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Explorer: a winning story – part one

Five contracts for Explorers in six weeks. For the Cantiere delle Marche, 2024 could not have started better. The performance recorded in the first two months of the year by the Italian brand certainly testifies to the excellent health of the large yacht market despite the complex geopolitical situation. However, limiting the reasoning to a question of numbers and statistics gives only a partial picture of the reasons behind this success. (All our posts on Explorer, here)

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A winning formula

To fully understand them, we must start with one word: explorer. On this formula, the Ancona shipyard has built a reputation that has allowed it to climb the rankings, placing it at the top of the list of the main manufacturers specialising in this market segment.

Aurelia – ©Guillaume Plisson

The winning move was precisely that of having had the ability to intuit, before everyone else, what would soon become a real trend. Not a passing fad, but something much more solid, since it has been riding the scene for several years now. In this first of a series of articles, I have tried to put together all the elements, including the historical ones, that have allowed the explorer formula to impose itself on the market scene.

Flexplorer Maverick

The Dawn of the Explorer

It is difficult to say exactly when it all began. A precise date does not exist. But scrolling through the annals of yachting a few clues emerge. And as it happens, it points straight to the Principality of Monaco. It can certainly be argued that the first to conceive of the use of a yacht designed to explore remote and distant seas was Albert I of Monaco, who initiated real exploration campaigns.


The Hirondelle I, a 200-tonne schooner, was the protagonist at the end of the 19th century of real oceanographic explorations that led the prince to discover and christen with the boat’s name the submarine basin located between the islands of Terceira, St. Micael and Ponta Delgada. A story that was repeated successively with other yachts that Albert I of Monaco had specially built to pursue his scientific activities and that propelled the prince on board the 73-metre yacht Princess Alice II from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean to the remote regions of the Arctic north of Spitzbergen.

Alberto I di Monaco

From the Hirondelle I to the Hirondelle II via the Princess Alice I and II, all the yachts that belonged to Albert I of Monaco can be said to have been the first specimens of a species that over time took the form of the explorers we know today.

Hirondelle II

William Vanderbilt

And it was precisely the thirst for knowledge combined with the pleasure of sailing that led a figure of the calibre of William Vanderbilt to purchase a 63-metre French corvette in 1922, which he converted back into a yacht. The theme of reconversion of originally built vessels was to be one of the strands that from the late 1980s onwards contributed significantly to the explorer yacht theme.


History repeats itself. Vanderbilt spared no expense in the conversion project and equipped Ara with the best that the technology of the time could offer. The aim was to sail around the world. A feat he accomplished between 1928 and 1929, during which time Vanderbilt covered 135,991 miles, sailing between Africa, Asia, Latin America and the South Pacific.

Onboard 33 crewmen, including a doctor, plus guests included a professional fisherman, a photographer who could count on a darkroom, and a watercolourist in charge of painting the fish caught before the colours faded. In terms of equipment, Ara had what could be described as the forerunner of the autopilot; a fire alarm, a ventilation system to ventilate the pipe and cigar rooms, a telegraph capable of transmitting up to a distance of 2,500 miles, not to mention the ever-present piano and a well-stocked library. Here too, at the design level, the intended use of these yachts implied choices that gave a great boost to the entire industry. 

The forerunners of explorer

The forerunners of the explorers were distinguished by their high autonomy, a new way of thinking about space on board conceived for long stays, and extraordinary safety equipment. Not least the engines. And so if on Ara, Vanderbilt demanded a pair of diesel engines with 1,200 horsepower each, on Alva it was no different. The new 80-metre yacht built in 1930 by the German Krupp shipyards in Kiel, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald in its 22 September 1931 edition, had a displacement of 2,160 tonnes and in the engine room could count on the contribution provided by a pair of diesel engines with eight cylinders and 2,600 horsepower each.


According to the Australian newspaper, Alva’s round-the-world voyage, which began in Kiel and, before stopping in Australia, had touched down in Southampton, New York, Panama, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands, had a crew of 55, including a taxidermist, two cameramen and a painter. Among the most important innovations Alva introduced to the scene were a series of support craft, which would later become standard on today’s explorers, including two fast runabouts and a Douglas Dolphin Model I. Placed aft of the yacht, this amphibious mid-hull monoplane was used by Vanderbilt as a flying tender to speed up his and his guests’ transport operations. – End of part one

Matteo Zaccagnino

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