Before turning his hand to driving boats, Capt. Varun Raj Pakalapati had already been part of the Indian Olympic sailing team, accumulated 28 national and three international sailing medals, done a seven-year stint in the Indian Army, worked as a superyacht broker, and set up his own yacht charter company in Goa.
Then a new opportunity emerged. “I managed agency work for a yacht whose captain had grounded the yacht in the Maldives, and the short version of the story is that the owner asked me to take over as captain,” he says. “So I started skippering this 30-meter with just a Yachtmaster license.”
After three years, the yacht owner decided to build a 47-meter Heesen and Pakalapati began studying for his Master tickets. He completed his first in 2016 and his Master 3000GT in 2018. This year he plans to pursue his Ice Master and Master Unlimited tickets.
He joined the build of Lusine in May 2021, and the yacht handover took place on February 14, 2022. “This is one of the most challenging projects Heesen has ever built,” Pakalapati says. The yacht was originally intended as the flagship of the owner’s Dubai fleet, but he passed away a few months before delivery.
M/Y Lusine is the longest steel hull that Heesen ever built and has the most expensive interior, which even includes a piece of meteorite from the moon. It also has the first Selective Catalytic Reduction-integrated V12 MTUs for low emissions.
“The owner was most particular with his choices for Lusine,” the captain says. “For example, [as] a fishing enthusiast, he wanted three Boston Whaler tenders and he wanted them stowed in the garages. Getting the size and alignment right was a challenge. So was sourcing the right stone and onyx for the floors, getting the right vein on the marble, and sourcing and fitting the external air conditioning. Building her was a complex process and if even one link in the chain didn’t deliver on time, the rest would come to a halt.”
Sourcing crew also took time. With operations based in the Middle East, the interior department were to be Filipino, and a female deckhand for tender operations was needed so that female guests would feel comfortable getting in and out.
“Lusine handles smoothly and has a very quiet bridge,” Capt. Pakalapati says. “When it comes to safety, security, and service, she is integrated with the latest technology available to ensure a safe, seamless, and exceptional experience.” During the vessel’s delivery, they experienced four back-to-back low-pressure systems. “We made passage through the Bay of Biscay between systems in force six to seven conditions and five- to six-meter swells. Even with so much stone and marble and the heavy pounding en route, she sailed into Gibraltar without damage, which further proves her exceptional build quality.”
He particularly admires the yacht’s sleek design. Lusine is fitted with eight guest cabins and the owner’s suite; additional staff cabins are used for occasional personnel. “With a large crew mess, side beds for officers, and spacious cabins, crew areas are the best I have seen on any yacht this size,” Capt. Pakalapati says. “Laundry is on the tank deck so crew can vibe while they work. The owner also has his own private pantry with dumb waiter, fridge, freezer, and laundry next to his suite.” At the touch of a single button, the owner’s interior and exterior areas can become one isolated space, providing privacy when needed.
The captain’s personal plans include getting his private pilot license so that he can command the air as well as land and sea (he already dives and kite surfs). “Skippering the world’s largest yacht one day, as well as creating growth opportunities for fellow yachtsmen, is my ultimate ambition.”
This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of Dockwalk.