Philippe Briand discusses sailing yacht Vertigo

22 January 2015
Philippe Briand’s bursts of creativity are what drive his design work.

When he has a project in progress, designer Philippe Briand is a compulsive sketcher, capturing and developing ideas in his notebook – or on whatever surfaces come to hand.

With inspiration running hot during the 67.2m Vertigo project, for instance, Briand feverishly drew sketch after sketch on the tablecloths of an Italian trattoria. Eventually the restaurateur had to plead with him to stop before the supply of tablecloths ran out.

Just launched in Auckland from Alloy Yachts, Vertigo is a striking yacht by any definition. At 67.2m and 700 tonnes, Vertigo is a powerful sailing machine, with sailing speeds predicted to reach about 20 knots.

Carrying towering twin masts of nearly equal height, the yacht presents a distinctive profile. From the near-vertical bow, the deckline displays subtle sheer in a long clean sweep to the retroussé transom. Arcing across the space between the two masts, the coachroof is like a piece of modern sculpture. It appears to hover over the deck – barely supported by the delicate mullions and wide expanse of glass beneath.

In terms of size and complexity, Vertigo is the largest completed project for both the yard and designer. Briand’s sketching tracked veritable odysseys across landscapes of paper in his drive to solve its myriad conundrums.

‘I tend to cover the walls and floors of my office and my study with drawings and even my dog knows that he cannot disturb the scenery,’ he says. ‘These creative episodes are what drive me and make me love what I do.’

Vertigo‘s flybridge was a considerable design challenge for Briand and the engineering teams as it is made largely of glass.
Suez Canal’s height limits resulted in Vertigo having a ketch rig with masts of near-equal height and sails with a large roach.

Was this your largest sailing design to date?

To date Vertigo is our largest yacht to be launched. The design commenced in December 2004 and was completed in 2007. Since then, we have developed designs for larger yachts as well. Recent projects include a 72m and last year we developed a design for a 150m.

What was the original design brief for Vertigo, and what changed?

The first goal was to provide a very comfortable vessel to take her owner and family around the world in total safety. From the outset, the brief was to design a 60m yacht. His former yacht had a very comfortable saloon on the main deck and an extensive flybridge; it was these areas we focused on and improved.

Further into the design process, the owner added a mid lazarette and wanted to improve performance yet more. In particular she needed not simply to handle adverse weather fronts, but also the power to outrun them. Thus the length evolved to 67m. As we had gone this far we thought, ‘Why not add another 30cm to make her the fifth longest sailing yacht in the world?’

What were the significant features that the owner wanted?

The owner chose our design because he wanted a yacht that would still be contemporary and cutting edge 10 years from now. He was aware of our reputation for building outstanding performance yachts and we have worked hard to exceed his expectations; the design is unique and although she is not designed as a racing machine, her performance will soon be proven.

One of Vertigo’s significant features is the spacious flybridge, which offers increased privacy and maximises views. For the interiors, we worked with the specialised yachting team from Christian Liaigre to create layouts that would not hinder performance and would guarantee a superior lifestyle. The interior is very comfortable and no concessions were made – she is an incredibly luxurious yacht. Her main purpose will be a travelling, permanent residence over the next two years.

However she is a yacht and the owner and his family wanted easy access to the water. Amidships, the hull sides fold down on both sides to create two spacious platforms just above the water, like beaches. With the hull completely open from side to side, this area also houses the gymnasium. Even I would be tempted to take up exercise under these conditions!

A newly built Vertigo emerges from her shed.

In both naval architecture and internal space planning, what were the particular challenges you faced in answering the owner’s brief?

There are many challenges connected to her size and we had to take into account constraints such as the Suez Canal and the depth of marinas. To create a performance yacht, I needed sail surface and an efficient keel. The height to go through the Suez Canal is limited to 67m and a draught of 5.25m is really the maximum for most marinas.

One cannot propel 700 tonnes within those constraints using traditional solutions, so we were forced to find alternatives. We decided to go for a flat-top mainsail with considerable roach, which meant the main mast was to be held by runners only. To handle the sailplan, we came to the conclusion that we would need 16 captive winches. The challenge was to keep the winches from view.

Bearing in mind each one is the size of a car engine, this was not an easy task! Suddenly, the yacht was getting too small.

We also had to take into account the strict MCA SOLAS regulations, observing the same weight rules that apply to a motor yacht, which require fireproof bulkheads over 300mm thick and which insist the lazarette doors open 60cm above sea level.

The process was long and tedious, but we managed to find appropriate solutions one by one. Through very open and systematic changes managed and implemented expertly by the meticulous project manager and the study office at Alloy, we optimised the yacht centimetre by centimetre. The impressive end result is that we have a yacht in the water that is 97 per cent consistent with the original concept drawings.

