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Insight: Philippe Briand on blending motor with sail

Written by
Charl van Rooy

A keen sailor from childhood, Philippe’s time spent on the water skimming every possible second off his time around the race circuit made him realise that boats are improved by focusing on the details. He would eventually approach his design projects in the exact same way - a way of thinking that has landed him some of the most industry-changing projects and shaped the way we think what is possible in terms of design today. So where did the idea of designing motor yachts come from?

“At the time when we decided to begin Vitruvius, it was not usual to have a naval architect doing both motor and sail. There was still a rather big ‘cliff’ between the two fields. Our philosophy was to design efficient boats by using our experience gained from the sailing yacht arena and designing an efficient motor yacht with better proportions. We were one of the first leading design studios to make this step and I think we have demonstrated that it is a concept that truly works, and is also better accepted by the industry today.”

And the name Vitruvius? Where did that come from?

Vitruvius was a Roman architect who invented the principles of proportion. We were inspired by him and his philosophies, and we try to incorporate that same functional and stylistic approach into our projects.

Before you moved into larger superyacht-sized projects, and till this day, you designed many production sailing yacht lines. What are the main differences between these production projects and the highly custom designs that you do?

Yes this is still our original target market and our main design exercise. I would say the approach to these two different markets are more or less the same, but the conclusion, the end result, is quite different. The one is being designed for an industry while the other is created for a unique, one-off client. Whenever we design a production boat, our aim is to deliver a high-quality product at a very good cost that provides the user functionality, but in the most efficient way.

In the superyacht world, so far at least, the aim of the industry seems to be to deliver the most expensive boat as possible. So this is a totally different approach than the one of the production which looks for the better quality-price ratio.

How do you think the younger generation of superyacht owners will influence the sailing yacht industry?

I think we have been very lucky up till now, as most of our clients have been very experienced people who actually understood the sophistication, technological developments and the architecture that go into our sailing yachts.They were attracted by the fact that they were building a custom yacht with the latest innovations and features. This approach, of course, had an enormous affect on the project’s budget which in most cases were sky-high. Although this is still the case in some projects, I would say this trend is getting less and less.

"I feel that in order to satisfy the upcoming generation of sailing yacht owners we need to design and deliver more cruising-orientated projects within a more efficient budget." These clients are not always in search of the latest carbon fibre rigging as this is not needed for comfortable cruising. I think this is perhaps a gap that we have created in today’s market - designing boats for people who actually just like to have a good time on the water, cruising.

Tell us about what goes on behind the scenes in the initial stages of the design phase when working with a client.

Of course, when we first meet new and interested clients we are always very excited and eager to learn more about their ideas or convictions. Sometimes they need us to better formalise their vision. In such a case we may show them other projects that we have designed, we make sketches, and just throw around some ideas. If they are serious and they like to move forward, then this requires some work from us and is when we will start designing the preliminary project to define the concept. If the owner is happy with the concept then we need to develop the technical drawings which will be presented in the bidding package to a shipyard. After a shipyard certain shipyard has been selected, we will start collaborating with the study office of the shipyard and design the final drawings working together with them.

Can you tell us about the projects that you are currently working on?

On our drawing boards we have a 50-metre and 90-metre sailing yacht projects, both in the preliminary stage. We have designed a 30-metre concept named Egoist which is aimed exactly what I was talking about earlier - people who enjoy sailing but not necessarily racing. Just for cruising on a very elegant and classy boat. We have around five or six motor yacht projects on the table. We have a 58-metre being built at Feadship, an 80-metre project that will start this year at Turquoise, as well as a 105-metre design with Oceanco.

Is it difficult to find good designers to help make all of these projects become a reality?

It is difficult. We find a lot of young designers which look very good because they have their 120-metre projects published in the media with a very nice rendering. But when these designers end up in our office, or another design studio, we need to teach them how we design a boat. A boat is made out of details and components, and so we need to take these designers all the way back to the details and understand what are the bricks and how to design every small piece of the boat. So it is difficult to find young people who have talent as well as this experience or even the understanding.

Do you have a favourite yacht that you have designed?

That is a very difficult question. I feel we try to make each project the best in its own way. What I think makes an interesting design is consistency, and that is what I like in each of our yachts.

Are you still having fun?

Yes! Well if I am like a sailor, I will say sailing yachts are a bit more exciting for me, and racing boats are even more exciting, so a boat like Mari Cha IV on which we broke the Transatlantic record of course is something so special that I keep in my memories very well.

This article was published in the latest edition of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now to receive your copy straight to your door and never miss another issue.

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