The yacht seen here, cruising at 13.5 knots in the Pearl River delta, is called Marco Polo, but thatís also the name of a series of Marco Polo Transoceanic Explorer yachts, to be built by Hong Kong based Cheoy Lee, at its mainland China shipyard, for Hong Kong based company MCC.

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The idea behind this series was to  approach motoryacht construction and ownership in a new way, by combining the need for reliability and economy that is a must in the commercial world, with the sort of design and build quality that are esentials in the world of luxury yachting.

Cheoy Lee was the obvious choice of builder. Where the average yachtsman is concerned, they are perhaps best known for those legendary trawler yachts, with the reputation for being “go anywhere” boats. Real afficionados also know the yard for the blue water sailing yachts, many of them exquisite clippers, that it built between 1950 and 1980, many of which are still sailing today.

The yard has also been a continuous force in commercial building for many years. It was founded in 1870, as a Shanghai build and a repair yard for steam-powered craft and has  been run by the same family ever since. It has also a history of being a pioneering and innovative company.

In the 1960s, Cheoy Lee became one of the pioneers in the development, testing and use of fiberglass construction techniques and, in 1977, built what was the world’s largest GRP vessel at the time, the 130’ motorsailer “Shango II.”

Today, with a new “state-of-the-technology” production facility, on the Pearl River at Doumen, the shipyard builds a variety of craft, from its famous Z-Tech 6000 power house tugs, to megayachts.

The result of this combination of Ron Holland design, Cheoy Lee build expertise and Chinese labour rates, is a vessel that has seriously viable charter potential, with low operating costs, coupled with good looks and an ability to cruise long distances and visit remote places that many megayachts owners could only dream of seeing. Holland has incorporated several features that are unique in the large yacht world to enhance both the Transocean Explorer capability and the requirement for economy.

A 35% saving in fuel consumption has been achieved by using a single engine configuration. The prejudice against a single engine - What happens if it breaks down and can’t be fixed? - has been overcome by fitting a forward Schottel azimuth thruster This is powerful enough to control the vessel head to wind in 20 kts plus wind speeds and rough sea conditions and achieve ‘get home’ speed of over 6 kts.

This forward thruster also ensures that Marco Polo’s slow speed manoeuvring is superior to conventional twin screw yachts.  Even if the aft thruster is unserviceable, the controlable vectored flow from the forward Schottel thruster, in combination with large rudders and a large diameter propeller, ensures easy control. Commercial experience has shown the Schottel system alone will give precision manoeuvrability and the single large diameter VP propeller, chosen for all round operating efficiency, also follows modern, commercial shipping practices.

Twin large area rudders with structural skeg protection offer excellent protection of the propeller and rudders, even if the vessel goes aground, and there is good projection of rudder blade area into propeller wash flow, which further enhances slow speed manoeuvring. The set up also gives superior ‘at sea’ control, especially when running downwind in gale conditions.

The yacht offers accomodation for a crew of ten and eight passengers. KCA International was commissioned to create the interior styling for the main saloon, owner’s stateroom and studio and the guest suites on board this first Marco Polo. The brief was to design a contemporary, luxurious environment with a hint of the East.

In the saloon, the first thing that struck me was what seemed to be a 1930’s influence, then I saw 1960’s, or did I? There’s a sort of retro impression, coupled with timelessness. There’s also a strong sense of practicality, in the wooden floor and the unadorned bar stools. You get the impression that this yacht is really intended to be used for exploration and those on board will be expected to come back from some shore excursion in a condition which might make them shy at sinking down onto leather upholstery.

The strongest feature in the saloon is woodwork; it is hand picked Macassar ebony with contrasting walnut and limed oak. The effect is either powerful, or overpowering, according to your tastes. Large windows provide a bright environment, with panoramic views by day, and, for evening, there is clever use of recessed lighting, mirrors and an arrangement of lamps, to vary the ambiance.

The Macassar ebony is also used in the owner’s stateroom, but offsetting textured wall coverings and wardrobe doors create a more subtle effect. The circular patterns on the carpet were, I’m told, inspired by the carefully manicured grounds of the minimalist ‘Ryoanji’ Zen gardens.

The lighting, the mirrors, the bold red, black and gold colours, all gave me a feeling that the owner was a man of strong personality and an equally strong sense of style. Owner personality is something that often fails to come over, in a large yacht; I last felt it when I looked at the interior of the Benetti Sai Ram.

The guest suites are a complete contrast. The subtle Asian influence persists, but the use of light limed oak and blending beige and brown toning fabrics  create a very neutral atmosphere; one in which even the shyest guest could, immediately,  feel at home.

The crew quarters are exactly what you would expect, no frills, just comfortable and functional.

Ron Holland recently travelled to China, to attend Marco Polo’s ongoing sea trials. On his return, he told BYM News:

“During our trials we put Marco Polo through an extensive running and testing programme to optimise all systems to match our highest expectations.”

“The variable pitch propeller and different power settings allow us to fine tune and confirm our original goals for long distance fuel efficiency operation - long distance range will be over 6000 nm!”

“We were also able to verify Marco Polo’s handling and manoeuvring capability - bow and stern thrusters control - and the unique ‘get home’ capability of the forward Schottel Vector drive system, which is one of Marco Polo’s outstanding unique safety features, without comparison in existing yachts.”

The Marco Polo has been built for a European owner, who is an experienced yachtsman. It is intended mainly for use by the owner, for transocean exploring, with the possibility of a small amount of select chartering.