Designing my first superyacht
Designing my first superyacht
Craft

Designing my first superyacht

Far from being a one-size-fits-all super splurge, the superyacht design process is complex and thoroughly absorbing.

By Dominique Afacan | 23 July 2018

I might be a superyachting journalist, but I’ve never actually been able to sit in the owner’s seat and see what they see when they decide to take the plunge and build a custom yacht. That all changed when I was invited to take part in a day’s role play by Dutch shipbuilding maestros Heesen and design royalty Winch.

I was excited to hear I’d be playing the part of a billionaire CEO of a tech company. I was also to be a married yoga enthusiast with two kids who was planning a two-week digital detox over the summer solstice. It’s fair to say I had little in common with this woman, but I got into character with alarming ease. After being introduced to my fake husband and children, discussions kicked off, and it quickly became clear that designing my dreamy new yacht would be no simple task. When the world is your oyster, options are unlimited, and things can quickly fly out of control.

Designing my first superyacht

The brief

Designing my first superyacht

The brief

The requests of my fake family were myriad. My daughter, apparently a marine biologist, wanted a science lab on board (I fleetingly felt like a proud mother), whilst my husband, an ex-Olympic swimmer, wanted a big pool (with a jet stream no less) in which to put his Speedos to good use. Thank goodness for the shipbuilder and the designers, who were on hand to guide discussions and create some sort of order out of the multiple opinions flying between us. To make things easier, we decided to base our yacht on Heesen’s Avanti, thanks to its sleek lines and modern silhouette.

“In reality it is a much longer process than the two hours we had,” explained James Russell from Winch Design, afterwards. “We try our best to guide the clients through the process in a relaxed manner. Building your dream should be an enjoyable process! If they are relaxed we tend to get the best briefing from them and, as you saw, the initial brief is the most important part of achieving the best design possible.”

Designing my first superyacht

Heesen and Winch Design's Avanti concept

Designing my first superyacht

Heesen and Winch Design's Avanti concept

On the day, Russell seemed able to work miracles even on such an unrealistic schedule – and quietly sketched – interpreting our conflicting words and flyaway requests into graceful pencil lines and reality. Given that we’d settled on a 70 metre boat, it was up to him to ensure we could slot in everything we wanted, without sacrificing on style or functionality. Believe me, this was no easy feat and we were not easy customers. I needed a space to practice my yoga but I also wanted a steam room and a sauna nearby to relax. My husband and I wanted total privacy on our owner’s deck, along with his and hers bathrooms and a walk-in wardrobe. And as for our son, well, he was all about wine cellars, dance floors and parties. We all chopped and changed our priorities constantly, apparently a true reflection of what happens in real life.

“Quite often we will change large aspects of a design due to the clients changing wishes,” explained Russell. “The client may charter another boat for example and see something they like, which they want to integrate into their design. This is not always possible depending how far along the build is, but we will always try our best to meet their wishes.”

Designing my first superyacht
Designing my first superyacht

Given the timeframe, it’s a miracle we got something pretty solid sketched out, even with my husband rocking the boat at the end of the process, declaring, as we studied the futuristic-looking exterior, that he wanted ‘more windows.’ Andrew Winch, who was over at our table at the time, commended him on the decision, explaining that this was a growing trend out in the real world. The eraser was duly put to good use again.

By the time we got around to discussing interiors, where I felt I might come into my own, we’d pretty much run out of time. “In reality, this is usually a homogenous process,” Russell reassured me. “We work together as an interior/exterior team and the two develop as one. For example we cannot design an exterior with windows in the wrong place for the interior, hence we work together to achieve the perfect balance.”

Designing my first superyacht

Home's contemporary interiors

Designing my first superyacht

Home's contemporary interiors

I had time to flick quickly through a brochure showing their interior work on other yachts and can confirm it was enough to whet my appetite. The pared back, contemporary looks got my vote – which meant that boats like Home immediately floated my boat. Here, a colour palette restricted to white, grey and silver with the odd flash of burgundy, kept things simple and I would have been quite happy to transport all of the freestanding Paola Lenti furniture to my London apartment.

By the end of the process, we had a beautiful boat sketched out, which I humbly decided to name after myself (it’s probably for the best that I’m not a billionaire) – and I found myself with a much deeper understanding of this multi-faceted, highly personal process. In reality, of course, we’d barely touched the surface. We had time for only a brief conversation about hybrid and electric options, for example, which would have been a priority for me in the real world. We hadn’t decided what toys we’d want on board (bar an enormous inflatable slide), or worked out how much space we’d need to store them. We were still unsure about a helipad. And we had conflicting thoughts on the hull design.

Despite all of that, though, I realised what fun the whole thing was. How involved I could be – and how much my lifestyle and my personality would be stamped on this enormous plaything. As I headed home, crossing the Thames as I went, I spied two superyachts in the river, an unusual sight in London. And while both Aviva and Elandess looked grand and impressive – I couldn’t help but think that superyacht Dominique would have outshone them both.

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