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Aquarius: Modern classic masterpiece makes for a surprisingly sensible superyacht

Named for the sign of astrological quality, this stunning 186ft world-cruising ketch is the result of serious sailors challenging the best of the best to produce something elegant, fast and seaworthy. Rupert Holmes reports

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All photos: Carlo Baroncini

A demanding brief for Aquarius from experienced sailors has produced a masterpiece from some of the most experienced and talented brains in the superyacht world. Within five months of handover she had already clocked up 11,000 miles.

It’s often tempting to sum up new yachts with a short phrase describing their key characteristics. The brief for Aquarius included that she should be, ‘an elegant, muscular sailing yacht with a classic profile for family enjoyment’. But that barely scratches the surface of the main requirements for this giant ketch.

The owners also wanted a yacht that would combine good seakeeping characteristics with performance, reliability and quality. Essential features included relative simplicity, robustness of systems and a contemporary interpretation of elegant, classic lines, with a clean and uncomplicated appearance.

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Aquarius design brief was for performance without experimentation

Aquarius’s graceful lines and timeless shape belie a rugged world cruiser configured to be self-sufficient for extended periods when voyaging well beyond the popular Med and Caribbean circuits. In addition, the yacht is welcoming for family and friends, while providing sufficient performance to compete in superyacht regattas.

Designed to perform

“The owner loves sailing, so top performance was important,” says Dykstra’s Erik Wassen, who led the design team. “Not to the level of a racing yacht, but having the feeling of sailing well and being responsive like a smaller yacht.” A further stipulation was that the boat should not be experimental. The result is a sensible superyacht interpretation of a performance yacht.

With a whopping 50ft of bow and stern overhangs, there’s far less internal volume than might be expected for a yacht of this length. Also maximum beam is less than one-sixth of the overall length. Even so, any temptation to spoil the lines by raising the black-painted freeboard to provide more space for systems was successfully resisted.

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Considerable work and talent was therefore needed to fit all the requirements into the slender hull. The design team repeatedly honed the arrangements until everything would fit, including adequate space for crew accommodation and servicing of systems.

A fixed 4.8m draught keel fits with the theme of simplicity, while also freeing up the internal space that a lifting or telescopic keel would otherwise occupy. Wassen says: “If it was for optimum performance, you go to seven, eight, nine, ten metres.” The problem is that quickly stops being practical, so his aim was to: “try to get her in the same sort of harbours as the J Class yachts – you can still enter St Barth’s Bucket, for instance.”

Computational Flow Dynamics (CFD) work informed the final hull shape. “In our first hull design we noticed the centre of effort shifted when going from close-hauled to a beam reach to running,” says Wassen. “By optimising the hull shape in the CFD we could minimise that effect, giving much more equal rudder pressure on different points of sail.”

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A sense of scale as the seemingly tiny figures prepare the mizzen staysail

The response and feel of a smaller boat was achieved “through having an ample sail plan – the boat has lots of sail – and giving her lots of stability,” he adds.  “We kept her as light as possible, which is always difficult because of the weight of the systems and of the ballast needed to provide stability.”

Aquarius’s skipper James Turner has been very impressed with the handling so far: “With the correct sail plan Aquarius is a delight on the helm, responsive with weight to the wheel,” he reports. “Contrary to what her length and volume might suggest, she feels lively yet forgiving, almost playful on the wheel.”

A clean and uncluttered deck layout was a key priority, but was rendered more difficult by the lack of bulwarks. The profiles of both deckhouses were kept as low as possible, while individual sails are sheeted to similar points, which concentrates deck gear in discrete locations.

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Despite her significant sail area, push-button controls mean Aquarius can be sailed by three

Clustering several different items into a single feature also helped to achieve this goal. For example, the boxes for vents and skylights ahead of the main deckhouse also form the backrests for the cushions when this area is used for sun lounging. In addition they house discrete B&G units that provide headsail and spinnaker trimmers with the key data needed for racing.

Project manager Godfrey Cray was keen to use halyard locks to reduce the number of winches around the mast base – the final arrangement has just two winches here instead of the usual four. Attention to detail extends to the cowl vents that have a protection ring of black composite below the polished stainless steel caps so that there is no chance of lines snagging.

Powerhouse

The large mizzen was a feature from the inception of the project and provides a powerful configuration for fast reaching and downwind sailing with the mizzen staysail set. A further advantage of this sail plan is that no compromises were needed to keep air draught below the Panamax limit.

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Optimised hull shape and big sail area means Aquarius has the response and feel of a smaller yacht

Doyle Sails New Zealand was involved in the project from an early stage, which gave time to tweak the sail plan and for aerodynamic and finite element analysis work to optimise the deck layout and improve overall load predictions. Aquarius is a fast enough boat for the apparent wind to often be forward of the beam.

A 1,580m2 running asymmetric spinnaker is included in the inventory and is clearly important when racing. However, optimisation of the reaching sails was also a priority to enable Aquarius to realise her enormous potential. In addition to the main and mizzen a 460m2 mizzen staysail and 770m2 Code 0 boost the sail area to an impressive 2,200m2 when reaching.

