Athena under full sail | photo by Louie Psihoyos
Cowes, 1900. The roads are crowded with yachts at anchor – and what enormous vessels they are. Many approach 80 metres in length over the deck and several are even longer. Some have plumb stems, but the majority have a graceful clipper bow. The word graceful is generic to all of them.
The year 1900 also heralds a new century in which sail, at least commercial sail, is coming to an end and steamships are the future. The big yachts follow this trend. The hulls are long and slender, still those of a sailing yacht, but the rigs are short and tall masts have disappeared. The tall rigs are reserved for the smaller racing yachts that accompany the big boats. The roads offer a sight that has not been seen since, and it is this sight, recorded in many photographs, that Dr Jim Clark must have had in his mind when cruising in the Pacific in his younger days.
A series of yachts followed that period, culminating in the Royal Huisman sailing yacht Hyperion, which set the standard for big sloops. But her image still did not represent the golden age of sail – only a return to the 90 metre classic style sailing yacht could do that. A number of options had been explored, first by Pieter Beeldsnijder and later by Dykstra & Partners, whose Royal Huisman schooner Borkumriff IV set an example of what a big yacht could be based upon. There are some differences, though. The rig is that of a sailing yacht, much taller than the rigs of the big yachts of the 1900s.
Athena, Jim Clark’s latest Royal Huisman, can sail and manoeuvre under sail in light airs, conditions not particularly in favour in the 1900s. The detailed attention given to all aspects of this yacht’s construction is incredible – with her superb engineering, state-of-the-art sail handling equipment and the highest quality finish of interior joinery, she combines the best in sail with the luxury and interior space only thought possible in motor yachts.
Launched at the beginning of the 21st century, she is amazingly well executed – an outstanding achievement by Huisman and a tribute to the vision of her owner. Athena is the largest recent construction of a classic style yacht and represents Royal Huisman’s glorious return to the golden age of sail with a classic schooner on the grand scale.
Having circumnavigated the globe she has achieved what she was designed and built for. She has since been joined by Hanuman, a replica of the famous 1937 J Class yacht Endeavour II, and when we see both at anchor off Cowes or Newport the golden age of sail will truly be revived. The spectacle will give pleasure to all who love sail.
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