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The Yacht Designer

The British designers specialising in advanced engineering and naval architecture research explain how they create super avant-garde projects: fast, very stable, extremely innovative and fuel efficient.

14 April 2015

Specialised Ship Design Vessel Performance

The Yacht Designer

A provider of advanced engineering and naval architecture research, innovation and specialist services,BMT Nigel Gee is based at Shamrock Quay, Southampton and has long been at the cutting-edge, producing ultra-modern, super-efficient designs.

Originally founded in 1986, the studio spent its first two decades designing high-speed commercial vessels, including, most notably, a particularly high performance version of the hovercraft known as the SES (Surface Effect Ship). Its first superyacht commission came in 1992, right at the start of what has become known as the Superyacht Era, and from a man already familiar with speed: Sir David brown, owner of Aston Martin, who wanted a very fast, radical new yacht. The result was Chief Flying Sun, a ground-breaking 38-metre foil-assisted, high-speed catamaran yacht that delivered a blistering 40 knots. 

Despite the siren call of the superyacht world, however, BMT Nigel Gee continued to focus on research and innovation in the years that followed, and this work culminated over the course of time in the Oxygen project. That said, research at this level demands literally millions of pounds of investment hence Gee’s decision in 2003 to join the British Marine Technology group which itself is a spin-off of the British Ship Research Association and the National Maritime Institute.

BMT is now the world’s leading design, engineering (naval and otherwise) and innovative technologies company. With more than 20 associated companies worldwide, BMT allows Nigel Gee to avail itself of skills and facilities (such as the wind tunnel used previously by the McLaren F1 team) that it would never otherwise be able to use. 

“Joining this group brought a two-fold advantage for us,” says James Roy, yacht design director at BMT Nigel Gee. “We get all of the technical and financial benefits of being part of a group but we have retained our independence.

BMT is actually an Employee Benefit Trust, which means that it is owned by the people that work there. This has allowed us to take on long-term research projects such as the Pentamaran and the absolutely unique X-Craft U.S. Navy Sea Fighter of 2004. The latter is a platform for large helicopters with very large cargo capacities (it is 80 metres long). It is also very stable and extremely fast (57 knots). We also worked on a SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) design that offers exceptional stability in all kinds of seas. Far greater than any other monohull or catamaran.

“The SWATH might, in fact, have been the Holy Grail of naval engineering were it not for the fact that all that stability and performance goes hand in glove with extremely powerful engines and very high fuel consumption levels. Too high, even for the deep pockets of the world’s navies. So we developed with X-Craft to create a modified semi-SWATH catamaran that delivers similar standards of stability with improved fuel efficiency.” Even so, the fuel consumption levels attained remained too high for either commercial or private owners with the result that adapting the advantages of semi-SWATH craft to private use has been one of the studio’s research focuses of recent years in addition to our work on leading-edge projects of the likes of the recent Hemisphere, the world’s largest sailing catamaran.

“Oxygen is the fruit of these long years of research: a concept we’ve called XSS (Extreme Semi Swath).” Rob Sime, the lead engineer, and James Claydon of Claydon Reeves (see interview in yD 6/2013-14), who did the interior and exterior design, continue: “At the one extreme, we have the SWATH which has a very small waterplane area and at the other you have the classic catamaran with a much larger one. The XSS is in the middle between the two.” This fusion of the two opposite ends of the scale produces exceptional stability that is far superior to 
anything even a cat can offer combined with significantly lower power requirements than a typical SWATH. That translates to smaller engines and lower fuel consumption than a SWATH.”

The 55-metre Oxygen, which has a beam of 15, is designed for private, semi-exploratory use. “She’s a fast yacht (24 knots) with an excellent range (3,600 miles at 12 knots) and she’s exceptionally stable. She’ll also allow the owner to get to wherever he wants to spend the day very quickly and also allow him to explore the sea floor in the onboard submarine which is launched using an innovative system connected to the mobile swim platform.

At the same time, the craft’s intrinsic stability allows the owner to go out to sea when other yachts have to stay tied up in port. Another very significant issue is that the same stability means the owner can touch down on his yacht by helicopter in sea conditions that other craft with helipads just wouldn’t be able to cope with. And then of course there is the space that only a catamaran can offer. From a design perspective, we were able to avoid creating too many communal areas by creating large light-filled saloons. The interiors are on three decks, including the owner’s which provides unfettered views and there is a terrace for the owner’s exclusive use. Externally, the single line created by the large and fluid glazed surfaces is very different from anything one would see on a traditional yacht and creates a single volumes rather than superstructures.” All this, makes Oxygen quite unique and very much a 21st century kind of girl.

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