Using Software and Symphony to Manage Complex Yacht Design

By George Bains

We are often drawn to captivating and imaginative yacht designs that excite yet never evolve further than the pixel-form. Australian designer and naval architect Nick Stark is challenging that tendency. Through the application of an intricate network of software, and a little dose of melody, Stark is testing the limits of design while staying true to the laws of naval architecture. Nick Stark speaks to about his unique formula for developing creative superyacht designs that are, ultimately, buildable.

During an 18-year stint at Silver Yachts, Nick Stark was integral to the delivery of numerous iconic superyachts, from 73.3m Rabdan in 2007 to 85m BOLD in 2019. Now heading up his own studio, Nick Stark Design, he has begun a new chapter which has already treated the industry to a flurry of exceptional concepts.  

The designer has a fascinating background and influences as varied as computer programming and music. Often starting the day by composing a musical score, before delving into a world of intricate software systems (many of which he has designed himself!), Stark gives an insight into his world of yacht design…

Silver Yachts and Sheer Terror

“At the time it was sheer terror!” says Nick Stark, recounting his initial foray into superyachts when Silver Yachts was established in Western Australia in 2001.

“The owner wanted to build Silver, which was an outrageous boat at the time. It was 73m, long and razor thin with a 10m beam and aluminium high-speed. The equivalent European steel hulls would be drawing 3.4m but he wanted a really low draft, rapid repositioning to exploit the hydrodynamics of a long, thin hull – which meant you had to do it in aluminium.

“He (owner Guido Krass) couldn’t find an established shipyard in Europe to do it, so his Captain at the time suggested he look at Australia because of the aluminium heritage. He came here to set up a project management company to oversee a component build, but never quite got the price he wanted, so he set up a shipyard and did it himself!”

During his time at Silver Yachts, Stark worked with the yard and renowned designer Espen Oeino to deliver RabdanDragonfly, Smeralda, Silver Fast, and finally Bold.

“What was super unique about that time was that, because the owner set up the shipyard, you were there as the shipyard was being built for the boats to be built. As a design and build team, you were creating things on the fly and the need to innovate under pressure was character-building.

“The process of doing what was cutting edge design, sitting with Espen and sitting with the owner, starting the processes and teams from scratch to ultimately build a boat from scratch, was an amazing time and really I feel fortunate to have been at the nexus of that experience.”

A Unique Approach

Based in Perth, Australia, Nick Stark Design has been one of the industry’s great entertainers this year. Stark has released a fascinating range of concepts, from three 70m+ hybrid shadow vessels in January to the most recent 94m Project Crystal. The new studio has given Stark freedom to express his creative ideas, as is evident in his diverse portfolio.

“By the time Bold had been handed over, I’d been with the company for 18 years and really it was time to have some new adventures. We’d done a lot of great projects and it’s good to leave the party while you’re still having fun.”

It is only when understanding the unseen processes behind Stark’s eye-catching designs that you begin to realise how far ahead the designer thinks. This is not only about penning a concept that will generate intrigue, but about designing with construction in mind. This is where Stark’s background in computer programming and experience with Silver Yachts pays dividends. Stark designs his concepts with close attention to the naval architecture, something he has been able to execute through innovative software he has developed and built himself. 

“What we’ve managed to get right here is the process of managing complexity. This is the process of how the weight estimate gets managed and how the hull design is connected to the weight estimate. There are lots of individual components that don’t necessarily tie together as each discipline is complicated, and tying them together is complicated-squared.

“We’re using lots of emerging software technologies to tie components (of the design process) together. For example, with the explosion of the data science industry we’ve new tools that allowed us to write software that automatically connects the hull design to the weight estimate and generate stability results. It's a small step, but applying that across the whole process is powerful. Leveraging systems like Python, C++, Jupyter, CAD systems with published APIs and so on means that you can experiment widely and iterate quickly.”

Greater Design Flexibility

Harnessing the power of modern technologies not only allows Stark to ensure that his concepts are in line with the rules of naval architecture, but it also gives the designer greater flexibility to take on varied and challenging proejcts.

“Automating those processes allows you to focus on the cool stuff while the computer looks after the rest. You can do small boats, big boats, catamarans, and you have the same infrastructure behind it that manages the complexity. You can draw fantastical concept yachts until the sun burns out, but when push comes to shove you’re going to come up against the rules. That’s why you often see amazing concepts and wedding cake boats.”

Stark’s designs thus far have been anything but wedding cake. The portfolio ranges from a 1920’s Streamline Moderne-inspired cruiser to a crystalline latticed 94m superyacht and 53m hybrid ‘party yacht’. The systems that manage the complexities have given Stark greater flexibility to design across categories and hull forms.

“We don’t have a hull platform where we rinse and repeat, just changing the superstructure. We have a process that gives us enormous flexibility to do a 20m hull or a 120m hull, and manage the interactions and the complexities there.

“What we’ve done is include a Monte Carlo simulation that accounts for the location of the centre of gravity. There is code, statistical software, that reads the weight estimate spreadsheet, and creates variations on that. This process runs 100,000 or 500,000 times to come up with a statistical distribution of where that weight or centre of gravity might end up. You can be 96% certain of it being within a certain space – two standard deviations. Instead of running one stability analysis, you run sixteen which captures the boundary of the possible space. Well, the computer is doing that while I’m getting coffee!”

Rhythm and Harmony of Design

“Design needs rhythm and harmony,” explains Stark. “Nobody wants a yacht to finish on a minor chord.”

For Stark, music is both an influence and a tool for creativity, and he often begins his day by setting himself a musical challenge. “The idea of having only 15 minutes to produce a piece of music that you can listen to for 3 hours, there’s challenges in that. I create the elements of randomness that you introduce into the score and often have generative natures." These compositions are often featured in Stark's flythrough renderings (see video in the slider above). 

“The music link works on so many levels. In music, there are different sequences of different lengths that loop at different times, and there’s a visual analogy for the decks of a boat, which have different lengths and as you scan the profile things will arrive at different times. They have to be in deliberate harmony or deliberate tension.

“You look at any boats, they start narrow at the bow, build, and then taper off. Like any good concerto. Somewhere in the middle, hopefully something will surprise you and challenge you.

“Yacht design is the same, the rhythms, the harmonies, the resolutions, the tension and release structures. In music you will feel things that you will emote without having to think about it. Some pieces drive you crazy, and some make you swoon. I think yacht design is the same.”

"We have a process that gives us enormous flexibility to do a 20m hull or a 120m hull, and manage the interactions and the complexities there."

Nick Stark, Nick Stark Design


"We have a process that gives us enormous flexibility to do a 20m hull or a 120m hull, and manage the interactions and the complexities there."

Nick Stark, Nick Stark Design
By George Bains
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