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Sherpa XL: Inside the 23.9 Metre Arcadia Superyacht

23 January 2020 • Written by Sam Fortescue

When you go around comparing yourself to Apple, you had better make sure you’ve got some impressive products to back it up. Arcadia Yachts made just this claim at the Cannes Yachting Festival, and fortunately for the Italian builder, it also launched the yacht to prove it. Called the Sherpa XL, it is a more roomy, 24-metre version of the headline-grabbing 18-metre Sherpa model – the “Plus” to the standard iPhone, to continue the analogy.

Arcadia’s claim to trend-setting innovation is staked on its rather different-looking yachts, with their rounded semi-displacement hulls and the mass of the low superstructure forward. Designed to cruise efficiently at speeds in the mid-teens, there was nothing else quite like them in 2009 when the first A85 emerged from the shipyard on the Gulf of Naples. The yachting industry dismissed it as an outre design that had appeared at exactly the wrong moment – just as the financial crisis of 2007 was tightening its grip.

Ten years on, the critics have been proven wrong. Not only is Arcadia still very much in business, but its growing Sherpa line has pushed the aesthetic even further. The ninth Sherpa has just been ordered by a client in Australia, and the company will reveal a Sherpa XXL project at Boot Düsseldorf 2020. “At the start, no one took us seriously,” says Arcadia’s Francesco Ansalone. “These lines, these shapes are now part of yachting culture.” So much so that Arcadia now claims other yacht builders are imitating it.

Arcadia has a tendency to build yachts that depart from the usual styles.

But at Cannes, all eyes are on the brand new Sherpa XL. Viewed in profile, it shares the same high, snub bow as the smaller Sherpa, with successive chines that give it a hard-working look. It has a similar boxy bridge deck, which extends right forward, wings in the superstructure and the large aft deck runs down to the bathing platform. Milan design outfit Hot Lab clearly drew the lines of the XL with one eye firmly on its predecessors. “The brand identity is so strong that every designer involved in their project will have to somehow put aside their own styling desires and bend them a bit towards the yard’s approach,” says Hot Lab’s Enrico Lumini.

At the same time, though, there are subtle differences. The sundeck on the XL extends a long way aft, shortening the amount of open deck space below. And the lines are a little different on the bigger boat: windows, bulwarks and the tender garage all interrupt the smooth run. Coming at a higher price point (€5 million vs €1.8 million) and packing many more features, the Sherpa XL looks a little less utilitarian. “The design of the original Sherpa was well balanced with her philosophy; more easy-going than the XL, which is a proper yacht,” Lumini continues. “In being considered a megayacht, even being only 24 metres, of course, the interior and the exterior design had to be a bit more ‘serious’.”

The main aft deck is the social hub of the Sherpa XL.

The Sherpa may have grown up, but its soul is still very much intact. It’s there in the huge external entertainment areas; the big windows that open, connecting you to the sights and smells of your surroundings; and, of course, in the 35-square-metre solar array encased in the glass roof of the main saloon. The boat aims to re-engage owners with the sea – a principle that Ansalone sums up as “making the blue economy – yachting – greener”.

In the heat of a Mediterranean day, the boat’s solar panels can pump 3kW of energy into the 30kW battery bank. It’s enough to run most key systems without firing up the generator, so you can spend the evening enjoying an anchorage in perfect silence, or keep the boat in quiet mode overnight if you’re sparing with the air con. “We always try to give the maximum surface area to solar panels,” says Ansalone. “It is a trademark of Arcadia, at the same time preserving the line and the beauty that every yacht must have. The light and shade that the panels create is fabulous.”

The solar panels create a wonderful ceiling effect for the main saloon.

Of course, large glazed areas on a yacht can easily undo all the benefit of collecting the sun’s energy in the first place – no one wants to have to shout over the sound of the air con running flat out. “We further improved our heat insulation system, which is characterised by multi-glazed glass with insulating gas between glass panes,” says the yard’s plant manager Salvatore D’Ambrosi. “This technology can be appreciated in the sky lounge in particular, which can be fully enjoyed reducing the use of the air-conditioning system to a minimum, and sometimes not using it at all.” The insulating effect is similar to that of a 20-centimetre-thick brick wall, the yard says, enough to support a temperature difference of 18°C between the exteral and internal glass surfaces.

The covered upper aft deck.

However, the idea behind this yacht is to minimise the use of air management altogether. In cool weather, that means keeping in as much heat as possible. “Our yachts are also defined as ‘jardins d’hiver’,” says Ansalone. And when it’s hot, you can simply lower the windows. Just like the original Sherpa, the XL has electric windows all the way around the main saloon – each controlled independently, so you can let in just as much sea breeze as you wish.

This “outdoors, indoors” quality also helps to connect the boat’s three principal spaces. The main aft deck extends to around 65 square metres and is really the social hub of the boat. There’s a large teak table that seats eight, but can be extended for up to 10 people. Two-metre-high glass panels on both sides can be slid out of a hidden recess in the superstructure to protect against draughts. A low console between the table and the sofa area contains a 127-centimetre pop-up television, turning the aft deck into an outdoor cinema. Or you can move back to the lounging area, where deep, comfy sofas make the perfect spot to admire the view. There’s a big sunpad here that overhangs the bathing platform with its transformer.

