As children we all had toys and the older we get the more expensive these toys become.
The yacht remains the ultimate plaything. At least a private jet, in most quarters, has a modicum of practicality about it. However, simple extravagance in the yacht-building world is starting to be balanced with strong considerations of innovation and efficiency.
This phenomenon is partly being led by a younger generation of tech billionaires. In terms of the yacht Venus owned by Steve Jobs (who passed away in 2011), the client was typically resolute about ignoring convention and created an almost entirely glazed superstructure that sits partially independent from the hull. The project pushed the Feadship shipyard in the Netherlands beyond its comfort zone as there was no precedent for structural glass or the fully integrated on-board electronics. However, with this one yacht, the yard changed its reputation from a traditional yacht builder to one that was seen as progressive and radical.
It is therefore no surprise that on the heels of Venus, Feadship was commissioned to put meat on the bones of the 2010 concept yacht Breathe. Presented with the challenge of significantly improving the efficiency and fuel consumption of a bona fide superyacht, the yard was put to task. Finally, a yacht has arrived that can legitimately claim to be the harbinger of a new type of superyacht: the 83.5m Savannah.
Most yachts use a conventional propulsion system with two main engines, two gearboxes and two propellers. Furthermore, two or three generators will provide electrical power and on many yachts a stern-thruster is needed for manoeuvring. Savannah has a single medium-speed diesel engine driving a single propeller twinned with an electrical azimuthing stern-thruster. The diesel-electric powerplant consists of three generators (which run most efficiently at full speed) charging a battery bank to power the azimuth thruster. The two propellers are inline and contra-rotating, reducing drag and increasing efficiency. The overall result is a genuine 30 percent fuel economy.
So rather than boasting about how much fuel these toys can drink, Savannah perhaps marks a change for the better in the yacht industry, where technology and efficiency start to evolve into trump cards.
Tesla recently announced Powerwall, which allows for harvesting of renewable power using a bank of lithium-ion batteries. Battery development has been slow and prohibitively expensive but with Elon Musk providing a firm shove in the right direction, using renewable energy is finally available at a domestic level. A project such as PlanetSolar, which was the first vehicle to circumnavigate the planet using solar electric energy alone, proved a principle but was not applicable to general yachts (unless you want a boat that travels very slowly and where every available surface is covered in solar panels). The Tesla Powerwall technology provides a means to trickle-charge a battery bank from modest solar panels and use it to power or supplement the yacht’s systems or propulsion. The application of this technology on sun-bathed superyachts is an inevitable step.
Italian yacht-maker Arcadia has recently announced that it is building a 100ft yacht using next-generation solar panels that are integrated into the double-glazed superstructure and double as extremely effective insulation. The solar panels help power the hotel loads such as air-conditioning and AV systems, and help reduce fuel consumption while keeping the solar loading minimal. Its first yachts — Arcadia 85 and 115 — used traditional proprietary solar panels but the new design of transparent panels offer increased efficiency and can be used in place of standard glazing. The Arcadia 100 has a lightweight superstructure and an innovative semi-displacement hull, resulting in a predicted fuel consumption of 50 litres per hour at economy cruise (admittedly, cruise speed is a modest eight knots compared to 60 knots for the Wally 118).
Petrolheads lamented the shift of F1 engines to hybrid systems but it has meant little difference in performance or drama, and the sport can provide impetus for consumers to take hybrid and full electric vehicles more seriously. Superyachts with hybrid systems and solar technology will hopefully mean a trickle down to production yachts and start to change the tide on yachting’s reputation for excess.
Jody Chapman is a designer and managing director of Seventy Seven Design, a superyacht design studio based in Singapore.