What Gives Golden Yachts’ Project X ‘The X Factor?’

Credit: Super Yacht Times

What sets Golden Yachts’ 88m superyacht Project X apart? According to a news source from Super Yacht Times, it has the X factor.

The 14-year odyssey of Project X 

The 14-year odyssey of Project X began at the Marco Yachts yard in South America in 2008. Relocated for finishing to the Golden Yachts shipyard in Athens, SuperYacht Times visited the yacht when she was finally nearing completion.

Building or refitting an +85-metre yacht is a serious undertaking for any yard, but when an owner approached Golden Yachts in Greece to discuss the completion of a previously stalled project, the team took it all in their stride. After all, they had recently launched their largest new-build yacht to date, 95-metre O’Pari, and already built a fleet of charter superyachts that the yard also owns and manages. Add company founder Captain Paris Dragnis’s experience of owning multiple yachts and commercial ships and it seemed the project was well within the team’s capabilities.

By the time we visited the project in Pireaus, Athens, it has been three years of hard graft, but Project X  was on schedule for completion despite the many changes required both through necessity and to meet her owner’s new requirements.

A Ken Freivokh-designed 85-metre yacht

Project X  began life as a Ken Freivokh-designed 85-metre yacht with a distinctive glass tower amidships. Her keel was laid in October 2008 at the Marco Yachts yard in Chile, but the project was put on hold and in 2011 the hull was moved to the Delta Marine yard in Seattle where she lay dormant in a car park. Fast forward eight years, and she was spotted leaving Seattle in 2019 on a transporter bound for Greece. What followed has not been straightforward.

“I spent almost a week in Seattle three-and-a-half years ago surveying the vessel,” begins George Chairakakis, Projects Director at Golden Yachts. “My first impression was that it was a very demanding project, full of hidden problems to be resolved. When something has been ‘abandoned’ for so long it is a big challenge for the shipyard to undertake the completion and to deliver it.”

It wasn’t just the project itself that was demanding: there were the requests of designer Ken Freivokh, who retained an active role in the project, and the interior architects Massari Design in Italy. The team also had to modify the hull to accommodate a three-metre extension; make sure that the system schematics were brought up to date; and bring the yacht into modern commercial compliance.

“We had to uprate a boat that was initially designed as a private vessel, and to consider how to modify the general arrangement to comply both with commercial coding and with new regulations,” says Chairakakis. “The boat is now fully compliant with Malta Commercial Yacht Code 2020, which was one of the most difficult parts of the project.”

Changing up

The changes from the original design have been significant. First and most obviously there is the stern extension, which allows for a beach club with glass-sided pool, and which takes the overall length to 88 metres. Then a touch-and-go helideck was added to the bow area. Two garage doors and a 9-metre balcony were added aft, along with redesigned garage space to accommodate an owner-supplied Pedrazzini tender, as well as a hammam and sauna in a beach club.

For the interior a major tweak was the area around the central atrium, where two decks have been cut away on the starboard side to create an imposing entrance hall rising nine metres high and dominated by the three large ‘X-windows’. Trademark Freivokh glass ‘spokes’ surround the elevator column, which runs from the lower deck five stops up to the sundeck. The elevator itself, built and supplied by Lift Emotion in the Netherlands, has the largest diameter of any glass lift installed on a yacht of this size. In addition to the changes to the GA, naval architecture and general engineering, there was the challenge of breathing new life into a vessel that had been lying dormant for close to a decade.

“It was a steel hull with a partially completed aluminium superstructure,” says Chairakakis. “It had a partial piping network which we largely disassembled, scrapped and rebuilt from scratch, and there was no cabling, no cable trays even, no machinery, nor even the bases for the engines. There was nothing on board.”

Lift Emotion

A central feature of the original design was a large glass lift rising five decks through the yacht, surrounded by glass floor spokes and deckhead panels that are something of a Ken Freivokh trademark. Engineering and building the elevator fell to Dutch specialists Lift Emotion.

“The project started in 2009 and we were involved in the pre-design stages with Ken Freivokh,” says Mike Brandt, CEO of Lift Emotion. “Then during 2020 we received the order from Golden Yachts to materialise the design for this special elevator.”

The five-stop lift measures 2.5 metres in diameter – the largest trunk installed on an 80-metre yacht to date – and the internal diameter is 1.8 metres. This allows for a lift cabin with a 1,125-kg payload and 15-person capacity. The drive system is hydraulic with an inverter drive and is set in a tandem 1:1 suspension, meaning two telescopic jacks that pick up the cabin.

“Installing glass lifts is a time-consuming and difficult task, and also means a lot of people in the central staircase – not only elevator people but also other companies working in that area of the boat,” says Brandt. “This is not nice for the yard, nor for all the people involved.” For this reason, Lift Emotion likes to pre-assemble as much of the shaft and cabin as possible. In the case of Project X, the pre-glazed lift trunk was delivered to the yard and the whole five-stop, six-deck elevator and cabin installed in a few days.

