We first saw Nero in St. Maarten, where news of the 295’ yacht’s stern-to arrival through the precariously narrow bridge into Simpson Bay Lagoon had drawn hundreds to the water’s edge. The maneuver, a first in Simpson Bay, was executed to perfection. We would have expected no less from a yacht meticulously planned for years and built with utmost care as a modern classic.
Story Lisa Larsen Photos Neil Taylor and Bugsy Gedlek
The yacht's 31’ vintage-style cabin cruiser, one of three custom tenders, brought us to our rendezvous with Nero and designer Neil Taylor, principal of Corsair Yachts Limited. From a distance the gleaming black hull stretching from clipper bow to counter stern and the sweep of the toerail, visually balanced between masts, provide the illusion the yacht is in motion even in stillness. A classic yellow stack tops a white superstructure designed with a modern architectural symmetry.
Taylor, a successful British entrepreneur, hails from a family with extensive boating experience and is a yachtsman himself. He ran a beloved 1967 Benetti for 10 years and likes classic yachts, but when he decided to launch a new venture in yacht building he opted to create a modern classic adapted to today’s mechanical and comfort requirements rather than to retrofit an existing vessel. He named the company Corsair Yachts, after the vessels owned by the American Morgan banking dysnasty. “The Corsair IV, which was the last one and was a bit bigger with a length of 350’ was probably the strongest influence,” says Taylor as he gives us a personal tour of Nero. J.P Morgan’s yacht launched at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine in 1930. Taylor says he’s also borrowed ideas from the model of a never-built boat designed in the 1890s, which he spotted at an auction. Classic references notwithstanding, his aim was to create a fairly recognizable modern yacht format with retro styling to achieve a delicate balance of design and function in a stunning envelope. “Andre Hoek does these very nice classic-styled sailing yachts, absolutely modern, under the skin state-of-the-art sailing yachts but in a very nice 1920s style. And I thought no one has done that with a motor-yacht and it would be nice to do an absolutely state-of-the-art motoryacht but in a classic skin,” says Taylor. He did the design and styling himself after perfecting his skills in AutoCAD. Preliminary sketches began in the 1990s and by 2002 he started looking for a site to build Corsair Yachts’ first project.
Nero’s layout is similar to many modern yachts. The engine room, lower deck guest accommodations, main deck owner’s suite and guest areas, sky lounge and sundeck are where you’d expect them to be on most modern vessels. If the styling and design refer back to the 1920s, it is in a suggestively appealing way; Nero is not as a literal interpretation of any one past or current vessel. Still the yacht evinces a classic grandeur. The vast sun deck has the flair of a classic promenade deck with its teak lounge chairs, skylight, stack and “snug”—a seating area sheltered from the elements. Errol Flynn’s yacht Zaca, a schooner built in 1929, was the source of inspiration for the handcrafted Burmese teak skylight with integrated sofas that graces the deck.
The yacht’s classic shear line, most acute at the bow, required a few architectural accommodations that are most apparent in the yacht’s observation lounge one deck below. Complex planning helped mitigate the sloping of the boat that otherwise would be quite noticeable. Here, a tiered floor ensures that guests standing anywhere in the lounge can naturally enjoy the view through the surround of windows. A sofa perched on the uppermost tier rises more than three feet so guests can take in the full panorama and rotates 180 degrees to face a sectional grouping and video screen. At the touch of a button window shades plunge the space into absolute darkness while a movie screen lowers in front of one of two working gas fireplaces on Nero. The AMX integrated system controllers, which access everything from DVDs to security cameras, include a steward button in the event of confusion.
An interior corridor with limed oak paneling and walnut sole leads to a grand staircase that would be right at home on the steamship Niagara, whose Edwardian grand staircase was a design inspiration for this extraordinary swirl of precision marquetry. It was perhaps the most complex piece of woodwork to create, Taylor says, particularly at the top end where the pattern goes into a steep curve. Despite its complexity, it took expert woodworkers just two attempts to perfect it. The staircase’s landing is in front of the library, a room inspired by the Lapis Lounge on Aristotle Onassis’ yacht Christina. Nero’s oval library with cozy fireplace is a lovely place to curl up with one of many leather bound volumes.
