Galactica Super Nova
The latest 70-metre from Heesen, boasting 30 knots of speed Alan Harper
Heesen has always been out on its own. True, it’s Dutch, it’s sited on a canal in a town with an odd name, and it builds high-quality superyachts in aluminium and steel, but there has never been anything stereotypical about it. The shipyard can no more be categorised alongside Van Lent or Royal Huisman than it can with Benetti or Sanlorenzo. Frans Heesen, who founded the firm in 1978 aged 32, was never the standard superyacht salesman either. He learned about fibreglass by fixing the fairing of his Triumph racing bike, lost three fingers to a bench saw as a 15-year-old apprentice, and although latterly he would drive to work in a Maybach, he still went to boat shows in his Levi’s.
It was Frans Heesen’s bullish, can-do attitude in taking on tricky commissions that set the shipyard on its current course. Back in the early Eighties he signed a contract to build Sunliner VIII, a 30-metre that could do an unheard-of 30 knots. Then came the project that put the Oss shipyard on the map: John Staluppi’s Octopussy, a 40-metre motor yacht designed by Frank Mulder, which the American automobile magnate insisted should be capable of 50 knots. Staluppi’s account makes it sound like a friendly request, but the contract was so beset with vicious penalty clauses it could have put Heesen out of business.
“The finance guys looked at the contract and said, ‘What on earth did you sign?’” Frans Heesen told me with a laugh during an interview. “There were 15 or 16 yards interested, which was soon down to three – me, one in Italy and one in the US. Then they backed out too.” Famously, the Mtu-powered, triple-jet superyacht achieved 53.17 knots on its sea trials, and Staluppi paid the shipyard a bonus. Everyone went away happy, and the Heesen yard never looked back.
“She’s like a racehorse – give her a little and she just wants to go faster”
Mr Heesen has long since retired, of course. You can find him at his beloved FC Oss football club, where the fans shelter from the elements in the 4,500-seat Heesen Yachts Stadium. But the shipyard still stands out as a company confident with its own identity, as unafraid of risk as it ever was.
There are parallels between Octopussy and Galactica Super Nova – two triple-engined yachts whose top speed was a crucial component of the deal – but even though the Heesen yard is on a much firmer financial footing today than it was when John Staluppi’s hard-nosed contract could have asked serious questions, the risks inherent in the construction of this latest project are arguably just as great.
For a start, she’s huge. Octopussy with her tender in tow could fit inside without touching the sides. Getting a yacht of this displacement to hit 30 knots is a technical challenge on a par with making Staluppi’s 140-tonner fulfil her contract. The new yacht is effectively a ‘Mark 2’ version of 2013’s Galactica Star. The two-knot difference in top speed between the 65-metre original and her 70-metre successor might seem incremental, but it required an exponential increase in hardware and engineering. The earlier yacht has two V20 4000-series MTU diesels that produce 5,766hp each and drive conventional shafts and propellers. The 30-knot Galactica Super Nova has those too, but with the all-important addition of a third engine between the two main ones, coupled to a Rolls-royce jet-drive.
“This is something pretty exotic,” remarks Niels Moerke, managing director of naval architects Van Oossanen. The ‘fast displacement’ hull shape devised by the Waganingen firm for Galactica Star and now reprised for the new yacht was an innovation in itself, with its wave-cheating bow bulb, a 70mm
“We always start with the social and conversation areas”
interceptor protruding downwards from a barely submerged transom, and carefully sculpted buttock lines that redirect pressure forward and help to regain energy from the water flow.
“Heesen’s philosophy usually requires a hard-chine hull design that can exceed the hump speed,” Moerke explains. “But that’s very uncomfortable, and inefficient at cruising speeds. We wanted to fill the gap between full planing and displacement hull forms.” It sounds like trying to turn base metal into gold, but Van Oossanen’s naval architects are clearly excellent alchemists, for Galactica Star’s performance was truly impressive. A conventional displacement hull of the same waterline length would have a theoretical hull speed of between 18 and 19 knots, which puts her 28 knots into perspective.
