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Tender Ashore in Style

Twenty years ago, Boston Whalers and RIBs were as popular with large-yacht buyers as they were with boaters who owned just these craft. They served as occasional toys or were used for utilitarian purposes by the mothership’s crew, and sometimes both. The more yachts grew in size, though, the more time they started spending at anchor. Suddenly, owners found themselves needing a better way of getting to and from shore.

The owners of the world’s largest yachts commission custom tenders as distinctly different as their motherships.

Cakewalk's Vikal tender

Cakewalk's Vikal tender

Twenty years ago, Boston Whalers and RIBs were as popular with large-yacht buyers as they were with boaters who owned just these craft. They served as occasional toys or were used for utilitarian purposes by the mothership’s crew, and sometimes both. The more yachts grew in size, though, the more time they started spending at anchor. Suddenly, owners found themselves needing a better way of getting to and from shore. The open nature of Whalers meant guests were doused with spray, ladies’ hairstyles got mussed and worse. The same held true for RIBs, plus it wasn’t exactly easy, or practical, trying to board one dressed in evening finery and high heels.

This explains why a growing number of tenders are as custom and are as highly detailed as the yachts they accompany. Indeed, the number of man-hours and minutiae of just one tender can rival those of a far larger vessel. Just as no one wants a yawn-inducing yacht, no one wants a lackluster tender.

The larger the yacht, the more likely she carries multiple tenders. Besides having limos for dry, comfortable, stylish rides ashore, many owners have classic runabouts in their tender fleets. The classic Italian brand Riva is aboard many large yachts. Cakewalk, for instance, carries a nearly 33-foot (10.1-meter) Aquariva Cento—specifically, hull number nine of only 10 built. Hacker-Craft’s varnished-mahogany boats are on board other yachts, including Christina O, which carries two of them.

Starck is particularly fond of the motoryacht A’s speedy limo tenders

Starck's limo tender for A

Some tenders are iconic, like the three accompanying A. Philippe Starck—who also gave A her idiosyncratic, warship-like looks—designed all three. They were started by Vaudrey Miller and finished by NZ Tenders upon Vaudrey Miller’s bankruptcy in late 2011. There’s a 36-foot (11-meter) limo tender, though it bears little resemblance to a typical one, instead reflecting many styling elements of A. The same is true of the 36-foot open tender, which has a plumb bow and circular cockpit. However, the real showstopper is the 32-foot 10-inch (10-meter), carbon-fiber-and-fiberglass RIB. With Starck’s styling and racing-boat engineering by Ocke Mannerfelt, the silver-painted boat—including the tubes—is a blur on the horizon, capable of 45 knots. It also has an orange-leather-clad cockpit and motion-absorbing, race-style seats for two. Intended for watersports, harbor-hopping and just plain high-speed fun, the RIB has a freshwater shower on the swim platform, nighttime cockpit lighting, a sunbed and a pantographic door leading to two interior settees, a double berth and a head.

Among the best-known superyacht tenders are those built by Vikal. Famed for its work on tenders for Octopus (appropriately named Man O War), Cakewalk (designed by Tim Heywood to match the yacht) and more, Vikal didn’t start out manufacturing these types of boats. Gunnar Vikingur, managing director of Vikal, says that for the first decade of its 30-year history, the company took on pretty much anything that came its way, such as Kevlar and composite superstructures for Oceanfast as well as hulls. Through his relationship with Oceanfast, Vikingur knew the late yacht designer Jon Bannenberg. When Bannenberg was tapped to design Coral Island at Lürssen, Vikingur says, he reached out with a special opportunity.

“He said he thought I could show the Europeans how to build spectacular composite tenders,” Vikingur recalls. “He said he did not think much of the tenders built for superyachts in Europe up until that time.”

Cakewalk's Aquariva Cento

Cakewalk's Aquariva Cento

Bannenberg gave Vikingur a brochure on the then-current McLaren F1 automobile model as inspiration for a limousine tender and sport tender, each measuring 24 feet 6 inches (7.47 meters). “He wanted them to come out of the factory as tenders 100 and 101,” Vikingur says.