The nearby main saloon, a well-orchestrated ensemble of golden tones against black carpeting, is more formal than the observation lounge but its décor retains a nautical flair. Glass-encased models of the Soleil Royale and the Sovereign of the Seas, French and English flagships that would have battled each other in the 1600s, help remind guests they are on a ship rather than a floating hotel. The main aft deck is immense and conducive to formal and playful gatherings. The dining table seats 22 people, but furnishings are expandable to accommodate up to 48 guests. Clear the furniture and the deck becomes a lively dancing area. Numerous speakers, well hidden from sight, can bring disco to a professional intensity.
Although many guests opt for outdoor dining, Taylor decided to include a formal dining room for 12 guests. It was more than an afterthought and a great amount of research and details went into creating the room. The simple elegance of the dinnerware onboard the famous ships of the White Star Line inspired the yacht’s 696-piece gold and white dining set, one of two sets. Tiny oil lamps—gold plated for the main deck and silver plated for the more casual boat deck above—were custom made in London. “At night the table is lit by a row of little oil chamber lights with silk shades. That’s very much the 1920s sort of feel,” says Taylor, whose looked at every detail. He says that one of the greatest challenges in designing a yacht is to avoid the temptation to “over-gild the lily.”
Forward of the dining room, a lobby with transfixing joinery leads to the owner’s split-level apartment, which includes a spacious bedroom, his and hers full bathrooms with heated floors and mirrors, a central dressing room with full-length wardrobes and vanity, and an auxiliary closet for storage during charters. Adjacent is the private study with cozy dining area, a soothing retreat from guests and crew where you can walk around “without bothering to put your dressing gown on.” The décor is elegantly simple with ash paneling, chosen for its golden warm glow.
One deck level below are the guest accommodations, meticulously designed for the most discriminating passengers. Two palatial suites, located at either end of the corridor for privacy, are beautifully appointed with king bedrooms, separate sitting rooms and his and hers bathrooms with shower and bath. JVS, a noise and vibration consulting company from Holland, made sure that the stateroom’ state-of-the-art entertainment system is unobtrusive. A demonstration proves that music played at “disco volume” in one suite is inaudible behind the closed doors of the opposite stateroom. A stateroom, located aft, can divide to form two suites. Two similarly matched twins complete the accommodations for a total of 10 guests, in addition to the owner’s party.
Great care and planning is also evident in the yacht’s service areas. Discreet passageways provide quick access from the galley, mess and crew quarters for 22 to guest areas. An elevator links the galley to the pantries located on each deck level. Nero’s chef has at his disposal top-of-the-line equipment from Miele and Electrolux, including a walk-in refrigerator, a combination steam/convection oven with turbo fan and an ice cream machine. “It’s a very dangerous room,” quips Taylor, “They’ve got all sorts of goodies they can whip up in here; you can get fat instantly.” Supplies come from the yacht’s dry good stores, walk-in fridges and freezers and separate cold storage room are all easily accessible despite the tapered hull, which restricts the space, especially on the tank level. Software such as CATIA and Rhino allowed engineers to make the most out of the available space during the design phase.
Highly skilled technicians and craftsmen from around the world collaborated to build Nero at Yantai Raffles Yard in China. “We looked at the European yards, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, and the only place that we found that had the enthusiasm and the facilities to do what we wanted to do was China,” Taylor says. Corsair Yachts and Yantai Raffles signed an agreement that allowed the builder to rent the shipyard’s space and contract its labor force to install fittings. Next, Corsair Yachts assembled a team of 30 experts with references from yards such as Oceanfast, Benetti and Lürssen. The build proceeded in great secrecy until Nero’s first public appearance a few months ago.
The builders selected systems and equipment known for their quality in western shipyards. U.K.-based ANT Group designed all electrical systems, from generators to bridge instruments. French company HEM Hydro Electrique provided the water maker, which produces 21,140 gallons a day to meet the needs of 12 passengers and 22 crew, fill the foredeck pool with 7,975 gallons and allow frequent wash downs. Huge air handlers ensure that 60 to 70 percent of the air that circulates in the cabins is fresh at all times. Naiad stabilizer fins combined with a deep draft keep the yacht pleasantly stable. Caterpillar engines deliver a maximum speed of 17 knots and a 12.5-knot economic cruising speed that consumes about 100 gallons of fuel per hour.
