For the discerning mariner who feels cramped by mere mega-yachts, there’s a growing field of designers and shipbuilders eager to sell you an island. A marriage between the structural practicalities of floating oil rigs (which can weather rough seas by rising above them), and the aesthetic tastes of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, yacht islands promise a level of aquatic decadence only the most outrageous oligarch could afford.
“We want to offer our clients an alternative way of thinking about yacht design,” says Scott Poxon, the director of Yacht Island Design, a U.K.-based firm that’s the only dedicated outfit working to bring yacht islands to life. “Our inspiration for the individual designs will generally come from the clients,” says Poxon, whose website features a short design questionnaire that features such crucial questions as desired length, propulsion, crew, and the theme of the proposed vessel.
Current designs include the Streets of Monaco: a 155-meter, floating pleasure palace styled after their clients’ favorite tax haven, with an outdoor kart racing track, sightseeing submarine, and buildings shaped like Monte Carlo’s famed casino. Another is Tropical Island Paradise, centered around a giant “volcano” emerging from the smokestack of the ship, with a waterfall cascading into a river that flows past tiki huts to an infinity pool located on the bow.
The most futuristic and audacious is Project Utopia, a sort of floating Death Star, which was co-designed with British naval architecture firm BMT Nigel Gee. The firm sought out Poxon and his partner, Rob McPherson, back in 2007, after a client requested a “piece of floating real estate that could be moved between nice locations.” The resulting brainstorming, which drew as much on science fiction as it did on aquatic engineering, broke the conventions of luxury yacht design. “If we removed the perception that a yacht had to be a mode of transport,” says James Roy, BMT Nigel Gee’s Yacht Design Director, “or that the speed that could be used was significantly reduced, then the creative envelope could be far wider.”
Much of a yacht island’s potential comes from the stability of its underlying platform, which, while slower than traditional yachts, weathers high seas better than a standard monohull. Project Utopia, which resembles a spinning top with four lets, has very little contact with the water’s surface, while Monaco and Tropical Paradise are based on a Swath hull design, which raises much of the boat high above the waves.
So far, there have been expressions of interest and requests for proposal from several clients for yacht islands, though no orders. The cost, according to Roy, wouldn’t be significantly more per ton (the standard industry measurement) than a super yacht or cruise liner. He estimates it would run around $680 million to bring Project Utopia to life, which is still less costly than the Freedom of the Seas, the largest cruise liner in operation.
“This type of creativity and innovation is not undertaken to serve a demand,” says Roy. “It is undertaken to look to the future in an unconstrained manner.”