An owner’s first foray into yacht building resulted in a stunning new flagship for Nautor Swan, says Clare Mahon. Step on board the 36.5 metre Audrey the First...
“A wish for freedom was the inspiration that led me to decide to build my own yacht, even if that meant having to wait for her,” says the owner of the Swan 120, who took his first leap into yacht construction with the 36.5 metre sailing yacht Audrey the First.
The new flagship from Nautor’s Swan, built in carbon fibre, debuted at the 2021 Monaco Yacht Show, where it drew attention and appreciative comments. This ambitious project had a long gestation period, but went from a mere dream to reality in just a couple of years once the owner decided to take on the project. For the yard, she represents a new era of performance cruising superyachts; for her owners, the Swan 120 represents a whole new lifestyle.
“Sailing is a love that I still have to build on, and the story of Audrey the First is still to be written. But the background is all here,” says the owner. “I did a sailing course in Caprera in Sardinia when I was young, but between work and starting a family, I had to put this love on the back burner. The flame came back to life recently when I began chartering my friend Leonardo Ferragamo’s Swan 115 S Solleone with my family. We chartered her for three consecutive summers.”
Building at Nautor Swan was an easy decision. In addition to the shipyard’s solid reputation and the owners’ friendship with fashion magnate Ferragamo, who also owns the famous Finnish shipyard, they also admired Swan’s go-to designer, the Argentinian naval architect Germán Frers. “We had wanted to meet Germán for years because he’s an icon in the sailing world,” says Audrey the First’s owner. “My wife is from Argentina, and we have lots of friends in common, so it was easier to meet him than we thought.”
They met up with Frers at their home in Argentina, where they spent a day together to explore the brief in detail. Foremost on the wish list was the ability to enjoy their new sailing yacht with friends and family. One of the challenges for a sailing yacht designer is to make a cruising sailing yacht accessible and enjoyable for all, regardless of age, sailing ability or experience. This implied generous interior volume, stability, expansive decks and good access to the sea.
“The main driver of the project was to fully exploit the options for pleasure that the experience of sailing, of living aboard and of owning a yacht can bring,” says Frers. “A sailing yacht has to be fast and perform well on the water, and it has to be fun to helm, but if it heels too much, it won’t be comfortable for guests, especially ones who are not used to sailing. That’s why we designed the Swan 120 to be comfortable at all angles of heel. So, the yacht is fast, yes, but it is also comfortable. It has that special harmony between racing looks and cruising amenities.”
With the owners’ brief in hand, Frers went straight to work creating a new yacht based on a known hull shape, a “powerful canoe body”, which was extensively tested via computational fluid dynamics for best motion and sailing performance. “With the team at Nautor’s, we are a well-oiled machine. In just a couple of years, we went from the naval architecture package, to design, to the finished build,” says Frers.
During his 40-plus-year collaboration with Swan, Frers has constantly upgraded performance characteristics and designs to meet the evolving needs of superyacht owners. On the Swan 120, one of the innovations and key features is a new swim platform. “I feel very strongly that a beach platform is required on a large sailing yacht today to offer easy access to the water,” he says.
The owner enjoys the connection with the water from this new beach area, which is connected to a hydraulically operated platform. “The way that the transom opens so that it’s easy to walk down towards the water has also allowed us to include a sunbed area behind the helms and get the best possible use out of the whole aft area,” he says. “Another feature that we really like are the two large hull windows in the saloon. They add a lot of light to the interior, and even when you’re sitting inside on the couch, you feel like you’re right by the water.”
While collaborating with Frers was almost a given, the owners thought carefully before deciding on an interior designer and interviewed several candidates before selecting British designer and experienced sailor Mark Whiteley. “We knew Mark’s work through friends but were especially impressed by him, by his enthusiasm and commitment to the project, and by the designs that he showed us during his interview,” the owner says. “We had an excellent, very intense and rewarding experience working with him. He understood what we were looking for very quickly: spaciousness, comfort and practical touches like Pullman berths for when our children invite friends aboard. We were a good team.”
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the owners and designer were able to meet in person a few times. “The owners were always very involved in the project,” says Whiteley. Aside from personal meetings in various parts of the world, they also kept in touch via Zoom, meeting virtually an estimated 50 times. “It was a very easy, collaborative relationship based on mutual trust,” says the designer. “This may have been their first custom yacht, but they knew what they wanted aboard.”
