The Por­ta­ble Life­style

Sup­port ves­sels are al­low­ing a grow­ing num­ber of yacht own­ers —and char­ter clients—to take their fa­vorite toys with them.

Yachts International - - On Charter - By Kim Kavin

No­body likes to leave home with­out their fa­vorite toys— sub­marines, he­li­copters, shark cages, big ten­ders and the like—but try­ing to jam them all aboard a yacht with cranes big enough to launch them and enough staff to ser­vice them has left even the most deep-pock­eted own­ers reach­ing the tip­ping point of the cost-ben­e­fit ra­tio.

“There are some yachts that have he­li­copter pads, that have these things incorporated, but they be­come much more com­mer­cial look­ing, and it takes up a huge amount of space, and it’s not al­ways vis­ually ap­peal­ing,” says Liz Howard, a char­ter bro­ker in Fraser’s San Diego of­fice. “In the last five years, own­ers who built their brand-new, 60-plus-plus-plus-me­ter yachts to ac­com­mo­date these heavy-duty toys were find­ing out that yachts just aren’t the plat­form for this.”

The new idea is in­stead buy­ing a yacht-grade sup­port ves­sel, one that can be built at a length of 164 feet (50 me­ters) for about $14 mil­lion, a frac­tion of the cost of up­scal­ing to a 250-foot (76.2me­ter) su­pery­acht that still might not get it all done.

“One of my clients is buy­ing a sup­port ves­sel and has no in­ten­tion of buy­ing a yacht,” Howard says. “He’s go­ing to char­ter yachts and send his sup­port ves­sel with all his fa­vorite toys on board, and all his fa­vorite staff, to what­ever his fa­vorite desti­na­tion is.’”

That owner, says Jan Jaap Min­nema, a Fraser sales bro­ker based in Monaco, is one among sev­eral now test­ing the con­cept. Rus­sian oli­garchs were the first to em­brace sup­port ves­sels, he says, when even their yachts ap­proach­ing 300 feet (91 me­ters) couldn’t hold all the toys they wanted. To­day, it’s not just own­ers, but also char­ter clients think­ing about the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“Peo­ple started to think about buy­ing a toy car­rier for them­selves, and then char­ter­ing a yacht and send­ing their toy carriers around,” Min­nema says.

Da­men, the par­ent com­pany of yacht­builder Amels, is look­ing to cap­i­tal­ize. Da­men has long built sup­port ves­sels for coast guard and off­shore use—some 200 of them so far—but the com­pany hadn’t thought of the yacht mar­ket for those hulls. As re­cently as the 2000s, only a hand­ful of yacht own­ers were con­vert­ing com­mer­cial hulls for ex­tra toy and staff space, but those ves­sels were older and slow. Even when con­verted, they didn’t feel par­tic­u­larly yachty.

Then, Rus­sian bil­lion­aire Ro­man Abramovich or­dered 533foot (162.5-me­ter) eclipse from Blohm+Voss, and he placed a

si­mul­ta­ne­ous or­der, in 2007, for two sup­port ves­sels from Da­men. Vic­tor Cam­i­nada, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for Amels and Da­men yacht sup­port, says Abramovich knew of Da­men’s ex­pe­ri­ence with the com­mer­cial ver­sions and wanted the builder to branch out.

Da­men gave those hulls the model name 5009—for 50 me­ters long and 9 me­ters wide (164 feet by 29 feet 6 inches). “These were still very ba­sic, in a sense,” Cam­i­nada says. “They had very lit­tle mod­i­fi­ca­tion com­pared to an off­shore sup­port ves­sel, but bells started ring­ing in our ears, that there was a mar­ket for it. So we in­tro­duced it in a su­pery­acht pack­age.”

Da­men brought a scale model of the SeaAxe 5009 to the 2009 Monaco Yacht Show, where a client al­ready build­ing a su­pery­acht felt he needed more room for toys. “We made a list of all that he wanted to have on it,” Cam­i­nada says. “That turned into Garçon, at 67 me­ters long and 11 me­ters wide [220 feet by 36 feet].”

Garçon made her debut in 2012, and Da­men has been build­ing the yacht-grade SeaAxe sup­port ves­sels on spec ever since. Be­cause the yard still builds the hulls reg­u­larly for com­mer­cial use, yacht-qual­ity ver­sions of the 5009 model can be tricked out in just eight months, from con­tract to de­liv­ery.

Da­men’s lat­est yacht-sup­port ves­sel is 227foot (70-me­ter) Game Changer, which launched in Fe­bru­ary, not only with a he­li­pad, but also with a he­li­copter hangar that can be en­closed for weather— and that al­lows the moth­er­ship to re­main a place of re­lax­ation.

“He­li­copter op­er­a­tions are noisy,” Cam­i­nada says. “They in­ter­rupt the party. All your pil­lows fly away when­ever any­body ar­rives.”

Game Changer can ac­com­mo­date 22 crew and staff, in­clud­ing ex­perts and guides for what­ever sports the owner en­joys. And like all the SeaAxe mod­els, she can keep up with a mod­ern su­pery­acht, over­com­ing the slow­ness prob­lem that used to ex­ist with com­mer­cial con­ver­sions. De­pend­ing on the power pack­age, Cam­i­nada says, SeaAxe ves­sels can achieve 25 to 28 knots.

“What these peo­ple are find­ing they use these sup­port boats for is a plethora of things,” Howard says. “One of my clients is a big-game hunter. That’s his thing. So he goes and sleeps on his yachts, and he has his spe­cial­ist guides, and he takes the he­li­copter into the moun­tains and hunts. It’s the same thing with shark div­ing. Those shark cages weigh tons, so I’ve done char­ters in Cal­i­for­nia where I’ve had the sup­port ves­sel car­ry­ing the shark cage, and then the yacht that they’ve char­tered for the guests. Heli-ski­i­ing works great with this too. You go up to the moun­tains above the South of France and heli-ski from your sup­port ves­sel with your ex­perts and your equip­ment, and then you fly back to your yacht at night.”

Ocean In­de­pen­dence mar­kets one owner’s SeaAxe sup­port ves­sel for tan­dem char­ter with that same owner’s sup­port ves­sel: 150-foot (45.7-me­ter) Palmer John­son Van­tage and 180-foot (54.8-me­ter) Da­men Ad-Van­tage, which car­ries a three-per­son sub­mersible.

And as more own­ers buy the gi­ant toy carriers, the sup­port ves­sels them­selves are be­com­ing avail­able for char­ter. This, per­haps, means a fu­ture of char­ter clients be­ing able to mix and match sup­port ves­sels with the moth­er­ship char­ter yacht of their choice. Clients can even off­load the owner’s toys and pile on their own, Howard says.

“If you have all your toys and your stuff and your speed­boats and your sport planes and your sub­marines with you, that makes a dif­fer­ence,” Min­nema says. “That’s the hol­i­day.”

This ren­der­ing from Da­men shows the amount of fuel, sup­plies, toys and more that a luxury sup­port ves­sel (left) can carry com­pared with a tra­di­tional yacht (right). be­low: Own­ers can fill their sup­port ves­sels with any com­bi­na­tion of toys they de­sire....

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