Martin Lo on the evolution of CL Yachts’ innovative CLX96
The Director of CL Yachts reveals the design inspiration behind the brand’s newly launched flagship, CLX96, designed by Jozeph Forakis. Interview: John Higginson.
Martin, you showed Yacht Style the CLX96 model during a visit to the shipyard in 2019. Having started working on the project long before that, how did it feel to finally see the brand’s new flagship in the water at the end of 2021?
It was a special moment. It was like giving birth to a baby – after a long gestation period. I’ve been supervising the construction of this boat, from start to finish. When we moved the boat into the paint shop and they started applying the topcoats, I was thinking, ‘this is going to be nice’, especially as the interior built up and I started looking at all the details.
When I walk through the boat and into the various rooms, it feels exactly as I imagined after seeing all the designs, even the windows and the amount of light coming in. Although the boat may look simple, there are a lot of new things happening in there.
The interior details are amazing, so I needed to make sure our engineers and workers understood and interpreted all the drawings correctly. I’m quite proud of my team. They’ve executed what the designs intended, if not 100 per cent, then maybe 98 or 99 per cent.
How have you worked with Jozeph Forakis during Covid?
Jozeph used to come over with his team every three or four months, but he has been unable to come to the shipyard during Covid. As such, since Chinese New Year of 2020, we’ve been having weekly online meetings with him and his team in Milan, as well as with Earl Alfaro (naval architect) and Al Horsmon (structural engineer).
What are the immediate plans for the yacht?
We’re planning to have the boat in Hong Kong in March, showing the boat to potential customers and to Camper & Nicholsons (appointed as sales agent), and doing some photo shoots and media work. After that, we plan to ship the boat to the US and hope Jozeph will be able to visit it with our Florida office.
When was CLX96 conceived and how did Jozeph become involved?
We started working on it in 2017, which is when we created CL Yachts. The management spent time at the Fort Lauderdale show in late 2016 and looked at our yachts compared to others and realised we had an image problem. We were just getting stale, so we looked at how to revitalise the company within the luxury yacht sector.
Before that, I had been in touch with Jozeph, so I asked him to consider working on our new project with a fresh mindset from outside the yachting industry but with reference to the heritage of our shipyard. I basically gave him a clean sheet of paper.
However, I asked him to visit as many boat shows as possible. He did a lot of thorough research and had to imagine several years ahead to ensure the yacht was relevant when it was launched. I gave him some pointers for how long it would take to design, do the mould, build the yacht and release to market. I also gave him a crash course on boatbuilding.
How did the designs evolve?
I told him to use his imagination and come up with something unique based on his research. He came out with many concepts. Some of the ideas were way out there, really Starship Enterprise out there! We finally settled on the current design because the robust, functional design has a very strong reference to the history of the parent company.
Our shipyard was one of the pioneers of fibreglass construction and we helped Lloyd’s write the rule books in the 1960s. In the 1970s, we produced the world’s largest fibreglass motorsailer, the 130ft Shango II, to full Lloyd’s classification. In the 1980s I worked with Lloyd’s on the quality-assurance programme for fibreglass construction. We were the first to embrace vacuum-bagging technology. We embraced sandwich construction and so on. We wanted CLX96 to embrace that spirit – innovative, daring, adventurous.
Why did you bring in Earl Alfaro and Albert Horsmon for naval architecture and structural engineering, respectively?
I’ve known Earl from his days working for Tom Fexas. For CLX96, we had considered using an existing hull to speed things up, but as the design progressed, we realised we needed to design a new hull and Earl is responsible for that.
As Jozeph came up with the interior designs and details, it was quite dramatic and he threw away a lot of conventional thinking, so for the composite structure and engineering, we needed a new kind of thinking, which is why we turned to Al Horsmon, who I’ve also known for many years. He’s very open minded and innovative in terms of composite technology, so I asked him if he wanted a challenge and some fun.
All of us, including Jozeph, worked together closely on the best solutions for this boat. We’d bounce ideas off each other, such as Al would suggest using carbon, and each time I’d have to look at weight, construction time, labour and so on to gauge each solution.
Jozeph had all these crazy ideas like an open salon without any pillars. If you look, you can see all the way to the bow with no interruptions. There are no supporting pillars and that’s a challenge, so Earl and Al would have to work out how to make it. It was a very interactive process.
What was the thinking behind the reverse angles on the superstructure, both fore and aft?
Jozeph was challenging the convention. He asked why we always need the superstructure angled forward to support the aft end of the flybridge. Why can’t we do it this way? Then it became another challenge for the structural engineer, but we worked it out. We often asked ourselves, ‘Why not?’
What led to the distinctive Piazza del Sole on the foredeck?
Jozeph is a multi-disciplinary industrial designer. He used to be a Design Director at Motorola and created the V70 with the swivel cover, while one of his light designs is in the permanent collection at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York. He’s very open minded and had studied boats, so was predicting what the trend would be in the future, so this multi-functional layout fits with that thinking.
What about the extendable aft platform?
The platform can serve as a dive platform, as a swim platform and as a passarelle when you berth astern. The platform also has the capacity to move the water toys up and down, in and out of the water. On the port side of what we call the beach deck, there’s a hidden davit, so you can also use this.
Can you tell us about the skylight in the VIP suite?
Jozeph said he was inspired by an art installation by James Turrell. In CLX96, we call it a virtual skylight and it may be the first time this has been used on a yacht. We have a camera mounted at the top of the mast, facing the sky, and this transfers a signal down to a monitor above the bed in the VP suite. As soon as you turn on the room lights, the virtual skylight turns on.
It changes colour according to the time of the day and the weather, so if it’s a blue sky, the virtual skylight will show blue. If it’s overcast, it will show grey. It’s bringing the sky view outside into the VIP stateroom.
As you say, Jozeph was asked to think ahead with his design and the enclosed skylounge is increasingly popular, with many leading Italian and British luxury yacht builders now including it in yachts around this size. Do you see this growing in popularity?
I think so. With an enclosed pilothouse, you can have just one helm station and it has the best view. You don’t need to duplicate equipment and use up extra space below, so you create more living space on the main deck. If you’re cruising with a captain and you want privacy, he’s up on the flybridge with the protection of the skylounge while owners and guests have the main deck to themselves.
You’ve always emphasised that CLX96 is a floating vessel taking you on a journey and shouldn’t look like a home on the water. Do you feel you’ve achieved that?
My team and my workers have delivered exactly what Jozeph has designed, so when I enter the master stateroom and the VIP suite, it’s exactly that – a living machine. It’s functional, it’s elegant, it’s clean and comfortable. You don’t have unnecessary details or extensive trims or décor. Everything is down to the core – less is more.
We’re not hiding the structures; we’re celebrating the structures. There are enough details to make it interesting, such as how the lines are joined together and accentuate the hull form. And it’s not cold – it’s a warm, inviting living machine. The interior is not trying to be the star. The owner is the star. The design is supposed to give the owner the feeling that he can spend a lot of time on board without worrying too much about high maintenance. The interior design is like a good supporting cast in a movie.
What reaction are you expecting when CLX96 is in the US, including its world premiere at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October?
Honestly, I’m expecting, ‘Wow!’ CLX96 should be the talk of the show when we introduce her at FLIBS. We’ve been at Fort Lauderdale many years and we usually berth next to important competitors with much bigger marketing operations. Those who know us know we prefer to have the quality speak for itself.
But honestly, I think CLX96 merits a lot of attention. She is a more studied, purposeful-looking boat for a reason. I believe CLX96 is far more innovative and advanced, more refined and thought-out in terms of unique style with real substance: what you can see as well as what is not so obvious.