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The story of Octopussy which broke the 50-knot barrier and became world's fastest superyacht

They said it was ‘the superyacht that couldn’t be built’.

When American entrepreneur John Staluppi decided in the early 1980s that he wanted the fastest superyacht in the world – one that could break the 50knot (57.5mph) barrier – every boatyard told him it couldn’t be done. Every boatyard except Heesen Yachts in the Netherlands.

It rose to the challenge in spectacular style, delivering Octopussy in 1988 – a boat the size of a small house that was actually capable of a world-record-beating 53.17 knots (61mph). And now a new documentary has revealed the fascinating story behind this remarkable feat of engineering.

Octopussy, pictured shortly after it was delivered. It had a top speed of 53 knots (61mph) and at the time was 38m (124ft) long

Octopussy, pictured shortly after it was delivered. It had a top speed of 53 knots (61mph) and at the time was 38m (124ft) long

Octopussy pictured in the 1980s. It was designed by Frank Mulder and built at the Heesen  shipyard

John Staluppi uses a radar gun to measure precisely how fast the yacht can go

Octopussy, pictured left in the 1980s, was designed by Frank Mulder and built at the Heesen shipyard. Pictured right is John Staluppi using a radar gun to measure precisely how fast the yacht can go 

Called Octopussy: The Yacht That Could Not Be Built, it tells how Staluppi, after investigating the highest horsepower engines available, took the unprecedented step of buying three immensely powerful MTU power units and went looking for a naval architect to design a boat around them. 

But it was an order too tall for everyone he approached.

He says in the documentary: ‘I could never have the biggest yacht in the world, but I knew that I could have the fastest yacht in the world. [But] some people [I approached] would look at it and go back to engineering departments then come back and say “it’s impossible”.’

The original Octopussy interior. A new documentary has revealed the fascinating story of how engineers turned businessman John Staluppi's dream of owning the world's fastest luxury superyacht into reality

The original Octopussy interior. A new documentary has revealed the fascinating story of how engineers turned businessman John Staluppi’s dream of owning the world’s fastest luxury superyacht into reality

Heesen agreed to a legally binding penalty clause in the contract that if Octopussy did not reach 48 knots (55mph) at launch, Staluppi would not have to take the boat or pay for the cost

A still from the documentary showing engineers at work on Octopussy

Heesen agreed to a legally binding penalty clause in the contract stipulating that if Octopussy did not reach 48 knots (55mph) at launch, Staluppi would not have to take the boat or pay for the cost

However, Frank Mulder of Mulder Design, a skilled naval architect from the Netherlands, after six weeks of calculations, said the project was possible.

Staluppi continues: ‘Mulder said that he only knew one shipyard that might take the challenge. And that’s how we got started with Frans Heesen, who was supposed to be the best.’  

Shortly after, in a meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Heesen accepted Staluppi’s challenge to build the fastest superyacht in the world. 

In an age before computers, he was the first to say that ‘if he [Mulder] comes up with the right drawings and calculations… then I will build you this boat’.

John Staluppi, pictured, said:'I could never have the biggest yacht in the world, but I knew that I could have the fastest yacht in the world'

John Staluppi, pictured, said: ‘I could never have the biggest yacht in the world, but I knew that I could have the fastest yacht in the world’ 

Naval architect Frank Mulder, who designed Octopussy

Frans Heesen, the founder of Heesen Yachts

Naval architect Frank Mulder, left, and Frans Heesen, right, the founder of Heesen Yachts. They both feature in the new documentary about the construction of Octopussy 

Heesen Yachts said:'Octopussy's speed and design became the benchmark for other shipyards and Heesen’s reputation for boldly delivering world firsts based on a DNA of innovation, technology and top craftsmanship, was born'

Heesen Yachts said: ‘Octopussy’s speed and design became the benchmark for other shipyards and Heesen’s reputation for boldly delivering world firsts based on a DNA of innovation, technology and top craftsmanship, was born’ 

OCTOPUSSY: FACTS AND FIGURES

Length: 38m (124ft) in 1988, now 44m (144ft) 

Top Speed: 53.17 knots (61 mph)

Shipyard: Heesen Yachts

Naval Architect: Mulder Design

Exterior Designer: Gerhard Gilgenast

Interior Designer: Joachim Kinder and Art Line

Material: Aluminium

Guests: 10

The documentary reveals that Heesen was so supremely confident in his team’s engineering and craftsmanship, he even agreed to a legally binding penalty clause in the contract that if Octopussy did not reach 48 knots (55mph) at launch, Staluppi would not have to take the boat or pay for the cost.

In addition, for every knot under 50 that the top speed equalled, the shipyard would have to pay Staluppi $100,000 (£80,000). That’s the equivalent of $200,000 (£160,000) in today’s money.

