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the-86-metre-sailing-yacht-aquijo-was-built-by-oceanco-and-vitters
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Inside 86m Aquijo: The largest ketch in the world

Put Cape Horn on notice: Aquijo is coming. The largest ketch in the world is ready to stretch her sails after a summer spent on an extended shakedown in the Med.

“My dream is to sail her around South America,” Aquijo’s owner says. “People who round Cape Horn are a special breed among sailors.”

World cruising, in comfort, was a key part of the brief delivered to Tripp Design in 2010. As was speed. Sailing around the Greek Islands this summer, Aquijo was out in 35 to 40 knots of breeze and hit 20.4 knots, cruising at an average of 19.

“What an amazing day of sailing!” the owner recalls. “The boat was on rails even in the rough sea that kept many boats in port.” Aquijo, at 1,538 gross tonnes the largest volume modern sailing yacht in the world, can fly. 

To produce such a luxurious thoroughbred required a unique collaboration between two Dutch shipyards and Tripp. They first called upon Vitters, well-known for its experience in high-performance sailing yachts. But the yard had never built anything on this scale before. Its previous largest yacht measured 60 metres and had a much smaller displacement.

So Vitters joined forces with Oceanco, relying on the latter’s experience in the engineering and construction of 80 metre-plus motor yachts. It was a collaboration in the truest sense of the word.

Aquijo was built at Oceanco’s much larger facility at Alblasserdam, which enjoys direct access to the sea, but the teams worked closely together. At times it was a precarious balance to keep the demands of a sailing yacht in check: the loads are immense.

“The hull is high-tensile steel,” says Tripp. “The loading of the boat is as much about bending stiffness as it is about the strength.” Aquijo’s fully optimised, lightweight hull construction is capable of withstanding forces from the mast and rig loads as well as the 11.6 metre keel in the worst-case scenario, a knockdown.

Weight was critical for optimised sailing performance and righting moment, requiring tight weight management and control throughout the whole design, engineering and build process. “Aquijo’s such a powerful boat,” says Vitters’ founder Jan Vitters. “The tremendous sheet loads, the enormous loads on everything — that was a big learning curve.” The main mast rig loads weigh in at 180 tonnes on the V1 cap shroud, 90 tonnes on the staysail stay and 73 tonnes on the runners.

Aquijo is crammed with innovations to enhance sailing performance based on her massive size: custom 40 tonne winches with adjustable line speed allow sail handling in varying wind conditions; a unique submarine anchor system, with two anchor weights set in optimised locations to improve seakeeping; and Vitters’ in-house-developed steering system, which translates the hydrodynamic force on the carbon-fibre rudder blades — for the largest-ever carbon rudders — directly to the flybridge steering wheels, providing the helmsman with immediate feedback.

The acutely sensitive steering allows Aquijo to perform like a much smaller sailing yacht. “She handles like a boat one quarter of her size,” the owner reports. “I think we have given the yacht a lot of attributes akin to smaller performance sailing vessels,” says Tripp, “appropriately adapted for the reality of the forces on a boat of this size. The boat is easily driven, the sails can be put up and taken down quickly, and the loads are evenly divided over three sails, giving lots of options.”

Tripp acknowledges that this isn’t exactly new — he’s used a similar configuration for a client seeking a 23 metre. But achieving this on the scale of Aquijo is impressive.

Flying 3Di North Sails, the yacht has a total sail area of 3,821 square metres and 5,051 square metres with the Code 1 up. “It is easy to sail the boat in 30-plus knots of wind, and it’s not intimidating,” says Tripp. “Aquijo sails very well reefed and still exceeds wind speed in light air. She is excellent under power but better at sailing.”

The exterior design and layout were influenced by a need to reduce windage and keep the centre of gravity low. Aquijo started out at 85 metres but was extended at the start of construction to improve the proportions of the beach club area, says Tripp, and make sure a better boarding platform could be installed.

Despite her size, the goal wasn’t to wow. “If you think we built the boat to impress, you are wrong,” the owner says. “When you approach Aquijo from a distance, you do not get the impression that she is such a big boat, because her design is so clear and balanced. Only if you compare her to other things can you see her dimensions.”

That unique profile was dictated by the owner’s desire for an extensive personal enclave above the main deck, “which required adding one deck more than was our norm for a sailing boat”, according to Tripp.

This has resulted in a superb owner’s deck with a rear-facing bedroom offering 270 degree views. It’s an amazing place to wake up, says the Aquijo’s owner. “Sailboats and a view from the inside don’t normally go together, but when you — electrically — open the big curtains and blinds and find yourself surrounded by that glistening and gleaming sea, that is when you absorb the feeling of the freedom of the sea. And from the guest cabins, you also have a stunning view overlooking the sea,” he says.

To avoid Aquijo looking too tall, Tripp placed the bridge a half-deck down from the upper owner’s deck, with the flybridge flush on top and forward of the owner’s area. The sheer was kept low aft for clear sightlines from the saloon and dining room and raised forward.

