Espen Øino may be the king of supercat design, but his personal multihull reveals a devotion to rugged adventure and stress-free simplicity, says Risa Merl.
“The whole concept was to do something that was the antithesis of what we normally do,” says designer Espen Øino as we sit in the cockpit of the Vandal Explorer power catamaran, hurtling along the Cannes coastline at 30 knots. Or should I say, flying along, as the boat is skimming over the water thanks to her foil-assisted hull. At 14 metres LOA, made entirely from aluminium alloy, and with a purposefully simple design and pared-back interior, this little cat is certainly a departure from the stylish superyachts for which the Monaco-based designer is renowned.
Not that the Vandal Explorer isn’t stylish in its own right. Inspired by the Land Rover Defender, she has the sort of rugged appeal that will catch the eye of yachting adventure lovers. “She looks a little like a work boat, but that’s her identity. People will either love her or hate her,” says Øino. “It’s not for the market, it’s for us… but people seem to get it.” Playing popular is far from the point. The Vandal Explorer was dreamed up by Øino and Vandal Marine co-founder Ben Mennem for their own use, and the first two hulls, which debuted alongside each other at the Cannes Yachting Festival in September 2022, were built for them.
Mennem is also the co-founder of Tenderworks and the CEO of the MB92 La Ciotat shipyard. Øino designed a few Tenderworks tenders, and the two became better acquainted. The men began talking about their ideal boat for their personal use: simple to operate, having as few moving parts as possible, open to the elements, and, of course, fast. “It’s what a sailor wants in a motor boat,” says Mennem. “The idea was ‘less is more’. We chose a multihull because it’s intrinsically efficient.” Hull No 1 is Mennem’s and hull No 2 is Øino’s. The differences between the two boats are slight and most noticeable on the flybridge, where Mennem opted for a low racing car-style seat. “I wanted to feel laid-back, but it also protects me from the wind better,” says Mennem.
The Vandal Explorer was conceived as a simple boat that could be used for open-water trips around the Med, making the run from Marseille to Mallorca without breaking a sweat. But you could also see her on the deck of an explorer yacht and taken further afield, or being used as a sailing superyacht’s chase boat in regattas. The cat can also be customised for diving or sportfishing. “With an alloy boat, it’s really easy to change and customise things because there aren’t any moulds; we’re just using a CNC cutting machine,” says Mennem.
She has one cabin for overnight stays, which is sparse with just enough space for a bed and bathroom. Hull windows slide open to take advantage of the natural sea breeze in lieu of air conditioning. As part of the devotion to simplicity, there is no air con unit on board. “I didn’t want luxury,” says Mennem. “I got all the luxuries I need at home – this is glamping.” And to make that a literal reference, he plans to fashion a pop-up tent on the flybridge, like you might see on a safari Jeep, so his children can “camp out” when they stay on board.
Keeping things simple applies to the operational side of things as much as it does to the design. There is no bow thruster – and no need for one thanks to the DPS power control system. Even the foiling element was designed to have a limited number of parts. “A traditional foiling system would have multi-foils,” explains the Vandal Explorer’s naval architect, Scott Jutson. “We can actually get better performance with only one foil on the Vandal because everything you can eliminate on the boat helps reduce drag.”
Jutson cut his teeth designing racing sailing boats, then power cats. After moving to Canada in 2005, he found a market for aluminium catamaran work boats, then began adding foiling to the cats in 2008. “There’s no difference between the Vandal Explorer and a commercial boat, except for the fit and finish,” he says.
Twin engines give a total of 850 horsepower. At 18 knots, the boat gets onto a plane and the foil kicks into action, lifting the two hulls 30 to 40 centimetres. That means 35 per cent of the boat is lifted out of the water. “Seeing the yacht in profile, you wouldn’t necessarily know the foil is even there,” says Jutson. She might not look like she’s hydrofoiling, but the performance gains are there, with a 30 per cent reduction in fuel consumption. Zipwake interceptors control the trim.
The ride is incredibly smooth. Flying along at 32 knots, we make a hard turn and it’s barely perceptible. Øino’s captain, Hanno Vietor, says 27 knots is a nice cruising speed. The captain also describes the yacht’s user-friendly nature. “The joystick control makes docking easy – if you can play a PlayStation, you can dock this boat,” he says. “It’s good for solo operation.” An owner operator would have fun at the helm as well, as Mennem and Øino can attest.
Øino has already put his Vandal Explorer to the test, using it in Capri for a few weeks last summer and driving her back to Cannes in time for the yacht show with his son on board. Time with family out on the water, going on adventures and soaking up nature without the trappings of typical superyacht luxury is really what this boat is made for. “It’s not about showing off – it’s about keeping things simple and enjoying where you are,” says Øino.
All about the base
The goal in creating the Vandal Explorer was to have as basic a platform as possible that could be customised with a different superstructure. The builder wouldn’t want to add a flybridge as that would have an impact on the speed, weight and performance. Instead, parasols or awnings could be used to shade the flybridge. “Maybe you don’t even have a superstructure!” says designer Espen Øino.
Or, maybe you enclose the superstructure, as he would like to do in order to journey through the Norwegian fjords. “I want to build a bigger one – 15 metres – with an enclosed deckhouse,” says Øino. He would also like to explore an electric propulsion system that utilises hydrogen fuel cells on a future model.
For now, hull No 3 will be the same size as her predecessors but will look “pretty radically different”, says Øino. “It has more of a Miami Vice colour scheme.” Build time is about six to seven months, depending on the modifications.
Displacement (full load) 11,400kg
Engines 2 x Yamaha XTO 425hp
Max speed 43 knots
Builder Vandal Marine