At the shipyard: Sailing Innovation with Royal Huisman

Written by Francesca Webster

While sailing yachts once dominated the world’s oceans, since the advent of the first motor yachts they have consisted of a shrinking portion of the world's superyacht fleet. In recent years, however, the tide has begun to turn. With questions of “sustainability” and “eco-efficiency” abuzz across the industry, some yacht owners are weighing up their options and sailing yachts are garnering more interest.Aquarius sailing off Palma de MallorcaPhoto: Carlo BaronciniOne shipyard that is synonymous with sailing yacht expertise is Royal Huisman, which puts forward a powerhouse triple threat: the new-build facility of Royal Huisman Vollenhove, Huisfit refit facility in Amsterdam and Rondal, the carbon fibre specialists of international renown. Founded over 135 years ago, Royal Huisman combines its archive of expertise with the pressure cooker of its innovation team which includes its sister Rondal, and the result is a company that not only walks the line between tradition and modernity, but pulls the two together in harmony. The yard also now turns its mind to motor yachts, and as the recent and lauded delivery of the 58.5-metre PHI has demonstrated.Royal Huisman yard facility in VollenhovePhoto: Tom van OossanenWe took a tour of the Vollenhove facility to get a feel for what Royal Huisman has on offer, with six projects currently under development, two of which are motor and one being the world’s longest sloop, there was plenty to see. One thing that unequivocally unifies Royal Huisman projects, both sail and motor, is the uniqueness of each yacht. Currently under construction is Project 404, a 59.7-metre Malcolm McKeon high-performance sloop with a retractable keel; Project 405, a 46.82-metre performance-cruiser sloop by Nauta and Reichel / Pugh that has pioneered the new “Featherlight” hull concept (more on that later); Project 406, a 52-metre sportfisher that will be the largest in the world; Project 407 is the rebuild of the 1930s motor sailor Atlantide; Project 408, the 65m Ketch Aquarius II, and finally Project 410 – the 85m New World Sloop from Frers Design. Royal Huisman Project MM597Photo: Royal HuismanInnovation

Each of these projects offers a unique solution to the owner’s specifications and Project 405 is a case in point for how Royal Huisman is primed to delve into its knowledge and create something special. The owners of 405 came to Royal Huisman looking for a light, strong but fast performance-cruiser that could stand her ground in regattas, but also offers a comfortable and homely interior for her guests. Rather than compromising on outfitting materials, Reichel / Pugh and Nauta worked together with the shipyard team to pioneer a new hull construction method, known as Featherlight – a high-grade mix between aluminium and carbon. 

Offering a reduction of up to 11 percent for the structural weight, whilst maintaining the stiffness and structural integrity of the hull, Featherlight combines the strength of carbon and the stability and low noise levels offered by aluminium. The Royal Huisman team is quite happy with the final product, which took sixteen iterations to perfect, and we can expect to see the Featherlight form, and versions of it, on many future sailing and motoryacht projects.Royal Huisman Project 405 construction Photo: Tom van Oossanen / Royal Huisman While Featherlight has been one recent innovation, it doesn’t stop there. As we walked through the shipyard’s various construction and assembly halls, the interior cabinetry and furniture of various vessels were being crafted and assembled in full-size mockups to ensure the absolute accuracy of the design. Visible between the layers of wooden panelling is a central section of aluminium grating that, like the Featherlight hull, enhances the stiffness of the yacht and adds additional stability to the vessel while also lightening the interior structures.

It's impossible to mention unique innovations without touching on Project 406, the custom 52-metre sportfisher. The hull of the vessel has benefitted from the testing and innovation of the Featherlight construction and while some might question how Royal Huisman came to win a commission for such an unusual concept, it is that uniqueness that made Royal Huisman the perfect choice. The hull is now in an advanced stage of construction and standing above her, one really gets a sense of how she has been inspired by the sailing yachts the yard is famed for. A sleek hull and graceful sweeping profile line, the yacht’s owner's team visited Royal Huisman during the construction of PHI and it was that experience that won them over to the shipyard. Both motor yachts have low profiles (though Project 406 has five towering decks her hull form is low and slender), and are set to be truly unique within the global fleet. Royal Huisman Project 406 yacht exterior designWalking through Royal Huisman’s Vollenhove shipyard, the facility has been carefully and efficiently organised so that the halls are arranged around the central heart of the business: the carbon and carpentry halls. The transition between Royal Huisman and Rondal is so fluid in fact that you are unaware when you move from one to the other, creating a sense of absolute unity. Arranged in this way, the team has direct access to each of the projects and can move between them, collaborating with colleagues and ensuring standardisation of quality control. And at the same time a unique experience for clients, who will have the pleasure of seeing all the main aspects of their yacht under construction.