The yacht’s classic transom did not allow building a conventional aft boarding platform; instead designers devised a side door, which opens to form an 18’ x 6’ terrace over the water. Three custom tenders, including the 31’ classic cabin cruiser and two custom RIBs with a variety of speed and amenities, give guests many options to get to shore in style.
Taylor remarked a few years ago that a plethora of yachts, all similar in style, increasingly choked popular Mediterranean ports. He designed Nero to not only stand out from a crowd of big white boats but to be a comfortable base of operation in offshore moorings after long passages at sea. Wherever Nero drops anchor from Sardinia to St. Maarten, bystanders are sure to take notice.
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Hooked on Classics
Many historic yachts are afloat today thanks to the efforts of a passionate few. Sadly, salvaging these classic vessels grows more cost-prohibitive as time goes by. The alternative is to start from scratch, build a modern version based on a classic profile. While purists may be skeptical, some builders appear to have succeeded.
On September 24, 1853, Cornelius Vanderbilt embarks on the U.S.-built 270’ steamship North Star for a well-documented 15,000-mile four-month cruise. American motor yachting is born. From then on financiers, industrialists and politicians make yacht ownership a status symbol, underwriting a magnificent boon in yacht technology and construction that historians refer to as the “Golden Age.” Many of the famous yachts from the era feature a narrow hull, clipper bow, canvas deck awnings, double masts, and a single stack, and graceful lines that still inspire today’s yachtsmen. The Proteksan Turquoise shipyard refit the classic Haida G in 2004. The owners and shipyard received praise for the stylistic authenticity of their two-year restoration of the 1929 vessel. The 247’ Reveler launched in 1930 cruises today as the Getty family yacht Talitha. In 1999 Camper & Nicholsons Shipyard refit the 122’ Atlantide, launched as Caleta in 1930; Ken Freivokh Design elegantly updated the interior and exterior design without compromising its old world charm. The dramatic history of the 407’ Savarona, built in 1931 for the American heiress Emily Cadwalader, includes a brief period as the presidential yacht of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.
All of these legendary yachts inspired in part three modern versions of classics: Corsair Yachts’ 296’ Nero, Burger Boat Company’s 144’ Sycara and Proteksan Turquoise’s 156’ Vajoliroja (EX Anatolia). Our discussion with their builders reveals some of the complexity of constructing a modern classic. Vajoliroja was launched as Anatolia at the Proteksan Turquoise shipyard in 2001. Tanju Kalaycioglu designed the yacht as a “mini Savarona,” featuring Edwardian interiors by Redman Whitely. Mehmet Karabeyoglu of Proteksan Turquoise explains that the original owner, a Turkish antiques and art collector, had a Proteksan-built Edwardian-style commuter yacht to navigate the Bosphorous. Passionate about the history of Savarona, which has special meaning to Turkey, he enthusiastically endorsed a scaled-down version of the iconic vessel. The yacht’s classic tri-deck layout emphasizes outdoor spaces, which guests seem to prefer in the Mediterranean climate. The narrow clipper bow slices through the waves with sound stability. High bulwarks on the sizable foredeck conceal tenders and PWCs. The traditionally low profile provides a lower center of gravity and the shipyard used aluminum and composite materials to reduce overall weight. The beam of Anatolia is wider than that of an authentic 1920s classic ship in order to accommodate machinery requirements and improve stability. “Here the challenge is to fair the mid-section beam into a very fine bow and counter stern,” Karabeyoglu says. “The limited space to save height behind the deck heads is a challenge for plumbing, ducting and cabling.” Atlantide inspired in part Burger Boat Company’s Sycara. Ken Freivoch worked on Atlantide’s refit to create Sycara’s interior and added his signature to a few exterior details. Bruce King designed the new hull by modifying original drawings to meet increased displacement and headroom requirements. Authentic architectural elements were redesigned in a modern context. For example, Sycara is entirely built of the aluminum alloy Alustar (a first in the U.S.) and the