Beyond basic beach clubs

21 January 2015By Kenny Wooton
The 44.8m family cruiser concept Rebel from Newcruise employs a folddown transom for a smaller-scale beach club.

These days it’s hard to find a yacht without some version of a beach club – an area meant to place guests in closer contact with the sea than is possible from a traditional aft, sun or foredeck. An increasing number of owners are requesting features that allow guests to break out of their climate-controlled cocoon.

Who really knows when the first of what we now call a beach club appeared on a yacht, but many draw a straight line back to the day the 102m Lady Moura sailed into Monaco’s Port Hercules for the 1993 ShowBoats International Rendezvous. As soon as she was secured to the quay, her crew deployed a shell door on her starboard side, set out chairs and umbrellas and revealed to the world a full-beam cabana dedicated to near-sea level recreation. Onlookers paid more attention to the yacht’s beach club than to the topless sunbathers on the seawall.

Yachting holidays once were promoted over shore-side resorts with the proposition that if you didn’t like the beach, you could always weigh anchor and move to the next one. Direct access to the water, however, was down a staircase in the transom to a swim platform or via a swan dive from the bulwarks 20 feet above. Sunning and lounging in swim attire was done high above the sea. If the yacht was large enough, a pool or spa tub was the best way to get wet. Lady Moura’s cabana – which reportedly carried a stockpile of real sand – reset the bar.

Today, designers and naval architects are creating even more innovative ways to merge indoor and outdoor environments on board that go beyond a converted lazarette.

Heesen Yachts' upper deck lounge on its 6500 fast-displacement aluminium motor yacht.

Series yachts often trail the custom world in innovation, but in the case of beach clubs, semi-custom builders are fully on board with the concept. Heesen Yachts has begun construction on the first hull of its new 6500 fast-displacement aluminium motor yacht, which has what the company calls a ‘duplex beach club’.

With Omega Architects designing the structure and Bannenberg & Rowell creating the interior, the beach club occupies 25 per cent of the main and lower decks and, when in full bloom, opens up a substantial portion of the yacht for outdoor recreational activities.

The lower deck is equipped with a 22 square metre transom swim platform, a 9.9 square metre drop-down side platform, a health spa with sauna, hammam and shower, and a lounge with a bar and outdoor cinema. The main deck portion has large sofas positioned around tables, a terrace with glass overheads and a glass-bottom swimming pool that sheds natural light on the lower deck lounge.

With larger yachts come larger spaces in which designers can play. For a 57.9m design for CRN, Studio Zuccon International Project of Rome married the spaces of a beach club and a floodable tender bay to create a luxurious boathouse effect.

This beach club, designed by Studio Zuccon International, for a CRN project combines a beach club and a floodable tender bay.

The exterior shape and profile represents a departure for Zuccon and CRN, but the jaw-dropping feature of the boat is the stern lounge – Zuccon calls it a living room – and the boathouse. Anyone who has been in a boathouse knows the delightful ambiance that is created when light plays off the water’s dappled surface and bounces around the space, painting it in cool tones of blue and green.

Imagine a luxurious living area flanked by louvered walls to port and starboard bounded by a sunny sea terrace astern and a boathouse forward. Regardless of whether the tender is in its slip, the size of the living space is amplified by the size of the adjacent athwartships tender bay, which can be open to the lounge entirely or separated by a glass bulkhead. With the tender bay flooded, guests can step straight from the lounge into the tender while it is still tucked securely within the confines of the mothership. When all are aboard, the captain just drives out through the open shell door.

Trinity Yachts’ vice president Billy Smith says larger beach clubs and those that incorporate side doors are better suited for displacement hulls rather than semi-displacement types, due in part to the larger freeboard the more voluminous yachts usually offer. But that doesn’t mean semi-displacement yachts go begging.

Trinity’s 58.2m Carpe Diem, for example, has an exceptionally spacious, traditional swim platform that is part of the hull structure. Luxury inflatable furniture can be placed on the swim deck with tables and portable umbrellas for guests to enjoy outdoor activities at sea level. If guests require sand between their toes, the yacht carries a custom-designed tender to ferry them ashore to real beaches where the inflatable ensemble can be set up.

Carpe Diem has a traditional swim platform.

Sailing yachts, which some might argue are inherently more in touch with their inner outdoor selves than motor yachts, are not immune from owners’ urges to get even more up close and personal with the water. Perini Navi has been a leader in connecting guests with the sea. The 56m Selene, for example, has a swim platform that hinges down hydraulically from her otherwise flush transom. A second, smaller side swim platform is created from the door of her lazarette.

