Sint Maarten has built quite a reputation for attracting superyachts of the rich and famous. The more radical the design, or technically advanced, the more heads turn.
That’s been the case over the years, starting with Limitless which wasn’t a radical design but caused a minor sensation when she squeezed through the Simpson Bay Bridge, the biggest vessel to do so at that time.
Since then, the island has played host to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse, the cut-glass perfection of Apple co-founder Steve Job’s Venus and the flat-topped around- the-world Turanor solar-powered vessel that docked in Marigot.
And who could forget the one-off transport ship that brought the massive swing section for the Simpson Bay Causeway Bridge from the Netherlands, another heart-stopping moment when it entered the Lagoon with inches to spare. No wonder perfectly situated Sint Maarten Yacht Club is the yacht-watching capital.
The latest vessel to pique curiosity was the aptly-named Game Changer, a 69-metre superyacht support vessel that arrived on December 3rd, looking as far removed from a luxury vessel as one could get. But that’s not her purpose. She’s the largest and most recent offering from the Damen shipyard in the Netherlands, serving a growing trend for superyachts to downsize and have their own support vessel accompany them with all the toys.
“What I love about this ship is its speed, maneuverability and responsiveness with four engines and two bow thrusters,” enthuses Game Changer’s Captain Brendan O’Brien.
O’ Brien, a burly Australian who lives in the Netherlands; comes from a background in the Merchant Navy, 15 years with superyachts and the last two years with support vessels or shadow boats.
He’s only been on Game Changer for two weeks (December 2017 – Ed) but is no stranger to St. Maarten having spent time here on yachts between 2006 and 2009. He is meeting an itinerary change as per instructions from the owners, and here to do some engine maintenance and refuel.
“We came here from the Turks and Caicos and were on our way to Patagonia but that changed and now we are heading back to Rotterdam in the Netherlands,” he explains. “It’s nice to be back to bring some money into the island. I must say I was saddened to see the damage, but I hope the recovery continues. Everything that I’m hearing is at least positive.
The concept of the support vessel, he says, is not new, but it has become more refined.
“Instead of going extra-large where you can’t get into small bays and anchorages you have this vessel with you that takes all the water toys, helicopter, submarine, provisioning, extra fuel etcetera so back on the mother ship your guests have more deck space and less clutter,” O’Brien explains. “When the yacht arrives somewhere it’s nice for the owner or guests to have the beach set up for them and the water sports and other services ready.
“Damen saw a niche in the market. They make support boats for the North Sea and the Dutch Navy. They’re very efficient at it. Other companies have tried it, but I don’t think those companies thought about it enough as far as layout and the intentions. With this vessel they got the concept right. The other ones were a bit frustrating.”
Game Changer left the Damen ship yard in September 2017. She has a top speed of 21 knots and a range of 4,500 nautical miles and carries 340 cubic liters of fuel, double the amount a yacht of this size would carry, says O’Brien.
The vessel’s most striking feature is its axe-shaped bow, to slice through the waves, and the helicopter pad perched above the transom. Eight thousand liters of A1 jet fuel for the helicopter and another 4,000 liters for the jet skis and tenders are also stored on board.
The helicopter disappears down into a giant hangar below deck, with rotors folded. All maintenance on the helicopter can be done for the owner on board.
Game Changer has no accommodation for guests, only for crew and officers of which there are 16 on board for this trip. There is a small infirmary, a day room and gym for the crew, and, of course, a galley. One of the jobs of the chef is to liaise with the chef on the mother ship to coordinate catering, as was done on the vessels first two charters in Barbados and the Bahamas.
The bridge has the latest navigation gadgetry and even a Captain Kirk-type armchair with toggles and switches to steer and control maneuvers while seated.
“I’m more old-school, so I like to stand. But I like the wrap-around windows which give great visibility. No blind spots at all,” O’Brien points out.
Game Changer was built on speculation, is available for charter and on sale for a cool US$40 million.
Robert Luckock is a British journalist and freelance writer residing in St. Maarten. He is currently The Daily Herald’s correspondent for French St. Martin and was one of All At Sea’s very first contributors.