However, for every knot over 50, Heesen Yachts would receive a $200,000 bonus ($430k/£345k in today’s money).

Staluppi said: ‘It was a risky challenge for a shipyard – if it went under 48 knots, I didn’t have to take the boat and they’d give me all my money back.

‘So I bought a radar gun. And he [Frans Heesen] said “OK, we can do it”.’

In 2015, Octopussy underwent a complete refit and is now 44m (144ft) in length. Pictured is the updated version of the yacht

In 2015, Octopussy underwent a complete refit and is now 44m (144ft) in length. Pictured is the updated version of the yacht 

Octopussy's interior was also updated during its refit. Its new look is thanks to New York designer Jeff Lincoln

Octopussy’s interior was also updated during its refit. Its new look is thanks to New York designer Jeff Lincoln

The superyacht is currently for sale with Moran Yacht & Ship and has an asking price of $3,995,000 (£3,211,580)

The superyacht is currently for sale with Moran Yacht & Ship and has an asking price of $3,995,000 (£3,211,580)

When it was being built, all parties worked around the clock to ensure that Octopussy, pictured recently, would hit the goal of being able to reach 50 knots (57mph)

When it was being built, all parties worked around the clock to ensure that Octopussy, pictured recently, would hit the goal of being able to reach 50 knots (57mph) 

The hot tub on board the re-fitted Octopussy. The superyacht is now 20ft longer than it was at launch

The hot tub on board the re-fitted Octopussy. The superyacht is now 20ft longer than it was at launch

According to Moran Yacht and Ship, Octopussy is'perfect for island hopping and allows access to anchorages normally reserved for much smaller vessels'

According to Moran Yacht and Ship, Octopussy is ‘perfect for island hopping and allows access to anchorages normally reserved for much smaller vessels’ 

Financially the yard could not survive such a loss, but the documentary shows that with the international press following Staluppi’s every move, an ambitious Heesen decided to risk the entire future of the company for the opportunity to put the shipyard’s name on the global stage.

From then, each decision, from the water jets specified to the appliances that Staluppi’s wife, Jeanette, chose were defined by weight.

All parties worked around the clock to ensure the boat was as light as possible to facilitate hitting the 50-knot goal.

When it was launched in April 1988, Octopussy not only looked sleeker than any other yacht at the time with its futuristic design, but exceeded all expectations with its astounding top speed of 53.17 knots (61mph). That’s very fast indeed for a boat 38m (124ft) long, packed with luxurious features.

The re-fitted Octopussy has this spot for al-fresco dining on the top deck of the ship

The re-fitted Octopussy has this spot for al-fresco dining on the top deck of the ship 

Octopussy now has five spacious staterooms, a vast main salon and a formal dining area with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, which open out on to the main deck

Octopussy now has five spacious staterooms, a vast main salon and a formal dining area with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, which open out on to the main deck

One of the five spacious staterooms on board Octopussy. It has space for 10 guests as well as seven crew members

One of the five spacious staterooms on board Octopussy. It has space for 10 guests as well as seven crew members 

The listing for Octopussy describes the superyacht as'iconic in every sense of the word'

The listing for Octopussy describes the superyacht as ‘iconic in every sense of the word’ 

Heesen Yachts said: ‘Her speed and design became the benchmark for other shipyards and Heesen’s reputation for boldly delivering world firsts based on a DNA of innovation, technology and top craftsmanship, was born.

‘The gamble had paid off. Staluppi realized his dream and Heesen Yachts became an international sensation, forever marking its brand on the world map as a major player in the superyacht arena.’

In 2015, Octopussy underwent a refit with the length of the superyacht extended to 44m (144ft), while New York designer Jeff Lincoln updated its interior. 

Octopussy pictured moored in the Bahamas. The current fastest superyacht in the world is the 140ft'World Is Not Enough', which has a top speed of 70 knots (80mph)

Octopussy pictured moored in the Bahamas. The current fastest superyacht in the world is the 140ft ‘World Is Not Enough’, which has a top speed of 70 knots (80mph)

It has five spacious staterooms, a huge main salon and a formal dining area with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, which open out on to the main deck.

The superyacht is currently for sale with Moran Yacht & Ship and has an asking price of $3,995,000 (£3,211,580). 

The current fastest superyacht in the world is the 140ft ‘World Is Not Enough’, which has a top speed of 70 knots (80mph).

Built in 2004, the vessel was also designed by Mulder Design and is the brainchild of Staluppi and his close friend, businessman John Rosatti.

While Octopussy can now ‘only’ reach 32 knots (36mph) – she’s a lot heavier post-refit – the speed achieved in 1988 is a record that still puts her in the top 20 fastest superyachts ever. 

  • To watch Octopussy: The Yacht That Could Not Be Built click here. For more on Heesen Yachts, visit www.heesenyachts.com.
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