Radical individualisation of a semi-custom model created a stylish, modern cruiser that can also pull out the stops on the race course. BOAT explores an intelligent and uncompromising project
Taniwha is made to seek the breeze. On a quiet day when the wind barely scuffs the surface of the Med, this yacht will just keep sailing. The slippery hull and powerful sailplan are designed to produce torque in low winds. Like the sports cars its design alludes to, the Southern Wind 105GT is a covert muscle machine that can just pull away from the lights and be gone.
When the owner of Taniwha first approached Southern Wind about a new yacht, it was a custom design he had in mind. The yard has built two successful custom yachts, the Reichel/Pugh and Nauta Design-penned 27.5-metre Allsmoke (2016) and 30-metre Morgana (2020), but it’s best known for its semi-custom designs. The question arose of whether the existing Farr and Nauta-designed SW105 could be altered and adapted to suit.
“We felt he wanted something very personal but didn’t want to go into depth in every single detail. So we asked for a design brief [based on] what was wanted and asked ourselves how many boxes could we tick. It was close enough to make us willing to try,” explains Andrea Micheli, commercial director at Southern Wind. “But it was a massive customisation of an existing design path.”
The result, hull No 4 in the SW105 mini series, is modestly termed a “smart custom” version. Differences to earlier models are significant, encompassing a completely new deck configuration, hull freeboard, appendages, cockpit layout and sailplan as well as interior style and finish. Consequently, this yacht looks markedly different to its predecessors. “If you saw this beside the first boat I [don’t] doubt your first feeling would be that this is a different model,” says Micheli.
Taniwha is destined for private use in the Mediterranean, about 90 per cent of the time for cruising. Yet it has many of the attributes typical of a racing boat. With a high sail area to displacement ratio, it will be fully powered up in just 10 to 12 knots of true wind. To achieve this, aggressive weight targets were set. The hull is in full-infused carbon and the deck and cockpit largely in pre-preg carbon and Nomex. Titanium fittings were used where possible on deck fittings, fairleads and keel head components, and the Hall Spars mast and boom are built in high-modulus carbon and also have titanium fittings.
“We want to save weight in a clever way,” explains Micheli. “So for every kilogram weight saving [proposed] we offered the price per kilo and a rating of that. Saving weight higher up above deck level is good and well spent, with a strong benefit in terms of distance from the centre of gravity, but saving weight around the keel trunk is not so strong.”
The choices made also took account of the need for systems to be robust, reliable and easily maintained. As an example of this, a Cummins main engine was chosen even though a lighter engine would have saved several hundred kilos. “We wanted to maintain the principle of the most reliable engine in this power range,” says Yann Dabbadie, Southern Wind’s technical manager. It is to the yard’s considerable credit that the team eventually managed to achieve a weight 5.7 tonnes less than SW105 No 2, Kiboko Tres, which is the most racing-oriented of the series.
Southern Wind adapted the female mould to reduce toerail shape and height, and Nauta tweaked the 105’s lines and designed a wider, lower cockpit and a slender, tapering coachroof curved at the sides that give the impression of a sports coupé. “The design comes from the method of construction. We wanted to keep the thickness of the sandwich visible,” says Massimo Gino, co-founder of Nauta Design.
The cockpit layout was altered by Nauta to make it lower and wider. Coamings were moved further outboard and partially suspended over the cockpit sole to create the appearance of floating over it. This is highlighted at night, when a concealed rope of LED lights pours light inwards from the cockpit edges.
The steering pedestals were moved forward and outboard to give the helmsman a better view forward to the headsails. The single rudder is a choice suited to light winds sailing and is located further forward than twin rudders would be, which also made space for a garage for a 4.2-metre tender. Twin rudders give excellent control in stronger conditions and are favoured for round-the-world sailing, but a single, deeper rudder has less drag and offers firmer feedback.
