Captains' views on ideal superyacht design

2015-01-21By Claire Griffiths
A swim platform should be as large as possible to accommodate furniture and to allow easy boarding of tenders and toys.

A superyacht’s ideal design, layout and feature list will vary depend on who you ask, whether they’re a family member, the yard’s engineers, her prospective crew, or her one-day master.

Out of that group, it’s often the captains who can advise on what are the must-have features in a yacht, and how it can be organised to be as efficient as possible.

So questioned six experience captains on their views on the space planning and features that add up to a well-functioning yacht.

Our Experts

Captain Greg Butler-Davis: 56m Perini Navi S/Y Panthalassa

Captain Kaj Christensen: formerly of 42m Cantieri Navali Nicolini M/Y CD TWO

Captain Robert Bleecke: 36.6m Benetti M/Y _Sea Blue’Z

_

Captain Anders Lauridsen: 41.8m W.A. Souther & Son M/Y _D’Angleterre II_

Captain Mark Coxon: 50m Benetti M/Y QM of London

Captain Eddy West: 82m Devonport M/Y Sarafsa

To these captains, the perfect yacht would range between 130 feet and 215 feet, allowing for berthing in the popular ports clients like to visit. ‘We are 49.9m,’ says Captain Coxon, ‘which is pretty perfect because regulation-wise we can squeeze into ports such as St. Tropez.’

Captains Bleecke and Christensen both agree they would choose semi-explorers – with a large, seaworthy bow for Christensen (but not too commercial looking) and a helideck and hangar for Bleecke, plus enough fuel, refrigeration, freezers and safety features to make it self-sustainable for up to three months

There is value in charter yachts having two VIP suites. If two couples charter the yacht, they feel equally accommodated.

Guest areas

When it comes to the interior, the captains have very definite and differing opinions: Captain Christensen would opt to have the owner’s level below the bridge deck – it’s more important that the captain can see where he’s going rather than the owner, he maintains.

But Captain Coxon would always place the master suite on the top deck where it’s quiet, private and has the best views. Captain West agrees; the owner’s cabin aft on the upper decks is away from anchor noise and daily morning crew set up.

West’s guest cabins would be on the main deck to allow for large windows and plenty of light.

Captain Lauridsen points out the value of having two VIP cabins so that if two couples charter the yacht they feel equally accommodated. In the case of D’Angleterre II, a sliding dividing wall turns two cabins into a large double VIP with en suite for this purpose.

QM of London has an additional guest cabin instead of a second salon, something that Captain Coxon says works really well.

The jury is out on the temptation to do away with a large salon and/or dining room and move more living space outdoors. Coxon favors the idea; he’s worked on yachts with enormous salons that were never used. But Lauridsen is not so keen; the dining room is used by his guests, especially those with children, and as D’Angleterre II is a Mediterranean yacht, you get days when the weather turns bad.

Rather than a dedicated gym, exercise facilities should be outside in the fresh air.

They both insist that the galley needs to be on the same deck and as close to the key dining area as possible – but for charter yachts, it’s difficult to judge where that area is going to be.

A common enough feature, but a useful one, suggests Captain Lauridsen, is a bar area in between the main aft deck and the salon. The stewardess can be constantly on hand to serve guests without being or feeling like she is actually in the way.

In Lauridsen’s 15 years of experience, some yacht features are considered desirable but then hardly ever used – ‘like barbecues,’ he says, ‘or Jacuzzis or gyms’. After several requests for a gym facility, D’Angleterre II acquired an exercise bike last year, which now sits gathering dust.

‘People like the idea of being energetic and working out, but it doesn’t last,’ he says. He reasons that the important thing is that guests know they have a wide and varied choice – and fair enough, he concedes.

Rather than a sweaty room, Captain Coxon suggests exercise facilities should be outside in the fresh air.

‘Don’t forget the crew gym,’ jokes Captain West, not entirely tongue-in-cheek.

A laundry room should be big enough to handle guest and crew laundry with enough space to iron bed and table linens.

Crew areas

In terms of the crew area, space looms large on a captain’s dreamboat – albeit a dream they don’t expect to come true. But Captain Lauridsen highly recommends single cabins for chief engineers (and first officers, if possible, adds Coxon).

Good, qualified engineers are hard to find, maintains Lauridsen, which is why he’d do his utmost to give them what they want; he believes chief engineers will opt for less pay if the job came with private space. ‘From the owners point of view, captains are a necessary evil who spend money.’ he jokes, ‘But worse, chief engineers also are always spending money on the yacht but seem to sit around looking dirty all day!’

