21 Dec 2020

The science of superyachting

In focus: ✔ Damen Yachting SeaXplorer range ✔ Damen Yachting portfolio

Ben Littler

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” A quote famously attributed to Albert Einstein, and a trait becoming ever more integral to the ambition behind a growing number of superyacht clients looking to use their yachts as a platform for sea exploration, discovery and scientific-rich adventures.

Across Damen Yachting’s entire portfolio, owners are proving that there is most definitely science to superyachting. Amels Limited Editions, Damen SeaXplorer vessels and Yacht Support range have all demonstrated their potential for scientific exploration.

Science of the sea

Leading the field in privately funded discovery is Rob McCallum of EYOS Expeditions, whose deep sea exploration expertise has seen him lead countless private yacht journeys to the farthest reaches of our planet for a new wave of clients searching for answers.

He was the leader of the recent Five Deeps Expedition – the world’s first manned expedition to the deepest point in each of the five oceans – and Ring of Fire Expedition. He has led 95% of all expeditions into the hadal zone (the ocean below 6,000 metres). And, together with EYOS, he was a design partner in the development of the Damen Yachting SeaXplorer range, providing over 150 design items gained from hard-won experience in the field.

“We know so little about our oceans. Anything below 1,000 metres, you’re likely to be the first human ever there. During the last decade we saw a privately funded dive project kick off what became the discovery of an entirely new underwater world called the Rariphotic.

On another dive project the life process of chemosynthesis, previously unknown to man, was discovered with submersible dives at hydrothermal ocean vents.”

Cutting-edge deep sea exploration

Whilst Rob may lead expeditions, it’s often, as he explains, the clients’ desire to delve deeper and deeper that is the driving force behind them, in turn even leading to ground-breaking discoveries.

“Just last year, EYOS supported expeditions, collected 400,000 samples, identified 40 species new to science so far, and I expect that will become hundreds of new species. This is world class, cutting-edge science. The potential benefit to humanity of that knowledge is huge. There could be the key to treat cancer or multiple sclerosis somewhere in the ocean.

Everybody benefits from better science and I believe the most profound ocean discoveries over the next 20 years will be privately funded. Certainly at EYOS we’ve seen a sharp increase in client interest in scientific discovery across all levels during the last five years.

Our clients are intellectually curious, very intelligent individuals, and they have the money to act. Sometimes they start out funding programmes at arm’s length, but seeing the results, they get sucked into it. It’s fascinating. It’s a wonderful feeling to solve some of the mysteries of the world.”

Each to their own

Deep sea exploration is not for everyone of course but that’s not to say superyacht owners cannot get involved on another level. Some opt for citizen science where trips onboard are made engaging, fun and inspirational as families and guests contribute to scientific observation of migratory species, such as whales and bird life.

There is private science where owners or charter guests fund, or partly fund, a research project, accommodating professional scientists on board with a (small) improvised laboratory making the yacht an important tool to observe nature; from water temperature fluctuations to biomass distribution such as phytoplankton.

And then there is ocean science philanthropy whereby owners push the limits of scientific knowledge with their own endeavours – as hands-on as you like. Missions of discovery with a full team of specialists to, for example, find new species, chart unknown seabed territories, and change our understanding of our planet.

Work-life balance

Of course, if you’re a scientist yourself like the owner of the 55-metre Amels Limited Editions Gene Machine, a lab bench on board seems like an essential modification. Since 2018, science at sea has been a family project with the owner’s daughter studying Earth’s smallest self-replicating organism, bacteriophage, which is densely concentrated in seawater.

The owner has also invited molecular biologists on the Amels 180 to help develop enzymes to breakdown plastics in the oceans. Lab work stepped up during the coronavirus crisis, with an onboard team to create an inexpensive, at-home Covid-19 Nucliec Acid Test diagnostic tool. The lab now extends into the lounge area and includes equipment to create test kit components.

SeaXplorer: the perfect platform for scientific endeavours

Science is fast becoming an integral part of design throughout the Damen Yachting portfolio. With an impressive 2,560 Gross Tonnes of volume, the SeaXplorer 75, just like her sister ship La Datcha, is the perfect platform to tailor for scientific endeavours without compromising luxury spaces.

The Yacht Support 65 has a multi-functional scientific configuration deeming her ready to provide scientific support without interrupting the luxury experience of the mother yacht. Think operational requirements for discovery such as ocean mapping sonar and a hangar for the safe storage of all equipment.

Yacht Support for sea exploration

Think labs equipped for sample storage and examination or media studios for editing film and imagery or communications. There is also space to store observation equipment such as submersibles for deep-water and space for helicopters or seaplanes for spotting wildlife, and large multi-role tenders and RHIBs for dive support and coastal observations.

The configuration allows for accommodation of specialist crew and storage for all their gear, whilst still maintaining private suites for the owner or VIP guests. And finally, the large cool and dry stores, garbage management and laundry services guarantee autonomous operations.

Whether superyacht owners are looking to shine a light on the ocean’s mysteries in a bid to enlighten their understanding of the world, truly explore remote coastlines, chart huge unexplored deep-seabed territories or carry out scientific research on board, the big question remains; just how far will superyacht owners take science on board?