Project X had the machinery space under the lowest lift stop to integrate the machine room into the lift structure, so the pre-wired pump unit with controls was already installed when the system arrived at the Golden Yachts yard. “In the second week of our installation visit the lift was already running up and down,” says Brandt.

The inside of the trunk also has to look nice, and Lift Emotion created two pillars with integrated guiding and cylinders for the jacks, and these are covered in decorative materials to match the staircase and general design theme. The cabin essentially floats between the two pillars. The final touch is a cabin roof to match the sundeck glass roof and distinctive spoked round ceiling of the yacht.

Engineered solutions

It fell to the Golden Yachts engineering and projects teams to hone the modified design and bring it up to the latest standards, including re-specifying all the machinery and systems and bringing the yacht within modern expectations for emissions and environmental performance.

“We started with the modifications the owner requested, such as the bow helideck area, and the naval architecture for the stern extension,” says Projects Manager Panagiota Mandragou. “We also had to alter the main engines, generators, systems and piping as rules and regulations change over the years, and the trends now are different to when the project was started.”

The team overhauled the engines and generators, then upgraded the technical package by adding diesel particulate filters and other elements to reduce emissions. Elements of the structure were re-engineered to allow for the cutaways when creating the guest atrium, for example, and major modifications made to steel structures and partitions inside the yacht to comply with regulations.

Moreover, while Golden Yachts was completing the superstructure in the first year of the project, Freivokh and the owner made a lot of alterations, including more crew cabins, the bow modification and helideck, adding or changing storage areas, the garage, the SOLAS crane and pantries, and fully modifying the tank-top deck. The project team resubmitted all the drawings to Bureau Veritas for review, including the original drawings from 12 years ago.

“There were the drawings of Freivokh from the start of the project, but the completion of these structures, the installation of the glass elevator, and the whole reinforcing of the boat and the modifications were all Golden Yachts design and construction,” says Chairakakis.

 “It was challenging for our plan approval engineers to get approval a second time for the jobs done by another shipyard.”

People Power

Coordinating such a complex build and doing it inside a strict delivery schedule comes down to considerable project planning and manpower resources. During the last year of construction as many as 350 people were working on board at any one time. Many of those were carpenters working on the interior, for which the guest areas were mostly handled by teams from northern Italy and Greece. The exquisite stainless steel work such as the curved exterior staircases is by a Greek supplier who works solely for Golden Yachts. Indeed, most of the contractors are long-standing collaborators and it is the yard’s investment in relationships that paid dividends during recent issues with the supply chain.

“It would have been really difficult in the past two or three years without our longstanding contractor relationships,” says Dimitra Agapitou, Interior Design manager at Golden Yachts. “Having established these collaborations over many years has meant that problems can be resolved via email and with photos, as well as affording the opportunity to get ahead of the supply chain issues.”

In spite of these difficulties and the wider challenges, Project X falls seamlessly into the pantheon of Golden greats, reinforcing that this sometimes overlooked shipyard is capable of taking on projects that few others would dare consider. Captain Paris Dragnis is still a leading presence in the shipyard, even at 78 years of age, and his steadying hand also helps smooth the waters with external clients. “I am happy and, more importantly, the owner is very happy. Because the customer needs to be happy,” he says with a wry smile.

It is testament to the skill of the shipyard that this balance has been maintained and the demands of all parties satisfied even while building was under way: Golden Yachts is one of the few shipyards in the world that can complete a discontinued project in so short a time and to such high standards,” concludes Chairakakis.

Material world

Project X’s interior design draws on a huge palette of materials and fixtures and fittings from a long list of suppliers and subcontractors. Those materials range from exotic leathers, snake and fish skins – all perfectly matched to a repeating pattern – to varieties of marble with stainless steel inserts and decorative panels made using resin and molten metal.

“A contemporary aesthetic remains throughout the guest areas with natural colours, white tones, soft tactile finishes and leather and fabrics all over, even in the deckheads,” says Dimitra Agapitou.

All the guest and VIP cabins, which are located on the main and upper decks, have personalised colour themes and in total around 150 different materials were used in the interior.

“I think this project has the most materials we’ve used so far, which has definitely made it one of the most challenging,” says Agapitou. “It’s also different working with an external client, but we have previous experience fulfilling special requests and we’re a team of young, hard workers and experienced people who are all ready to collaborate to complete such a project.”

Essential feedback 

Golden Yachts is able to draw on its experience and knowledge of different areas of the maritime industry, all of which came in useful on Project X. The commercial shipping side of the family business, for example, provides insight into the mechanical and systems engineering, while the superyacht business assists with quality assurance and sign-off both at the yard and at suppliers’ facilities. In addition, with more than 200 superyacht crew on its books through its fleet of charter yachts up to 95 metres in length, the company receives constant feedback that can impact yacht operations both for private and charter use.

“The feedback and all the information given by those people, as well as the experience that comes through charters all over the world, is an important factor that we take into consideration in all our concept design work, and during construction,” says Chairakakis.

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Source: Super Yacht Times


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