In sea trials off Cape Town in winds that ranged from seven to 23 knots, the distinctive feeling was immediately obvious, says Dabbadie. “Out of all the SW105s, this is lightest one so far, and it has a very different sensation.”
A lifting keel reduces the draught from 5.9 metres to 3.8 metres, yet allows Taniwha to stand up to its canvas. Turbo mode is courtesy of an extra-large code zero set on a three-metre extended fixed bowsprit. For now, the sail inventory is limited to a jib, code zero, A3 spinnaker and pinhead cruising mainsail, but the rig is ready for a bigger square top main and additional spinnakers.
The sail package is North Sails 3Di, with carbon standing rigging in Future Fibres ECsix. Of all the SW105s built to date, this could be the quickest. Dabbadie says: “Round the race track, this boat should finish first. Although it is mainly for cruising, even if you are only racing 10 per cent of the time, that is the 10 per cent you want to win.”
As for the 90 per cent of time you want to relax on board? “A modern, state-of-the-art interior,” is how Gino describes the style below deck. It is the result of a fresh design process by Nauta for this yacht. “Sometimes you see a modern exterior with a classic interior. Here we have the same design language in and out, it is holistic. I am very happy with the result,” he says.
The owner’s suite is forward, along with a studio with a sofa, desk and dayhead that can be converted into a double cabin. Aft of the saloon is a VIP cabin with a walkaround bed and a twin cabin, both en suite. The galley, nav area and quarters for five crew are all located right aft. The master cabin shows off the concept of the floating interior introduced by Nauta, where furniture and lockers are fixed proud of the cabin sole. As Gino points out, the narrowing bases of lockers are rarely very useful. “You can put nothing in them, they are a lot of additional weight for nothing and you are hiding the shape of the boat. With this floating interior we show the hull shape.”
Downlighting illuminates the hull-to-floorboard radius, which can even be walked on when the boat is heeling. Similarly, the panelled hull sides curve towards the ceiling, which also has downlighters. “Normally there is a dark 90-degree angle here,” Gino explains. Oiled teak was used for the furniture. This is brighter than varnished teak and, Gino says, “is very natural in touch and colour”. This is matched in the saloon and cabins by pale grey linen panels and linen-covered locker doors with stitched leather latches. The same white-stitched leather is to be found throughout the yacht on handles and door latches. Floorboards are in quarter-sawn laminated light oak and the overall effect is “a very clean style", observes Gino. “It is all a bit Zen.”
The saloon is flanked by sofas and a table on each side. Both tables can be extended to make dining tables but the owner envisages guests will be outside most of the time. A central part of Nauta’s design work was to minimise the impact of the lifting keel trunk. “This is one of the first parts we start studying on each project as we don’t want it to divide the saloon,” says Gino. “All the interior is designed to have as little [of it] as possible intruding and in the saloon it is negligible.” The aft end of the keel trunk is rounded and upholstered in the same light, grooved linen panels as the bulkheads and hull sides.
To balance the light colours and materials in the saloon, Nauta decided to create a teak ceiling around the skylight. Gino calls it a “dome, because you see it is a little bit recessed, not flush, and it is darker compared to the white ceiling around it. So we created a frame for the light, a frame for the sky and this makes the saloon feel wider and warmer.”
Within the ranks of production series yachts, Southern Wind considers this one exceptional. “Honestly, the design of the boat and what Nauta has achieved is stunning,” says Dabbadie. Taniwha was christened in Cape Town in April before undergoing sea trials. By midsummer she was on her way north to Europe on a 7,000-nautical-mile transoceanic maiden voyage. The requirement for out-of-the-box seaworthiness means all mechanical and sail handling systems are immediately on the line.
After a shakedown voyage that will prove future long-distance capabilities, this yacht will slip through the Strait of Gibraltar into her home range. Catching the late summer breezes, Taniwha is going be in her element. Take a good look at that name emblazoned on the transom: a glimpse of it may be all you get to see.
First published in the September 2021 edition of BOAT International.