Andrey Melnichenko enjoys shaking up the yachting world.
The 40-year-old Russian billionaire first made waves when he launched “A,” the 396-foot motor yacht that became one of the most famous in the world for its radical design.
That ship, styled by the architect and designer Philippe Starck, has a stealthy, knife-like design that many likened to a submarine or battleship. (I took a rare tour of the boat, including it's "Nookie Room," which you can see here).
Now, Melnichenko is planning an even more revolutionary entry in the mega-yacht wars. According to industry executives, Melnichenko and his yacht team are in the early stages of building a ship that will likely become the largest sailing yacht in the world.
The ship follows news this summer that a Middle Eastern billionaire is building a yacht that will become thelargest motor yacht in the world. While the broad yacht market remains weak, with lower prices and slack demand for sales and charter, a few of the mega-rich continue to fuel the battle for biggest and best on the seas. (See photos of Super-Yachts at a Discount.)
Melnichenko's boat will be somewhere in the 400-foot range. Currently, the largest sailing yacht in the world is the 305-foot Eos, once owned by Barry Diller. (Some say Maltese Falcon, built for Tom Perkins, is larger if you don't count Eos's long bowsprit.)
Melnichenko and his staff have been tight-lipped about the new ship. A spokesman for Melnichenko refused to comment on any details. No photos or blueprints for the boat have been released and very few yachting executives have even seen the plans.
But according to contractors and companies that are have been involved with the project, the new boat will be “sail-assisted” – meaning that it will be powered with both motors and sails. Two people involved in the project say the hull bears some similarities to “A,” with a low-slung, modern look. But another said the hull is “quite different from ‘A.’ ”
The sails of the new ship will be raked, or angled backward, giving it a sleeker look compared to boats with straighter masts, like Maltese Falcon.
Another feature that makes the new boat unusual is the business plan. Most mega-yachts are built by one of the “big three” builders – Lurssen, Feadship or Blohm & Voss. When it comes to sailing yachts, Perini Navi rules the seas.
Melnichenko is relying largely on his own team to manage the construction of his new yacht. It’s being built in the Nobiskrug shipyard in Germany, which is controlled by Abu Dhabi MAR. While it’s unusual for an owner to manage his own project, one industry executive said Melnichenko’s private team is “among the best in the industry. His guys know more than many of the major builders.”
The total cost of the boat is unclear, since it’s still in the early planning and building stages. Experts say the cost will likely exceed $100 million. Industry experts say work has started on the hull and that it will be funded as construction progresses.
The ship isn't expected to hit the water until 2015 or 2016 – so we have a long wait to see the final product.
“The way this is being built and managed is unique,” said one contractor. “Mlenichenko likes to do things differently.”
-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter: @robtfrank