First Impression: Safira
Date toured: June 2013
Capt. Walter Wetmore stands in the salon aboard the 129-foot Safira, looking down at the flooring and shaking his head. Sure, the space looks beautiful today, but when the boat was under construction, that flooring gave him fits. The original contractors failed Wetmore not once, but twice, applying a finish that made it impossible to see the grain on the floorboards. They were made of reclaimed oak, discarded by somebody else, pieces that Safira’s owner had carefully selected and had re-milled to show how beautiful an environmentally conscious approach to yacht construction can be.
“They were supposed to be ebonized, but it looked like thick black bottom paint,” Wetmore recalls. “We had them redone, and it came out the same way twice.”
The third time, Wetmore brought in a new team from Luu Marine & Associates who got down on their knees, hand-sanded every inch of the flooring, and then built a protective tent inside the boat. Instead of applying another type of paint, they sprayed a water-based black dye followed by a sealer. The result is an elegant, eco-friendly, uncommon design element — one of many that make Safira a most enticing option for yacht charter.
I looked around Safira’s salon as Wetmore told me that story, and I couldn’t help but think not only about how he took so much time getting those floors right, but also about how he and the yacht’s owners took decades to get everything else right, too. Wetmore is a fourth-generation captain whose resumé includes running motoryachts and sailing yachts for charter, helping on the build of the 154-foot Royal Denship Big Aron and serving as a quality-assurance captain for Palmer Johnson. Safira’s owners, meanwhile, previously owned the 164-foot Proteksan-Turquoise Mosaique as well as the 123-foot Palmer Johnson Muse, which Wetmore skippered for them. The owners had chartered sailing yachts, too, rounding out their exposure to everything from slow to fast to power to wind. What they ultimately wanted was a yacht that could go to unusual destinations in comfort and with minimal environmental impact, and they asked Wetmore to help them realize that dream in building Safira.
“The owner basically drew all of the guest spaces, and he let me draw from the galley forward,” Wetmore says. He was Safira’s build captain from Day One at Newcastle Marine, where the project was supposed to take 30 months. The boat’s hull and superstructure were completed there, and she ended up being finished offsite after four years, with everything, including that ebony flooring, precisely how the owners wanted it. “If you don’t get something right, then it’s a missed opportunity,” Wetmore says. “We waited a long time on things, but with this boat, the owners did get what they wanted.”
Plans for Safira include chartering in places like Greenland and the Northwest Passage, which the owners want to visit before the ice recedes so much that the beauty is lost forever. That sensibility is why Safira combines an unusual number of eco-friendly elements with expedition-ready features. The owners have buildings that are certified LEED Platinum (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and they took a similar construction approach with this yacht.
For starters, Safira has twin Caterpillar C32 Acert engines that can run on 15 percent biodiesel, as well as two holding tanks that let the engineer blend the fuel onboard. In addition, Safira’s Schottel Rudderpropeller azipod drives are about 20 percent more efficient than conventional shafts, Wetmore told me.
“At full throttle, 12.8 knots, we burn 60 gallons per hour,” he says. “That would be a high idle on Muse.” Even Safira’s 30-foot Hunt Harrier day boat is fuel efficient, burning about 9 gallons per hour at 30 knots.
Safira has Quantum zero-speed stabilizers along with a dynamic positioning system that lets her stay in place without dropping anchor on sensitive reefs. For when there is no environmental hazard in remote anchorages far from home, she is outfitted with a pair of 1,100-pound anchors and 800 feet of chain — at least double what Wetmore says are on most yachts of similar size. “Muse had 220-pound anchors,” he recalls by comparison, “and it dragged when the wind blew. This boat isn’t going anywhere.”
Much of Safira’s décor is eco-friendly, too. The outdoor decking isn’t even wood at all, but instead is made of Esthec, a composite material that looks like teak while requiring zero trees to be felled. LED lighting throughout the interior draws less power, allowing Safira to carry smaller generators. There are motion detectors connected to the lights, which automatically turn off after 60 minutes if no movement is sensed, and which return to the previous level as soon as a charter guest re-enters a room.
Many of the walls aboard Safira have what looks like wallpaper from an upscale English cottage, but that is really natural silk fabric applied with a special backing. Sound curtains within the walls, along with insulated cores in the interior doors, help with heat, cooling and noise. In the guest bathrooms, all of the granite is remnants slabs instead of new pieces taken from within the Earth, and in the master bathroom, it is cut to look like artistic tiles in spaces where whole-size remnants would not work. The flooring in the bridge-deck gymnasium is made from recycled tires, while the flooring in the crew space is Marmoleum, a bio-based natural linoleum. Countertops in the crew area are EkoVitra, which features a colorful array of recycled glass.
And speaking of glass, Safira has a Glasshopper machine for pulverizing bottles. It’s about the size of a trash compactor. Wetmore opened it to show me how a champagne magnum bottle goes in, and tiny glass pieces come out. “We throw them overboard to be recycled,” he says. “After all, glass is sand.”
Then there are the expedition features, which rival the eco-friendliness and make Safira ready to charter anywhere. She was built to be ice-classed but has not completed the costly, official ABS certification. Wetmore says she has an ice-strengthened hull with ice-class equipment, things like heaters for the radar and de-icers for the horns. Safira has Farsounder forward-looking sonar for icebergs and other in-motion obstacles, and there are big, manual, old-fashioned spotlights that the crew can turn from the pilothouse. A FLIR night-vision camera is on the mast, and an old sound-powered telephone — the kind that whistles when you crank it — connects the engine room and bridge without drawing a single amp.
“It’s green, and it’s dependable,” Wetmore says. “You don’t need power or a computer to make it work.”
The frames on Safira’s steel hull are a half-meter apart, Wetmore says, making them stronger than the typical meter-wide separation on other yachts. And Safira’s plate is made of five-eighths-inch high-tensile steel, compared with the usual five-sixteenths, he told me. “She’s a very strong boat,” Wetmore says, “and we made sure, when systems were put in, that they’re easily accessible.”
That includes oversized refrigerators and freezers, which give Safira enough space for two months’ worth of provisions — which will come in handy if she exhausts her 8,000-nm range at 8.5 knots. Chef Tracy Ireland is doing her best to fill them with as much high-quality, organic meat and fish as she can, to be supplemented by fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
“I only buy organic and local, and I go out of my way to avoid GMO foods,” she told me, explaining that corn and soy in particular are genetically modified these days if not labeled organic. “I try to feature local foods. They’re fresher, and they’re tastier.”
That’s not to say that Ireland avoids everything sinful; the chocolate caramel pot de crème that she made for me, with almond biscotti, was downright decadent, and it was a reminder that Safira is more than the sum of her construction attributes. She is also a serious luxury charter yacht, just as beautiful and high-service as any other in her range. Charter guests should enjoy a fantastic experience even in the most remote destinations, even if they don’t notice every detail, such as those ebony floors in the salon or Safira’s specially mixed Dupont blue hull paint, which has hints of purple and black if you catch it in the right light.
“But if you really look,” Wetmore says, “everything about her is a little different.”