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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
Germán Frers


There was little in way of large sailing yachts during the 60's. In the midst of the Cold War, and with the European economies just beginning to recover from World War II most of the efforts were put on small ocean going sailing vessels with an accent in a traditional, spartan style of life at sea where self reliance and sea dog style traditions were highly valued. Women on board a sailing yacht were a rarity, and there was very little available in terms of electronic navigation aids. Most of the large sailing yachts dated from the pre-war years and the majority of them languished in the muds of the Hamble river in England like Endeavour.



They were very few, like Stavros Niarcho's "Creole" and the converted J class Shamrock, re-named "Quadrifoglio" active in the Mediterranean. The first memories I have of these yachts sailing were pictures of Creole chartered by the British and sailed by the famous John Illingworth racing in the first Tall Ship race, against other naval institutions Square Riggers.

Most yachts were measured in feet, and 73 of that funny unit of measurement was acknowledged to be a sensible maximum size for a modern sailing yacht, especially on the other side of the Atlantic where yachting was most active at the time.

Dacron had just appeared as the material to replace the ancient Egyptian cotton in the sails. Aluminium was still considered too exotic and not really trusted as a material to build spars. Dacron was beginning to replace the old vegetal fibers, in the running rigging but it was so stretchy and weak that steel wire sheets were necessary to handle the larger sails efficiently, with manual winches as the only source of power. Steel wire was the only sensible material to be used for shrouds and stays. In other words, handling a large sailing yacht was a very hard and dangerous job, a nightmare in fact.

By the early seventies, the round the World race become a reality. Sayula, a production Swan 65 won the first race on handicap. Another contender Condor lost all chances when she broke her spar, made of a then little known material, Carbon Fiber.

For the 1981-82 Whitbread race a much reinforced and tamed down sistership to Helisara one of the new Maxi class sloops built to our design to compete in the new born Maxi Class by Maestro Herbert Von Karajan, called Flyer was entered in the Whitbread Round the World Race and won outright, both on handicap and elapsed time.

This fact prompted the interest and development of the Maxi Class and the construction of nearly twenty of those dinosaurs of the sea. "Bumble Bee", "Xargo", "Boomerang", "Il Moro di Venezia I, II and III", "Kialoa", "Ondine", "Gitana", "Windward Passage", "Emeraude I and II" just to name a few, were among the most successful of our designs and had a very active racing life under the guidance of I.C.A.Y.A.

A short time elapsed before the spectacle and the fascination of the large racing fleet attracted the interest and the curiosity of the non racing yachtsmen looking for new frontiers of excitement and sources of fun, pleasure and beauty.

In 1987 "Extra Beat" was the largest sloop in the world. Her six spreader mast towered nearly 50 meters above the sea level. The design posed a real challenge, as there was little information and equipment available at the time, and several innovations which are considered normal practice today, were developed during the design stage of the yacht.

The first pair of hydraulic captive winches, were installed, however they were seldom used. The crew had never seen them before and did not trust them, they preferred traditional muscle power applied to conventional coffee grinders instead. The owner and his guests appreciated the human action around them as part of the sport.

The fist anchor deployment system having an hydraulic activated arm which allowed the anchor to be stowed below decks on a special designated compartment , out of the view and the wash in the bow was also developed for the first time and used successfully.

The next step was made a couple of years later during the "Moro di Venezia" campaign. A 62 meter ketch, the "Buncintoro", as designed at our office having a composite hull and deck, carbon fiber spars and carbon fiber sails, was built at the sophisticated Tencara facility in Marghera alongside the America's sloops.

The technological developments and building methods of the racing yachts were applied to this new yacht which represented a major challenge to the team of naval architects, structural engineers, mast designers, sailmakers and builders. The use of composite construction for such a large vessel was unheard of and as the carbon fiber spars were so tall, they barely cleared the Panama and San Francisco bridges.

Unfortunately political infighting and family feuds prevented this yacht from being ever finished, and her carcass is abandoned lying under the open sky near the yard where she was built, never to be finished.

The technological advances made at the time however remain and have been decanted and applied to new builds. Carbon fiber spars are today common practice in all new Mega Yachts. Composite construction is gradually becoming the building material for all sorts of large vessels and the original carbon fiber, Kevlar and Spectra sail materials have reached high levels of development and are widely used.

