Kudanil Explorer offers adventure in Indonesia
Kudanil Explorer’s bespoke charters around remote areas of Indonesia have attracted royalty, sports stars, actors and musicians, justifying Remi Epstein’s bold decision to convert a 1978 ocean-going tug into a luxury expedition vessel that’s “built to go anywhere – safely and comfortably”.
Kudanil Explorer in West Papua
What’s nicer than waking up next to waterfall? How about waking up to a waterfall when you’re not expecting to. Remi Epstein recalls this while cruising on Kudanil Explorer, the 50m luxury expedition vessel he owns but usually only stays on for important engagements with customers or agents.
The Frenchman was hosting a major surf operator for a mix of recce and promotion in a remote area of Indonesia, the vast archipelago where the eight-cabin Kudanil Explorer has been chartering through Camper & Nicholsons following an extensive three-year conversion completed in 2018.
Surfing in West Papua
“The surf group were great professionals and shot some amazing footage, but on this occasion, we probably stayed a bit too late. It started to rain and the sea became rough,” recalls Epstein, who lives in Singapore.
“It was dark by the time we reached the unmarked narrow channel that led to the lagoon where we planned to spend the night. However, it was well described in the admiralty pilot book, so we decided it was safe to enter using radar bearings.
“In the morning, when we awoke, we discovered we were near a big waterfall. It almost seemed that the notion of time had disappeared.”
Surfing in Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara; Photo: Armand Perez
Epstein smiles at the memory, adding that they even found a primitive harpoon at the foot of the waterfall. “This is what this ship has been designed for,” he says proudly. “And I think the operator was also impressed. Today he’s one of our major clients.”
FOR THE LOVE OF INDONESIA
For 35 years, Epstein owned a 48ft Dutch-built steel trawler called Morroch 2 and sailed a total of 65,000nm, first in Europe and then in Southeast Asia, where he recalls first travelling through Indonesian waters as far back as 1976.
Kudanil Explorer in Wayag, Raja Ampat
Currently, he owns a 70ft steel motor yacht called Keinvor, which he had built to his specifications in Singapore and typically cruised for three or four months a year (before Covid), sailing extensively in Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia.
He has also used Keinvor to explore potential destinations in Indonesia for Kudanil Explorer, the hardy, 1,000GT ocean-going tug built by the Teraoka Shipyard in Japan and launched in 1978. A ship owner, Epstein provided marine services in offshore oil exploration and production, and bought the 164ft Japanese build from Swire Pacific in 2004.
Remi Epstein, owner of Kudanil Explorer
However, in 2015, he decided to semi-retire and sold all the ships he had except for Kudanil Explorer, as he looked to fulfil his dream of converting her into a luxury charter yacht operating in Indonesia.
“When I bought her, I always thought she could be the ideal platform for a true ‘go-anywhere’ expedition yacht. I always had that project in the back of my mind and finally decided it was time to undertake it,” says Epstein, who had regularly cruised between Singapore and Papua province in the far east of the Indonesian archipelago for two decades.
The 50m charter yacht was originally an ocean-going tug
Designed and built for hard work, not pleasure, Kudanil Explorer was not the most obvious vessel for converting into a luxury charter yacht, yet Epstein’s vision was clear.
Aware he was taking an unusual route into the high-end charter industry, he says his commitment was reinforced when he was able to hire his nephew Thibaud Epstein to lead the charter expeditions.
The 1,000GT 164-footer is equipped to explore remote areas
“Thibaud had been working with me for several years and I knew he could take over. Having a family member in this key position allowed me to take risks I might not have otherwise.”
Other key personnel staying on for the new journey including Captain Wayan, an experienced skipper whose early career included time in the Netherlands with Weissmuller Salvage, one of the world’s biggest salvage companies.
There are multiple outdoor and indoor guest areas, and toys
Having known Wayan since 1992, Epstein hired him in 1998 when he founded his company and has now worked with him for well over two decades. “I have complete trust in his judgment with respect to operating safely.”
For the technical aspect of the conversion, which involved cutting the superstructure and rebuilding the accommodation, Epstein hired two Asia-based stalwarts he’d previously worked with – British naval architect Simon Jupe and French project manager Bertrand d’Alencon.
For the interior and overall decor, Epstein’s search eventually led him to select young French designer Alix Thomsen, a former fashion designer who moved successfully into interiors, with a portfolio featuring well-known boutique hotels in Paris and the homes of A-List celebrities.