But there are limits even to Van Oossanen’s ingenuity. Notwithstanding Galactica Super Nova’s slightly longer waterline length, there was only going to be one way of achieving the two knots necessary to enable her owner to say that he had a 30-knot megayacht, and that was with the judicious application of brute force. The third engine and its jet-drive were crucial to the contract. But it still wasn’t easy – the propellers had to be specially designed to operate alongside the jet intake.
One man who knows the yacht better than most is her South African captain Chris Guy. He joined the build with 12 months to go and took delivery last March, overseeing the trials in the North Sea and then delivering the yacht to the Mediterranean. It’s fair to say he’s impressed.
“As she’s fast and light I was expecting to find some compromises, but no,” he says. “I’ve never known a better hull in 20 years of yachting. We can run at 15 knots into 1.5-metre seas, quite comfortably, with no
slamming. I’m sure we could go faster with the same result. She’s like a racehorse – you give her a little and she just wants to go faster.”
Guy confirms Heesen’s claims about Galactica Super Nova’s efficiency: at 15 knots, on main engines and generators, her fuel consumption is a genuinely frugal 500 litres an hour. At full speed, on the other hand, she burns more than 2,500 litres per hour. “We do run at top speed from time to time to clear the exhausts,” says Guy. “Recently we spent half an hour at 30 knots and the comments from the guests up on the sundeck were very favourable. Of course,” he adds, “you have to remember that you’re adding 30 knots to the wind speed, so it’s best to do it downwind.”
The sundeck has been carefully designed with exactly that situation in mind, of course, with maximum protection from the wind but lots of glass, sliding windows, and a variety of seating areas to choose from. Elsewhere, Galactica Super Nova’s deck layouts bear a family resemblance to those of her smaller sister, although of course with her additional five metres overall and slight extra beam she is noticeably larger.
“The 65-metre gave us a starting point,” confirms designer Andrea Bonini from the Espen Øino studio, which undertook the yacht’s striking exterior styling as well as the interior layouts. “We always work out the social areas, the conversation areas, before we start talking to the interior designers,” he adds. “The idea is to give each area of the deck a purpose, a point. It’s about the yacht’s character.” He points to the aft end of the main deck, where instead of a vast open area designed to impress, there are numerous smaller, manageable spaces with places to sit and things to lean against. It’s on a human scale.
Galactica Super Nova’s extra length made possible one of her most spectacular features, the six-metre
“We created contrasts but kept the look clean”
swim-jet infinity pool in the stern, complete with obligatory waterfall. The beach club underneath opens up astern and unfolds to port, with a total area of 146 square metres. The foredeck incorporates a touchand-go helipad, wired and rigged for conversion to an outdoor cinema.
Galactica Super Nova’s interior is by the Dutch studio of Sander Sinot, who spent two years on the project. “The owner was very direct – he made good, quick decisions,” recalls Sinot. “We have created contrasts of fabrics and textures – metal, leather and wood – but kept the overall look very clean, which is what he wanted.”
Low-level lighting provides a visual lift, while numerous details make an impression of quality and quiet confidence, such as the backlit white onyx basin in the master bathroom, and panels of solid white marble chiselled into a lattice pattern and then sandblasted smooth. At least it looks like solid marble: in fact it’s just six millimetres thick and mounted on honeycomb board. “All the marble is lightweight,” confirms Sinot. A spectacular and beautifully detailed central staircase around a glass elevator shaft ties the whole design together, in every sense.
Galactica Super Nova really does seem to be as impressive as her name. Behind the scenes her naval architecture and engineering are world class, while her design and finish are of the highest quality. And she does 30 knots: Heesen’s traditional willingness to take on impossible commissions has borne fruit again. Has her captain discovered any downsides to life aboard his new charge?
“Well, the name is quite a mouthful on the VHF, especially when I’m asked to spell it phonetically,” admits Chris Guy, with the hint of a smile. “But I’m proud to say it.” SYW
The yacht’s design and finish are of the highest quality