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January 2005

Article selected from our quarterly magazine dedicated to the largest and most luxurious boats with information, interviews, technical articles, images and yachting news



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Article by
Carlo Nuvolari-Duodo


One of the latest and most evident trends in the megayacht field is gigantism: yachts of surprising sizes have recently been delivered or are under construction. Only ten or fifteen years ago, to talk about a 50-60 metre boat meant a megayacht and it was accepted that such dimensions were rare and quite outstanding. Now these dimensions don't impress anybody, least of all the customers, and there are requests for 80-90 and even 100 metre vessels.

We're currently designing an 80 metre boat and getting hands-on experience of the profound difference between this and a "smaller" unit of let's say fifty metres or so. First of all the displacement changes radically, meaning the weight of the vessel, and therefore, substantially, the amount of work required to build it. An increase in length means an increase in beam and height and therefore in volume. A fifty metre may have a displacement of 400-500 tons, whereas an 80 metre can easily be 2.000. So it's easy to understand that there is in practice a quadrupled difference between the two vessels, which is really considerable.

A 50 metre in substance has a main deck, below which there is a lower deck, generally divided up to house the guests' cabins, the crew's cabins and the engine room, whereas an 80 metre will certainly have at least two lower decks, often both envisaged as service areas. The "ship" with all its machinery is therefore quite separate from the "yacht" with its elaborate furnishings which are mostly above deck.

The increase in the number of decks introduces further complications and necessities: separate companionways for service and guests, since the number of persons in movement increases considerably, and then not only lifts but also more complex and encumbering structures. Furthermore, a great complication arises from the application of all those highly restrictive building regulations that are obligatory on larger vessels.

The building regulations question is vast and continually changing but, in substance, all the big yachts built to date have been constructed in accordance with the classifications of leading registers, at their highest standard, and have applied the MCA standards required for yachts that want to charter under British flags.

These standards however, as a whole, are highly penalising when the vessel exceeds 50 metres or a tonnage of 500. Therefore with large vessels we are obliged to apply rules that greatly limit design freedom, sacrificing space and money.

The spiral is almost perverse because as soon as you enlarge the design you increase the powers in play, the fuel necessary on board, the service spaces and the sizing of the structures. But on the whole the benefit for guests does not increase proportionally.

It should also be pointed out that a yacht, to be defined as such, should not accommodate more than 12 guests, excluding crew members whose number is not limited. With more than 12 the yacht becomes practically a small passenger vessel with all the obligations deriving therefrom, the most evident of which is that it must carry lifeboats.

This is where the comic phase begins: the owners wonder why, with a vessel four times the size of their trusty old 50 metre, they can only have another five double cabins plus their own, which is to say the same number as before, though larger. The designers reply that this is the rule, but it is clear that the answer does not satisfy.

We are therefore witnessing a proliferation of additional cabins, furnished to guest standard, to accommodate people vaguely described on paper as "staff members", "body guards" and "pilots", where there is a helicopter, but the fact remains that they sleep comfortably on the lower deck, where the crew's quarters are.

Furthermore, it is now common to see "playrooms" for kids, "computer rooms", "massage rooms" and "libraries", all of course with divan-beds and spacious bathrooms with shower and tub.

Once the problem of the number of guest cabins is resolved another design problem arises: what to do with the enormous space available without turning a private yacht into a grand hotel?

For example: the dining room must be very large in order to accommodate 18 or 20 people in pomp and circumstance. There must be an adjacent pantry where staff can prepare the dishes and serve them hot. But if the owner is alone on board, what then? Will we have him eating alone at an eight metre long table while staring at the sea?

This is a classic problem which in a large villa is easily resolved: the owner eats in a smaller room, or on a veranda overlooking the grounds, or in his study in front of the TV or wherever the hell he likes. But though a yacht is immense we begin to lack spaces because we've already set them aside for the home theatre, the fitness centre, the Internet room, the lobby and so on.

Another aspect to reflect on with a big yacht is the impossibility of using it everywhere. It's true that a 90 metre has oceanic range, but it's equally true that on the high seas it's just a nutshell and will consequently be leaping around. Furthermore, a 90 metre can't enter Capri, Saint Tropez or almost any of the other fine and exclusive places but must anchor offshore or moor at the commercial port among the cargo ships.

Using and living aboard one of these gigantesque yachts is therefore no longer an exaltation of privacy, a flight from confusion. Rather it runs the risk of becoming a semi- public, big hotel occasion, faced with at least thirty crew members, in which it will not be easy to recreate that relaxed, private holiday atmosphere which many owners believed they would rediscover after have left their "modest" 50 metre vessel for a supermegayacht.