Stepping on board the main deck of Hemisphere is unlike experiencing any other superyacht for the first time. The sheer beam of this 44-metre yacht, the largest sailing catamaran in existence, is astounding. Walk inside what is usually the main deck salon, and instead of the usual arrangement of sofas square-on around a coffee table and further spaces hidden from view, you’ll see several smaller seating areas and an expanse of windows usually only enjoyed from the wheelhouse. It’s bathed in light, it’s completely unconventional, and it’s typical of Hemisphere’s general attitude: flowing and relaxed, social and informal.
This is Captain Gavin Bladen’s favourite space on board. “It becomes the social hub for the guests and has fantastic views of the surrounding area,” says Bladen, who had captained several charters for this owner before joining Hemisphere. “The salon and aft deck areas merge seamlessly to create a large space, offering many seating options for big or small groups, as well as the main dinner table and two bar areas.”
“We wanted a yacht with open space – lots of it,” says the American owner, who began planning the boat in 2004. “Having chartered about 20 yachts, including three catamarans, my wife and I wanted to see if we could build a catamaran that met our needs. We had no interest cruising cold waters, and preferred sail over power.” The owner selected Paris-based Van Peteghem Lauriot Prévost as naval architects for the yacht, and says that in the initial planning stages, no one realised quite how big – groundbreakingly big, in fact – it would turn out to be. “It didn’t start out that way, but it grew during the planning phase,” he says.
The development from conception to delivery has not been smooth for Hemisphere: in October 2009 her original build yard met complications and she was brought semi-built from America across the Atlantic to Pendennis in Falmouth for completion. She was delivered in July 2011.
“My first thought when I saw the finished yacht was ‘My god, what have I done?’,” jokes the owner. “I was in England at the Pendennis yard every six weeks during the last two years of its construction. I knew the boat was big and I can tell you it easily could have been bigger! We were impressed with its mass and its capabilities.” Bringing the yacht all the way across the Atlantic to be finished must have been an epic task, so what made him opt for this yard? “Pendennis were chosen to complete the build because they have the capability and the shed size needed to house and finish my boat,” explains the owner. “Even though I considered them in 2005, they were not chosen simply because of their location, and that is a mistake I regret. I must say they were easy to work with.”
The new build also meant a new designer, Michael Leach Design (MLD). Michael Leach and his team joined the project early in 2006 before it moved to the UK, and were chosen, says the owner, “because they agreed with my wife!” The owner’s wife wanted natural materials from all over the world to be used throughout, creating a Pacific islands feel. “The brief was for a six-star luxury Polynesian hotel and spa feel,” says Michael Leach. “We have aimed to maximise the light and space in a soft and malleable way.” Everything here is inviting, from the inside out. The yacht has that kick-off-your-shoes feel yet remains beautifully detailed. Even the range of materials used is breathtaking: there are 18 types of leather alone.
The yard change may have slowed her delivery, but since her launch last summer Hemisphere has more than made up for it. “We had the opportunity to cruise the French Riviera, Italian Riviera, Sardinia and Corsica, and we also were invited to the Monaco Yacht Show,” says the owner. “August in the Med is quite calm and we only had enough wind for sailing on a few days, but those were my fondest memories.” He found that while owning such a large sailing catamaran is wonderful, it has its perils. “Virtually every place we dropped anchor, we became the local spectacle. I had to be very observant around my grandchildren when they were in the water so they weren’t hit by the people circling and re-circling the yacht.” On charter, she has already cruised many of the Caribbean islands, adds Captain Bladen, and this April she travelled west from Grenada to Los Roques and Las Aves off the coast of Venezuela, before exploring the underwater world in Bonaire.
