Bakri Cono making history with first solar assisted luxury catamaran
Just 30 years of age, Bernard Lamprecht is the CEO and Financial Director of the Bakri Cono shipyard. This young South African who now runs the Bakri Cono yard founded in 2004 by his enterprising father, Corrie, is a man who brings innovative thinking to every aspect of his work at the yard which he describes as, “Not the cheapest, but well known in South East Asia, as the best.”
Bernard realised about six or seven years ago that there was an opportunity in the market place to build luxury catamaran powerboats. Working with his team and world famous Ukrainian naval architect, Albert Nazarov of Albatross Marine Design, which is also based locally, Lamprecht was looking for new and better ways to build better boats. It was then that fate dropped by to create an environment in which they were able to build ‘Heliotrope’, their new 65’, 19.27 metre extreme luxury expedition cruiser, and the first luxury solar assisted catamaran.
Fate came calling when Heliotrope’s owner, a woman of singular conviction, knew exactly what she wanted built but could not find a yard anywhere willing to undertake the work to her requirements and encompassing her environmental desires. Indeed she was ridiculed and laughed at wherever she discussed the idea of a ‘self-contained’ vessel of this size and style. That was until, whilst at a cocktail reception on business in Thailand, she happened to meet with Swiss national, Philippe Guenat, an international yachtsman of some repute in his youth having done the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race and well known in this region as the President of the Hoteliers Commission of Thailand. Philippe, who lives in Pattaya, is now the Chairman of the Technical Advisory Board of the Bakri Cono yard and a driving force within the organisation responsible for international development and strategic business partnerships. The owner wanted a solar-powered boat and Bakri Cono, already thinking along those lines, needed an order. For once she was not laughed at but was talking the same language as the team at Bakri Cono. And so some three years and $2.4 million dollars later, Heliotrope is launched with the traditional Thai Monk’s blessing.
The amount of attention to detail and clever thinking that has gone into the creation of Heliotrope is immense. It is a forerunner of mixed energy marine transportation and this pioneering spirit has been engendered by two more members of the yard’s technical advisory board. Raphael Domjan, another Swiss national, has perhaps the highest credentials of anyone on the planet of the understanding and practical use of solar energy. It was Raphael, who is the president and founder of the Swiss Foundation for Sustainability and the PlanetSolar project in which the boat ‘Turanor’ completed the first ever circumnavigation of the planet solely using solar energy when launched at the beginning of the decade, and which set a Transatlantic speed record of 22 days in 2013. The knowledge and ideas behind Turanor PlanetSolar, virtually a floating solar panel of nearly 35 metres in length, which also collects eight tonnes of marine rubbish and polluting material as it sails across the oceans, has been brought to bear in the philosophy and technology of Heliotrope. Raphael is aware, however, that commercially, solar energy cannot go the whole way in running luxury craft just yet, but he has no doubt that one day it will be the way that all boats are powered at speed. As he says, “Before we had steam we had wind and steam. Things take time to develop and so in the same way at present we can harness diesel power and solar.”
Heliotrope is an enormous step forward in this development and whilst she is powered by two traditional (though state of the art) marine diesel engines, all of her ancillary power is derived from solar energy. Heliotrope is capable of producing seven kilowatts using solar power which provides all the power necessary to maintain and run the vessel without the need for a generator or shore power. Electricity can be utilised in the most remote parts of our world without the need for noisy and polluting generators. Indeed, using the sophisticated CZone system from New Zealand the boat can be completely controlled by iPad in absentia, meaning essential services such as ventilation can be programmed and controlled whilst the boat has no-one aboard, even over lengthy periods of time. Not only can Heliotrope’s solar panels provide direct 220v power, any additional unused power generated goes to the batteries for recharge. At the same time the challenges of solar power on water, high temperatures, humidity, damage to components by movement at sea and the like, have been eliminated due to the knowledge and the experiences of Raphael Domjan and the PlanetSolar project.
A job well done: Bernard Lamprecht and Philippe Guenat congratulate each other and the hard working staff as the Heliotrope is rolled out of the shipyard.
