Dutch naval architect Gerard Dijkstra has been announced as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BOAT International Design & Innovation Awards 2022.
His five-decades-long-career has resulted in a staggering portfolio of work from modern marvels, the likes of Maltese Falcon and Black Pearl, to the classic stylings of Athena, Hetairos, and Adix - and not forgetting his pivotal role in the revival of the J Class. He accepted his award at the Superyacht Design Festival in Milan to a standing ovation.
Born to an Amsterdam family with no history of sailing – his father was in the clothing business – by the age of 10 Dijkstra was devouring sailing books, especially those about the great age of the clipper ships. At 14 he had his own boat, a four-metre BM, which he restored and in which he learnt the rudiments of wind and water.
He had not set out to become a naval architect. At 18 he was studying aeronautics at Delft University, until a head injury in his second year during a rugby match put paid to an academic career. A year later he was a deckhand on a Southern Ocean Shipyard-built Gallant 53, and in 12 months he went from deckie to skipper of a second Gallant and was chartering in the Caribbean.
It was in an SOS-built Ocean 71, the unlucky Second Life, that Dijkstra began his solo ocean racing career, dismasting off the Grand Banks at the end of the 1972 OSTAR. For a decade or so he was the complete professional racing sailor, proficient in both single-handed and fully crewed racing (and was headhunted by Conny van Rietschoten for his triumphant Sparkman & Stephens-designed Flyer in the 1977 Whitbread). Determined to find further success, he penned his first yacht design, a single-handed transatlantic racer named Bestevaer, and asked Dutch shipyard Royal Huisman to build it. The yacht featured in the entry lists of nearly every single-handed race in the calendar, but he still found time to study naval architecture under his mentor, Professor Geritsma, at his old university.
Eventually, Dijkstra parlayed the skills of a charter boat captain, around-the-world race navigator and mathematician into a career culminating in one of the world’s most successful yacht design firms, Dykstra Naval Architects. Founded in 1969, and now led by chief executive Thys Nikkels, the award-winning team at Dykstra is comprised of passionate sailors and designers who have worked on the world's most prolific builds and refits.
One of Dijkstra's greatest achievements came in 1989 when Thomas Sopwith's 39.56 metre Endeavour, which had been laid up and long forgotten, was revealed to the world after a five-year rebuild under the eye of her rescuer Elizabeth Meyer. Dykstra Naval Architects has been called upon to complete the redesign, which kickstarted a J Class revival. Endeavour was shortly followed by the rebuilds of Velsheda and Shamrock, by which point the Dykstra Naval Architects had become a purveyor of the J Class and was approached to mastermind two of the new J Class builds at Royal Huisman (Hanuman) and Holland Jachtbouw (Rainbow).
Dijkstra is also heralded as pioneer of the DynaRig (or FalconRig) seen on the 88 metre Perini Navi Maltese Falcon and Oceano's 107 metre Black Pearl. Inspired by 19th-century clippers, the idea was originated by a German engineer Wilhelm Prölss in the 1960s, as an alternative means of propulsion for commercial ships. The concept was never destined for a sailing yacht, which is what makes Dijkstra's vision so revolutionary.
He pitched the unusual square rig to venture capitalist Tom Perkins who had started a project with Perini Navi and it became the premise for Maltese Falcon. It was a Herculean project that began with a two-year feasibility and devoured more than 90,000 design and development hours. Maltese Falcon was launched in 2006 with its three unstayed, computer-steered, rotating carbon masts.
Now, in his “retirement”, Dijkstra is studying how best to apply sail power to commercial ships, using his work on the DynaRig and the tall-ship clipper Stad Amsterdam.
Award-winning superyachts by Dykstra Naval Architects:
- Maltese Falcon, World Superyacht Awards 2007, Best Sailing Yacht 45m+
- Maltese Falcon, World Superyacht Awards 2007, Sailing Yacht of the Year
- Hetairos, World Superyacht Awards 2012, Judges' Special Award
- Hanuman, World Superyacht Awards 2010, Best Sailing Yacht 30m - 44m
- Meteor, World Superyacht Awards 2008, Sailing Yacht of the Year
- Meteor, World Superyacht Awards 2008, Best Sailing Yacht in the 45m+
- Meteor, World Superyacht Awards 2008, Best Sailing Yacht Exterior styling
- Pumula, World Superyacht Awards 2013, Sailing Yacht of the Year
- Pumula, World Superyacht Awards 2013, Best Sailing Yacht 30m - 39m
- Rainbow, World Superyacht Awards 2013, Sailing Yachts 39m+
- Endeavour, World Superyacht Awards 2013, Best Refit
- Sailing Yacht A, World Superyacht Awards 2018, Sail-Assisted Motor Yachts
- Black Pearl, World Superyacht Awards 2019, Sailing Yacht of the Year
- Black Pearl, World Superyacht Awards 2019, Best Sailing Yacht 60m+
- Sea Eagle II, Design & Innovation Awards 2021, Best Naval Architecture Sailing Yacht
- Perseverance, World Superyacht Awards 2022, Sailing Yacht of the Year
- Perseverance, World Superyacht Awards, Best Sailing Yacht under 40m