“I asked her to develop a style that fuses a Parisian boutique hotel and an Indonesian home, bearing in mind it was for a ship which had an industrial past,” he says. “She visited me in my home in Brittany to present a preliminary idea. It surprised me, but I thought it was spot on and we went from there.”
As is so often the case in yachting, the conversion project proved to be more complex, lengthy and costly than expected. Much of this was because of Epstein’s desire for the yacht to be approved by its original classification society, the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS).
Converting a 1978 tug to a commercial expedition yacht complying to 2017 safety regulations required submitting 185 drawings, which were subject to more than 80 comments and clarifications.
The spa is near the saloon on the main deck
Finally, after three years, Kudanil Explorer was finally ready for her new life – and the only ABS classified yacht in Indonesia.
FOUR DECKS, EIGHT CABINS
The conversion was remarkable. The ship’s hardy hull and functional superstructure bely a truly elegant boat onboard, where she offers a remarkable 11,000sqft (1,000sqm) of guest areas.
The large saloon and bar
On the main deck, the saloon includes multiple dining areas and a bar, with the use of wood, bamboo, rattan, plants and flowers providing a stylish tropical vibe. To starboard is the spa, while forward of the saloon is an elegant library lounge and a wine cellar by the stairs.
The upper deck features arguably the yacht’s defining feature – eight almost identical guest cabins, each spanning 330sqft with a sea-facing king-sized bed and a spacious balcony with daybed.
Each of the eight upper-deck guest cabins has a balcony
It’s a unique offering in the archipelago where the yacht is typically chartered by one booking party such as a family or families, an agent or a special expedition group like the surf operator.
“Having a lot of experience of yachting, I had seen that in many yachts, some guests had pretty nice cabins and others much less so,” Epstein says. “I felt it would be better for everyone to enjoy the best possible accommodation and I believe it has been a plus for our guests.”
Al fresco dining on the top deck
The top deck has the key outdoor areas for guests. The covered skylounge restaurant and bar is beautifully designed, with the use of natural materials linking it nicely to the open aft sun deck, which is dressed in sofas, sun loungers, parasols and plants – and will soon feature new furniture as part of an upgrade.
The aft sun deck
Forward, on top of the wheelhouse, is a beautiful, wooden-floored jacuzzi deck, a secluded area with lounging space.
“We generally pride ourselves on space, comfort and unrivalled safety,” Epstein says. “Guests love the mix of the ship’s reassuring sturdiness, the large social areas and the warmth of our crew.”
The jacuzzi deck is the highest guest area
ACTIVITIES AND EXPLORATION
Royal families, NBA basketball players, Indonesian tycoons, Silicon valley entrepreneurs, and famous actors and musicians have been among guests of Kudanil Explorer since she started chartering, typically with a 21-strong crew. Prior to charter activity winding down early last year due to Covid,
Kudanil Explorer had hosted about 40 expeditions, almost all featuring bespoke itineraries reflecting guests’ preferred activities and guidance by the yacht’s management team. Trips are planned in detail, with discussions starting long before the trip does.
Kudanil Explorer is built to explore
“Expeditions have involved surfing trips, diving, flyfishing, fishing, photography and cultural expeditions – or a combination of some or all of these! The real attraction is Indonesia, with its 17,508 islands, which is spectacular for all these activities. It’s the ultimate playground,” Epstein says.
“However, if an opportunity arises and is economically viable, we welcome long-range expeditions in faraway places. The yacht has been built to go anywhere, safely and comfortably, and this is where she really stands out. In the future, we’re considering venturing further, such as Papua New Guinea, to keep off the beaten track and do what she does best: explore new territories.”
Diving is a popular activity
With Thibaud in charge of most charter expeditions, Epstein is only aboard Kudanil Explorer for special occasions and he’s happy to share lasting memories of another recent trip.
Just ahead of the onset of Covid, he squeezed in a cruise with his extended family to relocate Kudanil Explorer from Raja Ampat to Ambon in the Spice Islands, prior to the ship’s annual dry dock in Makassar. The journey provided a fond reminder of just why he chose to risk converting a 40-year-old Safety Standby Vessel into a luxury charter yacht.
Guests enjoy exploring Indonesia
“Many of the family had come from France, others from Thailand and Singapore. It was really unique, cruising at leisure, with amazing diving, exploring and hiking,” he recalls. “We all remember that trip, the time we had together and agree there cannot be a better way to organise a family reunion. Everyone is waiting for the next opportunity.”
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