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Building a superyacht in just 8 weeks: the big world of scale models

Design
Written by
Charl van Rooy

When it comes to yacht building, a small but vital element of the final product often goes unnoticed by the masses. Today’s scale models that we find on display at yacht shows, shipyard reception areas, and owner residences around the world are often as customised and detailed as the product in-build which they represent. Many of these mini superyachts cover more miles annually than the mothership herself, and is often called upon to set the tone for the client’s ultimate experience on board, years before the final product is ready to set sail. We go behind the scenes to find out how these masterpieces are created and what the deeper value of a high-quality superyacht model could mean to those who build and design these superyachts.

The world of model making is one I find fascinating. The time and energy spent in creating these one-off replicas often account to far more than the object’s value and is clearly visible in the level of finish and realism of the design and concept. In many ways, scale model making stands apart as a form of yacht building, albeit on a smaller scale, that is. But how are they made? How long does it take to create a miniature version of your superyacht, and most importantly, does it float? For veteran model maker Gary Isaksen from Isaksen Scale Models in Washington, U.S., the answers to these questions come all too easy.

The process begins after general arrangement and detailed profile sketches have been submitted by the client, tells Isaksen. These sketches are used to determine a quote for the client depending on the size and level of detail and finish requested. Modern-day 3D files are scanned into clever laser cutting and 3D printing machines that will create the outline shape of the model. “We start with the hull and work our way up. We can scale any original drawing up or down to build any size requested.”

As superyacht construction techniques and methods became more advanced over the years, so did the world of scale model making and today a scaled superyacht can be completed in just eight weeks (depending on size and detail). But it wasn’t always this easy, as Isaksen explains: “When we started 30 years ago Gary carved the models using simple tools, basswood and planks to frame the hull. We then started adding foam as it was easy to shape. Everything was handmade. We used pencils to draw the decks. We cut out the windows and frames by hand. Furnishings were cut out of wood by hand. Now we have machines running and we can produce much more in a shorter time with more accuracy.”

As opposed to the build of a real yacht, the yacht designer’s input is not necessarily required after the initial 3D-drawing phase is complete, explains René le Grand of the Dutch scale model company, AllOnScale. “In the final stages when the model is assembled we will send images regularly to the customer for confirmation.” While machines might be used to create the bulk of the model, there is no alternative to hours of handcraft work in order to make the intricate finer details of each yacht, much like that on a full-sized superyacht.

Working from their custom built studios in Ireland, model maker Ger Crowley of Marine Model Makers uses materials familiar to the marine industry such as hardwoods, epoxy, and stainless steel in some of their products to deliver authentic models for builders such as Heesen Yachts, Sunseeker and Oyster Yachts.

The actual construction materials, however, have improved drastically over the years. Giuseppe Capobianco at Model Maker Group, explains: "We use every type of material and technology at our disposal to create our products. We have sculpting machine as well as 3D printing devices. The hull for instance will be milled, for deck railings we use brass for an authentic finish, and our laser cutting machines accurately outline the teak decks of the yachts."

But what is the value of having a custom-made, high-quality scale model, an object that often retails for over €10,000 apiece, for these companies? For Isaksen, the importance of a professional scale model stretches far beyond being able to create an impressive setup at the next boat show. “It also is a great tool for shipyards and designers when showing their clients new construction projects and to ensure they like what they see before building the original 80 – 300ft superyacht. Not everyone can visualise an object by simply seeing it on the computer screen or on a 2D drawing on paper.”

It also serves a vital role during the design phase as a model is the perfect stage to see one's sketches come to life, before committing to the initial construction phase. “We have saved shipyards a lot of time and money as they find design flaws reviewing the model. A model can be expensive, but it’s much cheaper than rebuilding parts of the original yacht!” says Isaksen.

ForCapobianco, the value of a high-quality superyacht model takes on many different roles, all aimed at making the client’s experience a more pleasurable one. “The quality of the model is extremely important as this becomes a direct representation of the design. If the model is of low quality, the project and time which has been dedicated to creating the design, can be lost. The model also plays an important role in the sale of a yacht/project as its purpose is to capture the emotion of the design and relay that to an experience for the client before even stepping onboard.”

So what’s next? Where is the world of scale superyacht model making heading to? “The pace is getting quicker,” says Le Grand. “Increased CAD capabilities and higher expectations from our customers are pushing us to deliver any size yacht in just eight weeks.” For Isaksen, the future is a bit more, shiny. “We want to offer a very exclusive yacht model for someone who wants the best of the best. Our next adventure is to work with a jeweller to have all the deck fittings, railings and other items created using gold and platinum.”

How did it get here?

Have you ever wondered how these models travel the world? One week in Singapore, and Monaco the next? The nomadic lifestyle of these craft are anticipated in the design and companies build larger models with a durable chassis frame concealed within the hull and superstructure. This reinforcement allows the model to withstand the rigours associated with cargo handling. Companies such as Marine Model Makers takes this a step further by constructing a custom foam-lined timber case and in some instances, packing delicate components separately to ensure a smooth crossing for each yacht.

This article was featured in the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now and never miss another issue.

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