Explorer yachts, or expedition yachts, have been tipped as the 'next big thing' for years, with a new breed of owner looking for experiential ocean adventures and a seamless connection with nature.
The market has certainly accelerated since CRN pioneered the first explorer yacht for pleasure boating in 1982, the F100 model designed by Gerhard Gilgenast. New builds for explorer yachts have grown exponentially since 2010, and the trend shows no sign of slowing.
The appeal of explorer yachts goes far beyond the spacious layouts, robust technology and history of some of the vessels. Explorer yachts are shaking off the dusty ideals of the yachting lifestyle and bringing back the allure of seafaring far beyond the familiar cruising grounds of the Mediterranean or Caribbean.
MY Legend on an expedition in Antarctica (Christopher Scoley/EYOS Expeditions)
Safety, Functionality and Comfort at Sea
Numerous elements combine to make a yacht a Titan of the sea. The demand for function takes precedence over superfluous aesthetics as ice class hulls, hybrid propulsion systems, commercial grade safety equipment and eco-sensibilities such as black water treatment and waste management seek to reduce their footprint in virgin cruising zones without standard infrastructure.
Dutch yard Damen, in cooperation with luxury yacht builder Amels, is marking a place in this growing niche with their SeaXplorer design, the first true purpose-built expedition yacht compliant with the Polar Code that calls to the expedition market. There has also been high interest in their Yacht Support Vessels; Shadow (ex-New Frontiers), one of the Sea Axe series, garnered a lot of attention at the Monaco Yacht Show in 2017, as did the Fast Support Vessel 6711, now christened 6711GEO.
An interior of MY Legend
Don't let their rugged looks fool you though. Commercial vessels that have been converted into expedition yachts as well as the latest explorers custom-built for safety and endurance, have additional comforts to make guests' experience more pleasant during long-range cruising.
Many have stylish features that are the antithesis of roughing it, such as cinema rooms, gyms, swimming pools, fully-certified helidecks, private balconies, beach clubs and huge garages to carry multiple tenders, toys, submersibles, dive and fishing equipment.
Built by German yard Abeking & Rasmussen, 72.5m M/Y Cloudbreak is kitted out with a sauna, plunge pool and massage room, perfect for relaxation after a day's surfing or heli-skiing. M/Y Force Blue is a show-stopper for entertaining with vast deck space, wine cellar and cinema. Damen's Game Changer, sold early this year, is an ideal support vessel with a big selection of toys and 250 square metres of open deck space perfect for parties and storing tenders.
Anticipated projects to watch include Vard's 182.6m Research Expedition Vessel (REV) designed by Espen Øino; Damen's progression of SeaXplorer as well as support vessel Power Play; the 100m explorer concept Exploris by Gresham Yacht Design complete with full dive facilities and a decompression chamber; and the unique 83m collaboration between Winch Design, Wally and Nobriskrug which was announced at Monaco Yacht Show last year.
Ultimately, these vessels are built for owners and guests who appreciate the luxury of a superyacht with the incredible range and self-sufficiency afforded by an explorer yacht, as seen in Andromeda, Seawolf and the cutting-edge specifications for an 86m explorer concept from CRN and Harrison Eidsgaard.
Extreme Destinations: Beyond the Milk Run
Yacht owners are increasingly interested in marine wildlife, adventure sports and ice exploration and, with growing concern for the health of the world's oceans, a number are also involved in facilitating or funding research and conservation efforts. Navigating the waters of Greenland, the Galapagos Islands or French Polynesia couldn't be more different from the more traditional haunts of Monaco and St Tropez, but the allure of nature and the quest for adventure are trends on the rise.
Ben Lyons, CEO of EYOS Expeditions whose team has collectively coordinated over 780 safe expeditions to Antarctica and South Georgia, plus hundreds more to the Arctic, Northwest Passage and Melanesia confirms the rise in expedition charters.
"We're seeing clients who value and want an immersive experience. We are there to help them realise that dream, assisting with details as small as outfitting for special equipment and clothing, maps and reading material about the destination, to more complicated tasks such as arranging permits or providing access to specialists in ornithology, scientific research or polar diving.
"Clients aren't interested in sitting at anchor on a beautiful yacht; they're looking for experiential encounters with plenty to do onboard, in the water and on land from amazing diving to cultural explorations."
With the pursuit for adventure and exploring fragile environments comes unprecedented responsibility.
Ben continues, "EYOS Expeditions provides logistical assistance and support personnel who know these remote regions intimately from a technical and cultural perspective. Safety in these pristine and remote environments is critical, so it's essential our team are highly-skilled professionals such as ice pilots, wildlife experts and medics who are adept at fast-changing conditions.
"The confidence and knowledge from EYOS goes beyond private charters or owner's trips. For example, we have worked with Damen's design team for the SeaXplorer range and provided support for research vessel Alucia during their expedition to Antarctica to film for the critically acclaimed Blue Planet II."