“This gave us space to store Aquijo’s tenders below deck and still have a full-height bulwark to keep the foredeck clean, accessible and safe. We proposed a centred engine room, a lifting keel, even-height ketch rig and an aft inside-outside beach club,” says Tripp.

That is no cramped, cluttered sailing yacht engine room, either. The technical spaces are masterful, expanding from the centre and running the full length of Aquijo under the accommodation, allowing for machinery, tenders and stowage to be evenly spaced and weighted.

The superyacht sundeck is the prime day-time destination on board Aquijo. “When the winds are prevailing you can even use the Jacuzzi during sailing,” the owner says. “At twilight there are three bars where I like to have a drink: one on the owner’s deck, one on the flybridge wrapping halfway round the Jacuzzi and one on the big main deck aft.”

Aquijo’s interior design is by Dölker + Voges, who worked closely with the owner’s wife. “It really was her baby. She knows every corner, even into the crew quarters,” says Jan Vitters. The goal was to balance the essence of a small sailing yacht with motor yacht luxuries.

“The interior design is contemporary and elegant, yet fresh and natural,” says Robert Voges. “Clear and logical lines, pure materials, simplicity and remarkable attention to the details.” Wood and stainless steel are used liberally inside Aquijo, playing an important role in reflecting the sailing character of the yacht, a specific request of the owner.

“[Stainless steel] is one of the noblest materials,” says Voges. “Using it in the right way allows an exciting interaction between light, reflections and interior design, creating a sophisticated and modern atmosphere.”

Stainless steel is employed both practically and artfully on board Aquijo. Take the handrails, discreet but easily grasped in a sea state, and the mizzen mast cladding in the middle of the lower deck guest corridor, which adds interest and reflects light.

This is replicated in Aquijo’s central stairway, where a polished stainless steel artwork is shaped to mimic the look of a mast —

a wow-worthy custom piece commissioned from a German stainless steel manufacturer. “You wouldn’t believe the time it took to get that level of shine on the stainless,” says Patrick Moussa, of Master Yachts, the owner’s project manager. It gleams mirror-like and is a striking feature upon entering the main deck foyer, adjacent to the wheelchair-accessible superyacht elevator.

This gleaming motif carries forward in the high-gloss Japanese lacquer headboards — each of Aquijo’s guest cabins sporting its own pop of colour — glass mosaic shower walls and palladium-leaf ceiling domes. Reflective surfaces are offset by natural woods, from the mutenye floors to light brushed ash walls and teak planking.

Dölker + Voges also helped shape a layout that connects private and public areas efficiently and creates multipurpose spaces. This can be seen on Aquijo’s main deck, where the saloon and aft deck living areas merge seamlessly, a central bar straddling the two spaces. The saloon seating area is smaller than might be expected, but that is the point.

The owners wanted cosy spaces as well as larger venues for socialising. “We preferred to have numerous different and intimate spaces over palatial ones as we emphasise conversation and sharing experiences on board,” the owner says. “Aquijo is about intimacy among family and friends — and being able to go anywhere with them.”

The aft deck is generous and there are dining areas inside and out — complete with gimballing tables. “These provide fantastic alfresco dining, even when Aquijo is heeling 20 degrees,” the owner says. The guest cabin configurations can be changed, transforming from suites to multiple cabins, and from the lower deck guests have direct access to the superyacht beach club, which Voges says is his favourite area.

Aquijo’s beach club and spa coexist in perfect harmony, with a central spa pool — naturally illuminated by a skylight created by the glass floor in the main deck above — and flanked by a lounge area to starboard and a sauna to port with views out to sea. “The sauna and steam bath are particularly useful after a sail in cold, wintry conditions,” the owner says.

The entire area is teak-clad, with the interior theme carried through in the white U-shaped sofa and turquoise lacquered table to starboard. The original brief called for an aft engine room and a superyacht spa amidships, but moving the wellness area aft made Aquijo’s beach club a far more cohesive space.

The engine room moving forwards, meanwhile, had the added benefit of negating the need for keel ballast and placing it much closer to Aquijo’s crew quarters. Tripp is happy with the swap. “The combination of the vertical windows and the aft glass doors makes the inside-outside beach club a vibrant and compelling space — one can come out of the water or beach into this space and Zen [out],” he says. The beach club can also be used at sea when the aft watertight door is closed.

It’s a space sure to be enjoyed as the owners journey around the globe — plans that heavily influenced the yacht’s overall design. Aquijo’s rig height precludes traversing the Panama Canal, so she will have to be ready to take the long way round.

“The yacht must be capable of rounding the capes in a storm while under sail and in safety,” says Tripp. “Having this capability requires a lot of attention to balance the hull form, sail area, stability and robust, powered control systems.”

Tripp admits no project has ever stretched him quite like Aquijo. “The creative challenge was intense,” he says. But if the measure of success is a happy owner, then Tripp can count this epic production among his many successes. “The mission of this boat is to explore the world in safety, comfort and speed,” the owner says. “We will be setting course for some faraway places.”

First published in the October 2016 edition of Boat International

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