The undercover racer: How Nauta designed the semi-custom Taniwha

1 September 2021

Southern Wind’s semi-custom cruiser Taniwha designed by Nauta Design is made to seek the breeze. On a quiet day when the wind barely scuffs the surface of the Med, this yacht will just keep sailing, as Elaine Bunting finds out.

When the owner of Taniwha first approached Southern Wind about a new yacht, it was a custom design he had in mind and so, the question arose of whether the existing Farr and Nauta-designed SW105 could be altered and adapted to suit.

The result, hull No 4 in the SW105 mini series, is modestly termed a “smart custom” version. Differences to earlier models are significant, encompassing a completely new deck configuration, hull freeboard, appendages, cockpit layout and sailplan as well as interior style and finish. Taniwha is destined for private use in the Mediterranean, about 90 per cent of the time for cruising. Yet it has many of the attributes typical of a racing boat. With a high sail area to displacement ratio, it will be fully powered up in just 10 to 12 knots of true wind.

To achieve this, aggressive weight targets were set and it is to the yard’s considerable credit that the team eventually managed to achieve a weight 5.7 tonnes less than SW105 No 2, Kiboko Tres, which is the most racing-oriented of the series. To do so, Southern Wind adapted the female mould to reduce the toerail shape and height, and Nauta tweaked the 105’s lines and designed a wider, lower cockpit and a slender, tapering coachroof curved at the sides that give the impression of a sports coupé. “The design comes from the method of construction. We wanted to keep the thickness of the sandwich visible,” says Massimo Gino, co-founder of Nauta Design.

The cockpit layout was also altered by Nauta to make it lower and wider. Coamings were moved further outboard and partially suspended over the cockpit sole to create the appearance of floating over it. This is highlighted at night, when a concealed rope of LED lights pours light inwards from the cockpit edges.

When not in racing mode, a modern, state-of-the-art interior is there for guests to relax. Thanks to Nauta’s fresh design process “the same design language has been used inside and out. It is holistic. I am very happy with the result,” says Gino. The owner’s suite is forward, along with a studio with a sofa, desk and dayhead that can be converted into a double cabin. Aft of the saloon is a VIP cabin with a walkaround bed and a twin cabin, both en suite. The galley, nav area and quarters for five crew are all located right aft.

The master cabin shows off the concept of the floating interior introduced by Nauta, where furniture and lockers are fixed proud of the cabin sole. As Gino points out, the narrowing bases of lockers are rarely very useful. “You can put nothing in them, they are a lot of additional weight for nothing and you are hiding the shape of the boat. With this floating interior we show the hull shape.”

Downlighting illuminates the hull-to-floorboard radius, which can even be walked on when the boat is heeling. Similarly, the panelled hull sides curve towards the ceiling, which also has downlighters. “Normally there is a dark 90-degree angle here,” Gino explains.

Oiled teak was used for the furniture. This is brighter than varnished teak and, Gino says, “is very natural in touch and colour”. This is matched in the saloon and cabins by pale grey linen panels and linen-covered locker doors with stitched leather latches. The same white-stitched leather is to be found throughout the yacht on handles and door latches. Floorboards are in quarter-sawn laminated light oak and the overall effect is “a very clean style", observes Gino.“It is all a bit Zen.”

The saloon is flanked by sofas and a table on each side. Both tables can be extended to make dining tables but the owner envisages guests will be outside most of the time. A central part of Nauta’s design work was to minimise the impact of the lifting keel trunk. “This is one of the first parts we start studying on each project as we don’t want it to divide the saloon,” says Gino. “All the interior is designed to have as little [of it] as possible intruding and in the saloon it is negligible.” The aft end of the keel trunk is rounded and upholstered in the same light, grooved linen panels as the bulkheads and hull sides.

To balance the light colours and materials in the saloon, Nauta decided to create a teak ceiling around the skylight. Gino calls it a “dome, because you see it is a little bit recessed, not flush, and it is darker compared to the white ceiling around it. So we created a frame for the light, a frame for the sky and this makes the saloon feel wider and warmer.”

Within the ranks of production series yachts, Southern Wind considers this one exceptional. “Honestly, the design of the boat and what Nauta has achieved is stunning,” says Dabbadie. Taniwha was christened in Cape Town in April before undergoing sea trials. By midsummer she was on her way north to Europe on a 7,000-nautical-mile transoceanic maiden voyage, and while catching the late summer breezes, Taniwha was in her element.