When we think about Monaco, superyachts and cutting-edge design, the very first name coming to our minds is the most Monegasque of all Norwegian citizens, the talented Espen Øino (or Oeino, for non-Norwegian speakers). Everybody who ever has links with the luxury world already heard his name once, and immediately it calls to creations that have deeply marked the yachting History (with a capital H) both by their audacity and inimitable, radically innovative lines. Designing superyachts since 1986 and the creation of ECO, he is the one who drawn the lines of memorable vessels like IRIMARI (Sunrise Yachts 63m), SILVERFAST (Silveryachts 77m), SOLANDGE (Lürssen 85m), KISMET (Lürssen 95m), SERENE (Fincantieri 134m) or the biggest superyacht world in gross tonnage, DILBAR (Lürssen 156m). Recently, Espen Oeino was appointed for the design of REV (for Research Expedition Vessel), called to be the biggest private yacht in the world at near 182m in length! Multi awarded, Espen Oeino recently won plethora of awards during the 2017 World Superyacht Awards ceremony for DILBAR; he also received the award for Best Exterior Design for ESTER III (Lürssen 66m) while another of his creation, SILVERFAST, was voted Finest New Yacht of the Monaco Yacht Show 2015. These are only few examples of the trophies won by the one considered as the most influential designer in the superyacht industry, as well as an exceptional and accessible personality. Approaching each project with a fresh eye and no preferred style, his fame is made from this radically different approach he gives to all new creations. As long-term Imperial partner (creator of the curved lines of ARKLEY, Lürssen 60m delivered in 2009 jointly with Imperial), Espen Oeino gave us a bit of his precious time to talk about his passion for the superyacht industry and the incredible portfolio of breathtaking creations born from his sparkling mind. In this interview, published in our 2017 Charter Directory issue, Espen Oeino also shared his passion for the charter industry who is at the inception of several yachts creation for very experienced owners.
Imperial: What are the key challenges in designing a vessel for charter?
Espen Oeino: People who charter a yacht tend to want as many experiences as they can in a short space of time. It’s essentially a vacation in compressed format, so the yacht needs to collaborate with you in that. You need lots of different places to eat on board, so every day offers something different. The yacht also needs to make getting ashore easy, for meals on the beach and excursions, so it feels like you never do the same thing twice. And another key thing is speed. A lot of passages are made at night, so if you have good speed, that helps facilitate a variety of destinations in a single charter. Incorporating all of these experiences while also maintaining owner practicality can be quite a challenge.
IY: What do you look for in the ideal building partner?
EO: The yacht business can be seen as a pyramid. As you go higher in the pyramid, the fewer actors there are on the stage, so if you want to build a hundred metre plus yacht, there aren’t many shipyards that have the experience to do that. But it’s all about managing compromises. It’s a constant dialogue. I get stimulated by the back-and-forth ‘pingpong’ nature of it – by trying to find solutions to challenges with lots of unknowns – so choosing a construction partner with specialist knowledge is vital.
IY: Which of your designs are you most proud of?
OE: That’s a bit like asking “Which is your favourite child?” I usually say my proudest design is the last one, but we are actually working on a great many projects alongside Imperial at the moment and I am particularly proud of one of those. I can’t talk about that until it emerges from the shed next year, so I would have to say that SKAT is particularly cherished. When we designed her 20 years ago with flat intersecting surfaces and hard angles, that really wasn’t a common design language. She was either hated or loved. Nobody was indifferent to her and that appeals to me. It was done for a really engaging client and that’s often the most difficult thing at the design end of things – finding clients who are prepared to think outside the box and accept that, as a result, their yacht will not be like the others.
IY: Which yacht do you use for your own charter holidays?
OE: I use chartered sail yachts in Greece and also in Scandinavia. I have also spent a lot of time on powered charters and of course on the yachts I have designed. If I were to have a yacht designed to my own preferences, it would be a platform that enables a lot of outdoor activities – especially snow skiing, which is very close to my heart. With a helicopter, you can access the mountains very quickly from a yacht. In fact, here in Monaco, you can be on the slopes within 20 minutes and even in the spring and early summer, you can still go skiing and be back on the boat for dinner. There are also places in Scandinavia and Alaska where you can ski in the summer very comfortably off a boat. And that’s the key thing for me, because a yachting holiday is not just about sitting on the aft deck sipping rosé wine. It’s about experiencing new and different things. Not just seeing beautiful landscapes, but engaging in memorable activities like kayaking, dinghy racing and mountain biking.
