For this month’s issue, five leading designers spoke to Soundings Trade Only about their most challenging and satisfying projects. Three Americans and two Europeans. Two work with production builders, while the other three design across multiple categories, from semicustom vessels to custom superyachts. With outlooks and interests taking very different tacks because of the nature of their projects, they share a pragmatic approach to design. They are always on the lookout for the minute feature or big idea that will push their designs forward.
Kevin Burns, Sabre Yachts
How the heck are we going to pull this off, and what are the ramifications? Those were among the first questions Sabre Yachts vice president of design and product development Kevin Burns asked himself when the company decided to build a 66-footer in 2013. “It was a big challenge,” Burns says. “We hadn’t done it, and it was a complete departure from Sabre’s experience.”
Sabre builds production boats in high volumes to take advantage of efficiencies of scale. The 66 Dirigo would be a lower-volume model, so the company aimed to regain some of those efficiencies by effectively skipping a step and building a mold without a plug.
The plan took Sabre down a path of computational fluid dynamics, CNC machining and robotic carving, after which Burns found himself asking: How would the mold, made of a thermo-resistant tooling paste, hold up when the hull was popped out?
Sabre then decided to go with a split mold, which had further implications for the design. “That opened opportunities for additional shaping,” Burns says. “We added tumblehome aft, changed some radii and added sharpness to some corners.”
The result of the process and additional R&D led Sabre not only to build the boat, which premiered in 2015, but also to make it a “fully connected” vessel. “It comes with an iPad mini that can control the entire boat — turn on lights, operate fuel pumps and run the bilge system,” Burns says.
Variations on that connectivity system have worked their way down through the Sabre line, which now includes saloon express and flybridge versions of the 66. “Everyone from the woodworkers to the systems installers pulled out all the stops,” Burns says of the 66 Dirigo. “It’s a true flagship. Every aspect is a highlight of what Sabre does.”
Michael Peters, Michael Peters Yacht Design
The ones that scare him. Those, Michael Peters says, are his favorite projects because he loves being forced to solve new problems and answer new questions. “The ones where I have to go reread my books, that require me to refresh my thinking,” he says, “those are the fun ones.”
That mindset might explain why Peters has had, in his words, “like five separate careers.” He started out building high-speed offshore raceboats. Then he moved to stepped hulls, then larger motoryachts. Recently, he’s taken on government work, building “high-speed patrol boats with low observables,” meaning stealth military vessels. “We were starting from nothing on that, so we had to study everything that came before and not only teach ourselves how to do it, but become one of the best at it to win the contract,” he says.
Among the more than 500 designs he’s produced, one project that stands out is his turn-of-the-millennium refresh of the storied Chris-Craft brand. “The trick,” Peters says, “was to tap into an intangible retro vision that would provide a connotation of an earlier time, but blended with a thoroughly modern boat, as if the original design had continued progressing through the years.”
Among the features he incorporated to achieve that effect were a bit of tumblehome, a reverse transom and a speedster windshield. “We gave a classic brand a new life,” he says. “That was very satisfying.”
Peters recently took on a similar challenge with Bertram, drawing the company’s 35-footer, as well as new larger models.
John Adams, Formula Boats
The Formula 400 Super Sport won Boating magazine’s Boat of the Year award when it debuted in 1998, but the real win, according to John Adams, Formula’s designer since 1972, was the path the boat opened. “It’s interesting, because it launched a new series and moved us toward today,” Adams says.
Until that point, Formula, true to the offshore racing roots that founder Don Aronow planted, was known largely for performance boats. The Sun Sport line had added some amenities and sleeping quarters, and the Super Sport added even more. “We looked at the library of features we had in our boats and combined them,” Adams says. “It would have been a waste of talent and knowledge not to combine what we had.”
The 400 Super Sport started with a classic Formula profile: tall bow and flush cockpit. It added a structural grid system copied from the company’s offshore boats. The racing line also influenced the helm, with a dash layout aimed at keeping essential information in a convenient line of sight, throttles and trim tabs positioned for ease of use, and sturdy bolsters for the skipper to brace against. Below the waterline, the boat had Formula’s stepped bottom.
