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If you’re my generation of sailors or older, you’ll remember when anything beyond 30’ was considered a fairly large sailboat. A time when the bigger cruising or racing yachts you’d regularly come across were in the 34’-38’ range and a Swan 43 was the ultimate blue water dream. A yacht it was hard to imagine anyone would purchase, unless they were either planning on taking part in some serious offshore racing, intent on a transatlantic crossing or perhaps a full circumnavigation of the globe.
Fast forward four decades and you’ll have a difficult time naming any yacht manufacturing company that doesn’t have a model significantly larger than 43 feet in their range. Take X-Yachts in Denmark as a case in point. They now refer to their 45’-50’ yachts as their “volume models”. And no, they’re not talking about gross tonnage, but about the number of units they sell. There’s no denying it. Boats are getting bigger.
Is 50’ the natural limit then? Hardly so. Among the European Yacht of the Year 2017-nominees there were one or more 50+ footers in both the family-, performance- and luxury cruiser yacht categories. From the Jeanneau 51 to the Oceanis Yacht 62. And mind you, the latter just went on to win its category last week. Indeed, Toby Hodges at Yachting World, recently wrote about the “surge in new 60ft plus yacht designs” and this week in Düsseldorf – the world’s largest indoor yacht and watersports expo, you’ll find plenty of evidence. The Dufour 63. The Contest 67 CS and the Oyster 675. Or X-Yachts new 63’ model, the X-65. All production yachts.
A quick flashback to the early 1970’s, when the Sparkman & Stephens designed Swan 65, Sayula II, won the first Whitbread Round the World Race (now the Volvo Ocean Race), might provide some perspective. It was (and I’d say, still is) a masterpiece of engineering, reserved for the few with enough ressources, but poster material for the rest of us. For plenty of reasons, it was considered a super-yacht at the time. By measures alone however, it clearly is no longer. Sure, 60+ foot yachts will still sell at a relatively limited scale and depending on your whereabouts, you’re unlikely to see them in a harbour near you, anytime soon. At least not in numbers you’ll need both your hands to count.
But it’s not just that the average yacht has grown longer. It has grown wider too and disproportionately so. Today, common 40-45 footers routinely measure beyond 4 meters across and you’ll find plenty of 35’-40’ sailboats with a beam as wide or wider than an average 12-metre class (and for that matter, significantly higher freeboards). The evolvement of keel design, from long to still shorter and from wings to bulbs, has – in combination with increasing sail areas, equally pushed the ballast and hence the draught, still deeper.
In that sense, the yacht design trend has been three dimensional across the past decades, driven by a mixture of demand, insight and evolution. Furling sails, bow thrusters, electrical winches etc. has made even large yachts managable for small crews. But it leaves me wondering about at least a couple of things:
- Is bigger necessarily better? Is there a natural limit?
- How can harbours best accommodate and plan for boat-owners’ increasing need for larger berth sizes?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
PS. Did you try the Sailor Challenge? If not, you can find it here.