Damen’s Alpine Sports Yacht Seaxplorer 77. Making waves at high altitudes
In the ski season, high society descends on Kitzbühel, the Austrian winter sports resort nestled among the Alps’ sheer mountain peaks. With its luxury chalet roofs caked in powder snow, Kitzbühel might seem a long way from the grit and rumble of heavy shipbuilding. However, this is where the brightest minds in luxury yacht design gather each year at the Superyacht Design Symposium to discuss the innovations shaping the next generation of large yachts.
Photo courtesy of Boat International
In 2018 Damen Design Manager Jaap van der Velde gave symposium delegates a closer look at the SeaXplorer 77 and its origins – a deep dive into the design process that he steered from an out-of-the- box idea shared with colleagues over coffee to the introduction and subsequent sale of two large and complex SeaXplorer yachts and more to come.
Some people think that fans of outdoor activities should stay in fleabag motels and dry their wet socks on radiators. I believe that you can combine the most active outdoor adventures and sports with ultimate comfort.
SeaXplorer 77 owner
|About Jaap van der Velde
A naval architect and yacht designer, Jaap drove the development of Damen’s SeaXplorer range of luxury expedition yachts until the launch at the Monaco Yacht Show in 2015.He now leads the SeaXplorer design team responsible for the first two SeaXplorers in build, new client design and proposal projects, as well as developing the range’s five designs from 55 to 100 metres.Jaap joined Damen 18 years ago after completing his studies at the Delft University of Technology. Before creating the SeaXplorer, he worked at Damen Research, Damen’s High Speed Craft department, Damen’s luxury yacht builder Amels and Damen Yacht Support.
“By 2014 a few yachting clients had approached us with ideas to develop existing Damen platforms into truly capable expedition yachts,” Jaap explains.
Owners have typically been forced to compromise with conversions of old commercial workboats and retired navy ships. So we realised then that there was a market, but no suitable ships.
“At first we looked at how we could meet our clients’ wishes by adapting existing platforms for expeditions, but we quickly realised that it meant making too many compromises. So we took a more entrepreneurial approach – going right back to the drawing board to design a whole new product range from scratch.”
The challenge was to create a crossover between a professional vessel and a superyacht. With its unique synergy of Damen’s shipbuilding knowhow with luxury yacht builder Amels’ intimate understanding of the high-end yachting experience, Damen had the perfect set of ingredients.
“Damen’s Sea Axe hull form is superbly suited to expedition yachting, where you need maximum comfort and seakeeping performance in sometimes challenging seas. Plus we have a lot of in-house expertise in engineering for ice conditions that we’ve used to get to grips with the IMO Polar Code that came into force in 2017. The Damen Board was enthusiastic and gave us their full support, so we put together a team of experts and created the SeaXplorer.”
Following the introduction of the range at the Monaco Yacht Show, the niche of highly adventurous clients were quick to see the SeaXplorer’s potential. One such client, who has a serious passion for heliskiing and exploring remote climes, ordered the second SeaXplorer. Known as the SeaXplorer 77, the yacht is now under construction at Damen for on-time delivery in 2020.
Industry interest in the SeaXplorer 77’s customised winter sports capability is high, so the Kitzbühel symposium’s alpine location was a fitting venue for a closer look.
Ever since the first helicopter-assisted ski trip in 1963, heliskiing has delivered an addictive blend of adventure, camaraderie and pristine landscapes. The SeaXplorer 77’s owner, no longer content with the tenures offered by conventional lodge-based heliskiing operations, sought the unlimited choice of destination and terrain opened up by a private expedition yacht.
“Heliskiing is an established and growing sporting niche, but a big attraction for heliskiiers is conquering the most challenging and remote tenures. For a lot of the world, that means dealing with the limitations of helicopter range and lack of local infrastructure. Plus, the farther away from the mission base you are, the greater the safety risks of changing weather, mechanical failure or an emergency situation like an avalanche. And at the end of a long day skiing, do you really want to hike to a suitable landing spot for a big heavy long-range helicopter and then spend hours flying to the nearest outpost? The SeaXplorer with its autonomous helicopter operations and luxury accommodation opens up an unlimited choice of destination and terrain.”
Taking off from the yacht’s fully certified primary surface helideck, the SeaXplorer 77’s owner and his guests can take their pick of the world’s most challenging, remote and scenic heliski destinations: tackling virgin Polar descents, floating through virgin snow in the Andes, skiing beneath the Arctic midnight sun or descending from the peaks of smouldering volcanoes to frozen beaches in Kamchatka. In case of emergency, the yacht has state-of-the-art ski and avalanche safety equipment. Storage space has also been allocated for a pair of snowmobiles, which can be used to access ski terrain on no-fly days as well as provide snowy adventures for non-skiers.
The yacht also has a standby helideck surface to position a second helicopter with full rotation and a below-deck hangar to protect both bespoke Airbus ACH125 helicopters from the elements. Relatively lightweight and agile yet high-powered, these longestablished heliski favourites are built to tolerate high-altitude, precision landings at low temperatures. The second helicopter can be used to track down virgin terrain in often poorly-mapped remote areas, and guests can travel into remote terrain safe in the knowledge that a back-up helicopter is always close at hand.
Afterwards the owner and guests can fly back within minutes to the opulent luxury of an ocean-going chalet. The SeaXplorer 77 achieves the same levels of luxury that the owner is accustomed to enjoying in the world’s finest Alpine chalets. Thus, in addition to sumptuous public areas and six plush suites, a dedicated snow room has been designed with individual lockers for each guest and ski boot heaters. Once relieved of their ski boots, guests can pad across the deck to the spa for a relaxing steam, sauna, hot tub and massage or grab the elevator to the top deck Jacuzzi to toast another day’s epic skiing.
The owner of SeaXplorer 77 demands perfection and a visceral connection with the outdoors in each of his homes. By working with the Damen team to customise the interiors with his own choice of interior designer, he has created a sophisticated look with various panoramic lounges including the SeaXplorer’s unique bow point observation lounge. Six opulent suites accommodate up to twelve guests.
Everywhere that the owner and guests are will be fitted out to the same level of luxury that you would expect on an Amels yacht, but on the places where you need capability the focus is on having a strong and robust vessel.
Built in compliance with the IMO Polar Code, the SeaXplorer 77 has a reinforced Ice Class hull so the yacht can remain on station in rapidly changing ice conditions. The large galley and stores for provisions ensure luxury fine dining anywhere in the world. Facilities and accommodation for 25 crew, guides, pilots and staff. In fact, the SeaXplorer 77 can operate autonomously with full luxury service for twelve guests for up to 40 days. It’s not just the fuel capacity, it’s the storage and waste management on board that matters as well, including garbage freezers and wastewater tank capacity, to ensure uninterrupted stays in Zero Discharge Zones from the polar regions to tropical marine reserves.
And that global capability is just as well, because there is no off-season for the SeaXplorer 77’s owner. Heliskiing is important, but he is also a surfer and diver – as evidenced by the yacht’s collection of toys, tenders and submersible. But that is another design story that Jaap is saving for a more tropical meeting of yacht designers.