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Insight: Bill Tripp on designing the largest sailing ketch in the world

Written by
Charl van Rooy

When it comes to the field of sailing yacht naval architects, Bill Tripp is undoubtedly among the top names in this exclusive section of design. The American’s portfolio contains some of the most technologically advanced and innovative projects out on the water today. As Tripp spends most of his time at the studio in Connecticut, we were fortunate enough to catch up with the maestro in his charismatic satellite office located in the heart of Amsterdam to discuss the responsibilities of naval architects, the future of design, and what it is like sailing one of the largest yachts in the world.

Does your involvement in projects stretch beyond the design phase?

It does happen that when we do a motor yacht it is sometimes a case of handing over the keys, where after we may or may not hear about the yacht ever again. Sailing yachts however, and the ones who actively take part in races in particular, we are still very much involved with even after the launch. It is part of our passion to stay in touch with the owners and crew to follow them on their journeys around the world and relive the experiences that was enjoyed on board with them

Have you thought about becoming more active in the motor yacht scene at all?

As a studio we are interested in design and technology first and foremost. When the motor yacht world decides to start driving towards greater efficiency, then we will definitely be keen to get more involved. Creating a yacht to stay tied up in a marina and to enjoy your cocktail on does not interest us very much. I do however believe the motor yacht world is due for change especially with regards to the impact on the environment. Every other industry is working towards it, and I believe so should we.

Where do you find your design inspiration comes from?

Well, really any design that we find interesting. Design is something that we think is always evolving and moving forward. We particularly like to look at the classics. Although considered old-school in today’s terms, at the time they were the pioneers of technology, and we like to learn from that to see what is possible today. Better Place is a prime example of how, working with Luca Bassani, we applied nearly everything that is possible today into a single yacht, and because of that some people find it an unusual boat, others see her as extraordinary.

Aquijo was recently delivered. What was the brief that you received to design one of the world’s largest sailing yachts?

It started with the owners of the yacht coming to us with accommodation requirements and a preliminary layout (from Dolker&Voges), and describing to us what he wanted: Safety-Comfort-Speed. We then put pen to paper and tried to give some design leadership, but also follow through with his ideas to make sure that what he was after from the beginning was in fact realised. We started out with a lifting keel and fitting the yacht with a very particular rig. From the beginning he made it clear that he didn’t want an aero rig but two masts instead. Boats that size are often three-masted but from an ascetic’s point of view he opted for two, which seemed like a reasonable request to us. From there our work involved making the rig controllable and not having too many sails having to go up at the same time. The final configuration essentially makes Aquijo a four-sail yacht which makes her an interesting and fairly easy boat to sail. In Palma we were out in near 30-knots of wind and with a reef in the mizzen and the one in the main and the staysail up, we felt quite comfortable. No one was looking around thinking uh-oh, what’s going to happen next. There were discussions as to why not fit the yacht with a sloop rig. We had a quick look at the calculations and soon realised that fear was a pretty good reason not to go that route. We wanted something that would be comfortable to sail when the wind is blowing hard, and not have people on board think about whether they are safe, or whether they will get back.

You have a strong history with Wally. How did that partnership come about?

When the owner of Alithia was thinking about building his new yacht, he had us and Wally bid for the eventual design. He ultimately chose our design, not because of anything Wally did or didn’t do, but perhaps of our ties with Abeking & Rasmussen [the shipyard where the yacht was ultimately going to be built]. Afterwards Luca Bassani got in touch to congratulate me and asked if I could come down to meet with him. A few years later Esense was built at Wally, and yachts such as Saudade followed soon after.

In terms of technology how do you see the sailing yacht industry developing over the next few years?

There is a lot of exciting developments happening in the world of professional racing at the moment. What we are focusing on is taking technology that is workable and safe and implementing that into something that can go around the world. Which is why racing is so important to us; it allows us to explore different types of construction, rigs, keels, foils and rudders, all the while keeping innovation as the drive force. There is a lot of risk involved in being a naval architect, whether you are working on a 62 footer or an 86 metre that is sailing around the world. You want to make sure the people on board return and also enjoy their experience on the boat. In terms of materials, composite technologies have advanced tremendously and has already made its way into sails and rigs and will soon be introduced into the hull materials as well. Ways to make the yachts less environmentally impactful is also developing. Creating lighter boats means we can simply do with smaller engines which use less fuel.

How important have superyacht regattas become in the sailing yacht industry?

First of all, the superyacht world is not about the media or the architects, it’s about the owners. There are only a couple of thousand people who support this industry and so when we are forty people out on a sea trial or taking part in a regatta, we are all working for the owner. We want to make sure that there are various ways that they can enjoy their yacht, and I feel regattas are fantastic for a lot of these guys. It’s an event to meet people with other boats, with different ideas and a way to enjoy the act of creation together. For us as architects, racing these boats is a great way to adapt the technology that is available and implementing it into the cruising scene.

What are on the boards for the studio’s future?

I like to keep things tight around the studio. I certainly do not have grand ideas of expanding the company to 30 members, the largest we have been was 12 with the smallest team only six of us. I don’t see us progressing into the aviation and property design arenas in the future either, so with the yachting scene being as small as it is our studio will remain at a manageable size. Young designers with fresh ideas are important to us, and involving some cross-cultural individuals as well. There is a lot of room for young ideas but you don’t have to get intellectually old at the same time.

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Photos: Giles Martin-Raget and Carlo Borlenghi

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