By Robert Luckock
SIMPSON BAY–St. Maarten has built quite a reputation for attracting super-yachts of the rich and famous, and that’s all good for the island.
The more radical the design, or technically advanced, the more heads turn. That’s been the case over the years, starting with Limitless which wasn’t a radical design but caused a minor sensation when she squeezed through the Simpson Bay Bridge, the biggest vessel to do so at that time.
Since then we’ve had Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s yachts, the cut-glass perfection of Apple co-founder Steve Job’s Venus, the flat-topped around the world Tûranor solar-powered vessel that docked in Marigot, and the one-off transport ship that brought the massive swing section for the causeway from the Netherlands, the latter another heart-stopping moment when it slid through the bridge into the Lagoon with inches to spare. No wonder the St. Maarten Yacht Club is the yacht-watching capital.
The latest vessel to pique curiosity is the aptly-named Game Changer, a 69-metre superyacht support vessel that arrived on Sunday, looking as far removed from a luxury vessel as one could get. But that’s not her purpose. She’s the largest and most recent offering from Damen Shipyard in the Netherlands, serving a growing trend for super yachts to downsize and have their own support vessel accompany them with all the toys.
“I knew if Limitless could do it, I could too,” laughed Game Changer’s Captain Brendan O’Brien on his entry to the Lagoon. “But we had enough room. We only had to wait inside for a wrecked boat to be lifted so we could pass. What I love about this ship is its manoeuvrability and responsiveness with four engines and two bow thrusters. Little tweaks here and there and we were in.”
O’ Brien, a burly Australian who lives in the Netherlands, comes from a background in the Merchant Navy, 15 years with super yachts and the last two years with support vessels or shadow boats.
He’s only been on Game Changer for two weeks but is no stranger to St. Maarten having spent time here on yachts between 2006 and 2009. He is meeting an itinerary change as per instructions from the owners, and here to do some engine maintenance and refuel.
“We came here from the Turks and Caicos and were on our way to Patagonia but that changed and now we are heading back to Rotterdam in the Netherlands,” he explains. “It’s nice to be back to bring some money into the island. Without money you can’t get the tourists and without tourists you can’t get the money. I must say I was saddened to see the damage, but I hope the recovery continues. Everything that I’m hearing is at least positive. Everyone has been welcoming and friendly to us since we have been here.”
The concept of the support vessel, he says, is not new, but it has become more refined.
“Instead of going extra-large where you can’t get into small bays and anchorages you have this vessel with you that takes all the water toys, helicopter, submarine, provisioning, extra fuel et cetera so back on the mother ship your guests have more deck space and less clutter,” O’Brien explains. “When the yacht arrives somewhere it’s nice for the owner or guests to have the beach set up for them and the water sports and other services ready.
“Damen saw a niche in the market. They make support boats for the North Sea and the Dutch Navy. They’re very efficient at it. Other companies have tried it, but I don’t think those companies thought about it enough as far as layout and the intentions. This vessel is by far my favourite because of the speed and manoeuvrability. They got the concept right. The other ones were a bit frustrating.”
Game Changer left the Damen ship yard only this September. She has a top speed of 21 knots and a range of 4,500 nautical miles and carries 340 cubic litres of fuel, double the amount a yacht of this size would carry according to O’Brien.
The vessel’s most striking feature is its axe-shaped bow, to slice through the waves, and the helicopter pad perched above the transom. Some 8,000 litres of A1 jet fuel for the helicopter and another 4,000 litres for the jet skis and tenders are also stored on board.
As on an aircraft carrier, the helicopter disappears down into a giant hangar below deck, with rotors folded. All maintenance on the helicopter can be done for the owner.
Game Changer has no accommodation for guests. Only for crew and officers of which there are 16 on board for this trip. There is a small infirmary to treat or contain any infection or illness, a day room and gym for the crew, and a galley of course. One of the jobs of the chef is to liaise with the chef on the mother ship to coordinate catering, as was done on the vessels’ first two charters in Barbados and the Bahamas.
The bridge has the latest navigation gadgetry. And even a Captain Kirk-type armchair with toggles and switches to steer and control manoeuvres while seated.
“I’m more old-school, so I like to stand. But I like the wrap-around windows which give great visibility. No blind spots at all,” O’Brien points out.
Game Changer was built on speculation, is available for charter and on sale for a cool US $40 million. The vessel leaves St. Martin on Sunday.