Lunch with superyacht designer Martin Francis
by Mark Chisnell
Francis had met George Nicholson during a marina development project, and when Nicholson became agent for Emilio Azcárraga’s new boat, he asked the world’s leading designers to present ideas for a 55m to 65m vessel. He also asked Francis.
‘I was terrified, never done a motor yacht in my life, it was a big deal,’ he reflects. ‘I have to do all this stuff I can’t afford [to prepare and present] and it’s all an enormous gamble. I go through this presentation – at the end of it (Azcárraga) says, “I think your boat’s a heap of junk,” or words to that effect, “but I like your work methods.”’
Azcárraga retained Francis to work on it, and over the next couple of years he toiled away without finding the magic pixie dust that would inspire the commencement of a build. It was only when Azcárraga talked about buying Carinthia VI – a classic 71m Jon Bannenberg design – that Francis looked at ideas that might work on a bigger boat. The eventual Eco concept, with its glorious curved windows and open deck space, came out of that exercise.
Once he’d seen this new design, Azcárraga gave Francis control of the whole project. Francis explained, ‘He put $5 million in my bank account and said tell me when you need more. I was designer, project manager, owner’s rep, all these things that now you have teams of 50 people, I was doing the whole lot. And I’d never done a motor yacht before.’
This was also a highly innovative design with many firsts, not the least of which was the largest KaMeWa waterjet built at that time. The 73.5m Eco was launched in 1991, not without teething troubles, but she’s still going strong 20 years on – and still does 35 knots.
During the years following Eco’s launch, Francis lived in Paris running RFR, an inevitable distraction from moving ahead in the superyacht business. Nevertheless, it indicates how far Eco was ahead of her time, when Francis reveals, ‘I didn’t have an enquiry for a boat on the basis of Eco for eight years after it was launched.’
There were other projects, though, including Senses, a 59m explorer boat for which Francis did the styling with the owner Jack Setton. She was launched in 1999, and is now owned by Google’s Larry Page.