vessel features a funnel and mast built in composite materials; the promenade deck opens aft to reveal a hydraulic passerelle; and the bowsprit is retractable. Overall, a classic architectural empathy is evident in the teak-clad pilothouse, the canvas awnings fore and aft, circular hatches, hand-carved trailboards, skylight and bowsprit. Sycara, now nearly complete, will be reviewed in a later issue of Yachts International. Before Neil Taylor decided to design Nero to be “a modern version of the classic yacht,” he extensively researched available classic hulls for sale. “It’s very hard to retrofit the old classics,” Taylor says. “One of the problems is there isn’t anything left to restore of the old boats that is financially viable… and the old vessels don’t have the space required to accommodate new engines.” He also cited limited in-between deck space as a challenge to run wire and pipelines. The reduced area of the tapered bow and low profile of the 1920s naval architecture leaves no room for errors. Taylor says, “We fully three-dimensionally designed the boat in all aspects before we even thought about starting because if we had a conflict we just wouldn’t be able to get the pipes to pass.” As a result, Nero is a bit wider at the beam and slightly taller than a period vessel. To retain the transom’s historic integrity, the boarding/swim platform was moved to the side. Modern tender systems that include side cranes for launching are cleverly concealed amidships. Vajoliroja, Sycara and Nero successfully evoke the character of the “Golden Age” of yachting, but accommodating the space and weight requirements of modern systems preclude builders from creating exact replicas. Or do they? Ross MacTaggart is an architectural designer, preservationist and author of two volumes on classic steam and motor yachts who laments more isn’t done to preserve authenticity.
“It seems tragic to me that there are buyers who truly seek a new build classic but are unable – no matter the expense – to truly fulfill this dream simply because the required eye and expertise do not exist,” he says. MacTaggart believes that building an exact replica is compatible with the installation of modern systems. “The best way to insure that the lines and proportions of the classic-styled new build are correct would be to work from original pre-1940s blueprints. For example, the drawings by the legendary and brilliant yacht designer G. W. Watson are available. As well, most maritime museums have extraordinary designs/blueprints that can be purchased.” He adds, “I don’t blame naval architects, I know of no naval architect trained in the proportions and details required to truly recreate the lines and aesthetic of a pre-1930s steam or motor yacht. Thus, when a buyer desires a new build along classic lines, they get a jarring combination of classic and modern,” he says. The question of whether or not it is possible to build an authentic classic yacht with modern equipment and systems remains unresolved. Thus far, no builder has made the claim of having built a replica. However, the designers and builders of Nero, Vajoliroja and Sycara have successfully crafted seductive interpretations of a bygone era. Moreover, for most of us, but the purists, the illusion they create is perfectly fine.
Please visit the following websites for additional information: burgessyachts.com, neroyacht.com, proteksan-tourquoise.com, burgerboat.com, TheGoldenCentury.com
Specifications for Nero
Displacement: 1,956.6 Tons
Fuel capacity: 46,508 Gal.
Water: 8,966.5 Gal.
Range at cruising speed: 4,559 nm
Engines: 2 x 1740 kW (2333 hp) MAK/Caterpillar 9M20
Maximum speed: approx. 17 knots
Cruising speed: approx. 12.5 knots
Propellers: Scana Volda controllable pitch 4 blade
Stabilizers: Naiad 4 fin
Anchor windless capstans: Thomas Reid & Sons
Hydraulic bow thruster: Brunvol 200 hp controllable pitch prop
Generators: 2 x Caterpillar 3412, 1 x Caterpillar 3408
Water makers: 2 x HEM France
Air conditioning: Novenco
Ships monitoring system: Bjorg/Molland
AV entertainment computer/WiFi/CCTV: ANT Group UK
AV control: AMX
Noise/vibration consultants: JVS
Construction: steel hull, aluminum superstructure
Accommodation owner/guests: 12
Accommodation crew: 22
Classification: Lloyds +100A1, Motor Yacht SSC Mono G6, LMC UMS, full MCA,
Design and exterior styling: Neil Taylor
Interior design: Neil Taylor
Naval architects: IMT Marine Consultants Ltd.
Builder: Corsair Yachts, China