Pumula - Royal Huisman's modern take on the gentleman's yacht

The brilliance of 37m Pumula’s plan takes time to reveal, but lies in the confidence of taking a classic sheer and such anti-modern effects as a short waterline and long overhangs, and incorporating them into a modern sailing yacht suited not for the masses but for a pair of dreamers with a globe to explore.

The team charged with creating the owners’ dream sailing yacht is certainly among the most experienced: builder Royal Huisman, naval architect Gerry Dijkstra, Jonathan Rhoades and Dick Young for the interior and as project manager Jens Cornelsen. Their confidence in delivering the mechanics of a sound sailing yacht undoubtedly led to the freedom to improvise and explore options for the lifestyle elements that result in a unique and cosy interior.

The design brief for_ Pumula_ began with the phrase ‘gentleman’s yacht’. Like ‘country kitchen’, that is a yachting phrase open to interpretation. In this owner’s interpretation, it meant romance with features a gentleman might recognise and admire. Dykstra Naval Architects is no novitiate at drawing boats that emulate the past or even copy the lines of long ago yachts such as the J Class, but with this project there would be a sense of the past with the sensibility of the present. Modern conveniences would be designed-in, not accommodated later, and the directive to go around the world rather than the buoys of a race course would be, well, prime.

‘There are places, such as deck stowage and the ceiling height in the engine room, that give us challenges, but as the owner says, we must sacrifice some for beauty,’ says Pumula’s captain Michael van Bregt. ‘There are no sacrifices when it comes to the sailing gear and her performance; in 12 months we have covered 12,000 nautical miles.’ Not easy miles either, as the first trip went to Spitsbergen, Norway, where the crew was advised to rent rifles to ward off any marauding polar bears.

The owners, a lovely European family with ties to South Africa, are not lifelong sailors or racers, but now with time and means to travel, they wanted to do it at their pace and aboard their own sailing yacht, not only for the beauty of the mode of transportation but also to be more in touch with their surroundings. When they conceived of the project, they called the yacht ‘bugamena’, a Zulu word that translates loosely into ‘we are large,’ or ‘we are great’. Undertaking a custom build does often seem a huge project. During the time span of building their boat and planning its usage, however, they became somewhat humbled by the globe’s distances. Thinking about the yacht as a self-contained sliver on a big sea, a tiny world within a very large one, they changed the name to Pumula, which, also in Zulu, means peace or rest. That is in accord with the yacht’s décor and ambiance. There are no single notice-me elements, rather the entire package presents such a reasoned, harmonious whole that the judges of the World Superyacht Awards selected Pumula as not only the best of her category but as the best sailing yacht of the year.

In April, Royal Huisman arranged to make Pumula available for a test sail off Palm Beach, Florida, where the yacht would be hauled out for the first time since her launch. A steady breeze of 15 knots provided perfect conditions for this cutter to set her full jib and mainsail. Pumula has a reacher on a PBO furling luff, but van Bregt says it is rarely used: ‘We are basically a ‘white sails’ boat and the reacher, designed to sail in 30 to 60 degrees apparent wind angle, spends most of its time coiled up under the tender. One of the reasons is because Pumula sails with just four crew.’

‘With four crew and a thirty-seven metre boat, the crew have to be multi-taskers,’ notes Royal Husiman’s US representative Michael Kopstein. ‘At the owners’ request, the boat is set up to be simple to sail. The systems are robust and there aren’t unnecessary complexities designed into it.’ In fact, the only tricky kit, and one that hides well out of sight of the retro profile is the fully ballasted lifting keel. A lifting bulb keel on a boat not intended to race might seem incongruous, but it became an essential part of the package once cruising plans were taken into account – access to atolls in French Polynesia requires shoal draught – and despite the bromide that a gentleman never sails to windward, ambitious destinations require a keel with sufficient depth to provide traction for upwind sailing. Fully deployed, the keel dips to five metres, while up, the draught of three metres may not be exactly Florida-friendly, but allowed admission to the area surrounding the Port of Palm Beach. It is a substantial foil and trunk, one that can support the weight of the boat when hauled.

‘On deck we sought simplicity and a sense of authenticity,’ says Gerry Dijkstra. To meet this objective, this yacht could only have a central wheel, so attention had to be given to sightlines from the helm over the deckhouses. For short-handed sailing, the sail controls had to be close at hand for the helmsman, but not obviously so. This philosophy informed every aspect of our design.’ In fact, the controls and monitors don’t impact on the cockpit lifestyle in the least as some of them are even recessed into the sole. Two large monitors, one for the chart plotter and the other for ship monitoring, drop out of sight when not in use.

The 1.2 metre diameter wheel and cable steering give feedback and sufficient torque. I could not see the jib tell tails from the wheel, but sufficient gauges tell me how close I was sailing to optimal trim on our heading out into the Gulf Stream. The crew also has the option of training one of the mast cameras on the jib with the picture fed back to a monitor near the helm. However, this is a sailor’s boat and one in tune with the physics and feel of sailing. Pumula quickly lets you know if you are wandering from the course. During mainsail hoist and drop, the helm can be controlled remotely.