EYOS Expeditions were a key player in the success of a press trip to Antarctica on 77.4m M/Y Legend in early 2018. Christopher Scoley's beautiful photos for EYOS illustrate this article. Originally built as a Class 1 Icebreaker, Legend was refitted in 2016 by Dutch yard Icon Yachts with exterior design and engineering by Diana Yacht Design and interiors reworked by Verkerk Yachting Projects and Thom Beerens.
The result is a fine example of how explorer yachts can leave a memorable impression. Charter guests don't want for anything, with a fully-certified helipad for easy access to remote locations, a whiskey bar, a Balinese style spa, gym and cinema room. Thirteen ensuite guest cabins are named after global mega hubs such as Paris, New York or Moscow, highlighting a quirky juxtaposition to the off-the-grid places they visit.
Equipped with yacht toys that would make James Bond envious including a U-Boat Worx C-Explorer 3 submarine and snow scooters, Legend has plenty of space for additional expedition crew. The link between adventure and luxury is amplified with one-of-a-kind experiences very few are privileged to enjoy such as soaking in the 16-person Jacuzzi while cruising past icebergs, penguins and orcas.
Superior Crew for Oceangoing Adventures
Yacht itineraries including highlights such as glacier-riddled fjords, spectacular coral gardens and rare wildlife are capturing the imaginations of HNW travellers who may never before have considered places off the beaten track.
Likewise, yacht crew with dreams of landing a job on a global expedition yacht are finding that minimum certifications just don't cut it when challenging itineraries require extensive at-sea experience rather than textbook learning.
Andrew Holme, Former Royal Marine Commando and CEO of Insignia Crew which places highly skilled candidates with a Royal Marines, Royal Naval or Armed Forces background into deck and operational crew positions aboard yachts, reports that expedition vessels are now anticipating a balance for finding elite crew to match the roles and demands of the yacht.
Andrew explains, "Explorer yachts are now cruising beyond the calm and safety of anchorages in the Med and the Caribbean and we are receiving direct requests from our clients for crew who are keen to do more than just sit on a boat in Portofino. Many of the charter itineraries are reaching into yachting areas with limited or no infrastructure or venturing to the polar regions, so having competent and confident crew aboard is a safety and operational consideration."
Interestingly, job specifications have broadened in the past decade and it's not uncommon to see crew perform multifunctional roles onboard such as Deckhand/Dive Specialist, Deckhand/Advanced Medic and Stew/Masseuse.
Andrew continues, "There is an unquestionable surge in superyacht industry workshops educating and informing people about the IMO Polar Code. Many of Insignia Crews candidates already carry extreme cold weather operational experience and an in-depth understanding of how to function in this environment, advanced first aid capabilities and an enhanced awareness of security – important skills that you can't master by basic training alone followed by a few months seasonal daywork."
Tailoring a crew’s capability to the demands and needs of the yacht is integral to the successful outcome of any remote expedition: without great crew, great things simply don’t happen. Even more so for explorer yachts, where minimising risk in wilderness regions is paramount. Crew that succeed have advanced offshore ability and are used to marine vessels covering thousands of nautical miles without making landfall.
Chris Andreason, Captain of 67m Damen Sea Axe 6711GEO, agrees that expedition vessels have certain capabilities that must be considered.
He says, "Looking at the brief from the new owners of 6711GEO, I knew that I needed to crew the vessel differently than I might for a normal yacht and therefore I turned to Andrew Holme of Insignia Crew for help, as I have become familiar with the special skill sets his candidates can bring to any operation. Andrew fulfilled my brief to him immediately and effectively, and I’m happy to say that I now have a team of 4 former Royal Marines as part of my deck and engineering crew; two are former Landing Craft Specialists, one a Vehicle Mechanic and the other a Commercial Diver. They have fitted in perfectly and are now an integral part of the team here."
A Life Less Ordinary
With all the hallmarks of a superyacht lifestyle, the goliath expedition yachts aren't alone in turning the tide toward intrepid cruising. There's a push towards building smaller explorer yachts with hardy range and power such as Turkish yard Numarine's 26XP Gioia and a 25m Explorer from Van der Valk Shipyard designed by Guido de Groot. They may be smaller in size, but they aim to cruise to remote places with live-aboard comfort that matches larger vessels.
Long-range yachts are opening up new routes that follow in the footsteps of pioneers, affording owners and guests the chance to witness polar bears lumbering across frozen tundra or to encounter magical flora and fauna in pristine rainforests. As a result, the desire for extraordinary encounters is causing a geographical shift.
The exact chemistry for the perfect yachting experience is dependent on numerous factors, but perhaps the growing appeal of nature will allow yacht designers to catapult the explorer market ahead and leave standardised yacht concepts in their wake.
Watch the beautiful video from EYOS and M/Y Legend in Antarctica:
Thank you to Andrew Holme of Insignia Crew, Ben Lyons of EYOS Expeditions and Captain Chris Andreason for their support and assistance with this article.
Special thanks also to EYOS Expeditions for providing the images, copyright Christopher Scoley/EYOS Expeditions, and video, copyright EYOS Expeditions/MY Legend.