It’s taken five years for this groundbreaking yacht to show the world what she’s really made of. So was it worth the wait? Holly Overton gets the inside track from her captain and crew.
Black Pearl was designed to push the boundaries of technology and what was thought to be possible for a 106.7-metre under sail. But even for her captain, Christian Truter, carving through the busy waters of St Barths at 14 knots was a bold move. She was an unexpected guest and her fashionably late arrival to New Year’s celebrations caused quite the stir. “We were heeled over, full sail set, blitzing the anchorage between all the boats,” Truter recalls. This was the first time Black Pearl had ever seen this side of the Atlantic, and she wanted to let the world know she had arrived.
It took six years, a visionary owner, and an army of designers, architects and engineers to build Black Pearl. When she was finally delivered in 2018, she was the largest sailing yacht in the world and by far the most technologically advanced. She was built to cross oceans but, up until last year, had barely strayed from Europe.
“The original plan was to sail around the world,” explains Derek Munro, the owner’s representative. “The owner wanted to show the boat off and show the technology to as many people as possible.” She is essentially a wind-driven power plant with three freestanding masts and 2,900 square metres of sail. Her revolutionary DynaRig was a significant advancement on Maltese Falcon, with 25 per cent more sail area, electric rotating spars that made her more manoeuvrable and a hinged rig that reduces her air draught so she could pass through the Panama Canal. Then there is all the stuff you can’t see: variable-pitch propellers which can produce enough energy to power the hotel load under sail or recharge the batteries, allowing her to cross oceans without burning a litre of fuel; her waste heat recovery system is perhaps the most advanced ever seen on board a private vessel; and her spars, yards and superstructure are even wired for solar.
After the shakedown from the Oceanco shipyard in the Netherlands to Gibraltar, she entered a long warranty period. “There were still some technical elements that needed finishing and [the owner] wasn’t in a hurry. He wanted things to be perfect and he was happy to take the time to do that,” explains Captain Truter. When she finally set sail, Black Pearl logged some serious miles in the Mediterranean, bouncing between Gibraltar and Cyprus, before heading into the North Sea around the tip of Denmark and up into the Baltics.
Any plans for a global tour were put on pause during the Covid-19 pandemic, which kept her bound to Europe. But it was the unexpected death of her owner in 2021 that put Black Pearl in a renewed state of limbo. She sat on the dock in Montenegro for more than a year, occasionally running training sails with the crew, so that when the call eventually came in, they could drop lines and go. That is the beauty of the DynaRig. There are no sheets to run, no stays, no winches, no heavy sails to heave across the deck or covers to remove. You could be off an anchorage with sails set in just seven minutes.
“The boat has been getting prepped to go to the Caribbean for a long time. There was a false start the year before, but this year we knew we were going,” says Truter. She checked into the Adriatic42 shipyard in Montenegro at the beginning of November for her five-year class survey in preparation.
“Winter in the Mediterranean, particularly in the Adriatic, you spend a lot of time watching the weather. It was serendipity that we had a window opening up to dodge low-pressure systems that also aligned with our survey,” says Truter. The last contractors stepped off the boat at 5pm on November 24 and by 8pm the crew was dropping lines and heading to Albania to bunker.
“We sailed across the boot of Italy and up through Messina, and because of the wind – we had 40-plus knots – we hugged the coast of Italy. Once we got up around Capri, we did a beautiful bear away and, with wind on the quarter, sailed towards Bonifacio,” Truter explains. They were chasing the incoming mistral in the Golfe du Lion. “We threw a dart onto the chart at which point we expected the wind to come in on the mistral. And pretty much on that point, we ended up with 40 to 50 knots of wind. We bore away, shortened sail and sailed at 15 knots towards Menorca.”
A brief stop in Palma saw the conclusion of a few inspection items left over from the survey in Montenegro and some time spent poring over weather charts. “It had been a weird year in the Atlantic with a lot of unsettled low- pressure systems quite far south disrupting the Azores high and not really providing great crossing weather. As we were sitting there it looked like a pattern was forming to give us reinforced trades from just south of the Canaries if we hustled,” says Truter.
The crew made haste for Tenerife, where they picked up a couple of stowaways, Munro and the former captain, Chris Gartner, and were soon heading south to catch the weather system that was opening up. “We motor-sailed for a day towards 22 [degrees] north, and as soon as we got into the wind, around 23 [degrees] north, we turned off the engines and set full sail. We sailed the whole way to St Barths from there.”
Reinforced trade winds effectively slingshot them across the Atlantic. The wind was in the high thirties and she was cantering along at up to 19 knots. “We would have gone faster but we were spinning props to create electricity so we could turn our generators off,” says Truter. It is a careful balancing act. Running the regeneration system robs her of a couple of knots but feeds energy back into the vessel. At the same time, they needed pace to stay ahead of the weather system that was nipping at the transom.
Most of the helming is done from the two large wheels on the flybridge with the wheelhouse used only on occasion. And if there is bad weather? “You put your foulies on and get a cup of coffee,” says chief officer Matthew Hopkins.
Black Pearl left Montenegro with 22 crew and collected a few more en route. The 12-day transatlantic overlapped with the festive period and the crew spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve at sea. For almost half of those on board, it was their first Atlantic crossing. “There may have been a ritual,” laughs Truter. “King Neptune [aka Gartner] definitely made himself present.”
On Christmas Eve, Black Pearl caught up to a solo rower competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. The crew gathered on the flybridge to sing him We Wish You a Merry Christmas. And the morning after, they had a visit from Santa Claus, aka Munro.
Black Pearl was underway for 20.5 days from Montenegro to St Barths. She sailed more than 80 per cent of the way, averaging 11 knots, and consumed 32,000 litres of fuel over 5,600 nautical miles. (A conventional 100-metre motor yacht would burn around 10,000 litres a day.)
The arrival of Black Pearl into St Barths on January 2 was a poignant moment, particularly for Chris Gartner. Steering from the flybridge with sights on the anchorage, Truter handed the helm to Gartner, who had been Black Pearl’s captain and custodian from the build until last year when he left to join a new project. The journey marked the end of a chapter in his career and the start of a new one for Black Pearl.
With a renewed sense of adventure, Black Pearl is set to welcome others to experience her power and prowess for the first time as she joins the charter fleet. She will offer charterers a unique “Eco Mode” option where the boat will waive any fuel costs to those who agree to mostly sail and, when engine power is necessary, only use the electric motors at a maximum speed of 11 knots.
At the time of writing, Black Pearl is back in the Med but plans to return to the Caribbean. Having completed her first – and now second – Atlantic crossings, the crew are resolute in their commitment to the mission started by her late owner: to cross oceans and leave the smallest possible footprint. “As with any yacht you want to see them out on the ocean chewing up the miles and going to different places,” says Munro. “This was our first big voyage and hopefully the start of many, many more.”
Black Pearl is offered for charter with Superyacht Connections, superyachtconnections.co.uk