We all know them: yachts that look sturdy and rugged. Have a real pilot-house and a high bow. They look like they are made for the high seas and actually they are. This type of boat comes in a variety of names: passage-maker, exploration yacht, expedition yacht, trawler yacht, yacht ship, etc. They share a number of characteristics that makes them stand out in the large variety of boats available on the market. First of all they are displacement boats, so no planing or semi-planing behavior. They all have a relatively high bow and a separate pilot-house. They move at lower speeds (usually a cruising speed between 8 and 15 knots) and they have a long range capacity (2000 to 5000+ NM). These characteristics make them suitable for long trips and extended periods at sea. That allows them to go where other yachts cannot. Hence, the name expedition or exploration yacht. Being at sea for longer periods also means that you are relying completely on the boat's safety and reliability. Let's have a closer look at those qualities.
The safety factor has many different elements. Let's consider the main ones. Firstly structural integrity - the structure of the yacht should be designed and built to withstand all the movement forces that you will meet at sea without compromising the structural aspects of the yacht in any way. Naval architects and ship builders are very aware of this and over-dimension the structural elements in most cases. In my opinion, the best material for this type of yacht is steel. It's the strongest material available and the weight is of lesser concern as it is a displacement type of boat. Also the use of steel in boats has already a long history and ship yards in general will have a competent work force able to weld steel components with more than sufficient quality. In the event of running aground steel will be stronger than anything else and apart from dents and scratches the hull will almost always stay in one piece and keep on protecting you.
Secondly, another aspect of safety that needs a lot of attention and care is the firefighting installations throughout the boat. Fire aboard is something nobody wants to encounter. When at sea and a long distance from shore fire is the most dangerous thing that can happen to you. Extensive firefighting equipment, both automatic and manual, should be part of the standard outfit of an exploration boat. The last main safety feature is the ability to get to a safe haven under almost all circumstances. This implies that single engine boats should have at least a redundant propulsion facility to bring them safely to harbour.
The reliability factor goes hand in hand with safety. If a system turns out to be unreliable it might compromise the safety of the boat. That's the main reason that most serious ocean-going exploration yachts will have redundant systems for everything that is really important: from navigation equipment to water-makers, from refrigeration to engines and generators. Sure it will add to the cost of the boat but it will let you sleep better throughout your passage.
Being on board for extended periods will make you appreciate a comfortable environment. This not only applies to beds, couches, colour schemes, ergonomics, etc. It also applies to the boats behaviour. The exploration yacht series from Bering Yachts has been modeled after fishing trawlers where a crew has to be able to work 24/7 using both hands. This puts a high demand on the stability of the yacht in most sea states. Bering Yachts have a high intrinsic stability due to specially designed stabilization devices. For those among us with a tendency to sea sickness even more stabilization can be accomplished with the installation of gyro-stabilization rather than the more conventional methods where moving blades stick out of from the hull. Not only do gyros keep everything inside, they also deliver zero-speed stabilization. This will add considerably to your comfort and will allow you to have your gin & tonic even in rough seas.
As part of the comfort idea but combined with some pressure to reduce our carbon footprint most ship yards also offer a "green" option. As you are aware, dieselelectric propulsion has been around since the 1930s and is a well-established and proven technology. Presently most large sea-going vessels, be it tankers or cruise ships, are fitted with hybrid systems often combined with POD drives. For smaller yachts it's still relatively rare mainly due to the extra initial cost involved (US$200- 250,000) and the fact that maintenance is not yet universally available. For a smaller yacht it is a substantial extra cost and the maintenance issue is a concern. However there are more and more companies concentrating on this type of "green" power plant and in particular the development of battery technology is at a stunning pace mainly driven by the electric car industry. , the Tesla car company is a driver for lithium-ion battery development. Of course, this all has spin-off effects in the marine industry. Bering Yachts offers hybrid systems as a serious alternative from the conventional power train.
This article was meant to broad-brush the concept of expedition yachts and only scratched the surface. In a next issue of SEA Yachting, we will go into more detail. Bert van Muylwijk is a yacht broker with Northrop and Johnson Asia. For any information you can contact him at:
. Northrop & Johnson Asia is the exclusive representative for Bering Yachts in Asia. For further information check out their website at www.beringyachts.com