Rondal performance furling booms are a key means of simplifying sail handling, without compromising performance. They allow control of the foot tension of the sail, while providing a very practical means of reefing and stowing the sails.

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“Typically, these systems are getting more and more reliable,” says Wassen. “There are hardly any boats that are not specifying them, except for some that go all the way to more racy slab reefing systems to reduce weight aloft.”

Square-top sails were shunned because of the difficulties of handling the top batten. However, the large roach main and mizzen still require running backstays, which are handled by captive winches. “They take more space and are heavier,” says Wassen, “but the captive winches mean you always have the opportunity to ease the runners under load if you have to make an unexpected tack or gybe.”

The twin wheels are positioned far enough outboard to give good sight lines to the bow and the rig. Key sail controls are also located at each helm station to facilitate easy handling. A drawback to this, though, is that you can’t always see the function you’re adjusting.  “It’s something we don’t often do,” says Wassen, “and making it look inconspicuous and classic is difficult.”

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The solution was a more modern style console with a lot of controls that are fully concealed by hinged teak covers when not in use. This enables the boat to be sailed with only three people on deck.

Key challenges

While the brief for Aquarius deliberately avoided pushing hard against the boundaries of engineering and materials technology, there were still many challenges to overcome before the owners’ vision and dream could be realised.

In particular, a huge effort was needed to fit the accommodation and systems into the low-volume hull. This involved an iterative process between four parties – naval architect, interior designer, the engineers at Royal Huisman, and the owners – to ensure systems and adequate crew quarters could be accommodated, while leaving enough space for the owner and guest accommodation to meet the brief.

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There is plenty of relaxation space split across Aquarius’s three cockpits

Interior designer Mark Whiteley initially presented two concepts – one for a relatively dark panelled interior, the other with mahogany furniture and trim balanced by white wall spaces. After the two had been mocked up at full scale for a section of the boat, the owners chose the lighter option. Whiteley subsequently described his challenge as creating, “a light and contemporary classic feel, rather than a more sombre and historically referenced one”.

While this early decision informed the big picture, he says the finer details needed careful judgement to give the boat its unique feel. The final coat of white paint on the wall panels, for instance, was brushed by hand to provide additional character and interest. He says: “This added to the relaxed informality and chic, understated quality you might associate with a house in the Hamptons.”

The main cockpit is the primary social hub of the boat, so considerable effort was put into refining it. This extended to the folding arrangements for the tables and to the design of the additional fold-away seats that face the main U-shape seating areas.

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Mahogany joinery is balanced by white trim

The owner wanted a single floor level in the deckhouse, without a higher level for the seating areas, while retaining a view through the windows when sitting down. The lower edge of the windows therefore needed to be brought down as far as possible, which in turn provides a lot of natural light. The skylights also help to flood the interior with natural light.

Two versions of the magnificent owner’s suite were mocked up full-size to ensure every aspect was optimised to the maximum extent possible. There’s ample natural light from the large oval fan light around the mizzen mast, plus four port lights.

The bed is positioned to give a view towards the stairs to the private aft deckhouse, which opens onto its own cockpit. Attention to detail extends to secure stowage for water carafes and personal items.

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Natural light floods into the owner’s suite from large fanlights around masts

Guest accommodation includes two double suites, plus a further flexible cabin that’s primarily configured as a twin. Two extra berths can be provided here to accommodate a larger number of children, via a Pullman on the inboard side and a recessed bed that drops down from the deckhead on the outboard side. A great deal of effort was expended to ensure there is no evidence of these extra beds when the cabin is in its normal mode.

There’s also a fully equipped gym, plus a lower saloon, with a huge cinema screen and top end concealed sound system. Quarters for up to 10 crew are provided in five cabins forward. This area has its own access from the foredeck, while guest areas can also be reached from the galley.

What does Whitely like most about the accommodation? “The relaxed feel and the balance between the classic and the contemporary, it really works. I also like the owner’s suite a lot: it’s a fantastic living space.”

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The owner’s suite includes private aft deckhouse

Aquarius is the latest addition to a very distinguished lineage of modern classics produced in the past decade by a collaboration between Dykstra and Royal Huisman, including Kamixitha, Meteor and Pumula.

It’s a stunningly successful partnership that, with Aquarius, has produced another beautiful new superyacht that combines the ultimate in elegance with superlative comfort, style and performance.

Specification

LOA: 56.18m (184ft 4in)
LWL: 41.17m (135ft 1in)
Beam: 9.51m (31ft 2in)
Draught: 4.80m (15ft 9in)
Displacement: 264 tonnes
Mainsail: 520m2 (5,597ft2)
Mizzen: 440m2 (4,736ft2)
Blade: 430m2 (4,628ft2)
Air draught: 58.50m (192ft 11in)
Spars: Rondal carbon with Rondal/Carbo-Link continuous standing rigging

First published in the July 2019 issue of Supersail World.

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