Wings & Water: Expediency versus Expeditions: House Rules

A glimpse of Noble House, a recently launched 174-foot motor yacht built by New Zealand’s Sensation shipyard for an American owner, would not lead one to classify the vessel as a member of the explorers’ club. Noble House’s appearance, however, belies its abilities. The steel-hulled boat, which is fitted with a bulbous bow engineered to reduce fuel consumption, has a fuel capacity of 33,000 gallons that allows a 10,000-mile cruising range.


The boat’s designer is Jon Overing, a 45-year-old Mississippi native who has become one of the world’s preeminent designers of private expedition yachts. “He’s not about designing flash boats, but is rooted in naval architecture,” says Michael Darby, owner of Emmerson Marine, a yacht manufacturer in the United Kingdom. “His ideas for making the boats more efficient without compromising on the aesthetic appeal are also very sound. They’re way ahead of anything else out there.”

Overing does not possess the standard pedigree of an expedition yacht designer. When he was 14, he became an apprentice to Frank van Bentem, a local naval architect, and for four years Overing worked on vessels ranging from 50 to 185 feet—utility vessels, buoy tenders, oceangoing tugs, supply craft. Early in his apprenticeship, Overing served as a junior draftsman on the design of a research vessel called Tommy Munro, an 85-footer that is still in service 30 years later. Following his work with van Bentem, Overing spent the next 13 years designing nuclear subs, offshore supply boats, and navy destroyers, honing his ability to make a boat impervious to the most brutal sea conditions.

However, Overing, recalling how as a young boy he would spend hours staring at the blueprint of his father’s 60-foot ketch, Sunshine, which hung on his bedroom wall, says his true ambition always had been to design yachts for private owners. In 1990, he received his first commission, for a 112-footer called Bon Bon, and has since gained international renown for cruising vessel designs. “An explorer yacht, as far as I’m concerned, is more about the integrity of the hull than the styling of the boat,” says Overing. “That means you tend to invest more time in the geometry of the hulls.”


While creating a hull that would provide optimal seaworthiness, Overing also designed Noble House to include accommodations for 12 passengers and 12 crew members and storage space for months’ worth of provisions, should the owner ever set off on an expedition. Every onboard system is commercial-grade and includes a backup in case of failure. Overing also divided the hull into watertight compartments and still made room for a baby grand piano. “The key word is survival,” says Overing. “If the yacht is used as intended, you’ll most certainly end up in rough conditions. Survivability is at the top of the list.”

Emmerson Marine’s Darby was so impressed with Overing’s work that he commissioned four explorer yachts—two 100-footers with raised pilothouses, a 120-foot trideck, and a 112-foot trideck—all of which will have steel hulls and aluminum superstructures. “One of the criteria was that each boat has to have transatlantic range at maximum cruising speed,” says Darby. The boatbuilder is so taken with Overing’s designs that he has paid him the ultimate compliment: Darby will keep one of the tridecks for his own family’s use—for expeditions, naturally.

Overing Yacht Designs



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