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Sybaris: How Perini Navi brought a yachting dream to life

Art-loving, sailing-obsessed yacht owner Bill Duker has poured his life’s passions intoSybaris. Marilyn Mower tours this ground-breaking and life-changing 70 metre ketch

“When my son, West, was about seven years old, I bought a Palmer Johnson sailing yacht named Shanakee. We would go sailing and imagine what our perfect yacht would be like. With friends who helped us refine the dream over 20 years, the boat became our daily conversation. So more than the creating of a high performance yacht, more than the creation of a work of art, it’s been the thing that’s bonded me and my son.”

These words are from Bill Duker’s address to the guests assembled in Viareggio to celebrate the completion of Sybaris, Duker’s Perini Navi ketch, which, at 70 metres, is the largest sailing yacht launched in Italy to date. It is not a coincidence that the yacht’s name is the same as that ancient Italian city-state known for wealth and a lifestyle of extreme luxury and pleasure seeking. “I have three passions — art, poetry and sailing. This boat combines all three,” he says.

Duker is a softly spoken, amiable man who likes projects and enticing people to be creative and thorough. Witness his push for R&D at Perini Navi. As Burak Akgül, managing director of sales, marketing and design, says: “We began talking to the client in 2010 at about the time we had committed to move from the 56 metre to the 60 metre model. We developed this fully custom all aluminium hull interpretation of the 60 especially for him. It has serious performance capability, compared with other recent launches. On a scale of Seahawk to P2, it’s more like P2.”

So determined was he to wring every bit of performance out of Perini, Duker brought naval architect Philippe Briand into the mix to evaluate and fine tune the builder’s design work. “The design of the yacht existed, the GA existed and the initial naval architectural plans had been drawn,” says Briand. “The specifications, the main dimensions, the displacement, the centres of gravity and the height of the masts, as well as draught, [had been] defined and approved by the owner. For the final stages, we worked on the hull lines, the appendages and the sailplan. It is a bigger intellectual challenge to [re]design the existing [hull] for tomorrow as opposed to start from scratch.”

In 2012, Briand’s office conducted CFD tests of the hull lines and made 37 changes, including modifying the waterline length and wetted surface and redrawing the bow and stern shapes. The swing keel and single rudder were optimised, as was the vessel’s stability versus overall weight.

Calling the owner a forward-thinking man with very modern tastes, Perini design chief Franco Romani said the brief for Sybaris challenged his team “to create a new interpretation of their design language. The near vertical bow combined with the low profile superstructure has resulted in a new look for Perini.”

Perhaps the biggest change was moving the mizzen mast back 3.3 metres to improve airflow over the mizzen sail for more driving force and to create space for a mizzen staysail. This sail, flown in apparent winds of 50 to 100 degrees, adds 0.6 knots of speed. “It wasn’t our intention to design a racing yacht,” says Briand, “but we can guarantee Sybaris is a cruising yacht with the potential of sailing excitement.”

In its turn, Perini upped the performance of its electric furling drums and captive sheeting winches, delivering speeds beyond those of its previous benchmark, Seahawk. The powerful sailplan on Sybaris uses North Sails’ 3Di technology and relies on two carbon fibre masts stretching 71.59 metres and 60.96 metres above the water, supplied by Rondal, with Carbolink composite stays and Kevlar running rigging. Controlled by Perini’s latest generation electric winches and software, the system allows the yacht to be sailed entirely from the cockpit consoles.

Sybaris is also breaking new ground for the builder in terms of power management. Two variable speed generators supply electrical power via a DC bus to the vessel’s main electrical grid with the potential to store excess power in a 137kWh lithium polymer battery pack that provides two to three hours of silent operation capability, according to Akgül.

Repositioning the mizzen mast also improves the flow of the main and flybridge deck layouts as it shifts the bottom of the mizzen spar away from the aft glass doors of the main saloon, allowing a large, round dining table to take pride of place under the flybridge overhang. The table is milled from titanium, its base looking like a geared drum and its top scribing a rose petal pattern matched in the overhead — a nod to Duker’s estate, Rosehill, near Albany, New York.

In fact, nearly all the exposed metal on Sybaris is bead-blasted titanium or a smoky bronze. “We chose titanium for the way it looks against the natural American ash millwork, and because the owner wanted something fresh and different,” says Peter Hawrylewicz of PH Design. Although this Miami-based architect and designer is new to yacht design, Sybaris is his 12th project for Duker. Yet she didn’t start out as his project.

“We knew he was interviewing designers and, because it was a yacht, we didn’t consider that he would consider us. One night he took my partner and me to dinner and asked what we thought about taking on the Sybaris project. It was a big surprise. The interior company, Yachtline 1618, had already been given the contract for the joinery and built-ins,” Hawrylewicz recalls. “Knowing how long Bill had been thinking of this boat was daunting.”

The brief was fairly simple: a neutral path. “Even though we didn’t know all the works of art yet, we knew the interior of Sybaris would be lavished with art from the owner’s contemporary collection and this set the theme,” said the architect. “That also ramped up the pressure on developing the lighting plan. We began developing that plan from the first sketches,” Hawrylewicz says, “selecting the amount and type of lighting we wanted first.”

