Steve Gresham on the Innovation Behind OceanXPlorer

By Jenna Mehdi

Just three months into the year, 2020 has already seen the rise and re-definition of the explorer yacht. Last week we heard news of the launch of OceanXPlorer – the revolutionary project initiated by billionaire Ray Dalio and his organisation OceanX, built in Damen’s shipyard.

We spoke with Steve Gresham of Gresham Yacht Design, who designed the interior and exterior of OceanXPlorer, to hear more about the project – dubbed ‘the world’s most advanced research vessel’ - and the very significance of it on an evolving industry.

Gresham, who was brought into the project in 2017, was tasked with re-designing an original vessel by the name of the Volstad Surveyor.

The owner didn’t want a superyacht. He wanted a boat which is practical, utilitarian, and does what it says on the tin. We used a lot of commercial suppliers in that vein, looking at cruise ships for example – but always keeping an eye on superyacht quality of course.’

Gresham noted there were a few immediate points of change not only from a functionality point of view to fit the owner’s requirements, but an aesthetic and stylistic one.

If you look at the original vessel, the helideck is quite stubby. I realised you could get the boat looking much better if you pushed the helideck forward, so I extended it by three frames – to give it a bigger overhang at the front. What that did is gave us just under 2 metres to get the helicopter in, and it got a lowered Owner’s deck behind the helicopter.’

In every designer’s career there are of course many areas of compromise; between vision and practicality, functionality and form. OceanXPlorer, it would seem, represented a harmonic settlement of these. ‘Working with Skipsteknisk, the original naval architects of the vessel, we found most if not all of our proposals were in fact feasible.’

We were curious to know, on this unique vessel, how much of the design thought behind it was motivated purely by functionality – or whether aesthetic form played any part.

Gresham used the example of the large domes on the vessel in example response. ‘The original vessel had maybe one reasonably large dome – but because this boat is going to be broadcasting worldwide, we have these three massive four-metre domes onboard. We could have stuck them all up on the mast, but we grew out the deck above the wheel house, and we were able to put them basically overhanging the side of the vessel. That was very much a visual thing, a design styling rather than a function.

The same sentiment was echoed in the interior of OceanXPlorer, indeed. Gresham described how in the sub-hangars, the use of colour was introduced to signify different areas. ‘We have yellow and black which is like a wasp, to signify warning – if something in that area is potentially dangerous… It’s functional, but it’s also graphically creative as well.

In terms of functionality Gresham was tasked with incorporating into the vessel, OceanXPlorer was no small project. Different labs, sub ops, dive ops, a helipad and compatibility with filming and broadcasting were just some of the features setting OceanXPlorer apart from any other vessel on the water today. Gresham spoke of a gondola underneath the bulbous bow, for example, with ‘the most amazing array of instruments and sensors that have ever been put in one place in one vessel’ to illustrate the point that OceanXPlorer’s innovation represents far more than meets the eye.

‘Something I always say is – pleasure with purpose,’ Gresham concluded. ‘These boats are luxury items, but actually if you can have a purpose – research, oceanography – that just adds an extra level of interest to an Owner.’

"These boats are luxury items, but actually if you can have a purpose – research, oceanography – that just adds an extra level of interest to an Owner."

Steve Gresham, Gresham Yacht Design

"These boats are luxury items, but actually if you can have a purpose – research, oceanography – that just adds an extra level of interest to an Owner."

Steve Gresham, Gresham Yacht Design
By Jenna Mehdi
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