When they were commissioned in 1990, no yacht tender was built of carbon fiber, nor did any have a central helm or a single central wiper blade like the McLaren. The limo tender also had a split rear window, again like the McLaren. The two Vikal tenders served aboard Coral Island for 12 years. (In a full-circle coincidence, Vikingur bought them back from the yacht and is now restoring one of them.) Since those auspicious beginnings, Vikal has delivered 45 highly customized tenders. Vikingur says that 95 percent of Vikal’s tenders are aboard yachts measuring more than 246 feet (75 meters).

These yachts are as diverse as their owners’ personalities.

“Owners often surprise me,” Vikingur explains. “When I sell a tender, I will meet the owner once or twice in about 50 percent of the cases. The rest of the time, I deal with someone in the middle.”

Nirvana's Vikal tender

Nirvana's Vikal tender

Such was the case with Cakewalk. Vikingur worked with her captain and project manager, Bill Zinser, and Heywood, who collaborated with fellow designer Sam Sorgiovanni on the limo tender’s design.

“The tender had to be fast, comfortable and luxurious, with some very specific owner requirements built in,” he explains. “It was to have colors and woodwork that would tie it to Cakewalk and give it a distinct, American look.” With Octopus, “It was a very exciting job, and the tenders were so varied and spectacular,” he says. There’s a 62-foot (18.90-meter), swift dive tender fitted with waterjets, a landing craft that can deliver and retrieve a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and a “fast and beautiful” limo tender. For Ecstasea, Vikingur was invited to the home of the owner, who wanted two 31-foot (9.45-meter) tenders, the maximum size that would fit aboard.

“I brought him three very different designs by Sam Sorgiovanni,” Vikingur says. “He liked them and ordered all three.” Each was designed for a different purpose, and the owner decided to rotate them on board.

Maine-based Hodgdon Yachts, which added custom tenders to its custom-yacht offerings in 2011, deals with equally decisive owners.

“They’re not first-time owners. They want to push the envelope in terms of technology,” says Timothy Hodgdon, the yard’s president and CEO, adding that they often want and need something extremely lightweight yet still traditional-looking. As much as the tenders and large-yacht projects are quite different, “they’re similar in that they’re high end, and it’s all about quality,” he explains. Hodgdon can’t comment specifically on tenders delivered, due to confidentiality agreements, though it’s well known that the owners of Seven Seas and St. Princess Olga have the yard’s tenders on board.

The interior of a Hodgdon limo tender

The interior of a Hodgdon limo tender

The Hodgdon Custom Tender division initially came about because of a desire to diversify and because of a request from a client for a high-quality, high-style, 34-foot (10.36-meter) limo tender.

“The client couldn’t find the caliber he wanted,” Hodgdon says. Hodgdon Yachts approached naval architect Michael Peters for the hull design. Since then, the Hodgdon Custom Tender division has built and delivered a variety of lengths based on Peters’ underbody designs in addition to fully custom hulls, the latter including two nearly 28-footers (8.53-meter) with styling and interior design by Andrew Winch. They were supplied to a confidential yacht built in Europe. Hodgdon says the owner had specific criteria in terms of seating and accommodations, weight constraints and more for each tender. It’s similar to how other owners approach their tenders, he says. “Typically they go in pairs, so we do open sport boat and limo versions.” Center-console versions are available, too.

Hodgdon Yachts builds its tenders of fiberglass and carbon fiber, leaving outfitting decisions up to owners. The styling can match the yacht if owners wish, through the use of paint and/or graphics. Owners can also commission one-offs. It’s not unusual for the tenders to have soft leather seating inside and teak soles. One 34-foot 6-inch (10.52-meter) limo tender delivered to an Oceanco client last year has these, in addition to tinted side windows that retract and a hydraulically raised roof. Guests have privacy inside the cabin, which features a TV. The tender also has a single Volvo Penta engine and a reported 34-knot top speed. Not fast enough for you? No problem: Other Hodgdon Custom Tenders are capable of estimated speeds up to 44 knots.

Whatever your style, there’s certainly a tender builder that can take on the project. And you wouldn’t be alone in knowing more about your tender’s details than your main yacht. As Vikingur puts it, “It may be easier to relate to a beautiful tender than to a large yacht. It is a little like sitting in a beautiful car.”