What sets apart the world’s most expensive superyachts?

Length, tonnage and shipyard pedigree all determine a superyacht’s cost. But what makes some of the world’s most expensive superyachts truly stand out? BOAT takes a closer look, starting with the explorer formerly owned by Paul Allen…

Lying at the centre of Octopus’ go-anywhere design is a two-storey wet dock that functions as the explorer yacht’s very own mini-marina. Two main tenders are stored and launched through a giant transom door, while the floodable dock is accompanied by rows of smaller toy garages. The list of paraphernalia includes (but is not limited to) a Triton 3300/6 submersible; a 9.3-metre Vikal limousine tender; a custom 8.7-metre Zodiac for diving; an array of WaveRunners, Jet Skis, kayaks, surfboards, wakeboards, kitesurfers, windsurfers and electric foil Fliteboards.

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Octopus: Behind the build of Paul Allen’s 126m Lürssen explorer

Why was Octopus such a secret? In 1998, strict non-disclosure agreements were issued all around to protect the privacy of her original owner, the late American entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft. “It was the first time I was faced with an NDA,” says Espen Øino, who has gone on to sign hundreds over the years. “NDAs are strict and long lasting and don’t necessarily pass when the client does,” notes Jonathan Quinn Barnett, who created Octopus’s original interior. “I had deep respect and admiration for Mr Allen, so to be able to say even a few words about Octopus now is marvellous.”

For builder Lürssen, the story started with a bit of detective work. The German shipyard’s sales director, Michael Breman, heard about a mysterious box that was loaded onto Allen’s 60.6-metre Feadship Méduse, which supposedly contained a scale model of a new vessel.

“I figured out that something was going on and we ought to be involved,” he says. “So I contacted Paul Allen’s broker, [Fraser’s] Stuart Larsen, to ask some questions.”

Some time after, during a trip to the South of France, Breman received the go-ahead to submit a bid and arranged for a fax containing the brief to be sent to Øino’s office in Monaco. “Put that into context, this is 1998!” Øino says with a laugh. “Michael was in our office as the fax came in and going through it, we just couldn’t believe the brief, we thought it was totally crazy.”

The brief called for an industrial-style yacht with the appearance and capability of the Finnish multipurpose icebreaker Fennica, built in 1993. Luckily, Øino knew the vessel. “I had a photo of Fennica from a few years earlier when I visited her while cruising with another client in the fjords,” says the designer. What he went on to sketch in pencil and model for the presentation was a sturdy explorer with two interchangeable options for the bow and the wheelhouse. “What is remarkable is that the original sketches and ideas are so close to what it actually became,” Breman says.

Another key part of the brief was for all toys and tenders, including a helicopter, a submarine and a floatplane, to be carried in a concealed way. So Øino drew a methodical general arrangement that included a two-level 36-metre-long floodable garage opening at the stern. “Launching so many toys over the side of the boat wasn’t the optimum idea and would affect the stability; a lot of heeling would occur,” the designer says.

Instead, working with the rules that oversee subdivisions inside a ship’s hull – and deal with damage stability calculations – he created one very long and tall compartment on the yacht’s centreline with a floodable dock flanked by rows of smaller garages to store the entire toy inventory of what became known as Project Octopus.