The 56 metre ketch Aquarius, which Whiteley designed, served as inspiration. “But this time the sides of the coin were inverted: aboard Aquarius we did modern interiors for a very classic-looking yacht; aboard Audrey the First we had to create a classic atmosphere that would work with Germán Frers’ very modern-looking yacht,” says Whiteley.
Audrey the First’s look is simple and clean, with white surfaces contrasting the warm tones of mahogany. Whiteley pared back details such as raised and fielded panelling, but kept luxury and artisanship in the picture to convey the classic feel the owners wanted to achieve.
“On top of Loro Piana upholstery, we used fabrics in the ceilings and to line the interior sides of the hull. These touches help soften and modernise the interior and give Audrey the First her unique character,” says the designer, who introduced the owners to furniture designer David Linley. “They commissioned the bespoke games table and stools that are in the saloon from [Linley].”
Nautor Swan manager of customer care, quality and commissioning Tina Wik, who co-ordinated the in-house interior design team with project manager Anders Bertlin, points out that it can be more complicated to create an interior that is simply elegant than to make one that goes for the wow effect. “The designer and the owners were going for a look that is simple at first glance – all white and mahogany – but if you look closer, you see that the white panelling is hand-painted and the mahogany is hand buffed,” says Wik. “Some people might not notice it at first, but to achieve this modern-classic look and to create this discreet but luxurious atmosphere, there are lots of details that were done by hand by specialised artisans. The boat is a real testament to the quality of handicraft that we have in Finland at Nautor Swan.”
Whiteley designed the yacht to be an extension of the owners’ lifestyle and a reflection of their personalities. On top of creating the look they wanted, he brought their way of life aboard. For instance, the owners chose to have four cabins instead of five because spaciousness was essential to them, and he gave all the cabins magic mirror televisions because they don’t like the look of screens.
“They asked for custom touches, like a massage table that can be brought from the master cabin to the foredeck where there is a Moroccan tent theme with removable mattresses and cushions,” says the designer. Also, as per their brief, he created a bar area with stools, which can be used for serving meals or for casual dining. Adjacent to a dedicated wine cabinet, the bar acts as a buffer zone between guest and crew areas. In addition, owners and guests can open a hatch to the galley to communicate directly with the chef. Whiteley also had input on the exterior. “They asked me to help with choices for the exterior furnishings so that the style is continuous throughout the yacht,” he says.
Of course, there is much more than design work involved in building a yacht, especially in times like these. “Covid-19 complicated things in unexpected ways,” says the owner. “We took fewer trips to Finland than we would have liked because of travel restrictions, but we did manage to get there once during the build, and it was fascinating. It was the first time that I had seen a yacht being built, and I realised the challenges involved in building such a complicated piece of machinery from scratch.” Bertlin and Wik are accustomed to such challenges but acknowledge that there were disruptions along the way, especially to the yard’s supply chain. “You learn to expect the unexpected,” Wik says with a smile.
Following delivery, the owners cruised in the Mediterranean, capping off days in the sun with evenings under the stars, watching movies on the outdoor movie screen that the crew can set up on the aft deck. And that was precisely the point of Audrey the First – to really enjoy the beauty of the natural world.
In fact, the owners gravitated to a sailing yacht because of their great respect for Mother Nature and the world at large. “Audrey the First was constructed not only with peaceful and serene family living in mind, but also with a conscious approach towards respect for the planet,” says Nautor Swan group CEO Giovanni Pomati. “A sailing yacht is already a green way to explore the world, but here the sails – the main engine – use recyclable materials and energy from renewable sources.”
Audrey the First is the first superyacht to be equipped with sails based on 4T Forte composite membrane technology. Designed and produced by OneSails following a certified life cycle assessment study, 4T Forte sails are manufactured using recyclable materials and renewable energy. The sails are stiff and resistant yet produced without harmful resins or solvents so that, at the end of their useful life, the 4T Forte membranes can be recycled and partially even upcycled as material for a new set of sails.
Pomati continues: “I’m sure Audrey the First will gift her owners with what I think is the concept of living well – living close to the things and the people you love.” As time goes on, the owner will be busy writing new chapters in his sailing history with Audrey the First, which is unlikely to be the last leap he takes in yacht building.
First published in the September 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW