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Iconic yachts: The story of Black Pearl, the sailing yacht that changed everything

4 October 2021 • Written by Sam Fortescue


Once in a while, a yacht comes along that really changes everything. Delivered in 2018, Black Pearl by Oceanco was one such project.

Measuring 106m LOA, this visionary design officially takes the title as the second biggest sailing yacht in the world, outstripped only by the 109.5 metre Sea Cloud. There are other bigger yachts with sails, but they are considered to be sail-assisted. There are other superlatives to Black Pearl, too. With her three 70m carbon masts she can set 2,900 square metres of sail on the world’s largest Dynarig system. The masts have a folding system that allows the yacht to pass safely through the Panama Canal.

Photography: Tom van Oossanen

Developed by the Dutch naval architect Dykstra, the Dynarig system uses free-standing masts with swinging yard arms from which panels of sail can be unfurled at the touch of a button. Somewhat resembling the square rig of old, this modern system allows one crew member to set Black Pearl’s full sail in under seven minutes.

Her Russian owner, the late Oleg Burlakov, was always determined to make the yacht as energy-efficient as possible. She features a hybrid propulsion system and a vast battery bank designed by BMT Nigel Gee of Southampton with input from Lateral Naval Architects.

“We live in a world of finite resources, yet it seems we have created a culture that is dependent on consuming those resources, and a culture that cares little for the natural world we all have to live in,” the owner told BOAT International in 2018. “Black Pearl is, in many ways, my attempt to show the world that we do not have to continue consuming those resources, that we can change and improve the impact we have on our natural world.”

Under sail, the boat’s propellers turn backwards, generating up to 480kW of power for use and storage on board. This allows the boat to operate silently for extended periods. “Black Pearl already produces enough energy sailing at 11-12 knots to switch off the generator for the majority of the time,” says Thys Nikkels of Dykstra Naval Architects. “With good winds, she should be able to cross the Atlantic without burning a single drop of fossil fuel.”

Dykstra gave the boat a wave-piercing reverse bow that doubles back into a traditional point – like a trireme or a pilot boat. Under electric power, she can reach 17.5 knots, or up to 30 knots under sail.

Details of Black Pearl’s interior have never been shared with the public. What is known is that Nuvolari Lenard worked with Villate Design to realise a vision that has been described as Louis XVI. Ken Freivokh, who also worked on the design, describes it as “fairly Russian style” with “quite a bit of gold”. He says the owner was a keen collector of antiques, and the brief for the interior involved accommodating many of his favourite pieces, including a Napoleon Bonaparte piano.

The layout of the boat is also unusual, in that the owner put the emphasis on the main saloon and a huge private study, rather than his stateroom, which is quite modestly situated on the lower deck. There are just four further double cabins for guests and family. A lot of prime space amidships is devoted to the gymnasium, which runs full beam with two shell doors that extend balconies on either side. “It can be used for a variety of things – entertaining,” says Freivokh.

Other features of note include a 4,000-bottle wine cellar and tasting room; a beach club whose ceiling has been studied with lights to reproduce night-time constellations; and a combined cinema sky lounge on the upper deck. A big tender garage under the foredeck houses twin custom tenders, including a very special 10m Pascoe limo, and above it the bulwarks fold down to offer a touch-and-go helipad.

Black Pearl won the coveted Best Naval Architecture for Sailing Yachts award at the 2019 Boat International Design & Innovation Awards. Collecting the gong, Oceanco project manager Hans Boerakker said: “Black Pearl completely reflects the owner’s dream and his vision. We were fortunate enough to be the builders of his dream.”

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