Heliotrope is one of the most technologically advanced and sophisticated boats on the water due to Domjan and another advisory board member, astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who left NASA in 2012 and is now the President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. Lopez-Alegria holds many records, not the least of which are for the longest spaceflight (215 days), most number of times of getting out of a craft in space with ten Extra-vehicular Activities (EVA) and has spent more cumulative EVA time, 67 hours 40 minutes, than anybody else. Like Domjan, he too is convinced of the possibility and reliability of complete solar powered craft in the future, and he has been closer to the sun than most of us!
Bakri Cono Shipyard Director of International Sales Philippe Guenat (left) and MD Bernard Lamprect (right) proudly welcome former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria (2nd left) and Eco Adventurer Raphael Domjan (2nd right), two distinguished members of the Bakri Cono technical advisory board at the launch of the Heliotrope, the 1st solar assisted luxury catamaran yacht in the world.
Not only is Heliotrope pushing the boundaries of technology, it is also pushing the boundaries of nautical interior design. The boats built by Bakri Cono are bespoke and Heliotrope not only sports a specially created, uniquely coloured gold hull to live up to the craft’s name, but its interior, as befits a boat built in Asia, is finished in traditional Asian style by local craftsmen with incredible attention to detail and use of local materials, including rare woods and gold leaf. Although Heliotrope is owned by a European, the boat is designed with the four elements of earth, fire, wind and water much in prominence, and provides a generic Asian atmosphere in its incredibly large for size and luxurious interior.
Philippe Guenat lovingly taps the Heliotrope to wish her everlasting smooth sailing, safe anchorages and breath-taking sunsets.
Yard owner, Lamprecht, is justifiably proud of the superb Heliotrope, which it is hoped will be the flagship for many more bespoke assisted solar-powered orders of various sizes to come. Indeed, two more 65s are already on the drawing board, as is a larger Heliotrope 105, the order for which was taken on the back of simply showing a model at the Cannes Boat Show and which is budgeted at this stage to cost US$7 million. This means that Bakri Cono are planning to move to a new 20,000 sq m facility in 2014 to accommodate the new work whilst the workforce will rise from the 54 full time artisans currently employed to over 150 in the next 12 months – a high number of employees one might think, but this is a yard that believes in totally bespoke customisation and not in ‘production’. As Bernard Lamprecht says, “What we do is whatever the customer wants as long as it is feasible.” To this end, finding sufficient skilled workers, everything is done in house, can be a trial in a country where unemployment is very low. To counter this, Bakri Cono has set up close ties with the best local universities, particularly the electronics departments, in order that it can have first pick of newly qualified students.
The future then looks very good for the Bakri Cono shipyard and Heliotrope is sure to create a buzz wherever she sails and is berthed.
About the author:
Anglo-Italian James Nicholls is a leading international writer, photo-journalist, broadcaster and lecturer based in Sydney, Australia. Formerly the Head of Collectors’ Cars at Sotheby’s Australia, he is an authority on classic cars and boats of all kinds and has covered many major events including eight Olympic Games and the Whitbread and Americas Cups. He also writes about fashion, architecture, design and sport and contributes to a wide range of publications in all parts of the world.
A revered Buddhist monk sprinkles lustral water on the Heliotrope calling on all that is holy to bless and safeguard her.
The Bakri Cono Team. (l-r) Philippe Guenat, Director International Sales; Peter Jacops, Production Manager; Dhodee Macaraeg, Project Manager; Michel Royer, Direcor of Marine Electronic Development – “DMED”; Bernard Lamprecht, General Manager and Bernard Mondoulet, Director of European Sales.
Bernard Lamprecht listens intently as Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome graces the launch ceremony.
Bernard Lamprecht proudly introduces the state of the art Heliotrope to guests before conducting a grand tour of his baby.
The heliotrope in all her beauty and grandeur.
The various stages of construction of the Heliotrope under the watchful eyes of Bernard Lamprecht and Peter Jacops.
A large crowd gathered at the Bakri Cono shipyard to witness the historic moment when, with the assistance of the CEA Projects, the Heliotrope was gently moved out of her birthplace and slowly rolled down to the Ocean Marina beach where she was prepared for launch. That night Philippe Guenat sent out an emotional message to one and all saying, “Heliotrope was caressed by the water early morning at 3.47 a.m. on Monday the 16th of December 2014.”