Everyone needs a bed, and not the trivial additions that Captain Coxon has experienced, such as Pullman berths in the crew area. He’d like to see audio-visual facilities in each crew cabin so crew can switch off and be alone.

While there’s a trend for shared crew cabins to be en suite, Captain Lauridsen isn’t convinced. D’Angleterre II has a “boys” and a “girls” bathroom, which are both accessed from the corridor. It means crew can come and go without disturbing their resting or sleeping cabin mates.

A small but not irrelevant point lies in the laundry room, a space often overlooked on the drawing board; to iron 8 to 10 feet of table linen, you do need a bit of space, point out our captains.

All captains agree, the captain’s cabin should be located behind the bridge for easy access.

Captain West would like the bridge to be located just aft of the foredeck, which would be dedicated as an area for crew to relax during breaks – a point confirmed by Captain Lauridsen, who says, ‘Ideally, there would be direct outdoor access to the foredeck where crew know they can go to get a bit of fresh air.

‘It’s easier to have a better crew if you have these things. A little bit of extra thought earns you longevity with your crew. And crew longevity saves a lot of money.’

They all agree there is only one place for the captain’s cabin – behind the bridge.

‘You need to be able to hear what’s going on and sleep with the door open if necessary,’ says Coxon.

And in Lauridsen’s opinion, if you put a captain’s cabin downstairs the calibre of the captain you recruit may suffer as top captains will want to be near the bridge.

Zero-speed stabilizers, and more unusual dynamic positioning systems, provide a better cruising experience for guests.

Operation

Captain Christensen would keep modern technology to a necessary minimum on the bridge, and Captain Bleecke likes the idea of an ergonomic bridge. Although Bleecke favors conventional propulsion systems, he’d opt for diesel/electric propulsion if it could be fitted on a 50m boat.

He’d also incorporate a dynamic positioning system to allow him to stop anywhere without having to drop anchor, giving him the pleasure of ‘flicking the Vs’ at maritime officials looking to charge him extortionate mooring fees or fines for anchoring throughout the Mediterranean.

Although now a common feature on many yachts, Captain Lauridsen really would like some zero-speed stabilizers.

Captain West’s wish list goes on to include bow and stern thrusters powerful enough for 30-knot wind on the beam, a huge swim platform (‘They’re never big enough once you’ve got the tables and sun beds set up’) and a high-pressure jet wash for hull windows and topsides.

He also recommends a crew interior corridor from foredeck to swim platform to ensure guest privacy.

Captain Christensen would consider anything that helps with recycling, and he’d like to see a Jacuzzi holding tank that’s able to pump the water back into the pool on arrival in port rather than having to dump and re-fill.

‘You want very big tenders,’ says Captain Lauridsen. ‘That’s important for all our clients. Take St. Tropez, for example, you can have 100 yachts anchoring off the village in the summer with lots of traffic in the water. You want a big tender to make sure guests are comfortable and don’t get sprayed.’

‘Exactly right,’ agrees Captain Coxon. And to avoid the problem of storing a large tender, Coxon does, and always would, opt to tow it.

‘It means you’re not limited by size; it’s always instantly available and it must be able to fit in all the guests at once,’ Coxon insists. If he didn’t tow, he’d store a tender on the aft deck with a beam crane.

Captain West is keen on fold-down flush crew tender/rescue boat chocks on the foredeck and guest tenders to be stowed in interior tender bays through shell doors.

Some captains say the foredeck should be kept for crew, allowing them to be outside without disturbing guests.

Is Perfection Attainable?

For Captain Butler-Davis, the perfect yacht is a difficult concept to quantify. A perfectly good yacht needs to perform well with reliable and functional systems, excellent naval architecture and quality materials. The available space needs to be used in a logical manner with the right proportion allocated to engineering, owner/guest and crew areas.

Design-wise, the yacht should withstand the test of time and not simply seek to challenge new boundaries. Other considerations are build cost, operational cost, charter-ability, resale value and environmental impact.

‘As most yacht designers will acknowledge, the vast majority of yachts represent a compromise between one or more of the contrasting requirements,’ Butler-Davis explains. Add all these elements together and perfection seems implausible.

‘There are always legitimate reasons why you have different kinds of “stuff” on board,’ says Captain Coxon, ‘stuff the owners might want, stuff charter guests might want and stuff that makes the captain’s life easier. But yachts are rarely ideal for everyone.’

One thing he believes a perfect yacht does need is a perfect management company and a perfect crew.

‘Ideally, the whole management structure of the yacht means everyone is working in the same direction – which is not something that just happens, you have to work at it.’

Originally published in the April 2012 issue of ShowBoats International.

Originally published: ShowBoats International, April 2012.

SPONSORED LISTINGS