Indoor-outdoor dining spaces are available on board.

Ringing the differences between this boat and its smaller sister is the addition of a completely new sun lounge, reached up a half-flight of stairs from the saloon. It’s a very clean, geometrical shape containing some freestanding sofas by Meridiani, a bar and icemaker, plus storage. “A big awning provides cover up here,” says Ansalone. “We want this as a private area for the owner and guests without crew.”

This concept of privacy, separating crew and guests, was not a major concern on the smaller boat, since the original Sherpa was an owner-driven boat and offered two guest cabins. The XL can afford a dedicated crew area right in the bow with two bunks and a shower. Access is via stairs next to the helm, which can be closed off with a sliding glass panel. Crew use the port side deck to get between their cabin, the galley and the working areas of the boat. You can even opt for a glass wall to separate the helm station from the rest of the saloon if you want.

The twin cabin on board Sherpa XL.

Other than that, the key choice is between a three- or four-cabin yacht. With the former, the galley is on the lower deck and has its own set of stairs to avoid any awkwardness with guests running into the cook bearing platters of steaming lobster bisque. Alternatively, the galley is in a room carved out at the back of the saloon on the port side – small, but well equipped with Bosch appliances.

That generous 6.98-metre beam allows an impressive owner’s suite amidships on the lower deck, filled with natural light thanks to windows that can be opened. “When stepping into the cabins you feel like being on board a much larger yacht,” says Lumini. “This was again a main characteristic of all Arcadia yachts we had to follow and respect.” The bathroom area fills the starboard side and Arcadia has left the sink and vanity units open to the cabin. The mirror is a mobile panel in front of the windows that you can slide one way or the other depending on whether you want to admire yourself or the view.

The amidships master suite and bathroom.

The finish is sophisticated Italian – a mixture of polished stainless steel, gleaming black Marquina marble, grey-stained oak panelling and deep, white carpet. Indirect lighting lifts the beds off the floor, and the headboards are all in light grey Alcantara. Arcadia has won a sense of space from a game of half levels, where you step up from the owner’s cabin to the guest cabins. In this boat, they are configured as two twin cabins, ideal for children, and a VIP cabin forward which is the lightest of all the cabins with three windows on each side. Naturally, Arcadia can tailor the interior finish to the owner’s wishes. Even the furniture can be custom-built.

The final ace up the Sherpa XL’s sleeve concerns the technical areas. The brand firmly believes that tenders should be hidden away, not carted around on the stern for all to see. But while the original Sherpa used a precisely engineered storage space with a crane accessed under the sunpad, the XL has gone for the more superyacht approach of a shell door at the waterline. “Considerable attention in terms of design and testing was focused on the new side garage system, which is one of a kind in the 85- to 90ft [25- to 27-metre] segment,” says D’Ambrosi. “It provides clean profiles and allows guests to use the entire yacht at all times.”

Arcadia believes the Sherpa XL’s side-opening tender garage is unique in a 24m boat.

This system increases the tender size of the original Sherpa to around four metres. And crucially, it doesn’t require guests to vacate the sunpad. A crew member simply climbs down into the garage via a hatch concealed in the plinth at the side of the aft deck sofa and operates the winch from there. The use of twin Volvo Penta IPS drives for propulsion means that the engines are right aft, freeing the space amidships for the tender garage.

Innovative? Certainly. Intuitive? At times. And definitely employing slick design. Sound like the products of a certain Californian megabrand? Well, let’s not get carried away. Arcadia is flourishing with its quirky take on outdoor living and slow yachting, but it isn’t trying to become a trillion-dollar company. As Ansalone concludes: “Arcadia aims to continue being a thought leader, an innovator. We do not aim to be a leader in turnover or big numbers.”

The up-down glass around the main saloon forward allows for a natural sea breeze and helps reduce the need for air conditioning.

Slow Yachting

Optional twin Volvo Penta IPS 1350 drives give the Sherpa XL a top speed of 23 knots, but this is not her calling. Arcadia’s “back to nature” philosophy appeals for owners to take their time and enjoy the ride, not merely transfer from port to port. “If we did not invent it, I can say without any doubt that Arcadia strongly contributed to the ‘slow yachting’ concept,” says Francesco Ansalone.

At 12 knots, fuel consumption is just four litres per kilometre, “almost 30 per cent less than other yachts in this segment”, he adds. “The majority of yachts go below 15 knots and get a certain efficiency, or they go faster and efficiency is not part of the equation. We wanted to give something more.

The Sherpa XL consumes almost 30 per cent less fuel than other yachts of a similar size.

In fact, the new XL is even more efficient than the original Sherpa. Although it is nearly twice the size and weight, it consumes only 32 per cent more fuel per nautical mile at 10 knots – 4.6 litres instead of 3.5 litres.

It is all part of the wider trend in yachting since the financial crisis. More and more yards are specialising in comfy, slow motor yachts, while designers say clients are less interested in speed. As Philippe Briand, designer of the Vitruvius line, puts it: “This school of efficient, displacement hulls is for clients who have already learned that fast speed on a power boat is not usable, for reasons of comfort first and durability second. So they look for a yacht with a practical cruising speed.”

All images courtesy of Alberto Cocchi.

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