Adams added amenities and ideas from the Sun Sport line and a few larger cruisers, including the cockpit layout, cabin arrangements, and galley and head designs. The resulting vessel had the looks and bones of a performance boat, the outdoor space of a sportboat and the comforts of a cruiser below deck. It was a go-fast of sorts that owners could go away on for a week. “It gave us the confidence to explore other concepts and led to other advancements,” Adams says, “like the Crossover lines we have today.”
Philippe Briand, Philippe Briand Design
“They are all difficult and all satisfying,” Philippe Briand says of the more than 1,400 boats he has designed. And while he has an affinity for the ones he has sailed himself — he’s been at the helm for two world championships — there is one boat that stands out for a variety of reasons: the 139-foot Mari Cha IV.
The racing schooner came to life after a client arrived with a one-sentence request: Build the fastest monohull in the world. In addition to being big and fast, the boat’s sails would need to be operated manually — by winches and crews — to qualify for certain records and races. Briand had a history of drawing fast, efficient sailing yachts and motoryachts, based on principles of low weight, low drag and low center of gravity, but the scale of Mari Cha IV would require more than just an efficient design. It would need serious technology.
That meant two 147-foot masts supporting mainsails small enough to be maneuverable by winch, yet large enough to contribute to 15,230 square feet of sail area. To balance the pull of those sails and keep the beamy, shallow hull at an optimal attitude in the water, Briand added a canting keel and 10 tons of water ballast.
The design challenges also included supporting the keel’s 16-ton bulb, which sits at the end of a 19-foot shaft, and controlling it with a hydraulic arm capable of pushing 200 tons. A carbon-fiber composite shaft provides the structural rigidity to handle all the weight and force.
Mari Cha IV became the largest composite canting-keel yacht in existence when she was delivered in 2003. She set two trans-Atlantic records, one for the most miles covered in a 24-hour period (525) and a California-to-Hawaii record.
“Progress is a requirement in our job,” Briand says. “Each design has to be more remarkable than the one before.”
Cor D. Rover, Cor D. Rover Design
“I’ve done hundreds of boats between 40 and 400 feet, from production yachts to fully custom yachts, and I have to say that my favorite design is usually the boat that sells well,” says Cor D. Rover, an Amsterdam-based designer who also trained as a naval architect and mechanical engineer. “That means if someone is writing a check and then comes back for a new model from the same builder, it is successful.” He has had successful runs with widely different styles, including the high-volume FD Horizon series, the ultra-quiet Zeelander series and the Sirena mini-explorer yacht series.
Rover is currently working on challenges in the largely unexplored territory between cruise ships and superyachts. “We’re working on a 361-foot mini cruise ship that has many yacht features,” he says. “It’s interesting because when it comes to materials, we have superyacht clients using very simple fabrics and sustainable materials that cost less. On the other hand, some of the cruise ship interiors are using what they perceive as superyacht interiors —flashy and often gimmicky. There’s a bit of a disconnect there.”
Part of Rover’s mission as a designer is to come up with solutions. His latest is a patented swimming pool on a 180-foot custom yacht for Royal Huisman. “I always thought pools on a yacht were stupid, but thanks to sharks, they suddenly make sense,” he says.
Rover wanted the pool to make even more sense, so he designed the bottom on hydraulic lifts so it can be raised to the top and form a solid deck. Instead of having to jettison thousands of gallons of water into wing tanks, which other designs do, Rover patented a vacuum sealing system that turns the pool water into a nearly solid ballast tank. The system is designed for some overflow, so the pool always stays topped up, but there is no sloshing while the yacht is running.
Rover researched the concept before he designed it and was surprised that it hadn’t been patented. “The weight of the pool water is calculated into the performance of the yacht as ballast,” Rover says. “Instead of hindrance, it greatly helps performance.”
Rover is constantly seeking out practical innovations with the design and function of every project, whether it’s the new 77-foot Horizon or the 220-foot Benetti SeaSense. He and his business partner, Jan van der Pas, are looking five, even 10 years ahead for automotive, aviation and smart home trends that could be applied to marine. Connectivity and electronics remain high on Rover’s current interest list, but he sees much more promising technologies in the future.
“I think boats will be much, much more fuel efficient, and they’ll run with minimal drag in the water,” he says. “That is sci-fi now — and it might not happen in our lifetimes — but it’s coming. We’re sure it’s coming.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue.