At the yard with Royal Huisman's project Phi

Written by Justin Ratcliffe

Justin Ratcliffe visits the Royal Huisman headquarters in Vollenhove to take an exclusive look at project Phi, its second motor yacht and one of next year’s most eagerly awaited superyacht deliveries.Phi yacht rendering Photo: Cor D Rover“Phi is not just a name on the back of a boat, it’s a fundamental part of the whole design concept,” says Captain Guy Booth, owner’s representative on the 58.5-metre custom project in build at Royal Huisman's headquarters in Vollenhove. “The boss made it very clear that he wanted a name and overall concept that reflected the fundamental laws of nature, mathematics and science.”Phi yacht rendering Photo: Cor D Rover

The Greek letter known as phi (ϕ) is used to describe the golden ratio in nature, art and architecture, magnetic flux in physics, the Fibonacci sequence in mathematics, flight dynamics, probability theory and even the stock market. In other words, it is at the heart of just about everything in the world as we know it. 

The custom yacht, with exterior styling by Cor D. Rover and interior design by Lawson Robb, has been a long time in the making. The owner, an experienced yachtsman, spent several years carefully studying neighbouring vessels wherever his current yacht happened to be anchored.

“He would pass comment and ask questions, which led to long conversations and preferences began to emerge,” says Capt. Booth. “He likes military looks, but not overtly so, a sense of movement even when sitting still, and feminine lines, but in a dangerous way like a hissing cobra or a lioness.” 

Phi yacht project renderingPhoto: Royal HuismanThe owner’s team shared their notes with several leading yacht designers, who all came to the table with ready-made proposals. All except Cor D. Rover. “How can I design you a custom yacht without knowing anything about you?” the Dutch designer asked. The owner was impressed by his honest but humble approach and they hit it off immediately. Months passed and Rover presented his concept for a sub-500GT, all-aluminium yacht to the owner during the 2017 Monaco Yacht Show. It was the start of project Phi.Phi yacht modelPhoto: Tom van Oossanen

Rover had already consulted with naval architect Perry van Oossanen and his design is based on van Oossanen’s Fast Displacement XL hull form, which instead of prioritising volume aims to optimise hull length and performance within a given gross tonnage. The next step was to find a shipyard to build the yacht. After talking with top yards in Europe and beyond, Royal Huisman emerged as the ideal marriage for several reasons.

“We had some disappointing meetings with yards who wanted to push their own platforms, but Royal Huisman is accustomed to building aluminium sailing yachts that are completely different from one another,” says Capt. Booth. “They were also keen to build another motor yacht and most of the people who work there are passionate about sailing. When the boss visited the shipyard he knew they could build his dream boat.”ArcadiaAll the same, taking on project Phi was a calculated risk for Royal Huisman. Their first motor yacht project, 36-metre Arcadia in 2006, was conventional in comparison with Phi, but the yard doesn’t shy away from challenges, its motto being: ‘If you can dream it, we can build it’. Phi yacht rendering Photo: Cor D Rover

“A motor yacht is generally simpler to build than a sailing yacht because it doesn’t have the heeling angles or sail handling systems and the hull structure doesn’t have to withstand the same loads,” says Jeroen Heemstra, one of Royal Huisman’s project engineers. “On the other hand, we are less accustomed to working with the complex shapes of the superstructure, stabiliser systems and features like the 16-tonne capacity swimming pool.”

There is not a single straight line among the compound curves that make up the exterior styling of Phi. The hull sheer was inspired by the hood of an angry cobra and when combined with the ‘eyes’ of the forward fairleads and sea-blue Awlgrip paintwork with a hint of battleship grey, the yacht has a slightly menacing appearance. Phi yacht rendering Photo: Cor D RoverA defining feature of the exterior design is the glass-fronted ‘nooks’ in the bulwarks on the bridge deck and owner’s deck that can be used as recliners. More challenging for the yard was convincing the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) that the bulwark extensions of self-supporting glass were perfectly safe. Built into the metalwork and without a stanchion in sight, the stainless steel and teak caprails appear to be floating in mid-air.

Another challenge was keeping the gross tonnage below the 500GT threshold and some ingenious solutions have been integrated into the design to exclude certain spaces from the volume calculations. Large fashion plates, for example, can add gross tonnage by partially enclosing the aft deck, so Phi has stylised fashion plates with ‘fingers’ of polished stainless steel inspired by T-1000, the shape-shifting android made of liquid metal in the Terminator franchise. In addition, the glass windbreaks between the fashion plates and the main salon reach only part way to the deckhead to avoid an enclosed space. Royal Huisman Project Phi yacht in build in VollenhovePhoto: Royal HuismanPhi’s swimming pool on the main deck aft is just under seven metres in length, can be filled with fresh or sea water and has a counter-current jet for swimming. A patented system designed by Cor D. Rover allows the pool’s floor (clad in Esthec to create a design feature) to be raised on a chain drive to cover the pool. The water level is then topped up to cancel any surface effect while under way and an inflatable seal prevents leakage (there is also a dump tank if required). Heat recovered from the generator exhaust and chiller compressors can be used to heat the pool and onboard fresh water.

Noticeable by their absence are the engine room ventilation shafts, which usually create a bottleneck at the entrance to the main salon. Phi’s engine room is quite far aft of the deck and the baffle-protected air intakes emerge outboard in the hull below the fashion plates. The surprisingly small ducting is the result of studying exactly how much air is required for the engine combustion.Phi yacht in-buildPhoto: Justin Ratcliffe“We discovered that the engines need just 30 percent of the air typically shovelled into the engine room,” says Capt. Booth. “The rest is used for cooling and exits the room minutes later a few degrees warmer. Our engine room has its own AC system and reducing the amount of air passing through it meant we could reduce the size of the ducts and ventilation fans.”

Stabilisation at anchor and under way is provided by two VEEM gyros in the engine room. Numerous options were studied by van Oossanen, including two pairs of fins and multiple smaller gyros. There are pros and cons associated with gyro stabilisers, but Capt. Booth was already familiar with them from previous yachts and the VEEM configuration provides the highest performance given the expected operational profile of the yacht. 

 Another first is the exterior accent lighting powered by lasers. Such lighting usually relies on LEDs, but when they fail they leave unsightly gaps. Phi’s system comprises over 1,500 metres of optical fibres that are evenly illuminated by lasers. The only components that can fail are the lasers, which are housed inside the yacht and can be easily replaced.Phi yacht rendering Photo: Cor D RoverMulti-purpose design was of primary importance for the owner and this is reflected in the layout and custom furniture. “The owner questioned the need for multiple dining tables, for example,” says Booth. “When one is being used, what are others doing? The answer is nothing: they’re huge pieces of stationary furniture.”

On Phi there is just one circular dining table on the main deck positioned partly outside the salon and half enclosed by six sliding panels of curved glass made by Rondal, Huisman’s sister company. When the watertight panes are automatically stacked out of sight in side-compartments (individual panes can also be opened depending on the wind direction), most of the dining table sits outside on the covered aft deck. Similar glass doors in the forward-facing master stateroom on the owner’s deck provide direct access to a private foredeck veranda.     

Details of the interior by UK-based Lawson Robb have not been released, but the outfitters claim it is one of the most complex they have ever built and Capt. Booth insists it will be “very special indeed”. However, we can reveal that a highlight is a 300-bottle wine cellar under the corridor linking the five guest suites on the lower deck. The corridor floor is one-way glass while the base of the wine cellar is of mirrored glass, so the effect looking down will be of an endless array of wine bottles. Royal Huisman Project Phi yacht exterior designPhoto: Royal HuismanPhi got under way at Royal Huisman while 81-metre Sea Eagle II was still in build. The three-masted schooner benefitted from concurrent design and stage gating methodologies designed to ensure the design and construction advanced smoothly, on budget and on schedule. The same processes have been applied to Phi and despite the logistical difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic, the motor yacht is slightly ahead of schedule. Sea Eagle II yacht sailingPhoto: Tom van OossanenThe ‘Keep It Simple’ school of thought governed the whole product development process. The entertainment system, for example, relies on equipment that can be easily replaced and a simple, user-friendly iPad interface.

“In the owner’s experience, entertainment systems on yachts are too complicated,” Capt. Booth explains. “For him it’s not a question of cost, but reliability, value for money and ease of use. We have off-the-shelf components that we can buy anywhere without having to call in a specialist technician, but the quality of experience for the user is exactly the same.”  Phi yacht in-buildPhoto: Justin RatcliffeRoyal Huisman uses the tagline ‘The Spirit of Individuality’ to describe its approach to yacht building. It may not be the first shipyard that springs to mind for a motor yacht, but it is a philosophy perfectly suited to projects like Phi that are genuinely new and exciting.

This article was first featured in The SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now to receive your copy straight to your door and never miss another issue.


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