Over the past twenty years the superyacht community of owners and yards has grown, along with the variety of design and innovation on offer. Where once a 30m yacht was a rarity in any port, it is now almost a norm. And, of course, yachts keep getting bigger.
So perhaps it is only natural that as a community grows it also looks to broaden its horizons. This year the volume of calls for greater adventure, and the vessels to help experience it, have increased noticeably. Helped along by the façade of escapism offered by a new breed of explorer yachts seen at shows, there is an obvious hedonism about the idea of leaving the yacht club behind and exploring the four corners.
Any design studio worth its salt will have an explorer-style concept on its drawing board. At the recent Global Superyacht Forum there was a buzz around the idea of a more immersive owner experience. As part of the ‘Superyachts Of Tomorrow’ workshop held by Damen, Ben Lyons from EYOS Expeditions talked about the “luxury of experience”, the idea that true luxury comes not from what you have but what you do with it. Accompanying these noble ideas were lots of images of tall-bowed yachts pushing through mighty seas and quite a lot of ice. As a commercial heavyweight and the yard responsible for the Sea Axe shadow vessel range, Damen is well-placed to consider such robust yacht projects.
Damen's SeaXplorer - a real explorer
At the same talk, one captain, who was clearly a fan of all things remote and off-the-beaten-track, suggested that in the next 20 years up to 50 per cent of the new superyacht fleet will be made up of serious explorer yachts. Exciting stuff, the kind of opinion that usually creates an immediate media response involving ice-breakers, submarines and owners never to be heard of again.
But what is the reality? Over the last 10 years, very few proper, long-distance explorer yachts have been built. The inspirational explorer designs we see at shows are perhaps better described as sports-utility, no more or less capable than many other contemporary yachts – they just look like they should be. And whilst, certainly, there is a section of the community hungry for new experience, the majority of owners, if the current crop of new builds are anything to go by, are still looking for an easier, fun-focused ride.
The truth, as ever, would appear to be less exciting, but no less important. Superyacht culture is changing but, like all things yachting, it’s changing slowly. During a recent visit to Feadship, director Jan-Bart Verkuyl spoke enthusiastically about owners wanting to get closer to the sea and enjoy the outside. Henk de Vries reflected that the last twenty years had seen clients change from “men with cigars in salons, to younger families wanting to enjoy time together”. De Vries also pointed out that while all the talk of explorers and adventure was interesting, Feadships have long featured hull designs capable of Trans-Atlantic passages.
So while new design and genre are exciting, it seems that the industry needs to focus on what owners really want – fun, time with family, and adventure that doesn’t necessarily involve polar bears.
Don’t expect to bag a free berth in Monaco any time soon.