The Heliotrope 48 has already made quite an impression in Asia-Pacific, with hulls cruising in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Australia. Yet although they share the same hull and superstructure, the looks, layouts and uses of the 48ft powercats built in the Gulf of Thailand by PMG Shipyard vary almost as much as their locations.
‘Custom Yacht Builder’ is more than just the Rayong shipyard’s tagline, with hull colours so far including silver-grey, all white, and even a lively mix of orange on starboard and white on port side.
The first hull with four cabins was followed by an owner’s version with three. Meanwhile, the two-cabin conglomerate-owned hull for Hong Kong was heavily customised for corporate entertaining before the version sold to Sydney was designed for high-demand day charters for up to 40 people at a time.
And although the first hulls had a central steering station on the flybridge, the Hong Kong hull required the helm on the starboard side before the Sydney Seabird needed it — you guessed it — to port.
Throw in varying regulation requirements from Europe’s CE to UK-based Lloyd’s and Australia’s AMSA and you’d be forgiven for thinking customisation was a bad word. Not for Philippe Guenat, whose 20,800sqm beachfront shipyard in Rayong has experience building Heliotrope models, Silent-Yachts solar-electric powercats, sailing catamarans and commercial boats.
“We typically build to CE (A), so we learnt a lot doing Lloyd’s and AMSA (Australian Safety Maritime Authority) regulations, even if it meant having to read hundreds of pages,” the Swiss smiles.
“We have a lot of experience building for different clients – and not only for private owners — so when people order the Heliotrope 48, we always ask, how do you want to use it … and where do you want the steering console?”
PMG offers the option of solar panels and batteries on the Heliotrope 48 and has become well known in the past couple of years as a production facility for the Silent 60, the first model in the fast-selling new generation of solar-electric catamarans by Silent-Yachts, which also builds in Italy and Turkey.
PMG launched the first Silent 60 last year, has since launched hulls two and three, and there are more in build. However, long before the shipyards’ cooperation was prompted by Hong Kong-based broker Bart Kimman connecting Silent-Yachts founder Michael to Guenat, PMG was building its own solar-assisted models.
Guenat’s interest in the technology stemmed from his flying days when he became friends with fellow pilots and renowned adventurers Bertrand Piccard and Raphaël Domjan, the first to circumnavigate by solar-powered fixed-wing aircraft and solar-powered boat, respectively. Guenat was still managing his hospitality company well over a decade ago when he began looking at applying solar technology to a production-style pleasure boat, a novel concept at the time.
“When I was discussing this with shipyards and at boat shows in Europe, people thought I was from another planet,” Guenat says. “I was even told by someone very well-known at a prominent Italian shipyard that if I couldn’t afford fuel, I shouldn’t be owning a boat.”
Guenat was a regular visitor to Thailand, where he had lived for a decade and still had furniture made for his hotel group in Switzerland. In 2009, he eventually found support for his solar concept at the Bakri Cono Shipyard in Ocean Marina Yacht Club in Jomtien.
Working with yacht designer Dr Albert Nazarov, who had founded Albatross Marine Design in nearby Pattaya in 2006, Guenat built the first Heliotrope 65, which was eventually launched in 2013 and used solar power for all onboard systems but not propulsion.
“We developed the solar system on the Heliotrope 65 as we wanted it to have plenty of roof capacity for solar panels,” Guenat says. “Once we saw it was a success, we looked into smaller models.”
Heliotrope 48 production began at the Ocean Marina facility and continued once the company relocated to its current two-hectare site in Rayong, with Guenat later buying the company and renaming it PMG.
Like the 65, the Heliotrope 48 features naval architecture by Nazarov and a huge flybridge, one of the 65’s signature features. The first 48 was initially built for the US market, leading to an emphasis on comfort and a lot of room for people to move around easily. Both sides had two cabins, each with their own toilet and sink but sharing a large shower in the middle, a design Guenat remains fond of.