On deck, the coaming with its gleaming cap rail is suitably high to keep things and people from going overboard and the cockpit feels very secure and dry. The large central table hides a cold box for drinks, while a wind/spray screen zips into the rigid bimini structure to counteract the low profile of the cabin trunk.

As noted before, Pumula has a sense of the past and a sensibility of the present, which allowed Rhoades Young to modernise the interpretation of a gentleman’s yacht and especially to reject mahogany for lighter, more modern choices. ‘It was refreshing,’ says Rhoades. ‘Our challenge was to integrate the required accommodation into the 27.4 metre waterline of a very fine performance hull with low freeboard. This led to an extremely efficient layout with maximum integration of services and build.’

Part of that efficient layout comes from the fact that Pumula’s owners don’t stand on formality or expect the crew to be invisible. ‘We introduced numerous design details that express the individuality and involvement of very hands-on owners, including a lower saloon that opens to the galley so the owners can enjoy being with the crew and be an integral part of running the yacht,’ Rhoades says.

From the deck saloon, stairs offset to starboard to bypass the keel trunk, curve down to a starboard sitting area, its opposite area on port divided between a guest or extra crew cabin and part of the galley. The angled passage to the cabin does double duty as a place for three stools that tuck under a pewter counter. While the counter may seem not much wider than the width of a plate, at the push of a button, the fire-rated wall separating saloon and galley drops out of sight, creating a link between the two spaces and room to line up all the plates for meal service at the dining table in the deck saloon a few steps above.

Every single nook and cranny between the yacht’s frames, deckhead and sole has been utilised for storage with custom refrigeration allowing deep cold-storage. In fact, ‘net space analysis’ between the naval architect, systems engineers and interior designers, was an ongoing constant during the build. The galley connects to the crew mess on starboard, which is comfortable and well lit. Forward, the crew quarters are optimised for a couple in the captain’s cabin with bunk beds in the crew cabin. And speaking of multitasking, chef, stew and captain’s wife Charlotte van Bregt is herself a licensed captain. Unlike some traditional boats, Pumula has actual stairs leading to the forward doghouse.

The interior of the boat features white painted walls and overheads that mimic the actual hull structure. The deck saloon features dropdown windows and deck hatches overhead for light, while the lower deck has recessed oval portholes and deck hatches in every cabin and head.

Eschewing mahogany, Rhoades Young homed in on oak for the joinery and furniture – which was all made in-house by the builder. Oak is a traditional sailing yacht wood, but is also having a renaissance for yacht interiors. The object became how to finish the wood in a way that looked in keeping with the yacht’s vintage profile. ‘Making new wood look old took a lot of research, guesswork and trial and error,’ Rhoades says. ‘The builder refers to it as waxed; it’s a lot more than wax.’

Working with the yard’s cabinetry department, they sought out wood with uneven grain and knots – the kind that might typically be thrown away for contemporary interiors. One of the highlights is the flooring; these planks are wide and although they are smooth, are uneven, as if hewn with an adze and worn smooth over decades of wear. The beeswax surface not only glows, but is also soft to the toes – a natural non-skid. ‘We didn’t want all of the wood to be the same colour; the floors are darker, for example, and the built-in joinery is not given a filled finish,’ says Rhoades. ‘To make it look as if it has been around a while, we tried all sorts of techniques – soaking the wood in tea, rubbing honey into the grain – all kinds of things. The beeswax is just the top coat.’

Another element of period charm is the use of luggage details on bedside tables in the two twin guest cabins and master suite aft of the deck saloon. It’s just enough detail for individuality and not so much it becomes cliché colourful modern art and up to the minute LED light fixtures see to that.

The master suite is on two levels as it incorporates and is open to the owner’s deckhouse and cockpit aft. This upper level, with its 360-degree views, offers a sofa opposite a desk with hidden electronic components. The lower level features a large bed on the centreline flanked by lots of stowage and two sofas that would make excellent sea berths when on long tacks. Not much space is wasted on the en suite, which has a shower instead of a tub.

With her graceful sheer and upswept stern, water access might be an issue, one that Royal Huisman solved by making a fold-out hull platform near the waterline and building articulated carbon fibre stairs to link it to the main deck. ‘At the beginning, we thought it was going to be very complicated and we were cautious,’ van Bregt says. ‘We had all these ropes around it and pads protecting the paint. I think it took us 40 minutes. Now we just hook it up to a halyard, swing it over the side, hook it on and let it deploy. Then one of the crew climbs down, opens the hull platform, attaches the swim step and that’s it. It’s a very simple solution and just right for this boat.’

A lot of things are just right for this boat, which no doubt led to its awards. Yes, there is a considerable amount of brightwork, but the owners are not going to put her into charter service, reducing stress over squeezing in a new coat of varnish. She has all the things a sailing yacht needs, including plenty of hand-holds and furniture with rounded corners. This is a yacht for seeing the world, not for being tied to a dock in a chichi port. Just right, indeed.

Cory Silken

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