Feast your eyes on these sailing superyacht concepts. The future looks far-out, and it just might have sails, finds Sam Fortescue
For decades the superyacht world has undeniably been dominated by vast, fuel-guzzling motor boats. And, despite the elaborate marketing spiel of their designers and builders, many of them look remarkably similar from the outside: there’s a pointy end, a wedding cake in the middle, and pool and beach club at the back.
Refreshing, then, to see that many superyacht designers have neither given up on sail, nor on experimenting with form and function. When we spoke to some of the best-known names in yacht design, we received a very enthusiastic response.
First up, get ready to see a lot more catamaran designs. “Multihulls are the future of yachting concepts, simply because of sustainability,” says Espen Oeino, fêted designer of yachts such as 182m/600ft REV and 136m/446ft Flying Fox.
“To make something sustainable, you have to look at what you can do to reduce resistance and therefore power requirements. There the length-to-beam ratio is very important because slender hulls have a much better angle of entry at the bow, displacing water more efficiently.”
Following this logic, the first of his new 35m/115ft SpaceCat design is nearing completion in China, offering 300m2 of interior space and nearly 600m2 on deck – all balanced on lightweight, low-resistance aluminium hulls.
“People’s concept of what is beautiful is changing but it will need a bit of time,” he adds. “There’s an automotive parallel – it was the same thing with the first SUVs. In the end, though, a cat gives you a much better platform for coming up with interesting layouts.”
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British designer Andrew Winch agrees on the point about sustainability. “The main focus of future sailing yachts will be minimising their environmental footprint to zero, to leave no negativity on the planet whatsoever,” he tells me. “The faster and lighter construction of catamarans and multihulls is a huge benefit to the integration of hybrid and electric propulsion, something that will continue to see extended growth for the foreseeable future.”
The right image
Many designers believe the green agenda will ultimately bring wealthy owners back to sailing yachts. French designer Mathis Rühl puts it like this: “In a world more and more threatened by climate change, debauchery and energy waste is negatively perceived. Wealthy people who care about their image and their impact have to deal with this paradox: how to enjoy the luxuriousness of the world without destroying it. Burning petrol must be avoided when the wind can be used!”
He also sees great advantages to the slim hulls of a catamaran or trimaran. It led him to design a 70m/230ft yacht with a radical semicircular superstructure balanced across three hulls. A 20m beam gives Wave Motion plenty of living space, including a sky deck and open deck space.
Perhaps most strikingly, he would power the boat with a 20m/65ft dual wing-sail of his own devising, called the WM2. He has compared rig types including traditional flexible sails and the odd-looking Flettner Rotor for drag and efficiency and concluded that his design is the best performer upwind. Rühl reports that it is more than three times more efficient than a standard non-rigid sail.
A number of concept boats have looked in detail at the rig and concluded that the best option is one that’s already available. The Falcon or DynaRig is only really suitable for yachts over 60m/200ft, but its ease of handling makes it exceedingly attractive. Just one person is able to set sail, reef, tack or furl the sails thanks to the modular design, which breaks huge sail areas down into smaller chunks, and total computerisation of the unstayed rig. “It’s easier to start and stop,” explains Dykstra’s Thys Nikkels. “The percentage of time that you sail is much higher with this rig.”
Philippe Briand chose it for his mould-breaking 152m/499ft trireme design, originally penned for a Russian client. So did Bill Dixon for his 70m/230ft New Dawn. “Unlike a conventional rig which requires a small army of crew, this vessel can be commanded and operated single-handedly,” Dixon says. “The twin rigs offer a healthy sail area to displacement ratio and will assure an exhilarating sailing experience.”
New Dawn is billed as a game changer, and not just because of her regeneration potential of 75kW under sail, 60m2 of solar panels, ballasted centreboard and ability to motor at 9 knots under purely electric power. Dixon says the real novelty is to combine motoryacht features with sailboat performance.
“It’s clear that customers expect the comforts and space planning of motoryachts,” he explains. “They want ample entertainment spaces, a pool and large tenders. We have created this design on this premise rather from a traditional sailing yacht design approach. This does not mean she is not an efficient sailing yacht, in that department there is no compromise. This is a project that appeases the environmental consciousness of a potential owner.”
