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The Rise of Shadow Yachts: Adding Luxury and Convenience to Superyacht Lifestyle

If cruising around in a private superyacht wasn’t outrageous enough, the “shadow yacht” concept added even more oomph to the billionaire lifestyle. More and more ultra-rich superyacht owners are choosing to add a second, equally stunning yacht, to accompany the mothership on all journeys, like a floating garage. And it all started with the Pursuit.

One of the benefits of traveling onboard a superyacht is that there’s room for several tenders and multiple water toys. After all, a big part of vacationing in beautiful exotic locations is the ability to have some fun on the water, in privacy. However, even these large vessels became too small for all the toys that would satisfy adventure-seeking guests, including helicopters, submarines, and large chase boats.

It’s not just about storing these toys. The bigger ones require a reliable launch system, plus additional equipment. All of this would not only take a lot of space onboard a superyacht, but would also make it look more like a commercial vessel than a floating mansion. This is how a new breed of luxury yachts was born.

They were called support yachts, or shadow vessels, and were built to take over the logistics of superyachts, as much as possible. Picture them as massive, floating garages, trailing the main yacht during cruises. Their main function is to carry all the water toys, and any other additional vehicles, which is why they always feature a heavy-duty crane onboard.

But they also double as storage spaces for everything from extra fuel and supplies to laundry, kitchen equipment, wastewater, and garbage. At first, they looked a lot like the offshore vessels in the oil and gas industry, which inspired them.

Over time, these support vessels started looking better, and integrating more comfortable accommodation. Today, shadow yachts are almost as luxurious as the motherships, even though their main role is still logistics-related.

The Dutch Damen Shipyards Group was instrumental in bringing support yachts on the market. Back in 2010, it was making waves with the first Sea Axe 5009. Currently known as Pursuit, this pioneering ship was named Oberon at the time, and claimed to be the first official support yacht.

At 50 meters (164 feet) Oberon was as large as a superyacht, but with a very different layout. Its massive, 30-meter (98 feet) open deck revealed a working area unfolding over 230 square meters (2,475 square feet). A rugged, 10-meter (32.8 feet) crane dominated the area, flexing a 15-ton lifting capacity.

At the time, Oberon broke the ice on the Fast Yacht Support market. It was the first of its kind to incorporate the Axe Bow, an innovative concept that was initially developed for military and offshore applications.

The Axe Bow was developed by Damen in collaboration with the Delft University of Technology’s Ship Hydromechanics Department. The design with a “knife-like” bow was meant to ensure top speed and fuel efficiency even in challenging weather conditions. Normally, this would result in more discomfort for passengers, especially when facing rough waters.

The Axe Bow also takes care of this inconvenience, which results in a more comfortable vessel. Before Oberon’s launch, Amels (Damen’s yacht building division) had sold several of the Sea Axe vessels, based on the Axe Bow concept. But they were all operating in the oil or military field.

When the Sea Axe was adapted for yacht design, Damen practically created a new category of yachts, which would be known as Fast Yacht Support vessels. And Oberon (renamed Pursuit) was the first one.

At the time of its launch, it was rumored to become the shadow vessel of another Amels debut, a mammoth 300-foot (91 meters) superyacht. Thirteen years later, it’s back on the market, asking for $18.3 million, and ready to become the companion of another grandiose superyacht.

Pursuit is still in top shape. During a 2015 refit, it got a fresh paint job and a touch-and-go helipad. A few years later, in 2021, it was also fitted with new Volvo generators and an upgraded navigation system. Powered by four MTU engines, Pursuit can carry up to 175,000 liters of fuel onboard. Thanks to this, it can easily cross the Atlantic at 18 knots (20.7 mph/33 kph).

As for accommodation, Pursuit only comes with three standard cabins, three guest rooms, and a lounge, doubling as a dining room. Even though this is modest, compared to the impressive amenities of today’s support yachts, Pursuit was still luxurious at the time of its debut. According to Damen, it was designed to be as stylish as the main yacht, “rather than looking like the poor relation.” This meant a good-looking exterior, plus top- quality materials and furnishings.

Damen has delivered more than 20 Yacht Support Vessels, between 45 and 75 meters (148 and 246 feet) since 2009. Its current YS (Yacht Support) range includes the YS 53, the YS 65, and the YS 75. The YS 75 combines the classic qualities of Damens’ shadow yachts with impressive accommodation for up to 40 crew members, plus the luxurious style of a superyacht.

Today, the line between superyachts and their shadow vessels is blurred. The latest support vessels are more like floating hotels, than garages, and are perfectly fit for accommodating extra guests in equally luxurious conditions. Underneath its tough exterior, the forefather of these extravagant vessels is still a living legend.

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