A salty old sailor from the late 1800s would fall overboard in shock if they were to see the bells and whistles that can be found on the high-tech megayachts of today. Back then, a polished brass guardrail was about as fancy as it got but nowadays, as yacht design continues to break new limits, swimming pools, dancefloors and helipads are the norms.
A glossy new book from Assouline’s Impossible Collection charts more than 100 years of nautical vessels and, says the publisher, is “an eclectic and carefully curated anthology of ships, from original J Class yachts of the late 1800s to the current high-tech megayachts, from classics with timeless silhouettes to head-turners that broke the mold with daring design and redefined their era.”
The 236-page coffee-table tome – Yachts: The Impossible Collection – is written by journalist Miriam Cain, who has specialised in superyachts for 20 years, and is an anthology of “legendary yachts that define time and design.”
She writes, “The human species has always longed to be near the water, and yachts are an enduring element of this inheritance of wanderlust. As long as there are people of means and blue oceans to explore, there will always be a demand for these beautiful and impossible creatures that break the boundaries of technology, luxury, and decadence.”
From the 96 boats in the book, we’ve picked 10 of the best.
Built-in forty-three months, Amadea is a design showcase. Her unique superstructure resembles overlapping shells, and her strong profile culminates with a sculpture of an albatross, wings outspread, on her prow. Seemingly floating sun pads surround a 33-foot mosaic-tiled infinity pool so large that it features a sit‑up bar at one end and steps leading down to a larger swimming area with a waterfall flowing onto the beach club below, contained behind glass. A second spa pool is located on the sundeck, its raised area and surroundings are also convertible to a stage, while a large winter garden is located on the same level.
The largest private sailing yacht in the world when commissioned by E.F. Hutton and his wife, the heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, Sea Cloud was the finest yacht afloat, no expense spared. When the couple divorced, Post assumed custody of the yacht, which became a floating embassy for her second husband
Joseph Davies, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow. Sea Cloud was requisitioned for World War II, after which she underwent a four-year refit. After a succession of owners, she gradually fell into disrepair, until 1979 when her current owners restored her, with the addition of modern amenities.
With her striking silver exterior and spaceship looks, this cutting-edge, futuristic trimaran is an iconic design in every way and certainly was not designed to sit in a marina. Built for an experienced owner to explore the remotest corners of the world, Adastra is incredibly efficient, and, although she may not look like an explorer, for a yacht of her size she has the unique capability to cross the Atlantic twice before refueling, and in fact has a transpacific range of 10,000 nautical miles. Her unusual trio of hulls, constructed from e-glass, Kevlar and carbon fiber, is designed to provide a combination of hydrodynamic efficiency, stability and performance.
The largest North American–built yacht still afloat, Christina O is a piece of moving history, whose decks have been graced by many celebrated twentieth-century figures, from Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra to Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, as guests of Aristotle Onassis. Originally a Canadian naval frigate, she was purchased in 1954 by Onassis and converted into a magnificent yacht, which he renamed after his daughter. Christina was the backdrop for his famous love affairs with renowned soprano Maria Callas and with Lee Radziwill, the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, before he married Jackie herself.
Designed for extreme global exploration, Cloudbreak embodies contemporary modernism at its finest. Named after a mythical surf break in Fiji, her standout features include a ski room and ski instructor’s cabin, allowing guests to heli-ski right from the yacht. Cloudbreak also features an indoor/outdoor winter garden.
With her reverse bow and mirror-finish glass superstructure, Excellence is certainly one of the most distinctive yachts built in recent years, and being the sixth vessel to bear her name, she is also the culmination of all her owner’s previous experience in yacht building. The groundbreaking build by the renowned Abeking & Rasmussen shipyard and Winch Design is a masterpiece of modernity with many unique and radical features. Her futuristic exterior features an eye-catching, condor-like curved bow and acres of glass, while her contemporary interior includes a triple-height glass atrium in the center of the yacht.
Faith boasts many noteworthy design features, the most impressive of which is a glass pool with a curved floor suspended over the lounge area beneath. Employing 68mm thick laminated glass (five layers of clear glass interspersed with foil), the undulating pool base is in effect a ceiling to the beach club and bar area. She also features a wellness centre that includes a snow room – an icy chamber complete with tumbling snowflakes for use in conjunction with the sauna – and a large games deck for all manner of sports, including football, tennis, volleyball and basketball.
A showcase for the latest in hybrid megayachts, Luminosity sets a new benchmark for design and technology, with the largest hybrid battery drive to be found on any yacht, allowing for up to twelve hours of quiet, vibration-free and zero-emissions cruising at low speeds. Featuring an unprecedented 8,600 square feet of floor-to-ceiling windows, and forty-six types of marble totaling around 6,500 square feet in her interior, her groundbreaking design takes the most advanced cutting-edge technologies and combines them with traditional styling conceived for the natural environment in which she cruises.
Inspired by the iconic lines of the Corsair series of yachts built in the early twentieth century by J.P. Morgan, Nero’s owner set out to construct a virtual replica, having found no originals available that suited his requirements. The resulting 296-foot build, with its bright yellow funnels and midnight black hull, draws inspiration from the elegant vessels of the 1920s and marks a perfect crossover between traditional design and modern amenities. Following a sale to a new owner, Nero underwent significant refits in 2016 and 2021, and with contemporary and elegant styling she is today a classic in her own right.
Described by several sailing enthusiasts as “the most beautiful yacht ever built,” Moonbeam IV was the last of this name built by William Fife III. The gaff cutter was built for Charles Plumptre Johnson, the physician to Queen Victoria, and was a firm favourite on the Mediterranean regatta circuit, taking the Kings Cup in 1920 and 1923. She spent many years sailing under Prince Rainier of Monaco, who renamed her Deo Juvante. Thereafter she was neglected until rescued in 1995 and immaculately restored. Epitomising the beauty and elegance of classic yachts, she is still racing to this day.