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September 2004

Article selected from our quarterly magazine dedicated to the largest and most luxurious boats with information, interviews, technical articles, images and yachting news



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Article by
Piero Rivolta


Speaking of sailing yachts between 60 and 100 feet the question always comes up: which way is the market going in America and Europe?

I don't think anyone really knows the answer. We're waiting to see what the new generation of designers who are approaching this market will do. And as I live in the United States I'll try to give a possible explanation with regard to this side of the Ocean. To buy a large size yacht you first need plenty of money, plus more for maintenance (especially if you don't choose the right boat). Then you need the time to use it and a great desire to go to sea.



This is the secret, "the desire to go to sea", without asking yourself if it is really pleasurable or tiring, boring or too risky. A few months ago I wrote a book called "Alex and the Colour of the Wind" published by "Bietti" - you'll find it on the site (Ed.'s Note) - which was inspired by a similar theme.

How come a single, well-off person gets such an idea? Once it was based mainly on a family or friendship tradition that created a sort of caste of initiates. I think that this mechanism nowadays is very rare or has been interrupted. Often those who from an early age have had easy access to sailing yachts and "undergone" a few perhaps not very exciting family holidays seek, when they become independent, another more comfortable passion, one that is more practical and also seems more modern to them.

"Modern" is the second keyword. In order to increase the number of new medium to large sailing yacht enthusiasts, a topical image of the vessel must be projected: fast, practical, simple, slender and - why not? - engaging.

Boats must be designed and built taking these concepts into account and promoting them. People shouldn't approach sailing yachts with reverential fear, wondering how to keep them in order or use them with a crew of one. If they make an approach and experience the wrong sensation they move away without really knowing what they have missed.

This reasoning gives me hope in the generation that has spent really boring hours on big motoryachts, or worse, on comfortable trawlers belonging to friends or relations, going from marina to marina without feeling any emotion apart from a pause near a beach where you take a dip and then have a snooze after lunch. Maybe one day somebody of that generation (who has got rich and want to breathe the freedom of movement that only a sailing yacht can give) will think of trying this experience, infected by the virus of the big sailboat, its power, its speed, its agility at sea.

There is also another very numerous category, those who sail on numerous mass produced boats between 30 and 50 feet: they are comfortable, safe, terribly monotonous but functional. The French boatyards lead the field.

In that market there is another possibility of future customers for the 60 - 100 foot category. Certainly the first condition is that something needs to happen to considerably augment the potential candidate's financial power.

Then the customer must overcome the impression that a bigger boat is harder to steer (actually the opposite is true) and requires so many people and so much maintenance that a pastime is transformed into a job. We thus come back to the concept of a modern boat, slender and skipper-friendly.

I believe that the American market in general still hasn't grasped these concepts.

Sailing yachts in the USA are mainly divided into two distinct categories: racers, highly tuned technically and with wholly valid concepts but almost exclusively made for racing or for living a very Spartan life aboard, something not always acceptable to wives. The other category is represented by boats that are very carefully built, with highly elaborate decks, generally in teak, and great chrome-plated anchor winches, everything super-sized and rich. The interiors have large bedrooms with large double beds, bathrooms like a 1920's hotel and all kinds of washing machines, spin- dryers etc.. The problem is that on these vessels the sail area is not very important. They have roller reefing, stocky masts, fine but very classic lines and, above all, exaggerated weight. Result: lovely boats to be shown off at the quay, comfortable for life at anchor but slow and not very seaworthy: they certainly don't slip through the waves. What attracts people to buy them is the illusion that once at the wheel you become helmsman of a vessel from the golden age of sail. Unfortunately it is only an illusion, often dictated by the designers' skill in taking inspiration from vintage lines and making use of substantially traditional details. The ships of those days however carried plenty of sail and a large crew and were of quite different dimensions. They were true thoroughbreds.

It's strange that precisely in the United States - where more than elsewhere this type of boat flourished and a great racing and fast cruising sailboat designer school was formed, still alive and highly valid today - we have arrived at seeking compromises between tradition, comfort and enjoyment, producing boats that are fine to look at, difficult to maintain and with poor performances.

These are sought by a type of clientele more interested in the object in itself than in its use. This phenomenon is above all evident on the north-east coast of the United States, the area with the most glorious sailing tradition which today, I should say, is somewhat confused.

I had confirmation of this theory a year ago when I put my old boat up for sale, a beautiful 60 foot Sciarelli, fast and seaworthy. I had sailed her 50.000 miles without ever having any real problem. I don't even recall having to face particularly heavy seas. The reason for this is that the boat handled the situation herself and I had only to do the minimum. In fact all too often skippers are their boats' enemies and represent the greatest danger on board.

Yet I couldn't find anyone interested in buying her because she doesn't have "Majestic" interiors. I lived aboard with my whole family and always found her a highly practical boat. There certainly isn't a two metre wide bed, but in compensation she bowls along and is easy to steer.

In conclusion, I think that to attract new enthusiasts to 60 - 90 foot sailboats the newcomers must be made to understand that boats can be built which are fast under sail and power and are sufficiently comfortable; that luxury is not always useful and should be replaced by intelligent design and a building plan that makes them easy to maintain.

The buyer of this type of yacht is undoubtedly a well- off person who will leave luxury at home and feel free aboard a simple and efficient boat. She needn't impress anybody with little details when she's tied up in the marina. The purpose isn't that, but rather to "go to sea" with a fine boat whose design attracts the attention and respect of others.