The New Ocean Explorers: Smooth Operator
Before spending tens of millions of dollars on a new expedition yacht, Alex Dreyfoos, an MIT-educated engineer from Westchester County, N.Y., went to exceptional lengths to test a particular hull design. Boarding a pilot boat out of Cuxhaven, Germany, Dreyfoos headed into 12-to-15-foot breakers in the North Sea, one of the world’s most treacherous stretches of water. "It was the middle of January, and the water was excitingly rough," Dreyfoos says. "The captain asked me if I wanted to drive the boat, and after I took the helm, the first thing I did was stop it."
While that would be an invitation to disaster aboard most yachts, Dreyfoos wanted to see how the vessel’s SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) design would handle turbulent water conditions. This unusual double hull resembles a catamaran with submerged pontoons. Invented in 1938 by Canadian Frederick G. Creed, SWATH puts the bulk of a hull’s displacement beneath the surface, thus minimizing a ship’s exposure to wave energy on the surface. The result is a vessel that cruises smoothly, even in the roughest seas.
Dreyfoos had a personal reason for evaluating SWATH: His wife suffers from chronic seasickness. After years of searching for a stable vessel to replace his 143-foot Feadship, he finally found a solution—SWATH. "It felt like we were in a theater watching The Perfect Storm," he says. "If it had been in my old boat, we would’ve been rocking like crazy and grabbing onto something. We just sat there. My drink didn’t even spill." Dreyfoos watched a nearby German coast-guard vessel get pitched by the heavy seas as the SWATH boat skipped lightly across the waves.
Last July, Dreyfoos took a peek at his new expedition yacht, Silver Cloud, which was then still under construction at the Abeking & Rasmussen yard in Lemwerder, Germany. "I was so pleased," he says of the ship’s SWATH design. "It came out great." The 134-foot vessel has a helipad and a stylish interior that includes a master suite with 180-degree windows, four guest staterooms, a gymnasium, and all of the other amenities of a traditional superyacht. "The beam is 58 feet—about twice the size of my old boat’s—giving us considerable interior space," Dreyfoos says.
He and three friends will cross the Atlantic on Silver Cloud in November. "I made a deal with my captain," he says. "When the weather’s bad, I get to drive."