A few projects stand out in memory even years after their completion. For the renowned custom shipyard Delta Marine, Laurel is one of those builds.
Jay Miner, an engineer and naval architect who has headed the Delta Design Group since 1987, met
’s owners when they brought their Donald Starkey-designed Feadship for a refit. Conversations with the Delta team eventually led to the topic of a new build, an innovative yacht with extensive range and fuel efficiency, built in steel and composite.
Laurel’s captain David Clarke, who knew the owners from their previous vessel, calls the choice of composite-over-steel a “no-brainer”. It offers design flexibility, results in a lighter weight and requires less maintenance since, unlike metal, composite does not corrode. Yet, this combination is rare when it comes to private yachts, especially yachts of this size. The 74.5-meter Blohm & Voss Eco (now Enigma) was built in steel with a composite superstructure, and a few other yachts since have married a composite superstructure to a metal hull, including the innovative McMullen & Wing Ermis2, a fast aluminum yacht with a composite superstructure. Seattle, where Delta is located, is a hotbed for technology and innovation, including in carbon fiber and plastics composites and Delta, a family-owned shipyard that has specialized in innovative custom yachts since the 1990s, has a proven track record.
Laurel’s owners liked what they saw and according to Captain Clarke, Delta was the only American shipyard the owners spoke to that was willing to build a steel hull with composite superstructure. They entrusted the Delta team to build their vision of the perfect expedition yacht and the yacht’s construction began in 2003 in two locations. Dakota Creek Industries, a shipyard located less than 100 miles north of Delta, in Anacortes, specializes in the construction and repair of large steel and aluminum vessels. It started on the steel hull, while Delta began building the huge composite superstructure. Once Dakota completed the hull, they transported it to Delta’s shipyard where the two big components were assembled and Delta’s craftsmen finished the yacht to the highest standards. The proud new owners took delivery in 2006.
Six years later, Laurel is still Delta’s largest delivery and at 240 feet still ranks in the Top 100. It is also one of the most innovative yachts to be built in the United States, in part (but not only) because of the rare combination of composite and steel. “This project simply had no preconceptions; the design utilized the best materials with a fresh eye for efficiency,” Miner says. Delta used its advanced engineering and design knowledge to built the lightweight and low-profile composite superstructure (comprising everything from the deck up) that meshes with a perfectly faired steel hull. Delta’s team designed the hull and kept an attentive eye on its weight. “We believe it is better to spend the weight budget on structure rather than fairing compound, so we carefully engineered the robust shell plating and framing system to produce a remarkably fair surface with an absolute minimum of weld distortion,” Miner says.
Inevitably, with innovations and new technology come new challenges, especially when the clients have their eye on some particular design features. One of those was to achieve the yacht’s graceful low profile, which the owners asked Donald Starkey to design. The use of carbon composites was one of the ways to achieve the desired effect. Miner explains, “The owners were intent on the yacht having a low silhouette, which required significant efforts to lower the dimensions of the structural deck-to-deck spaces, preserving the needed headroom while simultaneously compressing the vertical space allocation for systems and structure. This necessitated an innovative approach to structural design, made possible by the use of composites and a strong reliance on carbon fiber.
“With the compression of the strata of decks, attention to sound abatement techniques was critical. Sound abatement is more easily met with the use of void spaces between accommodations. To accomplish the very high standards achieved is a tribute to the careful design and execution of the acoustic treatments.”
Using dissimilar materials is always a challenge. There is difference in strength, elasticity and expansion rates, Miner explains, mandating special attention to proper weight bearing and adhesion. The flexibility of composites, while it has its plusses, also presents an additional challenge. “A typical steel hull uses a material whose strength and stiffness can only be changed by thickness and geometry. A composite structure can vary its structural nature infinitely with the variation of fiber types and orientations as well as core thicknesses.”
We asked Miner about the overall concept of Laurel and what makes her special. “Classic in profile, the subtly curved shape of the hull was created for very fuel-efficient operation, which is evident in her form. Many yachts today are created with more priority given to floor plan than fuel economy, which results in the straighter and fuller hull forms so prevalent in the marketplace,” Miner says. “Although a large vessel (still holding a place on the world’s 100 largest list) the spaces on Laurel were not intended to overwhelm, but rather be inviting and intimate. Intended as a family yacht, there was a need to maintain a scale appropriate to a lifestyle that did not seek to impress, intimidate or diminish the feeling of social interaction by a disproportionate interior architecture.”
If the near constant use the yacht has seen in the past six years, the owners are more than happy with how the pieces have fallen into place. It is obvious that the time and attention the owners and the Delta Design Group put into the design and construction of Laurel has paid off.
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