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This New Coffee Table Book Showcases the Greatest Yachts of the Last 170 Years

"Yachts: The Impossible Collection" is a visual history showing the evolution of the ultimate status symbol.

Assouline's Impossible Collection is a new coffee-table tome that explores the history of yachting Courtesy Guillaume Plisson

Yachts, from the ancient 140-foot pharaoh’s “solar barque” to modern, wild-looking superyachts like Adastra, have always been considered society’s ultimate status symbols. A new book, released this weekend, provides a fresh take on superyacht history in a beautiful pictorial display.

Miriam Cain’s Yachts: The Impossible Collection (Assouline; $895) is an assemblage of the most historically significant luxury vessels that represent different periods: From America, the victorious sailing vessel from 1851 that founded the America’s Cup, to iconic 1980s megayachts that established the modern era, all the way to the most recently launched gigayachts.

With more than 3,000 superyachts in the global fleet, as well as thousands of others that are long gone, Cain was able to distill the crème de la crème into a manageable collection. The 236-page volume is more than a coffee-table book. Rather, it’s an ensemble of superyachts shown in a timeline illustrated by charts, visuals and photos by many leading yachting photographers. Robb Report spoke with Cain about yachting’s past and where she thinks modern superyachts are heading in the next decade.

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Assouline's Impossible Collection is a new coffee-table tome that explores the history of yachting

The 317-foot superyacht Faith has a glass pool suspended above the lounge bar.  Courtesy Assouline Publishing

Why did you write this book?

Publications have done a good job of showcasing the best cars, houses, and other luxury items, but it felt like there was a real gap for a book that displayed the most luxurious of luxury products. For most people, yachts are the pinnacle of status symbols—not just today but throughout history.

The concept behind the book is to show a range of different yachts over the years that say something unique, whether it’s their size, features, technical complexity, luxury, or historical significance.

Assouline's Impossible Collection is a new coffee-table tome that explores the history of yachting

The schooner Sea Cloud, built in 1931 and still sailing around the world. Its master suite has an ornate, post-Victorian look, complete with travel chests.  Courtesy Sea Cloud Cruises

Why the historical approach?

If you wanted to merely show the largest yachts it would be a very different publication. Almost all of the largest yachts have been built in the last two decades, so that would have made for a very uniform collection.

Instead, our aim was to pick out the best yachts from multiple eras. They all have a story, not just about themselves, but about the period when they were created.

Adastra‘s striking silver exterior and spaceship looks are iconic, but it was also designed for efficiency. The boat can crisscross the Atlantic without refueling.  Courtesy Jochen Manz

Did one period impress you the most?

For me, the 1980’s was the decade when yachting went from a pastime only enjoyed by a very few, often with a nautical leaning, to being a more mainstream status symbol, desired by everyone from Arab princes to Texas oil barons.

That period also heralded a totally different approach to design, with designers like Jon Bannenberg breaking completely new ground, sometimes building yachts that looked more like spaceships than a traditional sailing yacht.

Assouline's Impossible Collection is a new coffee-table tome that explores the history of yachting

With all the historical figures who have been on board, the 325.3-ft. Christina O is a piece of living history.  Courtesy Stef Bravin, Morley Yachts

What do you like best about the most recent superyachts?

The most impressive thing now is that almost nothing is considered impossible or unachievable, especially when it comes to the items that can be incorporated into a yacht.

From real fireplaces to snow rooms, submarines, helipads and even a full-size paddle tennis court, the possibilities seem endless. The ability to incorporate just about any whim shows how talented designers and engineers are these days.

Assouline's Impossible Collection is a new coffee-table tome that explores the history of yachting

Launched last year, the 353-ft. Luminosity is a showcase for the latest propulsion technology, with the largest hybrid battery drive on any superyacht.  Courtesy Benetti/Burgess

Do you have a favorite yacht in the book? 

 In terms of looks, my favorite yacht is the most recent Excellence. I just love the bow on that yacht. It is so eye-catching and bold.

But if I had to select the yacht closest to my heart it would probably be Christina O. She may not be a pedigree yacht, but I just love her story and all of the great and good people who have been on board over the years—from JFK to Winston Churchill, and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, she is a yacht that really brings history alive when you are on board. That is hard to beat.

Assouline's Impossible Collection is a new coffee-table tome that explores the history of yachting

At 247 feet, Cloudbreak was built for extreme global exploration. Launched in 2016, it set the standard for expedition yachts.  Courtesy Guillaume Plisson

With all this historical context, where do you see the superyacht sector going? Hybrid propulsion? Ever larger sizes? 

I’m not sure that size is going to increase much more. Once you get to 150 meters [492 feet], a yacht ceases to be a yacht and becomes more like a cruise ship. I don’t think many owners want to own yachts that size, unless they have a purpose, such as a research yacht like Rev Ocean. In fact, we are starting to see owners downsizing from the gargantuan-sized yachts to more manageable sizes with fewer crew. Technology, of course, is always a driver of change.

Coming from an environmental background, I am excited to see how the superyacht industry can incorporate the latest technologies being developed for cars and jets onto yachts. Lürssen’s recent progress with fuel-cell technology is some of the most exciting news I’ve heard in a while.

Assouline's Impossible Collection is a new coffee-table tome that explores the history of yachting

The 249.5-ft. Amadea features a unique superstructure that resembles overlapping shells, culminating with a sculpture of an albatross, wings outspread, on the prow.  Courtesy Guillaume Plisson

It is incumbent on those who have the most, to do the most when it comes to the environment, so it would be great to see superyachts leading the way.

What about designers? Have you seen that segment change much? 

It really is a small industry in which no more than a dozen firms really dominate, but there is always room for new, young designers making their way. Talent will always come through in the end.

Assouline's Impossible Collection is a new coffee-table tome that explores the history of yachting

The retractable stern ladder aboard the sailing superyacht Nero Courtesy Burgess

Any other thoughts about the book you’d like to share? 

Having worked in the superyacht industry for more than 20 years, it was nice to have the time to be able to look back at some of the yachts I’ve always known about, but only superficially, and be able to research other yachts that I didn’t know so well. Finding the interesting back stories that many vessels have was one of the delights of researching this project.

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