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June 28th 2018. By Diane Byrne.

Exploring the Explorer Yachts Trend

There’s more news than ever about explorer yachts, and intrepid cruising. What’s behind it? It depends upon whom you ask.

In the summers of 2014 and 2015, Anil Thadani made history. As the owner of the 148-foot Latitude, he, with more than a dozen others onboard, transited the Northwest Passage. Discovered in the 1800s, this treacherous, ice-laden waterway connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic. Early explorers died trying to navigate it. Latitude became only the 162nd vessel of any kind to complete it. She’s just the ninth vessel to accomplish two consecutive voyages, too. Latitude did so from east to west, the more popular route, as well as west to east, more challenging.

Thandi, an avid wildlife photographer, delighted in the abundance of walruses and polar bears—and, of course, glaciers and icebergs. When he bought Latitude, he had no desire to do typical Caribbean and Mediterranean cruising. He didn’t know, though, that the Northwest Passage was an option, until his captain pointed to it on a map. Thandi’s immediate reaction? “Let’s do it!”

Pioneer. Photo Courtesy of Vripack.

While it takes audacity to cross the Northwest Passage, yachting adventurers follow other paths, too. Some head for South Pacific climes like the Seychelles, spending full seasons there. Others plan circumnavigations, cruising every continent in warm and cool weather. There’s even more news these days from designers and shipyards proposing explorer yachts, a.k.a. expedition yachts. Likewise, there’s more coverage of just-completed cruises, and upcoming bucket-list opportunities. The reasons why are as varied as the globe’s cruising grounds.

Of all the world’s naval-architecture studios, none can claim what Vripack can. It designed five of the nine superyachts completing Northwest Passage transits. These include the first to cross, the 151-foot Turmoil (now Pioneer) in 2001 (Latitude is its design, too). Despite the publicity given to expedition cruising, Marnix Hoekstra, Vripack’s co-director, doesn’t think more yachts are truly doing it. “I think it’s because media talk about it more,” he says. “It feels like there’s more expedition taking place,” he adds, because “it’s just more visual than before.” He asserts that adventurous cruises took place in late 1980s and early 1990s, too. The difference was the multitude of magazines and online publications we have today didn’t exist.

Regardless, “the owners who actually do it are very, very much aware” of what it takes to design and build a proper explorer, Hoekstra says. “The ones who do it actually know how much planning is needed for construction and the trip,” he elaborates, especially because where they want to go isn’t well mapped—if mapped at all. Plus, “there are no grocery stores,” and these owners and guests “aren’t eating mac and cheese every night.”

Photo Courtesy of Y.CO.

These owners and guests span all ages, too. Hoekstra sees different general reasons why they pursue the voyages. “For older clients, it’s the idea you can circumnavigate the globe after dreaming about it as a kid,” he explains. “For the younger generation, it’s more about making an Instagram-valuable trip.”

EYOS Expeditions, which specializes in off-the-beaten-track yacht travel, has been tailoring expeditions for young and old alike for 10 years. It does so in places as diverse as Antarctica and Vanuatu. Its team does see rising interest in expedition cruising. Over the past decade, for instance, EYOS Expeditions has led nearly 800 voyages just to Antarctica. It’s led hundreds more elsewhere.

Ben Lyons, EYOS Expeditions’ CEO, cautions that you can’t simply make up your mind and go exploring, especially in icy waters. “Many ‘explorer’ yachts are either inadequate for a true polar adventure or offer a severely compromised experience for the guests,” he explains. “Some equipment will need to change. For example, million-dollar tenders look good in Monaco, but they prove useless in Antarctica.”

Lyons and his team therefore often review a yacht’s construction and gear well in advance of a trip, to ensure all are up to the arduous tasks. Among the yachts EYOS Expeditions is working with is Legend, a 253-foot charter yacht. Thankfully, Legend launched in 1973 as a Soviet icebreaker, and even after conversion to a yacht during the 1990s, she retained her ice-breaking qualities. Legend’s current owner has her available for charter in a number of destinations on her current global cruise. Not surprisingly, Antarctica is among them, starting in January of next year.

Notably, not all EYOS clients travel for personal pleasure. “Our clients are people who want to get to the most remote parts of the planet in order to achieve their mission,” explains founding partner Rob McCallum. “Often it is to highlight the plight of our oceans and the threats to the world we live in.” That includes renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough. He filmed the recent documentary miniseries Blue Planet II with EYOS’ help. The 184-foot Alucia , appearing in the miniseries, and film crews received EYOS’ assistance in operations while in Antarctica over three months.

Alucia . Photo Courtesy of Mark Sims.

Whatever an adventurous cruiser’s mindset may be, explorer yachts make it happen. Hoekstra draws the analogy of when men landed on the moon. He sums it up this way: “It’s more interesting to see people do more.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on boats.com. Republished with permission.

Diane Byrne
Diane M. Byrne is the founder and editor of the daily updated website Megayacht News. A longtime yachting writer, she also contributes to Yachts International, Boat Exclusive, and other magazines. She is additionally a member of the International Superyacht Society Board of Directors and Vice Chair of the U.S. Superyacht Association.