However, by the time the boat was completed, the client’s company had been sold and Guenat kept the boat. He put the boat into charter, which he says “worked extremely well, as I was able to get more orders”. Those included a Malaysian client who wanted a larger bedroom, so the shipyard developed the owner’s version with a master suite occupying the port hull.
Different layouts, features, furniture and decor were developed for the boats in Hong Kong and Sydney due to their very specific uses. Meanwhile, back-to-back requests for the steering station to the side led to more seating at the front of the flybridge, another customer-led design PMG has implemented.
Production of the Heliotrope 48 was paused due to three successive large-scale contracts for corporate clients that took up much of PMG’s capacity and manpower. However, with two of those contracts completed, PMG has been able to resume building its most popular in-house model alongside production of the Silent 60 and 62 3-Deck.
Built for use in generally warm climates, the 48 is distinguished by its outdoor areas. Almost 24ft wide, it starts aft with two fixed transoms and a central option of either a davit or hydraulic platform that can complete a full-width bathing platform. For private owners, the 290sqft cockpit is offered with a very wide sofa, a large teak table and folding chairs, as well as a lovely bar area facing the aft galley.
Port stairs lead to the towering 230sqft flybridge, where a C-shaped sofa wraps around the aft end and provides plenty of seating around adjustable tables. A U-shaped or customised wet bar can be installed to starboard, while forward options include the helm station to starboard and L-shaped seating to port.
The foredeck can sit up to eight people around an almost rectangular seating area featuring a drinks table and cup holders, while a flatter, sunpad-covered layout is an option.
Flexibility in Design
The suggested interior layout includes an L-shaped aft galley to port and a central island bar, along with a forward lounge featuring an aft-facing C-shaped sofa illuminated by natural light through the panoramic windows. Woodwork can be in certified teak, white oak or Asian mahogany, although Guenat is keen to emphasise that the interior can be customised, as it has been on all hulls so far.
“Interior customisation is especially important and we’re particularly flexible,” says Guenat. “We design the interior based on how the client wants to use the boat. Aside from the layout and furniture, décor and fabrics can be customised.”
Accommodation options include the owner’s layout with a bespoke master suite in the port hull, while a new version with four cabins — each with private sink and toilet but sharing a large shower — includes forward cabins with raised beds facing the hull windows.
Another reason PMG is open to customisation, new materials and additional features is because the Heliotrope 48’s basic structure is light, weighing less than 13 tonnes. And when it comes to performance, it’s notable for a 1m-high bridgedeck clearance that allows waves to pass under the saloon floor during passage.
The flybridge helm is also notably high to provide better visibility for the skipper, both afar and of the waters immediately around the yacht. Guenat is a firm believer in driving from the flybridge, although a second, simpler helm with a joystick and one screen can be added in the saloon.
“With catamarans, it’s very important you’re as high as possible, especially where seas are busy or not that clear or clean,” he says. “You need to be able to check all around you and avoid anything you don’t want caught in the props.”
The yacht’s solar offering is now even more appealing following the technology’s rise in popularity in recent years, as Guenat has witnessed with the demand for Silent-Yachts models. The Heliotrope 48 offers solar panels across the flybridge hardtop and on the C-shaped overhang above the cockpit.
The power generated can charge batteries and silently operate all onboard systems including air-conditioning while at anchor or berthing, so no generator is needed at night.
“Things have changed in last three years and there’s a much wider demand for solar technology,” he says. “Depending on where you are, electric propulsion can be a very pleasant way of cruising, but it’s not ideal for everywhere.”
Guenat believes the demand for conventional propulsion will remain popular in areas exposed to rough weather and without a convenient network of marinas, citing the fact there’s no major facility between Ocean Marina and Singapore, a 1,200nm trip.
“From the Gulf of Thailand down to Singapore, there can be some extremely strong winds and impressive waves, yet once you leave Ocean Marina, the next proper marina is in Singapore, which is five days of navigating day and night,” he says.
“When you have a storm, you need to be able to either hide yourself in a marina or cruise through the waves, and you need power for that.”
This article first appeared on Yacht Style.
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