Hidden Treasures and Pleasures
As far as getting your heart’s desire goes, having a two-tonne, 12m-tall, three-metre-wide carving of a tree – nay, an entire ecosystem – installed through four decks of your yacht must come very close. “The idea came from the client," explains Will Blomstrand of the London-based yacht and jet design agency Winch. “He’d bought a copy of National Geographic and was taken by General Sherman, a giant sequoia recognised as the largest tree in the world. He said he’d like something like it as a centrepiece for his new yacht. And to have a centrepiece of this size and extent is certainly unusual."
Blomstrand isn’t kidding. The sculpture is akin to the kind one might have found on an ocean-going luxury liner during cruising’s golden age. Indeed, what Blomstrand and his team sketched out initially was a natural representation of a tree, “right down to the detail in the bark, the veins in the leaves.
There’s nothing abstract or stylised about the tree at all", he says. Perhaps though, there’s a few less natural elements, in its inclusion of a menagerie of woodland creatures, most of which are represented to scale.
There’s over 50 of them, from owls and squirrels to badgers, frogs and the like. Insects, too, aren’t left out with 100 of them, from beetles to dragonflies, plus another 100 populating architraves, balustrades and bookshelves. At the foot of the tree is a lectern complete with a bespoke leather-bound book giving a brief naturalist’s introduction to all the wildlife featured. Ultimately this sculpture, constructed in Brazilian mahogany over marine plywood, is a grand gesture of grandfatherly affection, as an educational tool for his young grandchildren. Aptly enough, the US-based client’s superyacht (sufficiently super enough that this grand carving cost just one per cent of the overall budget) is called Sea Owl.
But what one wants is not necessarily what one gets. After all, Winch was given just a year to complete the project, in order to fit it in with the broader building schedule of the Dutch boatyard. Thankfully the client, once he had approved 1:5 scale drawings of the design (these alone took 25 days to draw up), was not one for changing his mind. Keeping the team of eight carvers working at a breakneck pace in check was not so easy.
“The main challenge was keeping these artists on the kind of tight deadlines they weren’t at all used to," says Blomstrand. “Nor were they necessarily used to working at this scale either. We used CAD software and a CNC milling machine to speed up the process where we could, but to ensure the level of quality the client wanted, the majority of the work was done by hand."
The carvers, spread over two locations and working on the sculpture for some 1,000 hours in total, only had a depth of 17mm to carve into, so their work had to be precise, yet also give the overall desired three-dimensional design a high relief effect, which would then be further accentuated through some clever lighting.
More practical was the issue of fitting it into Sea Owl.
“This was actually surprisingly simple, though we did have the carvers on hand to make minor adjustments to better align the fit," Blomstrand recalls.
To ensure a smooth process, the sculpture had to be made in 19 sections. The carvers worked on their pieces in reference to a full-scale printout of the design, and each panel was fitted to the next by use of a series of bolts. These in turn were covered by an insect detail. These sections were then fitted around the yacht’s main staircase from the top down to form a rough boot shape, spreading out on the lower deck into a further 12m of marquetry. Naturally enough, a hobbit’s hole can also be found here.
If such a centrepiece sounds rather out of keeping with the popular conception of a super-yacht, you would be right.
“People tend to think of the interior of these yachts as being very much like a boutique hotel – slick and very contemporary," says Blomstrand. “That is to say something that is rather lacking in personality. But all of the wood here is really very much in keeping with traditional yacht-building."
Indeed, the yacht is a celebration of craft and art on a larger scale. The cabins, for example, are similarly festooned with marquetry, with each also having its own nature scene and an abundance of murals.
Thankfully, while the client is no doubt reveling in achieving such a spectacular result from a whim, Winch has thought ahead – all the tree sculpture’s pieces are designed to come apart as easily as they were fitted together.
After all, the next owner may well read different magazines.