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Innovation in sailing yacht design

Leading designers discuss the trajectory of sailing yacht design based on current projects, emerging trends and new ideas.…

As sailing-yacht projects increase in size, the pressure is on the designers to maintain a connection with the ocean and the feeling of being close to the water. “We are seeing more demand for interior and exterior living spaces such as aft beach clubs, side hull balconies, aft pools and beach salons,” explains Ignacio Oliva-Velez, head of yacht interiors at Winch Design. “Clients want facilities on board to carry bigger and better toys and tenders.”

Malcolm McKeon, architectural designer at Malcom McKeon Yacht Design, agrees and notes the increasing popularity of platforms and beach clubs. “While these cause technological headaches, and take time to construct and engineer, which costs money, they allow a boat to convert and become more open-plan at anchor,” he says. “This is particularly significant for bigger projects as it reduces the distance from the sea by enabling you to feel the water lapping around you.”

For McKeon, however, the best way to achieve a greater connection to the sea from within the boat is the profusion of glass in designs. Fortunately, the classification societies are coming to terms with this and are starting to treat glass as a structural material, just as the car and building industries have been doing for years. A prime example of the extensive use of glass is the BlackCat project (pictured), a 50m carbon catamaran concept developed by McKeon and Australian pro sailor Mitch Booth.

A new breed of sailing superyachts is pushing the boundaries of performance for yachts of such a size, something that can be credited to the evolution of the superyacht regatta scene. “Projects such as My Song (pictured), Unfurled and the new Swan 115s are being built by owners who are looking for more fun and faster boats,” says naval architect Germán Frers. “The way the boat is used, the life on board is different— there is a more active participation in sailing for the owner and guests.”

While carbon construction is now a standard request for a designer such as Frers, who specialises in the racer-cruiser market, Andre Hoek, partner at Hoek Design, believes that the trend in construction materials depends very much on with whom you speak. “There are, of course, big developments in composite boats, but we are still very much involved in large aluminium sailing yachts,” he says. “All the boats over 200gt that we are involved with are still being built with aluminium.”

With the more performance-orientated designs, carbon is now used extensively for hull and deck structures, as well as masts and rigging. “We are working hard to find cheaper and more efficient ways to construct these large carbon structures for the future,” says McKeon. He adds that titanium is also very popular for mast, deck and interior components as it has a quality look with low maintenance; however, it comes at a cost.

These projects have also seen new technological solutions to enhance the scope for performance. This includes foils, lifting keels, canting keels and telescoping keels—all technology that has been used frequently on race boats but which is now being brought on to superyachts in a safe way by designers. “Reducing underwater drag and windage in the rig are key factors,” explains McKeon. “Retractable propulsion systems are becoming evermore popular, the engineering for which is improving.”

At Hoek Design, the team is becoming familiar with designing boats that are better able to cope with ice, so that yachts can be taken to Arctic and Antarctic regions. “Clients are realising that they can take a very good-looking yacht to remote places,” Hoek explains. “They don’t have to be expedition vessels, they can be sailing yachts. A number of our projects are ice-reinforced, so that they can go to regions with floating ice. This means they are designed with an ice belt, so that there is better framing and heavier plating in the area where the ice hits first.”

As to the future, there are still ideas and technologies we have yet to see incorporated in sailing-yacht design. Hoek believes a big advancement will come through the development of batteries and battery systems, and progress in this area is already being made in the car industry. Due to the smaller volumes, this technology will be likely to influence sailing-yacht design first.

“New technology will allow for battery systems that are able to store more capacity in smaller, lighter batteries, with no toxic waste as a by-product,” Hoek predicts. “Clients want quieter boats all the time, so soon I believe we will be building battery banks into boats that will allow for an eight-hour silent period overnight with no need for generators to be running. It will also cater for the increasing wish for low emissions.”

For McKeon, catamarans are the future for the sailing-yacht sector as they allow for larger, open-plan living. His BlackCat concept, which he believes is designed for the next generation of sailing-yacht owner, is an attempt to reinvigorate the sailing- yacht market. “Built of carbon, catamarans have far greater performance potential than an equivalent monohull, while also providing more comfort and safety as the sailing heel angles are much reduced,” he explains. “Comfort at anchor is also far better due to the tendency to roll less.”

Designers in the sailing-yacht sector are facing a challenging climate. With orders decreasing year on year, many more innovative ideas are needed to attract and excite new clientele. With the inspiration from the design community available to even the most extreme owner, it will be interesting to see which ideas gain traction over the next few years.



Profile links

Malcolm McKeon Yacht Design

Winch Design

Hoek Design Naval Architects BV

Frers Naval Architecture & Engineering

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Innovation in sailing yacht design


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