Tradition and Modernity

While Royal Huisman is still famed for the construction of classic yachts, under the hull the yachts are far from classic as they are outfitted, like their contemporary counterparts, with the latest technology. Vessels such as Aquarius II, the construction of which is just about to begin, may have classic lines and a traditional aesthetic, but she is set to be an all-powerful racing yacht with a large battery pack for peak shaving, and one that surpasses her 2018 sistership, the 56-metre Aquarius. Aquarius yacht sailing in  St. BarthsPhoto: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht TimesAquarius II is an interesting project, with the owners returning after only four years, not only to the shipyard but to the entire design team, and requesting the creation of a near-identical yacht, “only” 11 metres longer. With performance at the heart of the new project, Royal Huisman and the team will work tirelessly to deliver a vessel that replaces the current Aquarius and packs even more of a punch in terms of performance. It's worth noting that Aquarius won her class in the 2019 and 2022 St Barths Bucket, so she’s not shy when it comes to ability. Ngoni yacht cruisingPhoto: Jeff BrownDespite its over 135-year heritage and reputation when it comes to modern classics, the current order book demonstrates that Royal Huisman has more than just one string to its bow. According to the team here it is that same heritage that enables the yard to straddle the gap between traditional and modernity and to execute both sectors to the same impeccable standard. The 58-metre Ngoni, otherwise known as “The Beast” is a great example of a highly distinctive superyacht that holds her own in terms of both performance and luxury. Ngoni yacht cruisingPhoto: Jeff BrownThe outfitting of Project 404 is another excellent example. Her hull is now adorned with a striking and modern colour and as we toured the yard her mainsheet arch was in the spray room, days away from assembly onboard. With huge hull windows and a massive foredeck with a gentle camber that’s home to a large hidden tender storage, the superyacht is set to be an extremely luxurious vessel. She even features a walk-in beach club, something we are familiar with from 40-metre-plus motor yachts but certainly not many sailing yachts.

Project 405 is both a floating home and a formidable competitor. She features a retractable keel offering a shallow draft and Rondal has pioneered a carbon trunk for the keel that reduces the amount of space needed and lightens the load. Royal Huisman Project 405 exterior designPhoto: Nauta DesignBoth 404 and 405 demonstrate how well Royal Huisman is equipped to funnel its expertise into contemporary cruising or performance projects, while also using that experience to further advance its motor yachts.

Defining the future

As one of the few shipyards in the world pioneering within the sailing yacht sphere, Royal Huisman holds responsibility for the progression of yachting. When the yard first released the news in March that it had won the contract for an 85-metre sloop, it shared a tiny insight into the nature of the vessel. Not only does her name “New World” hint that the yacht will be something special, the drawing released implies that she is set to be different. Posed on a backdrop of wind turbines, the contemporary lines and name of the yacht suggest that sustainability and efficiency lie at the heart of the project. Ethereal yacht sailingPhoto: Franco PaceWhile the shipyard remains tightlipped about the vessel, it has mentioned that it is working hard with the design team of Mani Frers and Gillian Brown of Wetzels Brown to employ recycled and low-impact materials throughout the vessel. This goes to the heart of what Royal Huisman has been working on since the delivery of Ethereal, the world’s first hybrid-electric superyacht, in 2008. The shipyard recognises that sailing yachts may well be the best option in order to future-proof the yachting industry and it is therefore striving to make advancements in the sustainability of its vessels and construction processes. 

With many yacht owners seeking alternative and possibly more sustainable solutions to the normal yachting lifestyle, Royal Huisman is one company driving revived interest in the possibilities offered by sailing yachts.

This article was originally published in Issue 41 of SuperYacht Times newspaper. To read more stories like this one and to never again miss another issue of the SuperYacht Times newspaper, subscribe here.

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