Cutting holes in hulls and rigging articulating elements such as big doors and sliding floors poses many challenges for naval architects and engineers – and considerable expense for owners – but when duty calls, designers deliver. One current trend is a transom door coupled with two side doors aft that create one big space in the hull open on three sides to the sea.

‘There is a tendency to want large side shell doors and a transom door to open the whole area up,’ says James Roy, yacht design director for UK-based BMT Nigel Gee. ‘This normally comes with a desire to not have any internal longitudinal subdivisions or pillars.

‘Such large shell openings with no longitudinal internal subdivisions to compensate can pose significant structural challenges, mainly from the global hull girder strength perspective as they introduce large structural discontinuities and complex load paths, as well as reduce the hull girder strength.

‘Generally, one can make this work on a yacht of around 85m without any real difficulty as the hull girder loads are not overly significant. However, hull girder stresses increase approximately to the square of the length,’ Roy adds. ‘So it is in these larger yachts that the challenge becomes more significant as the changes in stresses increase linearly as you get larger.’

The 44.8m family cruiser concept Rebel from Newcruise employs a folddown transom for a smaller-scale beach club.

‘Any time mechanical articulation is incorporated in a yacht, it becomes a challenge,’ says naval architect Douglas Sharp of Sharp Design. ‘Hinging systems, bearings and fit gasket systems have been a particular bugaboo for large articulated platforms and hull opening door,’ he says.

‘Doors that hinge down and are close to the water are also subject to slamming on the underside in fairly calm conditions, putting large loads on the equipment and bearings and transmitting vibrations into the hull,’ he continues. ‘Other than those things, providing power, water, air conditioning and light to the beach club compartments or platforms presents the usual technical problems in design.’

Beach clubs may have come a long way since Lady Moura, but where they are headed leaves the impression they will further cement their status as king of all decks.

A window to the future direction beach clubs are taking exists in the concepts designers are generating as the yachting industry struggles to get back on its feet. Take, for instance, the 139.9m concept, drawn by Martin Francis for Germany’s Blohm + Voss (which, incidentally, built Lady Moura).

This concept for a 92m motor yacht from Andrew Winch features a drop-down beach club and side transoms.

Among her many intriguing attributes, _Crystal Ball _features a glass-enclosed superstructure and what could be viewed as the mother of all beach clubs. With the massive transom garage door closed, the swim platform alone would be the envy of any high school basketball team. The transom door opens to reveal a colossal two-story space with a dining area, spa pools and gym equipment, accented by two rows of palm trees. Natural light streams in from the glass bottom of the pool two decks above.

Other concepts explore greater recreational blending of interior and exterior environments. Peter Buescher of Donald L. Blount and Associates has drawn a 53m concept that the firm has dubbed the ‘Pleasant Climate Explorer’. The arrangement is driven by a lifestyle influenced by environment and climate.

Buescher’s project takes cues from the land-based architecture and climate of the tropics, which encourage the boundaries between and within interior and exterior spaces to be ambiguous. The yacht’s interior spaces are arranged in non-linear fashion with many angles in walls and floor plans, all with an eye toward blending the indoor spaces with each other and with the outdoor environment, while still assuring privacy. The stern beach deck connects with hull-side platforms and stairs that lead outboard of the hull to similar platforms on either side of the main deck.

Baton Rouge's beach club doubles as a swim platform

Canadian Greg Marshall has a number of projects in various stages of design and production with beach club features. One of his firm’s current design projects, a 89.9m motor yacht for a car and motorcycle aficionado, features two sporting areas: one at the stern and one on the foredeck.

The more conventional beach lounge at the stern has heads and showers, a dive shop and changing room, a sprawling U-shape settee, and a sun deck with a swim platform that unfolds into the water.

Technically not part of the beach club, but connected to it visually through glass on the club’s forward bulkhead, is a space Marshall calls the client’s ‘man cave’. It will house the yacht’s tender and the client’s travelling collection of cars and motorcycles.

If the sea-level orientation of the yacht’s traditional beach club lacks an outdoors feel, the yet-unnamed yacht has another space forward of the superstructure worthy of the more broadly defined ‘sport deck’. It features a glass-surrounded swimming pool ringed by palm trees and an adjacent cabana. If guests are bored with water sports, the floor of the pool lifts and converts the space to a tennis court.

The swim platform of the 56m Perini Navi Selene hinges down from the flush transom.

‘In the work we’re doing now, it’s pretty much standard and sometimes more involved than exterior lines,’ Marshall says of beach clubs. ‘People have discovered that when you get removed from the water, you get removed from the whole experience.’

MegaYachts Volume 13 (2012)