A new breed of super sailing yacht performs so well that it can cross oceans faster than motor yachts and at a fraction of the cost.
Combine that with design enabling them to compete in superyacht regattas more effectively and the result is a breed of supersloops – large, single-masted sailing yachts – that many owners feel a natural affinity for, with attractive environmental credentials and a competitive edge.
A string of launches and the number of yachts being built makes it difficult to appreciate that the super yacht industry has suffered over the past year, but it certainly has.
We are now seeing the results of orders placed before the financial meltdown, but they have determined a new type of high performance vessel.
Australian property billionaire Lang Walker’s new 58.4m Kokomo with its 71.3m mast is a good example.
Mr Lang is a racing man through and through and owns a string of Farr 40 yachts dotted around the world, so he can compete at a moment’s notice in regattas worldwide.
But his new supersloop – the third bearing the Kokomo name – with accommodation for 12 guests and as many crew, is not just a platform for luxury cruising.
This is a racing vessel, with America’s Cup-style sails, one of the biggest carbon fibre masts ever built and performance even the world’s top Grand Prix helmsmen would not sniff at.
Designed by the ubiquitous Dubois Naval Architects based in Hampshire in the UK and, until recently, the biggest sailing yacht built by Alloy Yachts of New Zealand, Kokomo can sail upwind at more than 12 knots and could touch up to 20 off the wind.
Apart from the modest angle of heel of the boat, everything below remains calm and luxurious as the yacht blasts round the race courses of St Barths, Porto Cervo, St Tropez and Palma. Cut-throat competition combined with ultimate luxury is the achievement and owners love it.
“We are, after all, in the entertainment business,” says Ed Dubois.
But supersloops, which are more efficient than two-masted ketches or schooners, certainly have not peaked yet.
A Norwegian businessman is building a 66m sloop, also designed by Dubois, at Vitters, one of the Netherland’s most successful bespoke superyacht builders, who recently bought British carbon fibre yacht building specialists Green Marine.
Unlike some of her predecessors, which have multiple decks so the helmsman perches atop a lofty flying bridge, this aluminium-hulled boat is low-profile, streamlined and efficient.
The aim is to make her a luxury rocket-speed sailing ship and everything is being done to improve the airflow over her enormous sails, especially her headsails.
Sails that normally remain furled on a fixed stay while another headsail is in use will now be automatically lowered on to storage drums under the foredeck without a single crewman having to go forward of the mast.
The focus is not just on performance – but also on safety, because sails weighing up to half a tonne can be beyond the handling ability of mere humans.
Between them Vitters, build managers MCM, Southern Spars and Dubois have come up with the technology to achieve this.
Another vast yacht about to emerge from New Zealand, again built by Alloy Yachts, is the Philippe Briand designed ketch, Vertigo.
The owner would have opted for a sloop but the yacht had to be able to get under the Bridge of the Americas spanning the Panama Canal which has vertical clearance of just over 61m.
Vertigo is 67m long and even under power has a 2,300 nautical mile range at 17 knots increasing to 4,000 miles at 12 knots. This easily exceeds the ability of many motor yachts. Her vast mainsail and mizzen sails would extend the range.
To reach shallower anchorages her deep keel can be lifted using hydraulics but when fully down at 9.5m it combines with her sailplan to produce a searing performance, while guests can relax in the deck saloon and extensive accommodation designed by Christian Liaigre who was charged with producing an atmosphere of “urban at sea”.
In another example of the breed, a ketch – Panamax – so-called because her twin masted rig is sufficiently short to allow her to pass under the Bridge of the Americas, is being built for a German industrialist.
This 200ft flyer is being built at carbon fibre specialists Baltic Yachts in Finland and, when launched next year, will set another benchmark in sailing performance.
Another type of super yacht whose design has been driven by the attractions of competition is the J-Class classic sailing yacht. Six of these are already afloat, including the largest and most recent, the 44m Lionheart.
These stunningly beautiful throwbacks to the 1930s are making a comeback with two more, Rainbow and Atlantis under construction and a further two, Svea and Yankee, mooted.
There could be eight on the start line in UK regattas in Falmouth and Cowes in 2012 to coincide with the London 2012 Olympic Games and they will be joined by a fleet of super sailing yachts in a special event in Cowes.
Once again Britain is looking forward to hosting some of the finest sailing yachts in the world at events playing an important role in fuelling the demand for larger, faster, more competitive designs.
- YouTube : Mirabella V