The owner has been involved with boats since the age of 14, and today his entire family down to the youngest grandchildren are keen and experienced divers. Hemisphere’s crew includes two PADI dive instructors and the yacht’s garage is equipped with full scuba-diving facilities for 12 guests, as well as waterskis, water scooters, a diving board, a trampoline and more. There’s fishing gear too, and even a custom-made 16-metre express shadow boat, which acts as a guest tender, dive boat and a platform for guests to try offshore sportsfishing. It can be used simply to cruise and catch dinner too, of course, though it’s difficult to imagine such an active owner’s party being able to stop for long enough to reel in much.
The lifestyle and social set-up on a catamaran differs vastly from a motor yacht, and Michael worked this into the design. His previous yachts include the 96-metre Blohm+Voss Palladium and the 67-metre Feadship Anna, but until now he had not designed a sailboat.
“It was certainly a learning curve,” says Michael. “On a motor yacht, having a crew hatch leading directly into the lounge would be a disaster, but you don’t think like that with a sailing yacht and it’s refreshing. Instead of separate zones and hideaways, Hemisphere is much more of a general interactive space.”
That’s not to say that everywhere on board is public, and a chillout room amidships to port is a particularly inviting space. It is the combination of shapes that work together so well here, from the spotlit staircase that opens out as it descends, to the rounded panelled units that frame the doorway (there is no door, befitting the open feel of the yacht throughout), and the slanted stone rafters. The space is a showcase for MLD’s range of materials too, from textured leathers to contrasting woods and bone. Patterns and colours come together to create a truly relaxing area, where guests can listen to music, watch TV on the 61-inch plasma or just relax and enjoy the views. “The grandchildren often hang out in here playing on the Wii,” says Michael.
Sleeping arrangements, too, are different: instead of a vast owner’s suite, is a pair of same-sized VIP cabins forward. “Having two VIP cabins was my idea specifically,” says the owner. “I have chartered about 20 boats, most of them over 100 feet and some as big as 180 feet, and the only wasted space on all of those boats was an oversized owner’s suite that was of no use to me. I sleep in my bedroom at night and all daytime hours are spent outdoors.”
Charter was an important consideration, and Leach has designed the area so that it can be converted into one full-beam owner’s suite for charter guests who do want a vast space. Either way, the best part is that the VIPs have direct access onto the veranda, a perfect spot to watch the world go by. In the hull on the port side, there are three further guest cabins, two doubles and a twin with extra pullman berths.
In one respect, a catamaran differs from a monohull in a way that made the design easier: in Caribbean trade winds, Hemisphere only heels a few degrees (“Even in a Force 4 with only a little lift, it feels fantastic!” says a crew member). In another, the cat’s structure brought significant challenges. “There are phenomenal stresses on the structure, which we had to constantly keep in mind during the design,” says Michael.
One of the best and most popular guest areas on this yacht is the outdoor deck space up top. “My favourite spot is on the flybridge when under sail,” says the owner. Fortunately, the need to keep the catamaran light didn’t stop the owners installing a tempting hot-tub, flanked by shaded seating areas. Aft of that is an aquamarine sunpad and long, oval dining table by MLD, its green glass top carved quirkily with a world map, inspired by the yacht’s plans for a round-the-world cruise. Another table sits below on the main aft deck, and this is the main dining area. Screens can be erected if conditions dictate and the flick of a switch brings conditioned air into the area. Everything, it seems, has been thought of to create the most restful, family-orientated charter. Exterior guest areas, also designed by Leach, are teak-decked, but in order to reduce weight and maintenance, decks where guests will not spend time are instead covered in non-skid paint. Again, this is typical Hemisphere: stripped down, unpretentious and ultra-relaxing to be aboard.
True to her name, Hemisphere is set to cover a good portion of the globe over the next year. She crosses the Atlantic again in May for Croatia and the Greek Islands, and will be available in July and August for charter in Croatia. In spring 2013 she will transit the Panama Canal and island-hop her way across the Pacific.
It is difficult to think of a better place to see the world than from Hemisphere’s decks. The problem for guests will be the wrench of stepping back onto dry land.