Inspired by an experienced sailor, the newly crowned World Superyacht Award-winner Path is a real standout, as Sam Fortescue finds out in Palma...
It takes an effort to stand out from the crowd in Palma. There are so many metres of gleaming superyachtery lined up on the quays that everything starts to look the same. Not so the latest launch from Baltic Yachts. It has the advantage of a mast, which naturally helps in a world dominated by motor yachts. But it is really the sleek, quiet purpose of 44.6-metre Path that distinguishes her. That and the flame orange crew uniforms.
With a German designer, an obsessive Finnish builder and an engaged owner, nothing on this boat has been left to chance. I am immediately grateful for the owner’s foresight as I step aboard on an uncharacteristically grey morning. With the leaden threat of rain, we congregate under the truly vast hardtop he requested, which protects the dining and lounging areas of the cockpit. It is a continuation of the coachroof, which sweeps aft a further seven metres.
“The owner took all the experience he gained from sailing round the world and put it into the new boat,” explains Henry Hawkins, executive vice president of Baltic Yachts. “His previous boat was a Baltic 112 which we call Old Path. He’s a hugely passionate sailor and competes in a couple of sports boat classes. So he was adamant he wanted a cruising boat with performance.”
And what the hardtop lacks in pure elegance, it makes up for in sheer practicality. It is just one part of the owner’s philosophy of choosing reliability over elaborate technology or flashy styling, as designer Rolf Vrolijk notes. “This owner knows very well what he wants. There was no need to go to an external designer to make a statement.”
Ease of handling was the other key brief for the judel/vrolijk team. Path has twin rudders, for instance, and a hydraulic lifting keel. This reduces her draught to 3.4 metres – enough to get into many smaller ports and anchorages, including much of the Bahamas. She also features a roller boom system from Carbo Link to make light work of furling or reefing the 558-square-metre mainsail.
On the mechanical side, she is equipped with a saildrive pod system that can rotate through 340 degrees beneath the boat to give optimum thrust and torque at almost any angle. Coupled with the bow thruster, this flexible system simplifies close quarters manoeuvring. A four-blade variable-pitch propeller also adds to efficiency across long passages under power or when motor sailing.
“When manoeuvring under power, you can set it to a high engine speed to provide hydraulic power to the thruster via a PTO,” Hawkins says. Only one thruster is needed with the rotating saildrive, he explains. “We can then add a little pitch to the blades to move forward or backwards or even sideways as needed, as this leg rotates.”
Path rows somewhat against the current with its engine. The capable 550hp Scania unit is certainly up to the job, but the power system eschews hybrid or battery-assisted technology. It is an old-fashioned mix of iron, oil and diesel with enough grunt to pull the boat along and turn the winches, while a pair of 55kW Northern Lights generators pick up the hotel loads. Of course, that is exactly what the owner wanted.
“We looked at electric propulsion, as with the majority of our boats,” Hawkins says. “But Path is set up as a world cruiser and the cornerstone had to be proven reliability.” Similarly, the Hundested main thruster pod is theoretically capable of retracting into the hull to reduce drag under sail. “The owner chose not to take the folding ability for the sake of simplicity,” he adds. “While the pod and propeller hydraulics can all be driven mechanically to return to port.”
Before anything else, though, this boat is a Baltic, and that means a fast hull with a meticulous layup in carbon fibre. By making ample use of Sprint and pre-preg materials from Gurit, Baltic has limited the displacement of this 44.6-metre yacht to 172 tonnes. Pre-preg means that precisely the right amount of epoxy resin is already right where it needs to be in the layup, eliminating the wastage of wet systems.
The lines by judel/vrolijk are as sleek as you would expect from a team that has done so much work with racing yachts. Despite her length, her beam tops out at 9.35 metres, giving Path naturally efficient proportions. The architecture is closely related to that of the Baltic 112 Canova. “These are families of hulls developed through feedback from the crew,” Vrolijk says.
A powerful masthead sloop rig gives the crew plenty of options, and again, the emphasis is on ease of handling. “We didn’t want to go too big with a square-head main, because that creates too much complexity for a cruising guy,” Vrolijk says. No fewer than two fixed and two removable headstays permit a range of sails upwind, plus a three-metre bowsprit for setting the gennaker or dedicated reaching sail. Baltic describes the set-up as a homage to the Imoca 60, whose multi-headsail configuration make short-handed racing a reality.
Vrolijk says that the boat sails well with two headsails set – jib and staysail or storm jib and staysail, as conditions dictate. The main is reefed by putting turns on the boom, but in order not to overstrain the mandrel, the sail still has three reefing points on the luff and leech that take the strain. After sea trials in Palma, he described Path’s handling in typically dry fashion. “It was, of course, quite nice,” he told me. “She has a balanced rudder feel, and the boat tracks very well.”
Path is designed to sail at between 11 and 16 knots in typical conditions, but she had already hit speeds approaching 20 knots on the passage down from Finland, according to Captain Daniele Cesaro. In Palma, the boat handled 35-knot gusts under full main and a staysail jib.
Sightlines from the two wheels are well thought out, with a clear view ahead down the windward side. Each helm station has its own little hardtop with a glass panel for gazing at the sail. It feels a little like the bridge of the USS Enterprise sitting here with six big Sailmon screens for boat data and six huge glass-bridge displays.
Step inside, though, and you instantly return to a past where wood, not carbon fibre, was king. With decidedly classic styling, the interior is all about panelled walls and solid furniture. Elegant cabinetry is well endowed with fiddles – this is an owner who understands the need to steady yourself as you cross the saloon on a 20-degree heel. From sofas to a robust wooden swivel chair at the navigation station, it seemingly adds weight, but says Hawkins, the furniture is foam core with a wood veneer, which allows keeping the weight under control.
Margo Vrolijk led the styling team, making it a full house for judel/vrolijk. She drew on a visit to the owner’s home and a good look at his previous Baltic. “The concept is inspired by how the family lives ashore and translating that into an easily controlled sailing yacht,” she says. “The timeless style of the interior has been achieved through symmetry in geometry and balancing the choice of neutral and natural colour palettes with classic, colourful patterns like stripes and paisley shapes.”
This approach has created a very liveable environment below, with deep, inviting sofas, plump mattresses and comfy chairs. Despite the suede and natural fabric finishes, the upholstery has been designed to be easily maintained when off the beaten track. Most surfaces are in warm teak, while the floors are in a dark stained oak that will conceal wear and tear. “You can spill anything on the fabrics and it will still remain the same colour,” says Margo Vrolijk.
More than the materials, though, it is the spaces created by the design team that intrigue. Beneath that huge main saloon lie the owner’s quarters, bang amidships. The cabin spans the full beam but is partially divided near the middle by a glass screen. Twin beds lie to starboard, with access to a large bathroom with both a shower and recessed full-length bathtub.
To starboard is a wonderful kind of parlour or snug sitting room, with two Poltrona Frau recliners and a host of convenient features within reach. Touch a button and the glass panel turns opaque, becoming a screen for projecting charts and nav information. Pull open a low cabinet and there’s a custom-built recess for a decanter of whisky and weighted crystal tumblers. The glasses are inlaid with a magnet on the base to keep them from sliding off when set down. Pilot guides and reference books line the walls – a library for settling down with a drink to figure out where to head next.
Upstairs you reach the office, on a kind of half level. A huge array of electronics is concealed behind the panelling here, while twin VSAT domes can keep the owner as connected on board as he would be if he were sitting in the office. “The system is Starlink ready,” Hawkins says. “Then there’ll be no need for those big domes – the eggs in the rigging will disappear.”
As this space lacks a hull window, the owner requested an LED wall, the first I have seen aboard a yacht. Running the length of the hull in the office, it normally displays an aquarium scene, but can naturally be programmed to show anything. Vrolijk mocked up a full-size office and owner’s cabin to check every detail.
Although naturally on a smaller scale to the owner’s cabin, three en suite guest cabins offer heaps of space. A VIP cabin in the bow converts between double and twin and includes its own sofa area for privacy. The double just aft has an even larger snug seating area opposite. And a final guest double is in the aft accommodation. Though this puts it next to the crew area, it has its own private companionway to the saloon.
There are lots of little features which are a pleasure to discover. I liked the way that a navigation display folds up out of a burnished chart desk in the main saloon, for instance. Another display in the crew mess slides down out of an overhead cabinet to create a barrier between the navigator and the mess. It’s a smart idea that creates two distinct spaces when necessary. I also like how the doorknobs are leather bound.
With her huge aft deck and a big bathing platform for catching the sun, plus a tender well on the foredeck that serves as a pool when the Ribeye YT600 has been craned out, Path can hold her own in Mallorca and the world’s other yachting hotspots. But she won’t be here for long. Though she’s registered in Malta, this boat has no home port – no marina berth with her name on it. Her calling is as an ocean wanderer. She is going to find her own path around the world.
First published in the June 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.Shop NowRead More/Liara: On board Baltic's award-winning sailing superyacht for sale