As a journalist in the superyacht industry, I’ve seen some incredible projects. But there are times when an opportunity presents itself that is so extraordinary it has the potential to change the way that people think about our industry.
When the opportunity to travel to Vard Shipyard in Brattvag, Norway and step on board the bare bones of 182.9m REV Ocean arose, I was certain that it would be an astonishing experience and one that would leave me questioning the very methodology of our industry and its conventions.
Jumping at the opportunity to visit the vessel, and armed with a series of questions to attempt to get into the mindset of Kjell Inge Røkke, the Norwegian businessman and owner of REV Ocean, I travelled to Norway with a fresh perspective that would hopefully uncover the gravitas of this project and the strategic, commercial and scientific decisions that have made it possible.
Of course, Rev Ocean’s frequent updates and engagement with the press means the majority of us have become privy to the vessel’s various stages of development. So my mission was to stand back and consider what it really is that makes this project so mesmerising and unique.
The yacht as it stands, is about 50 per cent complete, and having begun in Vard Tulcea, Romania, now dwarfs its surrounding environment at Vard Brattvag, Norway where she will remain for one year before heading to Lloyd Werft, Germany.
“The owner has a very long history in ship building - in particular, in Norway,” says Lawrence Hislop of REV Ocean. “Vard used to be called Aker Yards, which he owned and he has been building fishing boats throughout his entire career, so he wanted to the production to be part of the Norwegian industry.”
The decision to build at commercial shipyards was a decision close to the owner’s heart, and of course, livelihood. But it was conveyed there was a great deal of analysis done to consider the type of facility that would be right for this project. The series of parameters and limitations that played a role included cost, capacities, technique, loyalty and specialised work, but this was certainly not a decision that was taken lightly.
The decision to build at commercial shipyards was a decision close to the owner’s heart, and of course, livelihood. But it was conveyed there was a great deal of analysis done to consider the type of facility that would be right for this project.
“The shipyard in Romania, which specialises in very large cruise ships, seemed to be the most efficient place to build the main structure of the vessel,” explains Hislop. “Whereas here in Vard Brattvag, there is more of a specialisation in very technical kinds of boats and the installation of equipment. When it goes to Germany, we are renting a space in the yard, rather than the yard doing any work on the yacht itself.”
Part of the reason that REV Ocean has become such an interesting initiative is that the owner and the team are using the project to inspire others. This isn’t just a passion project, It would seem that Røkke and his team are using the project to show what people could be doing in the superyacht industry. “What we are hoping, is that [REV Ocean] can provide inspiration for other wealthy people around the world to reconsider how they are spending their money to some extent,” says Hislop. “If we do a good job and we start to save the oceans and allow wealthy people to come on board to see what it is that we are doing, we really hope that other owners will be inspired by that and want to do the same.”
This desire to inspire seems to be a huge part of this project, so much so that it is dictating the way in which the vessel will be used upon completion. REV Ocean are in early discussions for the operation of the business side of the vessel, considering the charter opportunities and the ways which will work best for the entire project.
“We are in discussions now with yacht chartering companies to figure out what is possible,” says Hislop. “Initially, the idea was to rent out the whole luxury part of the boat, but there may be opportunities where we can do a cabin-by-cabin. But that is in the very early stages of discussion, so we don’t know which way it is going to go.
“We want to be as flexible as possible, and we want to fill up the boat with as many people as possible on every single mission and every time it goes out. If there is an opportunity to do that, on a per cabin basis, in some cases and as an entirety in other cases,” Hislop continues. “We are really relying on charter companies and those who are doing this kind of thing to get advice from them on which is the best route to go down.”
Scientists on board will not have to pay for anything and will have the capacity to carry out research on board through the funds generated by charter guests on board. As Hislop explains, “the business model is to get people to pay to come on board and follow the research work, go to beautiful parts of the world and the funding that comes in from the business part of it – from renting out the cabins – will subsidise all of the scientific work that is going on, on board.”
“The business model is to get people to pay to come on board and follow the research work, go to beautiful parts of the world and the funding that comes in from the business part of it – from renting out the cabins – will subsidise all of the scientific work that is going on, on board.”
- Lawrence Hislop, REV Ocean
Early drafts of the initial route that REV Ocean will take upon delivery are already in motion, but of course, are in continual discussion and seeking approval from the REV Ocean scientific committee. But negotiating the route isn’t just a case of selecting areas for research and heading that way, the complexity of the sonar, mapping and submersible equipment calls for extensive negotiations with countries to get the green light.
When REV Ocean leaves Vard Brattvag for Lloyd Werft, Germany under her own propulsion in April 2020, she will remain in Germany until her delivery in April 2021.
With autonomous capacity of 90 days, REV Ocean enters unprecedented realms of continuous and uninterrupted research capability and opportunity for the scientists on board, while its transience creates a platform for research in territories whose governments that may not have the resources to undertake research themselves.
The type of guests on board is also a hot consideration at REV Ocean at the moment, as Hislop explains: “We are hoping to get people that have really strong interest in the environment. But we may have some that are very curious and just want to see what is happening. We want to inspire people to make a difference in their lives and have that filter out to the rest of the world. We really want to create special experiences for the people on board and the more they can see things, the more they can interact with the scientists, the better.”
After our discussion we stepped out of the Vard boardroom and onto the quay which holds this 182.9m giant, and in all honesty, there are no words that I could use to convey her size. But to try and capture her scale, during her time at Vard, REV Ocean will demand all attention, which is astonishing given the mountainous backdrop of the Brattvag facility.
Despite her early stages, aspects such as her 17m high atrium, the auditorium, the viewing platform - which will feature one pane of double curved glass, are nothing short of astonishing. Even at this very early stage in development, unique design features are beginning to shine through.
On the design itself, the exterior is remarkably well balanced given the size although this isn’t surprising, given it is the work of Espen Øino. At this stage the interiors are a little more difficult to decipher, but we do know that they are destined to be unique.
This is an extraordinary project, and having been one of the very few that has stepped on board, I can confirm that she is nothing short of spectacular.
“There are approximately 150 pieces of artwork being commissioned for the boat that are all in development right now, by young emerging Norwegian artists,” confirms Hislop. “The owner is extremely keen to support the art industry and so all of that work is in development and will be installed in Germany. The art is really eclectic, wild stuff; it is not like paintings and things like that – I don’t even know how to explain it, but it is really far out there.”
Next week in Oslo, during the Our Oceans conference, REV Ocean has a shipping container that will be outside the main station, housing a small selection of the artwork on show, which is bound to give us a taste of what to expect.
This is an extraordinary project, and having been one of the very few that has stepped on board, I can confirm that she is nothing short of spectacular. The way that she has been built, within commercial shipyards, is truly unique and makes sense, given the owner’s background and the type of yacht he wanted to create. I’m fairly confident that this isn’t the only yacht of its type that I will see in my lifetime, but REV Ocean is an ultimate first and a project that I believe is enough to alter the perception of the superyacht industry and encourage others to think differently about what the future of the industry could hold.
Ocean conservation and sustainability will be a major topic of discussion at The Superyacht Forum 2019, which will be held in Amsterdam between 18-20 November. The REV Ocean project is a pioneering feat on this subject and coincides perfectly with the theme, ‘Building for the Next Generation’, which considers the sustainability of the industry by analysing the next generation of superyacht owners and how the market must adapt to better suit their needs. The protection of the oceans is essential to the future of the superyacht market and, as such, will play a central role in the discourse at The Superyacht Forum.
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