IY: So what would you say is the single best thing about a charter yacht?
OE: The really wonderful thing about a yacht is that you have access to so many remote places you could never otherwise visit. There are certain parts of Norway or Greenland, for instance, where there are no roads or hotels. A charter yacht is the perfect base to enjoy these places in a way that nobody else can.
IY: What kinds of on board toy do you most value?
OE: I love the various water toys, but I would always add hiking gear for walking in the mountains and climbing gear for scaling the rocks that rise out of the sea in so many parts of the world. I would prioritise an external cinema because it’s a great experience to watch movies on the deck outside in the middle of the night; and I would definitely carry a drone on board for great pictures, because you can keep those forever and look back at the amazing things you did.
When chartering with kids, I would also encourage guests to really interact with the crew. You can easily make a family charter educational because there’s so much you can learn from being at sea – through the tenders and toys; through a sense of responsibility; by means of anticipation and thinking about what might happen next. I don’t believe in simply putting a charter guest on a powerful jetski and sending him away. I believe in teaching them how to use it and it’s the same with sailing yachts, boat handling and navigation. For me, learning about life through the many toys and accessories on board a yacht is what can make a family charter really special.
IY: What has been your very best charter experience?
OE: I was a guest on board a yacht for a cruise in Japan. We started in Kobe and went south into the inland seas. We spent most of the time during the day in big tenders, exploring remote regions and uncharted territories where yachts had never been. We met people who had never seen white faces before. We all like to think of Japan as a super sophisticated hi-tech country, which of course it is – but to see that side of Japan was particularly interesting and the only way you could have done that was with a yacht. Having the independence of driving your own tender was great. We had a guide because of the language barrier, but we just didn’t know what we were going to see next. It was truly an incredible experience.
IY: What is your favourite charter destination?
OE: If the weather is good, there is no better place to cruise than the west of Norway. It lends itself very well to exploring by tender. Of course, the hospitality industry isn’t great in Scandinavia, but having your own yacht means you can eat the very best food whenever you like. In the summer, the sun barely goes down, particularly in the north, so you can really tailor your whole day to your own schedule and your own preferences. You can spend hours discovering the coastline with tenders and helicopters and then come back very late and still enjoy dinner on board. It’s given me some really beautiful experiences.
IY: What’s your favourite charter season?
OE: Well the Mediterranean is unbeatable because the weather is so predictable. I like to visit Amalfi, Capri, the northern part of Sardinia. The Sardinian charter season is very short, perhaps from mid-July to the end of August but this year, I was down there at the end of June. The weather was amazing but there were hardly any people. You could take the tender, find a bay, anchor up, have a swim, head ashore for a picnic and then move on to the next one. It was just wonderful.
IY: What kinds of design features do you expect to see on charter yachts over the next five or ten years?
OE: A good charter experience is often the result of good planning. That’s rarely apparent to the guests but it’s about more than just the itinerary and the activities. It’s about planning for the unexpected. For instance, if charter guests come back after lunch ashore with friends and they want to continue the party, you need to be ready for that. What we are seeing are more and more yachts with integrated loudspeakers and lighting systems so it doesn’t take the crew three hours to set things up. It can all be done within minutes.
Another thing that will continue to evolve is the on board spa. Twenty years ago you didn’t really see them but the spa will continue to take up more space as it encompasses the full service, from massage to hammam, sauna, snow rooms and pilates facilities, plus extensive gyms and beauty parlours. After a good charter, it will enable people to feel that they have accomplished a lot but also relaxed a lot. They should leave with a sense of fulfilment but also with a strong desire to come back.
IY: If you could own just one yacht, what would it be?
OE: My perfect yacht would definitely be an explorer vessel with a steel hull and aluminium superstructure – something designed for going to remote places. It would have all the toys I described, plus a resident helicopter. I am learning to fly and it’s like driving a tender in 3D. It’s a wonderful experience.
Portraits of Espen Oeino by Guillaume Plisson / ARKLEY running shot by Klaus Jordan for Imperial