There has been much owner-centric discussion on expedition yachts, but what are the opinions of naval architects on these vessels? At Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS) earlier on this year, I spoke with Patrick Bray, founder of Bray Yacht Design and Research, who is based in British Columbia, Canada, and has been designing custom projects for over three decades.
Interestingly, Bray suggests that it is in fact the older generation who are driving the trend of expedition vessels, which is directly opposed to many in the market who see the next-generation (aka millennials) as the motivating factor behind expedition yacht designs. “It is the baby boomers,” he begins. “They are more athletic, they are more outdoorsy than ever before and they are healthier to an older age.” Although there have been vessels of this kind (and owners who commission them) for the last 20 years, Bray finds that it is within the last decade that he has seen a notable rise in this type of vessel design from clients.
He continues: “You get people buying these yachts now and they are not just drinking cocktails. They are the type of people that go running, go flying, they want to go water skiing. They have a very active lifestyle, so the explorer yacht really feeds into that. Because of this, they are not looking for the older style of boat just to sit around on.”
Speaking further on the designs of the vessels themselves, Bray stresses the importance of class-approval. Admitting that this process can add up to 25 per cent to the total cost of the yacht, he highlights that the higher standard is really worth it to the project. “It adds that extra level of supervision to the project,” he argues, citing better insurance rates and higher resale value as additional benefits to having a class-approved vessel.
The significance of this, he continues, is especially pertinent in the design of explorer vessels. “You do get clients who like the idea of an explorer yacht, but don’t have that much experience. You have to explain to them that it is really about safety issues, which for us is very important. When you get out there – in open water – if things aren’t going well it comes down to you and the boat. If it gets really bad, the boat should be able to take care of itself.”
Bray notes how in recent years, there have been designs of explorer vessels that are lacking the wherewithal to actually survive in harsh environments. The outward appearance, with design features such as a reinforced hull, higher decks and utilitarian styling, doesn’t actually mean that they are fit for purpose. “To me, some of the yachts that are being designed today are being designed by stylists who give [the vessel] a very unique and exciting look – a bespoke style, but at the risk of some of the safety and seakeeping issues. So I think it’s important to keep all that in perspective.”
He argues that a solution for this, is to keep the bespoke, stylistic elements of a more traditional yacht, and hardier tenders or on-board equipment to use for exploration. “You can have an explorer yacht that is very deluxe inside but at the same time, all the tenders and all the support craft can be more practical. I don’t see a problem with marrying the two together.”
The studio recently announced the construction of a 55m ‘mini cruise ship’. In a recent press release, Bray Yacht Design and Research reported that “the vessel is ice class and sports a variety of support adventure craft for eco-cruises around the Canadian east coast.” Bray argues that the cruise industry is having a huge influence on this area of the superyacht market. “With the idea of explorer yachts, it’s not just about hanging around in the Mediterranean or Caribbean anymore, and I see it partly because of the rise in the cruise ship industry. That industry has really grown. People are interested in cruising, but if you’ve got the money, you want to have your own vessel to do it on.”
Image: Ocean Rover 40m by Bray Yacht Design and Research