Orient Express branches into sailing yachts

140 years after the launch of its first luxury trains, Orient Express says it’s involved in creating the world’s largest sailing ship, the Orient Express Silenseas. The ambition is the result of a French partnership between hospitality provider Accor and shipbuilder Chantiers de l’Atlantique.

Orient Express Silenseas is due to set sail in 2026.

“With a signed letter of intent to order two ships, Chantiers de l’Atlantique is proud to herald a new era in the shipbuilding industry with Silenseas,” says Laurent Castaing, MD of Chantiers de l’Atlantique.

“This concept, born in our design offices in 2018, is the quintessence of our savoir-faire in the fields of naval architecture, the construction of sophisticated hulls, as well as the design of luxurious spaces. In addition, the installation of three Solid Sail rigs, a revolutionary 1,500-square-metre unit wind propulsion system, for which we have developed and tested a first prototype, will contribute significantly to the propulsion of the ship. Combined with a hybrid propulsion system running on liquefied natural gas (LNG), Silenseas will thus become the ship of reference in terms of environmentally-friendly operation and design.”

According to Accor, the plan’s inspired by the golden age of the French Riviera. The new craft will aim to echo the “glorious era when writers, artists, painters, princesses and movie stars spent time between Monte-Carlo, the beaches of Saint-Tropez, Cap d’Antibes, Cannes and its famous Croisette, and discovered a refinement tinged with exquisite insouciance and joie de vivre, inviting them to extreme escapades.”

In more prosaic terms, the 220 metre (tonnage 22,300 UMS) Silenseas will feature three rigid sails hoisted on a balestron rig. The three tilting masts will reach more than 100 metres high. The engine will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and there are plans to use green hydrogen once the technology is approved for ocean passenger ships.

It’ll have 54 suites measuring on average 70 square metres and feature two swimming pools, an amphitheatre-cabaret and a private recording studio.

“With Orient Express Silenseas, we are beginning a new chapter in our history, taking the experience and excellence of luxury travel and transposing it onto the world’s most beautiful seas,” says Sébastien Bazin, chairman and CEO, Accor. “This exceptional sailing yacht, with roots in Orient Express’ history, will offer unparalleled service and refined design spaces, reminiscent of the golden age of mythical cruises. Innovation is at the heart of this ultra-modern ship that will revolutionise the maritime world with new technology to meet today’s sustainability challenges. It is a boat designed to make dreams a reality, a showcase for the best of French savoir-faire.”

The project will be financed up to 70-80 per cent by commercial banks, with the remainder provided by a consortium of equity partners in which Accor will have a minority stake.

Architect Maxime d’Angeac will design the interior layout and decor and Nantes-based design company Stirling Design International will handle the exterior architecture. Hetland Maritime also assisted Accor in creating the project and in the ongoing discussions with Chantiers de l’Atlantique.

Accor has been busy developing its overall Orient Express proposition. It’s opening two Orient Express hotels, La Minerva in Rome and Palazzo Donà Giovannelli in Venice, in 2024 with a third planned for Riyadh. And, according to the company, it was sea travel which first inspired the Orient Express train.

In 1867, Georges Nagelmackers (founder of Orient Express trains) boarded a transatlantic ship connecting Europe to America. Seemingly he was fascinated by the grandeur of the huge boat as he explored the luxurious travellers’ suites and experienced the social scene in the restaurants / lounges / libraries. This sea travel inspired the 1883 launch of his now legendary train.

Bureau Veritas approved Chantiers de l’Atlantique’s Solid Sail in principle in March 2022. Solid Sail is a 1,200m² rigid sail made of composite panels assembled together, which was developed specifically for large vessels. The system overcomes the usual size limitations of standard fabric sails. Moreover, the rigidity of the sail panels induces less flapping and therefore increases the estimated life compared to a soft sail.

Nantes-based Neoline is to use Solid Sails on its first Neoliner cargo ship when it enters service in 2024-25.

Renders courtesy of Orient Express and Martin Darzacq.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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