The possibilities and the freedom that the new lighter and stronger materials offer, has prompted a new era of developments and have stimulated the creative minds of architects and owners alike who no longer feel constrained by philosophical or theoretical limitations imposed by the sailing tradition. On the other hand, innovations need time to be fully accepted, especially by the sailors who have to deal and maintain new equipment, sometimes in trying conditions.

For example, in 1994 we designed a 42 meter sloop to replace "Extra Beat", she had a canting keel and twin rudders fore and aft which were capable of turn in the opposite or same directions as needed to turn the yacht or sail her upwind. She would have been 10 years ahead of her time. We had tested the twin rudder configurations during the Il Moro campaign and found to be a good feature albeit unnecessary on a America's Cup sloop with a fixed keel.

With a canting keel, where the keel foil looses all its lifting characteristics, the twin rudder configuration to oppose the side forces generated by the sails makes good sense.

Unfortunately the ever present friendly advisers convinced the owner it was not sensible to be the first to come out in the open with such a yacht, and the project was killed. The well known and fast "Stealth" having a more conventional configuration of water ballast, fixed deep keel single rudder and smaller size was built instead, and remains as the hallmark to be beaten for fast super-yachts.

However the seed was planted and soon after, Wally Yachts came to us for the design of "Tiketitan", a canting keel composite sloop, the first of a series of the designs having movable ballast with potential for very high speeds and comfort while sailing long distances at sea of which the award winning "Only Now" built in France and The 108' Wally "Kuris iii" are very good and successful examples.

As yachts grow in size, the draft restrictions become harder. On the 105' "Mandrake" , the all conquering 115´ "Unfurled" and the famous high tech "Hyperion" we have adopted an intermediate solution of a shallow fixed keel with a lead ballast bulb and composite dagger-board.

This solution is relatively simple to operate and maintain. Unfurled has competed on equal term basis against her near sistership "Ipanema¨, the overall winner of the last Millenium Cup in Auckland, and " Hyperion has several circumnavigations to her account.

Lifting keels like the ones adopted for the new Wally "Magic Carpet2" and the new Swan 100 "Alalunga" or the 130' "Viriella" are becoming of age, they are one hundred percent safe and easy to operate. At the expense of a bit more equipment, these yachts are capable of uncompromised racing yacht performance with access to all harbours and marinas.

More recently we designed a new extremely shallow draft 43 meter long yacht named "Syl" which set new standards for her innovative solutions. She was built using Alustar alloy in Spain. The underbody configuration, a clean canoe body, excluded all fixed appendages and consisted of a vertical carbon fiber dagger-board and twin rudders aft for directional control. The vertical dagger-board is a very efficient foil having racing boat standard drag to lift coefficients. Originally, the design included a forward canard which was later eliminated.

On deck, 20 meters long large cockpit becomes a fully covered deck saloon thanks to the automatic top which was produced by the same people from Torino, in Italy who do the hard tops for the most sophisticated German car manufacturers.

On the foredeck there are two special compartments for two equal 7 meters long rigid tenders which become effective appendixes of the yacht while cruising. One of the dinghy compartments can be transformed in to a salt water swimming pool with its own current provided through hydraulically operated water jets, so it is possible for the owner to swim the daily required number of swimming pool stretches.

Today larger sailing yachts continue to develop at a fast pace according to the experience made and the possibilities offered by the never ending technological developments and new ideas, material and design tools.

"Syl¨ solutions for the hull and underbody have been adopted on larger flying bridge style yachts which can now sail at honorable speeds in comfort with the additional advantage of being capable of reaching shallow areas of the sea previously barren to them increasing the appeal of the sailing cruising yachts.

Large cruising yachts are now capable of oceanic passages, record breaking performances thanks to the development carried out on racing yachts with canting keels and a variety of solutions for their lifting surfaces.

New composite materials and metal alloys offer every day additional possibilities to us to design better, stronger yachts.

The electronic revolution in navigating aids and communications allow the owner and his party long periods at sea. The levels of comfort found on these super yachts thanks to the latest crop insulation materials are capable of satisfying the most demanding female needs, and the state of the art sail handling equipment is making the life of these yachts possible.

Yet in the midst of the progress made in the last twenty years, one has to remember while designing these Mega Yachts the needs and limitations of the human body, the fact rough conditions are likely to be found at some time or another. I very often see other yachts with decorations and a fancy design and this is not always in line with the function of a sailing yacht or even in good taste.

Like it was true in the times of commercial and military sailing, like their forebears yachts they have to be a source of pride to their owners and captains, they have to be sober and elegant, and needless to say, in order to fulfill the joy of sailing, they have to be fast.