What’s a true “Expedition Yacht?”


Helping clients understand the crowded yachting marketplace is what The Fog Warning is all about. Some segments are trickier to understand than others, and today we turn our attention towards a particularly exciting one: Expedition Yachts. This market that has shown tremendous growth over the last five years, and builders around the planet are producing what they deem “go anywhere, any time” yachts. But are they really, our is it just effective marketing? Do these builders talk the talk or walk the walk? Neither, or both? Let’s explore together and try to separate the wheat from the chaff.


First, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some planet in a distant galaxy, recently discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope:


But of course it’s a satellite pic of our home,  taken of the exact center off the Pacific Ocean. Which is where, exactly?

Cartographers call that exact center “Point Nemo,” named after the submarine captain in Jules Verne’s classic novel, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” It is in fact the furthest possible place from three other equidistant land coordinates. It lies exactly 1,670 miles from Ducie Island to the north (an uninhabited atoll in the Pitcairn Islands); Motu Nui to the northeast (a tiny islet off Easter Island); and Maher Island to the south (off the Antarctic coast).

Google tells me that the word Nemo comes from the Latin word for “nobody.” Pretty fitting, if you ask me, as it’s quite possible that no one has taken the time, or had the right boat, to actually stop at Point Nemo. With the right boat and sufficient motivation you could very be possibly be the first mariner to do exactly that.  Just enter 48°52.6′ south, 123°23.6′ west into your chartplotter. And of course get yourself a true Expedition yacht.

Which is what, exactly?

My own way of defining and categorizing boats has always leaned more towards function than form. In other words what a boat does is determinative, not how she looks. A true Viking sportfish makes the most of its layout and handling to bring in trophy fish. If it does that, then in my book it’s a Sportfish. A sporty yacht that is elegant, sexy, fast, luxurious, and has uncompromising fit and finish? The odds are she can rightfully claim the title of Luxury Day Boat. And expedition yacht? Well, the first function is to be able to take you anywhere, any time.

Here’s another map for you, all the islands in the southern ocean.



If your exploration dreams include Tiere Del Fuego:



Or Antarctica:



or the fjords of the South Island of New Zealand:


Or, for that matter, the fjords of Norway:

Livingstone 24 – Steel hull / Aluminum superstructure


But you are decidedly not a “cruise ship mariner,” then you are going to need your own boat. Or, more accurately, your own ship. Because a true exoediton yacht is going to have to:

  • Travel 5,000 miles, non-stop
  • have space for 8 and from four to 12 crew (depending upon how many toys you have (helicopters, submarines)\
  • Be made of steel for maximum integrity
  • back up systems for your back up systems
  • adequate provisions, and refrigerated garbage systems
  • forty days
  • hull shape for extreme conditions (look up coefficient in your spare time).

Why extreme conditions? Look at that map again. Or this one:

With no land masses to break up the breadth of the Southern Ocean, winds and waves can build up over its entire length. Which is why the biggest wave ever reliably recorded by a weather buoy was off New Zealand (see the star, lower left for its exact location). Here’s the proof:


Real waves require real ships. So I encourage you to build an x yacht from a shipyard, commercial, damen





But no nautical authority – not Lloyds of London, nor MCA, nor anyone else – has technically defined what constitutes an Explorer or Expedition yacht. Unless and until you get up into Ice-Class classifications, any builder can call anything that floats anything they want. And since this has been a very hot build class over the last five years, builders everywhere have rushed in with their own offerings, definitions and labels.  The build space is now occupied by at least 18 builders around the world, and five times that many designers. The best of the best stand out. Some don’t (fiberglass expedition yachts? Really?).

Who builds what I would take anywhere, anytime? For me they are builders of ships. Ships that get through almost anything, for as long as it takes, with sufficient space and range for crew, guests, toys, supplies, and refuse. Ships strong enough to handle things like semi-submerged shipping containers, with commercial-level damage control systems when things get wrong. Ships that can safely provide the offshore experience that very few people get to have, much less own.  They include:

Holland’s  Damen Yachts (the world’s largest commercial builder, from freighters to naval ice breakers):

The Fog Warning Blog and Podcast is going to spend the coming months exploring this world, and I hope you enjoy the ride. Maybe you can tell that I’m taking the lack of authenticity in this sector a little ….. personally. Sure, I could probably lighten up a little.  But to me, if a client is going to spend $5m, $10m, or far more on a true ocean-going vessel, it’s  because they want the challenge of rounding Capes – not puttering though canals. They don’t need slick marketing or magazine cover shots,  convenient labels or copycat builders. In my humble opinion what they need is:

  • ship, not a boat.
  • And that ship should be built in a shipyard, not a boatyard.
  • And it should be a Dutchship, or one that aspires to that level.

And, if they’re going Dutch, I want them to take a very close look at my Dutch ships. Those built by the shipyard of Hartman Yachts:









The same can be said for much of America’s quality yachting, and luxury dayboats are filling that need from New England to Florida. For example, I keep my boat in Sag Harbor. There are days when I can almost skip across the harbor, jumping from one luxury dayboat to another. Again, its the geography that’s determinative.  From Sag to Montauk, from Block Island to Newport, and on to Nantucket, to Martha’s Vineyard, and so on, and so on, it’s those same Italian Riviera-like twenty nautical mile skips and jumps.

Now, of course, the market has moved beyond its classic origins. But there are no blockbuster builders cranking out hulls. It’s all small builders, splashing ten to forty boats a year. Which is one reason (to repeat) that deliveries are up to two years out for builders like:


And of course Holland’s Long Island Yachts, with open delivery slots for their 25 to 40 foot models as soon as this fall:

Going back to our Zeelander discussio, I am quite curious about your thoughts – Can a 55 foot, 50,000 pound yacht be considered a dayboat? Launch a flare, as I look forward to your opinion.

Thanks, and enjoy!

[Big Wave] Dave Mallach