The loadings on Vertigo‘s rig and sheets are considerable: loads on the forestay reach 65 tonnes.

Your background in sailing yachts has been very much linked with sailing performance. Was that a major consideration?

Is there any more exciting feeling than to be at the wheel of a yacht and feel the acceleration? That feeling is compounded when even in light wind, the yacht picks up speed and you can steer her with one hand on the wheel. This feeling is what we stand for and this is our ultimate goal when designing a sailing yacht.

For me the sensitivity of the yacht is the core of my work. It is more important than speed. I have helmed my racing designs for over 15 years. I have ‘listened’ to each yacht and I tried to improve them each time around. In the process, I have accrued the appropriate skills and knowledge to balance the different criteria that determine the behaviour of a yacht.

The criteria are not, as one may think, solely geared towards weight saving but include many areas such as reduced wetted surface area, the sailplan, a well designed keel, the optimised surface of the appendages and many other details that all combined will have an impact on the behaviour of the yacht.

In every single project, I apply these ingredients and this was the case with Vertigo. Even on a boat this size, this often came down to working in centimetres…

In terms of performance, describe your design process. Do you use primarily computer modelling, or tank work or a combination of the two? How reliable is computer modelling at this scale?

Tank testing requires big models and to be accurate they have to be built to a minimum 1/8th scale. In the case of Vertigo, we didn’t consider tank testing to be efficient because it would have implied building a model weighing over 1.5 tonnes and would have added six months to the project.

Over the years hydrodynamic scientific research and development has evolved to become much more precise and reliable. We are now able to create a mesh with 8 million cells covering the hull drawing. The precision of the resistance calculations has a deviation of less than 2 per cent, compared with the result of tank testing.

Using our state-of-the-art software applications, we developed a ‘mother’ hull which was constantly refined as the interior was developed, as the accommodation became more precise and as the stability of the shape and the estimated centre of gravity were defined. The hull that was built is actually version 37 of the ‘mother’ hull.

Did you make any interesting discoveries during this process that came as a result of the boat’s size?

For a project of this magnitude, we need to know and understand everything before it exists. All modifications have a major impact and ripple effect on the rest of the project. The initial phase not only has to cover the detailed design of the geometry of the yacht, but at that point we also need to predict the behaviour of the yacht under variable wind and sea-going conditions. We even developed a detailed ‘performance envelope’ study of Vertigo, as one does for airplanes, before the first piece of aluminium was cut.

To give you an idea of the depth of this study, we developed a prediction for every possible true wind speed and for every true wind angle and the most appropriate sail set. From that we calculated the speed of the yacht, the heel and the loads. This report has been of great assistance to Alloy Yachts, North Sails and Southern Spars and has helped to improve the accuracy of the engineering. In effect, I was already sailing a ‘virtual’ Vertigo four years ago.

Designing Vertigo was an incremental and detailed process. Sometimes the design changed by mere, but vital, centimetres.
Briad’s tests and research showed that the pressure on Vertigo‘s main mast will reach 387 tonnes.

In terms of aesthetics, you are associated with one of the most beautiful modern superyachts ever built, namely Mari Cha III. How did you approach the external styling of Vertigo?

With Vertigo, I concentrated a lot of effort on the creation of the superstucture. I started out by drawing bridges and arches running from the main mast to the mizzen mast. Once I had decided on the concept drawing, I started working on the proportions.

As you will see on Vertigo, given the constraint of the lazarette openings, I have paid special attention to the relative height of the topsides and the superstructure. I wanted the superstucture to float.

The windows are an intricate part of the design; they have very precise rounded sections and add huge aesthetic value. From the interior, the space is open to the exterior allowing an enormous amount of natural light to stream in.

Other details such as the handrails, the angles of the roof, the fine supports for the hard top, required flawless execution of the design by the shipyard. Alloy Yachts have been meticulous in turning the designs into beautiful structures.

Yachts of this size and complexity obviously demand hugely sophisticated systems. Can you describe how you worked with Alloy Yachts to resolve systems and engineering issues?

Alloy Yachts is a competent shipyard. After the design phase, it carried out the majority of the studies. They have extensive experience in building large yachts and were in control of the equipment needed for such a yacht. As a yard, they are well suited and comfortable with projects of this size.

To give you an example, the captive winches were an issue at the beginning. As a solution, the yard developed the largest captive winches to carry the loadings on Vertigo. Their loading can go up to 41 tonnes. The runners are also a world first. Whilst tacking, one runner needs to be eased whilst the other one needs to be trimmed automatically. This manoeuvre needs to be carefully controlled. The roach of the mainsail sits in between the two runners, so the manoeuvring needs to be very harmonious and precise.

What about the loads that this yacht will sustain under sail?

The extreme mast compression at the foot of the main mast has been estimated at 387 tonnes. This is the weight of a high speed locomotive! The V1 can sustain loads of 163 tonnes. In sailing conditions, we could expect 65 tonnes on the forestay and the working load on the sheet of the blade can exceed 30 tonnes. This is quite impressive, but this is what it takes to move 700 tonnes at 15 to 20 knots, using only energy provided by the wind.

What about the underwater configuration?

The limited draught of 5.25m is not compatible with an efficient design of the underwater lateral plan. The efficiency of a lateral plan is related to its ability to create lift and that is related to its aspect ratio. Indeed, the draught restriction does not give us the required aspect ratio, so we required a daggerboard, which extends the draught to 9 metres.

As the lateral plan of the daggerboard has the largest aspect ratio of all the appendages, we chose to increase its contribution to general lift by oversizing its area. In addition, we increased the efficiency of the other ‘available’ appendages. The rudder has a high aspect ratio. The keel, which has the ballast inside, is not designed with a bulb but more as a foil over it’s entire span.

Thirty engineers and designers were involved in building Vertigo.

How large was the design team for this project?

The design team evolved very smoothly. At first, just three were involved: the owner, project leader Andrew Senn and myself. I organised a dedicated team of five engineers on my side.

Soon thereafter, my friend Christian Liaigre was appointed for the interior and we all worked together from that point.

I think between the yard, the sparmaker and sailmaker we must have had more than 30 engineers, designers and support staff involved in the study of Vertigo. To complicate matters, we were all living and working in different parts of the world, in different time zones.

Andrew provided an efficient communication platform that allowed us to work in an organised fashion. This was key to the success of the design execution.

In short, we had a fantastic sponsor. I wrote the music, Andrew was the conductor but the orchestra gave the performance; as a team we hope the audience will cheer.

All the players quickly understood they were part of an exceptional project. We had all been given a unique and wonderful opportunity to design and build a new breed of super sailing yacht that was to comply with the owners’ specifications but that would also evolve to be an iconic design.

The ambiance among us all was very positive. Of course, the physical distance presented some logistical difficulties. But everybody was flexible in overcoming these issues.

For example, in December 2009, Alloy Yachts shipped a replica of one of the cabins in a container up to Paris. We rented a cinema where the layout of the yacht and the furniture was drawn up in full scale, all 67 metres, so the owner and the design team were able to spend a day on board the boat – in Paris!

As a self-confessed compulsive sketcher, Briand’s early ideas for Vertigo‘s styling into the final lines of the yacht.

As these yachts become larger and larger, issues of crew and guest safety take on greater importance and relevance. Can you talk about particular safety issues and how you addressed them?

Of course, safety is the most important concern. The issue of safety is always present throughout every single step of the study process. As far as the hull is concerned she complies with all the existing required rules for boats above 50m and 500GT.

The rules and regulations are very stringent and we take great care to respect and adhere to them. However, they also lead to further complexity and can add weight. The additional weight in turn increases the loads on the sailing gear, such as the rig, sails, sheets, winches, blocks etc.

The big difference is that the sailing equipment is not subject to any rules and we have to create and customize them for one specific yacht. There are almost no empirical data available. Equipment of this size is rare, as there are very few existing yachts of this size and the experience in using those systems is very limited.

One also needs to take into account that the sailing equipment is in constant motion and is therefore more sensitive to wear and tear, resulting in a higher risk. Through careful engineering and in-depth experience one can, and one has, significantly reduced these risks. It is highly important to work with competent designers, shipyards and engineers who use the best tools for calculations.

Their expertise and seamanship allow them to ‘feel’ the behaviour of such a huge sailing yacht and to identify the most loaded cases.

It is also highly important that the crew have considerable experience, as the forces are at all times gargantuan. The crew need to monitor the yacht at all times and stay within the performance envelope on which all the equipment calculations have been based. The human factor still remains critical and of great importance every step of the way.

Apart from size, what in your view are the outstanding features of this yacht that will set it apart from other contemporary superyachts?

This is our first design in the category of sailing vessels with two decks and a flybridge. Often these are not considered true sailing ships and their style is considered old-fashioned.

The owner of Vertigo has given us the opportunity to create a yacht in this class which is unique for three key reasons: she is designed with a contemporary lifestyle as the guiding principle, she is an exceptionally sensitive sailing yacht, and she incorporates some of the best technology of our time. She is a super sailing yacht of the 2010s, inspired by the future.

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