Aside from major statement fixtures such as chandeliers and sconces, which were designed by Lindsey Adelman, Hawrylewicz developed the fixtures such as the wall washers and down lights that fit in architectural recesses next to each door. By directing light away from the intersection of surfaces butting against walls or ceilings, for example, and by leaving tiny gaps instead, he’s created a sensation of even more space, as if there is something behind the gap that you can’t see.

“The team at Perini was an amazing mentor to us,” says Ken Lieber of PH Design. Interestingly, it was Yachtline 1618’s first Perini project as well. All furniture and surfaces were built offsite and finished before being taken to the yacht for assembly.

Sybaris updates strong features of the Perini Navi design DNA both inside and out. On deck, for example, the recessed cockpit aft of the saloon is still an engaging outdoor living/dining space, but the sweep of terraced steps to it flows beautifully and emphasises the luxury of space that the extra 10 metres delivers. All the furniture, including the bronze end tables with slab marble tops, are from the team at PH Design.

The saloon is open plan, with no structural supports blocking the views. This is no mean feat since there is the load of an 18 metre superyacht sundeck above and the torque of the mainsheet to defuse. The forward bulkhead divides the guest areas from the superyacht wheelhouse, butler’s pantry and the crew stairs to the galley and their quarters.

There are no built-in cabinets in the saloon on Sybaris. Instead four groupings of bureaus, looking like steampunk versions of Louis Vuitton steamer trunks covered in alligator hide, are attached to the walls by titanium straps. The drawers hold glassware and crockery. For handrails around the room, teak batons within titanium turnbuckles add a vintage nautical theme. A dining table is anchored by an ambitious Adelman chandelier and a Ron English Guernica-esque painting commissioned by Duker. Wool and silk carpets by SHIIR of Chicago appear as mirror images in their soft grey and bronze pattern.

The overheads throughout Sybaris are soft matt titanium. Because the cambered overheads on the main deck are 2.1 metres high at window level, the darker material does not cramp the room. It softly reflects and diffuses light and adds a certain liveliness.

“Titanium was entirely Bill’s idea,” says Hawrylewicz. “He said ‘I want to do metal ceilings’ and I thought he meant a thin sheet of painted material, but no, he meant real titanium sheets.” These are rendered in large squares with nearly seamless joints. Titanium, for all its fireproofness and anti-corrosion capability, proved to be a tough material for the yard.

Welded joints tend to leave keloid scars and in the end there was only one subcontractor who could finish the work, from deck rails to the tiny piercings of the overheads for speakers, to both the builder’s and owner’s satisfaction. “If you can dream it, Perini will find a way to build it,” says Duker. “To me, that challenge is why you build a boat.”

Perini Navi aficionados will recall that a superyacht staircase amidships on centreline is the typical access from the saloon to the accommodation for owner and guests. There have been versions with landings, versions with multiple access points and even a spiral. Sybaris delivers a straight fore and aft run of steps but, like the IM Pei pyramid at the Louvre, the staircase is also the way that light — and in this case an epic amount of it — is ushered below to the accommodation lobby, from where all the cabins are entered through very hip titanium-clad submarine doors, with the logo of the bull of Sybaris in the centre of the opening mechanism.

Enormous sheets of laminated tempered glass form the “walls” of the stair column. Hawrylewicz had originally drawn them as a single piece, but no sources yet exist for tempering such large panels of glass. Each of the staircase walls weighs 600 kilograms and they are elastically anchored to the decks above and below. Massive floating oak steps, suspended from the glass with titanium pins, usher guests below.

There are six cabins on the lower deck of Sybaris, including a master suite that takes advantage of the yacht’s full 13 metre beam to create a space to spoil the owner in surroundings of American ash. A superyacht office is situated to starboard with the king-sized bed offset to port. Lindsey Adelman bronze and porcelain sconces above the bed flank an art feature of layers of wood relief that looks a bit topographical. The element was a deliberate contrast to the machined look of many of the pieces in the room and the titanium overhead.

Four pieces of contemporary art dominate the owner’s cabin, which Duker refers to as the poetic centre of Sybaris. Colourful pieces by Roberto Matta, Bäast and Rafa Macarrón contrast with the simple décor while Invisible Domain by Mars-1 opposite his desk seems particularly appropriate.

The bed surround showcases another of the design features in the boat, the mortise and tenon style joinery details that are left exposed. It continues in the full-beam his and hers bathrooms, with their simple palette of ash, stone and titanium. “The simpler the palette, the larger the space,” shares Hawrylewicz. “My goal at the end of the day was to create a yacht that is comfortable, beautiful and perhaps even memorable.”

Or, as the owner wrote in a poem he dashed off on his iPhone thanking his designer:

_The ability to conceive the idea

To place it in the spot exactly where

To light it as if it were in a dream

And make it all so simple seem_

First published in the June 2017 edition of Boat International

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