Lunch with superyacht designer Martin Francis
by Mark Chisnell
While Francis was working on Senses, Emilio Azcárraga died aboard his beloved Eco, and the yacht was sold to Larry Ellison.
Francis was employed by Ellison to help with the remodelling, and also started work for him on a new design. In the end, Ellison’s new boat was a Bannenberg, but Francis continued the design project, now called Sultan, for a Turkish owner.
‘I pick up the FT (Financial Times) one day,’ recalls Francis, ‘and on the cover there’s this story that Nokia and Ericsson are suing this Turkish company for six billion!’
And that was that – such are the ups and downs of life as a superyacht designer.
The roller coaster had another lurch, however. ‘Six years later, I’m asked to make a presentation to Andrey Melnichenko when he was looking for a boat. I take a model of the FT100, a smaller boat, and a model of Sultan with me. I make the presentation, and they give me a round of applause at the end.’
Eventually the design concept for A came from Philippe Starck, but Melnichenko engaged Francis as the naval architect. Built by Blohm + Voss Shipyards, the 119m A now stands as one of the most distinctive superyachts in the world.
Francis once again found himself shutting a London office and heading south as the work dried up
The early part of the new millennium was spectacularly busy for Francis. As well as A, he was doing development work for a much larger vessel, so moved from the South of France and set up an office in London in 2001. For the three years following, he designed for the Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Cruises division, and developed several other projects, including Crystal Ball, an all-glass-superstructure boat he first showed at Monaco eight years ago. And then came the 2007 crash.
In a strange echo of the 1975 recession that inspired his initial move to the South of France – and led to his marine career – Francis once again found himself shutting a London office and heading south as the work dried up. This time it was back to the home above Biot.
These days, Francis’ work remains as wide-ranging as ever. His current 120m+ boat is being built at Lürssen – about which he will say nothing more beyond paying tribute to the interior designer, Alberto Pinto, who recently died. He is also working with Swarovski on new surface refinement possibilities for superyacht interiors; and for the last decade he has designed those big inflatable structures used by the Tour de France to mark course boundaries.
When we meet, Francis just returned from the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, buzzing with news of Silver Arrows Marine – a new company with which he is involved – and its joint project with Mercedes-Benz. ‘It’s 14m long, it goes like a train, and it’s as important to me as A or Eco,’ he says.
Coming from the man responsible for Eco, the builder of glass walls and Frank Stella’s massive sculptures, the finished boat is sure to be special. In fact, if his past informs us about the future, there’s simply no doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more from Martin Francis.