Roman galley roots
Briand’s design is on another scale altogether. A key plank in the client’s brief was to ensure there was a vast central gallery whose volume exceeded that of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles – something he has achieved with room to spare. An astonishing 725m2 of glass and openings surround the gallery, while no fewer than three owner’s suites offer the choice between 180° views from the glass bow; the full 20m beam amidships; or an aft suite perched 14m above the water.
Lower deck beach clubs amount to more than 750m2 of real estate, plus room for pools, a helipad and more. Echoing the design of the Roman galley which inspired it, the yacht features dozens of hydraulically-operated ‘oars’ amidships, designed to move in time to the music on board.
“It is possible to imagine very different boats tomorrow,” Briand explains. “I foresee that boats will evolve towards even more efficiency, for sustainability’s sake. Also hybrid boats. We will assemble different energy sources, and wind energy should be the first. Wind by sails, motor by engines today. Tomorrow it will be motor by electric or by hydrogen.”
Interestingly, another designer has also drawn inspiration from the galley. Igor Lobanov’s design is called Phoenicia and features the same reverse bow, sloping down to a rostrum-like point at the waterline; it also picks up the motif of the raised ‘bowsprit’ and ‘bumpkin’ and recreates the effect of two decks of oars by aiming 33 ‘laser lights’ into the water at night.
Her four masts drop down through a great glass-walled gallery that dominates the main deck. She also employs something akin to a traditional staysail rig, complete with gigantic fishermen sails. Used by schooners and ketches, these sails resemble inverted jibs strung between the masts.
Despite the veneer of antiquity, both yachts feature ample shell doors to enlarge deck and living spaces. Phoenicia even has an articulated helipad, which unfolds from the roof of the raised owner’s suite when the curved boom is pinned up to the mast.
This is designed, “with the intention of creating the feel of ‘a house on the cliff’, with a balcony and panoramic windows that surround the space, leaving the views completely open to the vast open sea,” Lobanov explains.
He thinks the yachts of the future will be more automatic. “Probably there will be less crew on board, which may have a trickle-down effect on all the spaces, including water and food storage.”
Inspired by nature
Even now, most yachts – whether sail or motor – are built using a linear arrangement of ribs, stringers, beams and plates, with the result that the space inside is often divided up into regular-shaped boxes. Some designers find this strange. “It’s not a hotel!” exclaims Ken Freivokh. “We’re very retrograde in terms of the structure. The bigger [yachts] get, the more they rely on one of post and beam: just columns and beams, like buildings were built.”
Freivokh, whose projects include everything from production sailing boats to the much-praised 107m Black Pearl, is desperate to get more organic forms and creative design into superyacht building. Taking an example from nature, he thinks that yachts could rely on the strength of a kind of ‘exoskeleton’, which would free up the interior to create more curved and open spaces without littering them with columns. Couple that with the emergence of structural glass, and you have a blueprint for a very different type of yacht.
But the problem is not just due to conservative shipyards and cautious classification bodies, according to Freivokh. Part of it is the owners themselves.
“It is quite typical that most owners when they’re briefing you make reference to existing projects,” he says. “If you ask an owner ‘why do you need a saloon on each deck? Why don’t you have a single saloon with double heights, and totally unique?’ Then the shipyard says how much they love the plans, but if we just did it like this… In the end, they point out it is £2m cheaper to use an existing technical platform, and that’s hard to resist.”
Briand says that every one of his superyacht clients starts from an existing yacht, not a blank piece of paper. “Sometimes those boats have been designed ten years ago,” he says. “Of course, this is not very positive for pushing us towards new technology. You have to make a long and difficult speech in order to convince them that progress in terms of technology is possible.”
Dutch J-Class maestros Dykstra published an ambitious design a few years back which made use of another exoskeleton design in a 46m/150ft concept called Exo. Produced as a collaboration with Claydon Reeves, it takes the root structures of a tree as its inspiration.
