Imitation is typically the sincerest form of flattery, except when it comes to really big boats. Unlike automotive concepts, which are usually signals to other industry designers, yacht concepts are meant to inspire owners to take the customisation of their boats to the next level. For those embarking on a new project, originality is the holy grail. The irony is that, once such vessels get made, the rest of the industry jumps on board.
From Igor Lobanov’s 436-foot Star, with its dramatic central peak, to the recent futuristic 394-foot L conceived by Thierry Gaugain (who codesigned M/Y A alongside Philippe Starck), concepts are intended to flex the boundaries of the imagination. The most recent models address three things prospective buyers are looking for: expedition capabilities, green technology and lifestyle enhancements.
“Concepts educate owners and help to steer them toward a certain design or designer,” says Steve Kozloff, whose Caribù concept—a polar-class sailing yacht equipped with an aircraft hangar that can fit three helicopters—aims to answer the need for a capable green explorer yacht.
More than just playful fantasy, however, yacht concepts look to identify areas of real potential for future builds. Today’s now common beach clubs, foldout balconies, handheld remote controls for docking and submarine capabilities were all born from forward-thinking concepts.
But for a design to have a fighting chance of becoming reality, it helps if it’s developed in collaboration with a shipyard. This not only ensures architectural soundness but also links the design to existing clients who may choose to take the next step, according to Rob Armstrong, creative director at British design studio ThirtyC. “The range of concepts has allowed owners to quickly find styles and directions they wish to explore,” he says. Armstrong tries to balance concepts with feasibility while still anticipating what the industry and prospective clients are seeking.
ThirtyC’s Project Lotus, a 289-foot DynaRig sailing yacht and its 230-foot explorer companion vessel, has a full complement of sea-to-shore transport options, including toys, tenders, cars and helicopters (it can even host a submarine), to augment an owner’s lifestyle. The support vessel can serve as a mother ship when the sailing yacht is competing at a regatta, or act as the operations and accommodations centre for the duo’s crew and service entourage, such as pilots, doctors, tutors and any guides or other team members required to enrich adventures and keep the owners safe. Lotus, designed in partnership with Dykstra Naval Architects and Royal Huisman, is pitched as one integrated project.
To parallel their proclivities on land, owners are demanding more green technology than ever. Aqua, the new 367-foot concept from Sinot Yacht Architecture & Design in collaboration with Lateral Naval Architects, is the first superyacht based on liquid-hydrogen and fuel-cell technology. A bow observatory dubbed the Aqua room also taps into the clamour for large expanses of onboard glass.
“We took inspiration from the lifestyle of a discerning, forward-looking owner, the fluid versatility of water and cutting-edge technology,” says designer Sander Sinot. “Our challenge was to implement fully operational liquid hydrogen and fuel cells in a true superyacht that is not only groundbreaking in tech but also in design.” Because, at this level, neither the environment nor aesthetics can afford to be compromised. Perfection: quite a concept.