Insight: Bilgin reborn

Written by Justin Ratcliffe

Bilgin’s new state-of-the-art shipyard near Istanbul is a significant step forward for the Turkish yacht builder. Not just in terms of investment, but also as part of a long-term strategy to build bigger and raise the international profile of the brand. SuperYacht Times was the first media group to visit the facility and explore the two exciting new 80-metre projects currently under construction in the brand’s brand new sheds...Bilgin 263 / I under constructionPhoto: Justin RatcliffeDrive west along the coast from Istanbul’s Ataturk airport for half an hour and you come across the high-end, real estate development of West Istanbul Marina. Luxury villas and apartments overlook the picturesque marina with its restaurants and cafes. Dominating the scene are Bilgin’s brand new construction hangers and 700-tonne travel lift. Fully operational except for the reception, gym, lounge area and suites for visiting clients that is due for completion by the end of the year, the facility represents a multi-million euro investment for the Turkish builder as it moves beyond its sub-500GT comfort zone.

“We started planning the new shipyard over four years ago, but we had been talking about it for much longer,” says Yildirim Bilgen, sales executive for Bilgin Yachts. “It’s all part of a long-term plan to upgrade our facilities and promote the brand to a wider audience. Turkey has lagged behind the Italians and north Europeans with our marketing strategies. It’s time to change that.”  Bilgin 263/2 arriving in Bilgin Istanbul shipyardPhoto: Bilgin YachtsBefore moving to its new headquarters, Bilgin was based down the road in Küçükçekmece. Like many boat builders in Turkey, it specialised in traditional, cold-moulded wood construction and the yard was filled with the heady aroma of sawdust and resin. Bilgin’s last wooden boat was the 45-metre Elada in 2014, which overlapped with its first steel yacht, the 48.70-metre M&M (now Timeless) launched in 2012.  

Since switching completely to steel and aluminium, the hulls and superstructures are fabricated at a dedicated yard in Yalova on the eastern side of the Bosphorus. That site is also due to be replaced, and Bilgin has acquired land nearby to build a new metalworking facility. After a first coat of primer, the bare hulls are then floated across the Sea of Marmara for fitting out. The first 80-metre hull (263 I) arrived at West Istanbul Marina in November 2017, followed a few months later by her sister ship (263 II).  Bilgin 263/2 exterior design Photo: Bilgin YachtsWith exterior styling by Unique Yacht Design and interiors by H2 Yacht Design, the two superyachts are an impressive sight standing side by side in the largest of the pristine sheds that can be extended to over 100 metres in length (alongside are two 75m x 28m construction bays). At close to 1,680GT, they are more than twice the volume of the 51.80-metre Dursur, Bilgin’s largest yacht on the water, and when 263 I is launched in the first quarter of next year she will be the biggest of her kind completed in Turkey. Hull 263 II is expected to follow six months later, but the yard is in no hurry: “When you’re building yachts this size that take three or four years, it makes no sense to rush it,” says Yildirim. “We need time to achieve the high-quality construction we strive for and we’re not prepared to sacrifice those standards, even if the owner wants his yacht sooner.” 

The repeat client who commissioned the 80-metre projects is the owner of two other Bilgin yachts, a 35.5-metre and a 45-metre launched respectively in 2006 in 2011, both of which are named Tatiana. The contract for the first hull was signed in 2015 and the second followed a few months later. Conventional diesel drive was chosen from the start and, apart from a few styling details and a forward helipad on 263 II, the sister ships are identical in terms of technical specifications, performance and general arrangement with accommodation for 16 guests.  Yacht construction at Bilgin YachtsPhoto: Justin RatcliffeIn addition to the amenities you would expect to find on an 80-metre custom superyacht, a standout feature is the 9-metre indoor swimming pool in the beach club on the lower deck. Flanked by two shell doors that can be lowered to create side platforms, the stability calculations were made with the pool full, but to avoid splashing in a seaway the 23 cubic metres of water can be dumped into two heated reserve tanks during navigation.  

Both projects are built to full LY3 compliance and the ABS classification includes ABS Comfort Plus notation – a first for a Turkish-built yacht. The notation takes into account noise, vibration, indoor climate and lighting to ensure optimal onboard comfort, and Bilgin worked closely with noise control consultants van Cappellen to achieve the strict criteria. In the cinema room on the lower deck, for example, extra insulation was added not so much to block noise and vibration from the engine room getting in, but to prevent sound escaping into the adjacent gym when the cinema is in use.    Another first for Bilgin is the Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) exhaust treatment, which ensures high engine power and efficiency while reducing NOx emissions. Hull 263 I could have been exempt from this Tier III provision, but the shipyard deliberately delayed the keel-laying until after the IMO regulations came into effect for the North American and US Caribbean Emission Control Areas at the start of 2016.  

Yacht construction at Bilgin YachtsPhoto: Justin Ratcliffe
“The catalytic converters take up as much space as the MTU engines, which meant a bigger engine room than usual,” says naval architect and project manager Sencer Güneer. “But we took the decision to have them installed anyway. Like the Comfort Plus notation, they represent added value for the owner by future-proofing his investment." 

With a workforce of over 360 personnel, Bilgin designs and manufacturers in-house all the fitted furniture aboard its yachts and moved its furniture factory from Tuzla to be closer to the new shipyard. The 5,000-sqm facility includes a metalwork shop that can make stainless steel and aluminium components from watertight doors, cranes and deck cranes to bollards, handrails and hydraulic passerelles. Rather than relying on subcontractors, manufacturing in-house means the company has total control over its build schedules and quality standards. Yacht construction at Bilgin YachtsPhoto: Justin RatcliffeBilgin is pushing ahead with other projects and has started two new builds on spec in Yalova: a 67-metre and a 48-metre sister ship to Nerissa named Ilium, which will debut at this year’s Monaco Yacht Show. The shipyard is in advanced negotiations with a client for a 108-metre project by H2 Yacht Design and the owner of the 52-metre Benetti My Falcon (ex-Sai Ram), which was undergoing a cosmetic refit at the time of our visit, is considering a new 58-metre yacht with the yard. If the owner of 263 I and 263 II decides to sell, he is also expected to build bigger.  

Bilgin Yachts enjoys an international market but is not widely recognised as an international brand. Yacht construction at Bilgin YachtsPhoto: Justin RatcliffeGetting that message across involves challenging preconceptions and exploiting the full array of marketing tools available, including social media channels. Bilgin’s new shipyard is part of this branding process. As a world-class facility that shows its commitment to creating the right environment for building high-end superyachts, it resets the bar for shipyards in the country and elsewhere.  

“When Nerissa was in Monaco last year, we had visitors who after touring the yacht and touching the finishes were surprised to learn that she was built in Turkey,” says Yildirim. “Then when I told them Bilgin has been building yachts for over 100 years, they were even more surprised. And the biggest surprise of all came at the end when I told them the price!”  

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