originates from technology developed for catamaran fast crew boats. New on the superyacht scene, the team launched the first ShadowCAT, 66-metre, 22.5-knot Hodor, in 2019. “We’ve used the catamaran platform as a support vessel for offshore oil and gas, which required robust engineering to carry high payloads at high speeds,” says Dan Mace, Incat Crowther technical manager. “That engineering and that ability to carry the high payload is what formed the basis of the ability to deliver Hodor.”

High payload, indeed. The number of tenders and toys Hodor has stowed on board is astounding: five tenders, four Jet Skis, four quad bikes, a five-person submarine, not to mention the decompression chamber and helipad for an H145. Incat Crowther estimates the catamaran design allows for carrying 40 per cent more volume and 60 per cent more tonnage than a monohull. Furthermore, the inherent stability of the hullform permits 70 per cent more weight to be craned off the side – an important attribute when you consider how large chase boats have become. Impressively, Hodor is able to lift and carry a 17-metre boat.

Credit: Clint Jenkins

Lynx Yachts comes with a different perspective – from that of a yacht owner. “Our president is a yachtsman with long experience cruising in the Mediterranean. During his cruising he realised he needed more space for the toys and tenders, but he didn’t want to increase the size of the yacht,” says Filippo Rossi, sales and marketing manager. So he introduced the Yacht-X-Tender, YXT for short, a line of support vessels under 40 metres that are purpose-designed for yachting. Four of them from 20 to 27 metres are currently plying the seas, supporting yachts from 28 to 70 metres with owners who are all crazy about watersports.

The concept is also evolving into a new genre of yachts. Lynx calls theirs the Crossover, a hybrid of sorts between a support vessel and an expedition yacht. “We have a 27-metre Crossover under construction for a passionate gentleman from California who was fascinated by the shadow vessel line, but he also wanted to have space for his family. We added a saloon on the main deck and extra cabin, and in the end, you have a boat that dedicates 50 per cent of the space for guests and 50 per cent for toys,” Rossi says. You can also see this roughly even split on other recent launches, like the 39-metre expedition catamaran The Beast and 85-metre SilverYachts Bold.

Lynx Yachts’ YXT 24 Evolution boasts a 74m2 deck for toy carrying and a 24m2 beach platform
Credit: Lynx Yachts

These feel like a natural evolution in an industry that’s never been known for its restraint. Its “toys” are growing alongside the mothership – higher-capacity helicopters, submarines, chase boats – but at some point size becomes a limitation. “When you go bigger and bigger you can find yourself anchored 10 miles offshore or at a commercial port next to a container vessel,” says Kleijpoel. Add a second vessel instead, and you get more privacy on the white boat and more access to ports. As Carl Allen, with his two vessels totalling 105 metres, says, “The way we’ve done this is we get the best of both worlds.” 

This feature is taken from the May 2021 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.


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