Forget Monaco and Saint Barts, the über wealthy wet set are now heading for Antarctica and building the explorer boats they need to get there
Once upon a time, designing your own superyacht was easy. You just had to work out where to install the Michelin-starred chef, infinity pool and supermodel-sundeck before planning where to put Pharrell, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Jennifer and Leo when they came over for drinks.
How passé. Those were the bad old days of superyachts, when anything with a pointy bit at the front and acres of marble at the back would do.
Today a new generation of billionaire owners is reinventing the superyacht concept—a vessel defined as more than 24 metres. There is no compromise on luxurious comfort—Beyoncé would still feel at home here—but there’s been the addition of ice-strengthened hulls, submarines, helicopters and enough engineering wizardry to reach the ends of the Earth without refuelling. Oh, and a crew of highly experienced explorers.
According to a survey by ShowBoats International, the explorer market is undergoing a major boom. In 2013, there were only 692 superyachts in build. Two years later, it increased to 755, adding up to US$3.2 billion in transactions. Meanwhile, the number of explorer superyachts on order or being built increased by 17 per cent in 2015 compared to the previous year’s total of 55.
“There is a constituency of superyacht owners that is tiring of the traditional Mediterranean and Caribbean cruising areas, and are building boats to take their cruising to all four corners of the globe,” said Kate Lardy, the magazine’s editor.
And those remote locations are becoming increasingly accessible as yachts become bigger, better and capable of travelling further. Among the superyachts completed last year was the 107-metre Ulysses built by Norwegian company Kleven for New Zealand’s richest man Graeme Hart. Designed for exploration, Ulysses can accommodate 60 people and features a helicopter deck, hangar, swimming pool and hot tub.
But that’s not enough for Hart, Forbes magazine’s 195th richest man in the world. Kleven is also working on a bigger explorer—116 metres long—for the billionaire, which is scheduled for delivery this year. The vessel can accommodate 66 and the company describes it as “specially designed for long expeditions in rough waters, blending a robust, hard-working character with luxurious added extras”.
Unsurprisingly, at a cost of undisclosed millions, “Mr Hart has been to the yard a number of times and has followed the building process closely,” said a Kleven spokesperson.
The demand for new explorer superyachts is nothing new to Chris Cecil-Wright. He has seen a dramatic increase in the number of these vessels being built by his UK boutique brokerage Cecil Wright. “In the past, superyacht explorers were decommissioned commercial vessels and didn’t offer the comfort that ultra-high-net-worth individuals expect.
“Today, things are very different. For example, we have an 86-metre vessel under construction that can go to Antarctica—actually anywhere on the planet—but it features great internal comfort such as a 360-degree viewing bridge and can carry lots of big tenders. Of course, it also has all the other luxurious features our clients expect.
“You’ll find that every yacht brokerage is notoriously discreet about specific details and clients,” said Cecil-Wright with a laugh when asked to name some of those features. “Our clients are not ostentatious. Most want to spend time with family and friends, and value their privacy. The wonderful thing about yachts is that there are no neighbours to complain and no planning restrictions. So when you build one, the only limit is your imagination.”
No doubt, owners like to let their imaginations run wild. In addition to infinity pools, helicopter pads and submarine storage, superyacht embellishments have included three-a-side football pitches, theatres, glass-bottomed “Nemo” areas to view the water below, a “snow room” for the kids—or a snow room for the parents for cooling down after the sauna—and incredibly, even a squash court.
At present, the longest superyacht in the world is the 180-metre Azzam, belonging to the ruler of Abu Dhabi, followed by Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse that is 18 metres shorter. Steward Campbell, editor of Boat International, said: “There are some fascinating projects being delivered this year, including Project Omar commissioned by Alisher Usmanov—a shareholder in Arsenal football club—which in volume terms will be the biggest superyacht ever built.”
This is all very well and good. But with the average 100-metre superyacht costing about US$275 million, according to Towergate Insurance, not all billionaires want the hassle of ownership, maintenance or crew management. When it comes to exploring unchartered waters, it’s simply easier to employ the services of luxury travel companies like EYOS Expeditions.
“There is definitely a trend among younger, more dynamic ultra-high-net-worth individuals to learn more, do more and have more unique, enriching experiences,” said EYOS’ CEO Ben Lyons. “For the clients that use our services, it’s not enough to sit on their superyacht and go ashore in Monaco or Saint Barts. Anyone can tell you about the best restaurants there, but not everyone can take you to Antarctica.”
To be sure, demand for EYOS’ services is growing. “Five years ago, we had just one superyacht in the Antarctic,” Lyons added. “Now we expect five vessels this season, with three yachts in the Arctic this summer. 2016 is looking like our busiest season.”
With a team of highly experienced explorers to call upon, EYOS offers an extraordinary range of adventures in addition to Antarctica and the Arctic, including the Northwest Passage, South Pole, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Bering Sea.
“It’s our depth and range of experience that set us apart. There is only a limited pool of expedition staff available and I like to think that we work with the very best,” said Lyons. “Also, we have a great understanding of client needs. Are they interested in science, wildlife or family activities? Do they want to visit a research station and hear talks about whale migrations, go heli-skiing or simply paddle quietly on a kayak among icebergs? We work on all these things to customise the experience to our clients’ needs.”
Prices are according to destination, group size and superyacht availability, but expect to pay at least US$150,000 for the vessel charter for a small party in Antarctica for a week, plus 35 per cent for fuel, food and fees. On some larger vessels, a helicopter with pilot adds another US$280,000 and a submarine, around US$90,000. Flights to Antarctica are not included.
Cecil Wright also offers superyacht charters in less traditional waters off Antarctica, Chilean Patagonia, Myanmar and the Galapagos. “Demand is very high in the Galapagos, for instance, because there are only a few superyachts available for a limited period of time before they move on to another destination,” he says. “We’ve seen our charter business here increase by 200 per cent in 2016.” Prices for a group of eight to 10 in these extraordinary islands start from US$150,000 a week.
So what does the future of explorer superyachts hold? EYOS has been collaborating on the design of the superyacht explorer range known as SeaXplorer with Damen shipyard. The vessel—which comes in three different flavours of 65, 90 or 100 metres—is described as offering “true global capacity” with a unique “Sea Axe” hull design, enabling it to break through ice in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Passengers on-board SeaXplorer can also travel for up to 40 days of full service without needing to make a port call and enjoy the services of two helicopters, a submarine and diving boats.
“This is a fantastic design, which allows the owner to explore Arctic and Antarctic waters, which are inaccessible to most superyachts,” said Benjamin Maltby of superyacht consultants MatrixLloyd. “Imagine whale-watching while sitting in the most comfortable and stylish surroundings. It would be an experience that would stay with you forever.”