“Not only does the long vertical trunk represent the mast, but the root ball forms the hull, providing strength and the support for the vertical structure,” explains James Claydon. “We also considered the skeletal structure of small but strong creatures. In nature it is the exoskeleton, which provides the ‘chassis’ for these organisms.
“These exoskeletons do not employ straight lines but instead have twisting and turning curves which imbue the creature with optimal strength – their forms defined by millions of years of evolution. By setting aside some of the established thinking of past projects, we strived for a new aesthetic that was both attractive and buildable.”
Exo’s composite lattice enabled the interior to be completely opened up, with curved glass panels amidships to create a unique sensation of sitting on the waves. I asked Dykstra’s Thys Nikkels why he thought the concept wasn’t picked up, despite a positive reaction at the Monaco Yacht Show.
“Maybe we haven’t pushed the concept hard enough,” he shrugs. “It’s probably a piece of art in itself. That opened our eyes to what is possible in structures. I think the owners are ready for it, but are we as a market ready for it in a way the owner can contemplate it: ie cost?”
Squares and polygons
There is another design school which prefers brutally straight lines. Aspiring yacht designer George Lucian has garnered more column inches than many veterans with a series of increasingly radical designs, none of which have yet been built. The aptly named Origami is a sailing boat that is entirely composed of triangular and trapezoid shapes connected with hard angles, like the folds in a piece of paper.
This is a concept, so there is no attempt to work out how this craft would actually function, but it involves acres of glass and huge fold-out wings to offer a helipad close to water level. “I think the necessary technology and materials already exist, but all my projects would be very challenging to build, that is for sure,” he admits. “I really think that if one is going to put so much money into a project, it has to be recognisable, different, iconic.”
More recently, Lucian published a design for a motoryacht partly resembling a jumble of ice blocks, and making use of a kite to assist propulsion. Another headline-grabber put a 100m/330ft airship at the heart of the design for a yacht shaped like a wedge, her lines angling out of the sea like arrows.
Beiderbeck designs in Germany has put more intense studies into its design for a gigantic 200m+/660ft+ catamaran, named Galileo2. Capable of berthing an 80m/260ft yacht alongside her beach club, the boxy cat includes a host of innovative features such as marine thermal energy generation, which exploits the lower temperatures far below the surface of the sea, and methanol propulsion.
“This was a study to figure out what was possible; to figure out the step ahead of the next one,” says partner Immo Lüdeling. “It is a catamaran in a size that isn’t built yet; its own shadow vessel.”
Galileo2 is buildable now, but there were still unexpected design challenges. “Just the routes to walk get quite long – from the beach club up to the upper-deck saloon, for instance. Galileo2 has lifts to the bathing platforms.”
The bridge was another problem area on a boat with an 80m/260ft beam. “Our bridge can fly from one side to another, like on a very large crane where you have the crane house moving from one side to the other.” The boat is already sparking interest, including a serious enquiry about a smaller 120m/394ft version. “It’s half the size of Galileo2, but that means eight times less space.”
Limited only by imagination
Electric propulsion is one of the great hopes of the yachting world, but the question is how to get the power on board. In principle, methanol offers carbon-free electricity, although it is usually manufactured using fossil fuels. Stellar Dutch design house Sinot made waves last year when it published a design for 112m/368ft Aqua, using the technology.
Andrew Winch, designer of monster yachts like 156m/512ft Dilbar and 99m/325ft Madame Gu, has taken a different approach in work with Royal Huisman for a super-efficient 30.5m/100ft sailing monohull, where he favours using renewable energy. “The widened stern deck allows for increased underdeck storage in the stern-wings, allowing for the placement of fan-extending solar panels,” he explains. “The concept also has twin rudders and a canting keel for maximum efficiency, as well as twin electrical propulsion that can be used for the regeneration of power at anchor or while sailing.”
There are as many different concepts as there are designers, and while they all have their own take on the yachts of the future, they agree on one point. It will take daring owners to push the boundaries and help these concepts off the drawing board and into the water. Or, as Andrew Winch puts it: “The only limitation is the imagination of the client.”
First published in the October 2020 issue of Yachting World.