Espen Øino on Designing the World’s Largest Yacht

Espen Øino on Designing the World’s Largest Yacht

This week we had the pleasure of speaking with Espen Øino, the undisputed champion of yacht design who has put his hands to such iconic projects as Dilbar, Flying Fox and Octopus. His upcoming project though, in terms not just of sheer size but uniqueness, innovation and purpose, arguably blows its predecessors out of the proverbial water. This is of course the 182.6m Vard expedition yacht REV Ocean, brainchild of Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Røkke, which we first heard wind of at a press conference in May 2017 and is due for delivery next year, when it will become the world's largest yacht.

To begin, can you tell us a bit about how this project came about?

“This was very much the brainchild of the owner. We had met a few times before many years ago – he is Norwegian, like me – and toyed with the idea of doing things together. Then he called me to tell me about this project – unlike any other yacht projects – a yacht with a purpose, a noble purpose in a way. He had already put a lot of thought into it, and we agreed to meet and talk it over.

He is an inspiring guy to work with. He thinks differently to other people, he’s grown up on the sea and has a lot of first-hand knowledge of anything related to the sea.”

This yacht is a record-breaker in so many ways – can you tell us about some design innovations we can expect to see on REV Ocean?

“The vessel is all designed around scientific and functional requirements – sonars, the science hangar – in which we have most of the ROVs and AUVs. ROVs are remotely operated vehicles, unmanned subs can go down to 7000m with an umbilical to the mothership, where it is piloted from with screens and controls. AUVs are autonomous underwater vehicles –they use sonars, scan the sea bottom and come up at a predefined point. We put these on Octopus few years ago, they were very helpful in finding shipwrecks or anything irregular and mapping the seabottom.

We also have a manned submarine – there is an opening within the science hangar which goes up to above the waterline and can launch subs, AUVs and ROVs. This is something that has not been done before on a yacht, so it is pure innovation.

There are also 6 labs on board, an auditorium, mingling areas – for mingling with the scientific community, family and friends. The owner did not want to have 2 separate communities onboard – of course there is a yacht with private spaces but he also wants to encourage shared experience and knowledge. There will be massive cranes able to pick up mission-specific containers, so it can tailor missions totally independent of onshore cranes – for example in the Arctic and Antarctic. There is also major trawling equipment to try to monitor fishing and overfishing.

So this is serious gear, the whole rhetoric is kind of a showcase of state-of-the-arts marine equipment. I think it will be one of the best equipped if not the best equipped scientific ships around.”

At 182 metres this project must have come with its design difficulties – can you tell us a little bit about any obstacles you encountered and how you overcame them?

“We originally started off much smaller, with 140 metres, and could have got away with fitting everything he wanted – but we gave up on that and ended up at 180 and increased other dimensions too.

The big overhang at the back where we have the big trawlers– that required a lot of structural engineering. We were trying to avoid using supporting pillars below, which was quite a challenge for shipyard engineers, to avoid undesirable vibrations. Noise has also been a particular concern – not just underwater but also onboard noise, as the ship is for scientific research.”

Obviously you’re renowned for designing yachts that look great, but with so many technical functions to counter in, how did you balance aesthetic design with functionality on this vessel?

“There have been a few technical challenges – it’s important despite the size you manage to create spaces that are intimate and desirable – things like avoiding too long corridors. But we have been quite unconventional – you will see when she comes out there are some unusual spaces.

For me form follows function, it works in 99% of the cases, and it normally ends up looking good – of course you tweak it a little bit, with overall aesthetic ideas or traits. I’d like it to be seen and remembered as a purposeful vessel, that is in a way its mission.

It’s quite masculine, a bit rough, a little bit like a Land Rover of the sea, not a Range Rover. I think we managed to, despite the many sometimes opposing requirements, put it together in a way that comes across as coherent and purposeful.”

Finally, how has this project been different to others you have worked on in the past?

“The full transparency of the whole project has been so refreshing for us. It’s one of the only projects we’ve worked on where this has been the case. Working with an owner who has a noble purpose has also been very refreshing, with incredible knowledge about these systems. I was with him a few days ago, discussing solving specific problems with the ocean, engaging kids – it’s become like a snowball effect. Truly amazing. I’m glad to be a part of it.

Also its size of course – it beats all records in sheer length and tonnage. A number of factors have all contributed to making this probably one of the most important if not the most important projects we will ever have the chance to work on.”

We are certainly in agreement that this is one of the most unique builds to have ever come into the superyachting news. will be providing detailed updates on the upcoming water launch of REV Ocean next Thursday, 22nd August, and more as they come in – stay tuned!

It’s quite masculine, a bit rough, a little bit like a Land Rover of the sea, not a Range Rover. I think we managed to, despite the many sometimes opposing requirements, put it together in a way that comes across as coherent and purposeful.
Espen Øino, Exterior Designer