Luxury LifeStyle – Opinion: Philippe Briand on the Legacy of Vitruvius Yachts
Below, Briand reflects on what he has learned from the past ten years of designing some of the world’s most adventurous motor yachts, and what the future holds for the market.
On the needs of clients
We have historically split the yachting market into an oversimplified, condensed range of categories for owners. In order to design the best yachts for our clients, we need to understand what they want to do with them, and appreciate that this might change throughout their ownership journey.
Galileo G. Philippe Briand’s sketches.
In the luxury car industry, there are approximately ten different categories for buyers to choose from, ranging from sporty Ferraris to sumptuous Bentleys to robust 4×4 Range Rovers, with intermediate categories like SUVs in between. By subdividing the market into these niches, the car industry has been able to expand the market by identifying clients more precisely; this is something we need to do in yachting.
Nautilus in New York
At Vitruvius Yachts, we believe that the motor yacht market fits onto a spectrum with three major categories: lifestyle yachts sit at one end, highly autonomous and specialized expedition yachts are at the other, and versatile explorer yachts sit somewhere in between the two, depending on their owners’ requirements for equipment. Naturally, all the yachts, whatever their category definition, need to be comfortable, seaworthy and efficient.
On lifestyle yachts
To be a gamechanger in the lifestyle yacht category, which is by far the most prolific, you need to find ways to improve efficiency and provide a lifestyle suited to young-minded owners.
Lifestyle yachts make up around 90% of the market today. When it comes to designing these ‘Superyachts,’ like those we usually see cruising in the warm climates of the Mediterranean and Caribbean, in order to stand out you need to be able to tailor the offering to owners’ lifestyles and preferences, with the utmost level of comfort.
Najiba. Photo: Tom van Oossanen
On explorer yachts
Exploring the world brings you a richness in knowledge and culture. Explorer yachts – which are capable of visiting more remote waters – need to be even more seaworthy and practical than lifestyle yachts, with a wider range of autonomy.
Exuma. Photo: Giuliano Sargentini
Galileo G. Photo: Giuliano Sargentini
When Exuma was delivered in 2010, she was a completely unique offering. Everything that came before her was more like a trawler, a type of yacht that was a fixture in the market for a long time. Trawlers have a long range of autonomy but they are usually quite small – within the 20-30m range – and are not generally comfortable or modern enough by today’s yachting standards, particularly in regards to the space provided for accommodation.
It is safe to say that the solution we came up with was an explorer yacht that positively encouraged a desire to cruise as much as possible. Since her delivery, Exuma has logged more than 100,000 nm, which is more than two complete circumnavigations and quite exceptional for a pleasure yacht; her owner counts his visits to remote islands in the Pacific Ocean as one of the best experiences he has ever had. Galileo G has also travelled extensively, including to the high latitudes, taking in Antarctica and the Northwest Passage.
Exuma. Photo: Giuliano Sargentini
On expedition yachts
An expedition yacht is distinguished from an explorer yacht in that it needs to have very specific qualities and capabilities for a particular purpose or goal, with corresponding tools, tenders or equipment on deck. The purpose of the vessel is usually to take the owner to a particular spot or to carry out a specific activity – the destination being more important than the act of travelling itself – and, once the vessel is onsite, they can then execute the purpose. The entire design concept therefore revolves around these highly specialised owner requirements. It is not unlike the approach for creating a scientific research vessel – much like those adapted and used by Jean Cousteau in his time – except with a much higher level of comfort and detail.
Vitruvius No. 8.
For our Vitruvius No. 8 55m expedition yacht, which is currently being built at Feadship in the Netherlands, all our design work stemmed from the owner’s requirement to have a 6.3-t, three-person submersible onboard, launched and retrieved by a hefty 8-t Palfinger knuckle-boom crane. The yacht’s open aft deck needed to house the submersible and crane, as well as a Toyota Land Cruiser and two tenders, including a 5.6m multipurpose tender and an 8.0m limousine. All this had to fit on the rear exterior deck of a 55m yacht, while still providing ample luxury guest space inside to enjoy the degree of comfort you would expect on a superyacht, including a large owner’s suite and four further guest cabins alongside accommodation for a crew of fifteen. The owner wants to experience the kind of comfort we see on traditional superyachts, so we effectively needed to fit the interior real estate of what would be expected on a 55m luxury lifestyle vessel into half of the yacht.
Vitruvius No. 8.
We are in exciting new territory when it comes to offering truly ‘luxury’ level expedition yachts of this kind. There almost always has to be a trade-off in volume for luxury spaces when you want more functionality, more equipment like SUVs and submersibles, and more opportunity to explore the world. However, less volume does not have to mean that the yacht is less functional or comfortable, and it is down to the designer’s skill to optimize the yacht’s potential. As long as the client understands the realities of the trade-offs, they can gain so much more in terms of the experiences they have with their yacht.
On adventurous yachts for a new generation
The profile of clients buying explorer and expedition yachts is evolving, which is thrilling as a designer. We can offer a modern luxury yachting solution that is not at odds with the values of a newly emerging generation of owners.
In the past, clients for explorer and expedition yachts have tended to be more experienced, perhaps having owned several vessels and expressing more interest in specific design details and technical performance. But I believe that explorer and expedition yachts are becoming less niche, and more first-time buyers will be starting their ownership journeys with them in the near future. It has been reported that the explorer and expedition yacht market has experienced a two-digit growth since 2008, and that it currently represents around 10% of the entire superyacht market, which is not far off the proportion of sailing yachts at this size level. I believe it is not a stretch to suggest that clients who in the past would have bought sailing yachts are now transferring their interest to more of an explorer- or expedition-type yacht, because, just like a sailing yachts, they are ideal for longer journeys, and they can bring you closer to nature.
Exuma in Fiji.
These new clients also want to minimise the impact on the environment from their yachting activities by choosing vessels that offer higher efficiency and lower emissions. The greatest influence you can have on the sustainability of a yacht starts with your approach to its naval architecture, through the development of an efficient hull, supported by technologically advanced propulsion systems. Through collaborative efforts initiated by the Water Revolution Foundation, the yachting industry is making great advances in quantifying the relative sustainability of yachts through the creation of the Yacht Environmental Transparency Index (YETI, for short). This allows us to indicate and provide guidance on what constitutes an environmentally responsible yacht in a more precise way.
Nautilus (ex Grace E). Philippe Briand’s sketches.
Although I maintain that the Mediterranean Sea is an exquisite option when it comes to cruising, our oceans have the potential to offer much more. Today’s yachts visit just 3% of the planet’s coastlines; there is still so much left to discover and experience. This can be a point of attraction for both experienced owners who have extensively cruised the typical waters in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, as well as newcomers to yachting who have a respect, curiosity and appreciation for the natural wonders of the world. With the technology and design tools at our disposal, we can deliver the experience that these new owners desire without the yacht’s operation being at odds with their environmental sensibilities.
Najiba. Photo: Tom van Oossanen
With over 12,000 boats built to date, Philippe Briand could reasonably be considered the most prolific yacht designer of our time.
Credits: Vitruvius Yachts