I had sailed past the world’s largest catamaran in the world for four days in my trusty 14-foot, gaff-rigged cat boat going in and out of the marina. I guess it was on day 4 that the bell finally rang, somebody turned on the lights, the cerebrum started sparking the old synapse connections. “I gotta get aboard this behemoth!” A quick e-mail to the London management company and a phone call hours later from the captain of Hemisphere secured my entrance. “Your timing is excellent,” said Captain Gavin. “I have an opening this afternoon. Tomorrow we set sail. Come on down.” What follows is my story aboard Hemisphere for the Bonaire Reporter…
I first saw the mega-catamaran arrive off the eastern shore of Klein Bonaire last week. The boat appeared enormous, perhaps 80 to 100 feet long. But chalk up that miscalculation to distance, dark blue hulls and appropriately proportioned parts. By the time the vessel docked at Harbour Village Marina, I realized that I had vastly underestimated its size.
The boat in question is called Hemisphere. It is the largest catamaran in the world. “We’re just under the magical 500 (tons),” explains Captain Gavin Bladen, “which keeps a lot of regulation requirements away from us. Douce France, the next biggest cat in the world (at 137-feet) is only 300 gross tons. If we tied her along side, her coach roof would be at our deck level, and her deck half way up our hull side.”
Apparently in the world of mega-sailboats size does matter. Hemisphere is 145-feet long, 54-feet wide and is built from 73 tons of aluminum. But Bladen is not boastful. Rather, the understated English captain is simply proud of the amazing super yacht that he gets to sail around the globe. He spent seven years as project director during the design, development and building of the super cat. The owner of Hemisphere is an American businessman who chooses to remain anonymous. “This is his first boat,” remarks Bladen. “He was coming up to retirement and only wanted to do one boat. We could have done a smaller boat and learned what we wanted and then build the boat of our dreams, or just do the boat of our dreams and be done in one hit.”
They chose the latter and the ‘one and done’ choice was launched in August 2011 from the Pendennis shipyards in southwest England. Hemisphere immediately sailed south to the Mediterranean and turned heads in every port. After a trans-Atlantic voyage, she is spending this spring cruising the Caribbean. “The owner has done a lot of the Caribbean from Trinidad north,” continues Captain Bladen. “So I recommended to sail to Los Roques (Venezuelan islands 125 miles east) and that we cruise to Bonaire to do diving. Bonaire’s a fantastic location. I’ve heard about it for 20 years. It lives up to its reputation. The diving’s excellent—crystal clear water, the coral is in fantastic condition where we’ve dived, and the fish life is very good. It is protected. It’s good to see that.”
The forty-something captain leads me to the port hull stern and down a series of wide, elegant teak steps. We enter a room that serves as the yacht’s dive center. There are 12 tanks each with their dedicated filling station—your choice of Nitrox or regular air. This reflects the owner’s passion for exploring the world’s water wonders. Bladen describes a typical day. “We do a dive before breakfast. We come back for breakfast and do a dive or three afterwards. This vessel is a heavy dive boat.”
Fins, buoyancy vests, regulators, kayaks, water skies, wake boards and paddle boards fill the rest of the space. There is a teak-decked, 27-foot Scorpion inflatable tender with a 315 horsepower, inboard Yamaha that can whisk you away to the dive site of your choice. Not satisfied? Choose the 54-foot F&S custom sport boat for game fishing, diving or guest excursions. The craft follows Hemisphere wherever she sails. The catamaran is crewed by a team of ten of which two are responsible for the 54-footer.
If you are contemplating a charter, you will need more than your American Express card. The yacht rents for $250,000 per week for up to 12 guests. That is exclusive of food, drink and fuel needed for the Hemisphere’s two, 12-cylinder, 495-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engines. The chef on board will cater to your every culinary need. “Say that your child wants Coco Puffs for breakfast,” proposes Bladen. “We will make sure that cereal is on board even if we have to fly it in.” The attention to personal needs continues. Three thousand movies are stored in the ships’ electronics center that can be fed directly to the six guest cabins. Prefer to watch the ocean roll by while under way? Don your swim trunks and take a dip the irresistible spa pool located high above on the ship’s flying bridge.
The mega-yacht left Bonaire on April 13th and headed for the Aves for several days. Saint Lucia and Sint Maarten will complete this year’s Caribbean cruise. Then later this year, Hemispherewill sail back to Europe visiting the Azores, Nice and Venice along the way. Before he departed, I asked Captain Bladen what he liked most about his job. He didn’t hesitate. “I get paid to sail around the world. I am very fortunate. I’ve got fantastic owners and we share the same goal, which is to take the boat and explore.”