Sailing to a greener future
Sailing used to be considered a superyacht niche, but a new generation of sailing yacht designs promise greener superyachting without compromising on space or comfort.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the wealthy found a new hobby – sailing. The race around the Isle of Wight that spawned the America’s Cup took place in 1851, and seemed to spark close to a century of glamour and elegance afloat, from mighty schooners to the bite-the-back-of-your-hand beauty of the J Class yachts. But the advent of the internal combustion engine hastened what had begun with steam power, and slowly but surely the fledgling superyacht industry in the 1950s and 1960s became dominated by motor yachts. It makes sense – motor yachts are seemingly more accessible if you’ve never been on the water before, and they are seemingly quicker for cruising, and easier to handle. It’s no wonder that the motor yacht dominates the superyacht sector by a factor of nine to one.
That, however, is beginning to change, not least as people start to realise the advantages that a sailing yacht can confer – quieter cruising without the sound of engines, and less reliance on fuel which means longer potential cruising range with the added benefit of reduced cost. There are also tangential environmental benefits.
“It used to be that we would ask a client about saving fuel and using alternative energy, and have it come back to cost,” says renowned naval architect and sailing yacht guru Bill Tripp. “But now it’s the other way round – people are looking at themselves as being a bit more stewards of the oceans and the planet, and that’s going to be helpful. It’s only parallel to design – because design is creating space in a world that you can take your dreams and your family and go off and do things – but there’s also an attitude that goes with it.”
Sailing superyacht designer Malcolm McKeon has experienced a similar shift in focus, and also says that it’s helping reinvigorate the sailing yacht segment of the market. “Green technology is always high on the list of the priorities when we’re talking to new clients,” he offers. “The biggest thing at the moment is hydrogeneration, where you can generate a lot of energy through spinning a propeller while you’re sailing with a relatively little reduction in speed.”
It offers an intriguing glimpse into a fossil-free cruising future, with the yacht itself powered by the wind and the hotel and guest loads drawing power from a bank of batteries (or other non-combustion solution) which are topped up by reclaiming energy while sailing. “You’re able potentially to sail across the Atlantic without actually starting an engine,” McKeon confirms, “while still being able to run your air conditioning, make hot water, cook, and everything else.”
AQUIJO PHOTO:BILL TRIPP
AQUIJO PHOTO:BILL TRIPP
It’s this very principle that Tripp has recently applied to a 60-foot sailing yacht project. “We’re doing our first all-electric boat for a client who knows that world very well,” he enthuses. “He comes from the world of electric cars and he says, ‘Why don’t we get rid of the combustion engines completely? Instead of doing hybrid, let’s just make it completely electric because you can charge the batteries while you sail.’ And if you’re in a place where you can plug in to shorepower and its not coal-powered,” Tripp adds, “you’ve actually started to get a virtuous spiral out of it.”
The problem, of course, is that for many people sailing is still something of an arcane artform – it’s seen as being complicated and needing a specialist crew, while the yachts are seen as inevitably less voluminous for a given length, and they heel over. Modern design, however, is seeking to overturn these barriers, aided by the fact that motor yachts themselves are more and more borrowing from sailing yacht hull forms, which are typically more efficient for a given length and therefore offer energy savings – key for reducing environmental impact.
Indeed, the new generation of super sailing yachts combine prodigious interior volumes with expansive deck areas, with new developments in foil design and other aspects helping to reduce that heel to offer a far more motoryacht-style experience. Moreover, the act of sailing itself is being simplified to make it more accessible, even on larger yachts. “What we’re trying to do is explore the idea of easy sailing without it being dumb sailing,” Tripp explains. “It’s starting to happen all the way up to the entrance point of people who have had power boats, who have always liked the idea of sailing but don’t understand it.”
The switchover from motor to sail is likely only going to increase as people look for new ways to enjoy the oceans, and this is also driving a change in the types of sailing yacht clients are considering, with the catamaran hull form in particular gaining traction. “We’ve seen a lot of interest in multihulls and I think, again, people coming from a powerboat background see that as a more stable, comfortable platform to be on than a monohull,” McKeon continues. “And to be able to sail with all the advantages of a multihull like shallow draft, performance, a stable platform and also the big open spaces you don’t see on a monohull, that sector of the market is just expanding hugely.”
While it’s anyone’s guess how the market may end up splitting between sail and power, there’s no question that sail offers an exciting and environmentally conscious alternative to traditional motor yachts and its appeal is only going to expand as owners and charterers see just how comfortable, how spacious, how easy, and – perhaps most importantly – how energy efficient the next generation of sailing yachts will be. And it doesn’t end there. “There’s so much still in the inventor phase, but there are so many people working on it now,” Tripp concludes. “It’s an interesting time, and for me it’s made both sailboat and powerboat design far more interesting.”