The construction of modern wooden superyachts

21 January 2015 • Written by Dag Pike
Aguti's workers hand-craft the yard's wooden boats, showing traditional boatbuilding methods are yet to die out.

The smell, the sound, the ambianceAs soon as you enter a shipyard that builds in wood, the differences are plain. Skilled craftsmen toil over intricate tasks, using techniques passed down through the generations. There is a deep emotion in wood construction, that contrasts with the mechanical nature of composite building.

One might expect this type of construction is limited to sail boats but there are a number of yards that specialise in building motor yachts out of wood. The complicated technology associated with modern motor yacht construction may seem at odds with building in wood, but there are yards that consider wood to be the finest material and which produce beautiful yachts for discerning owners who also appreciate its unique qualities.

From the outside, a modern wooden yacht can look very similar to a composite yacht. Many are classically styled to take advantage of the shape of the material, often with fewer curves in the hull and superstructure as wood does not offer the same freedom to develop compound curves. There are many other subtle qualities of wood that make it an ideal material for construction, such as its ability to absorb sound, which makes the hull quieter when under way. Wood construction lends itself to classic interiors where the structural timbers of the hull and superstructure can be emphasised.

Wood construction has changed to meet modern demands. It is rare to find motor yachts built with planking systems where the seams are caulked, except on tenders and other small craft. It is hard to get the fine, smooth finish that modern standards demand and often plywood sheets are used as a base or have completely replaced the traditional planking. However, plywood construction can limit the development of complex shapes because it will only bend in one direction. But cold-moulded construction, using high-tenacity glues, is much more flexible as the hull is built from thin strips of wood laid over a framework.

As we will see with the _Aguti _motor yacht, cold-moulded wood construction has been developed to a very high standard using a combination of composites and wood, which allows for a highly durable, varnished wood finish to be produced on what looks like a traditional wooden hull.

Perhaps as important nowadays, wood construction is more environmentally friendly than composite construction. The wood comes from sustainable sources, unlike composites, where the chemicals are mainly oil based, and emissions from the wood construction process are minimal compared with the styrenes used in composites.

Featured yards

Aguti, Germany

Cantiere Camuffo, Italy

Diano, Italy

Vicem, Turkey

Logos Marine, Turkey

It takes around 50,000 hours of craftsmanship to mould 40 cubic metres of mahogany, 50 cubic metres of cedar wood, 650 square metres of carbon fibre, and two tonnes of epoxy resin into the Aguti 20m luxury yacht.

Aguti 20m

Aguti Yachts is based on the Bodensee, an inland lake that borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The area has some of the strictest pollution rules in the world, which has inspired some of the yard's many innovations for its new launch, the Aguti 20m.

Years ago, mahogany was the wood of choice for quality motor yacht hulls and the yard has resurrected this style using a new construction system to produce a lightweight rigid structure that is the equal of any composite hull.

The hull

The Aguti 20m looks stunning. The mahogany hull gives the yacht a retro feel, accentuated by the swept-back deck house with its white top and contrasting dark glass. There is a slight reverse sheer to the deck, the profile is distinctive and sporty and it is thought to be the first production motor yacht to be fitted with an exhaust cleaning system that will enable it to meet the stringent emission standards due to become law in five years' time.

The lines of the hull above the water conform to tradition with a distinctive flare to the bow and a suggestion of tumblehome at the stern that is offset by a stainless steel finished rub rail extended forward from around the transom.

Below the waterline, the tank-tested hull is very much up-to-date, featuring a deep-V hull with a 17.5 degree deadrise with spray rails and a chine line that rides high at the bow.

The hull is built on a laminated wooden keel and longitudinal stringers, and the engine beds are also formed from this laminated wood. Temporary frames are used to allow the combination wood and composite hull planking to be formed with the composite bulkheads left in place to stiffen the hull structure.

The hull planking is formed from six layers, the inner and outer layers from mahogany and the central core is two layers of western red cedar. Between the layers is a laminate made of carbon fibre and epoxy resin. The hull is immensely strong and it has good sound-deadening qualities.

Wood provides additional insulation against heat, sound and vibration, making living and social areas more comfortable.

Internal design

The accommodation, comprising three cabins with separate bathrooms, is roomy and the saloon's unique design allows guests to maintain contact with the bridge, which forms a balcony within the space.

A unique feature of the saloon is the way in which the whole top can be hinged upwards under hydraulic power to create a wide front opening. It is strong enough to remain open at full speed is a practical solution to deck house ventilation. There is a comfortable settee and a fold-out table in the saloon creating the main dining area, and some neat features here such as wooden handrails on the stairs and a beautiful, curved wooden ladder that gives access to a large deck hatch, providing an alternative and secure route to the foredeck.

Forward from the lower saloon is the master suite, with its separate shower and heads cubicles on each side of the passageway. The bow flare of the hull narrows the area forward and this means that the bed is set rather high.

Immediately aft from the lower galley is a single cabin that could serve either as a guest or crew cabin and has an en suite shower. Alongside, steps lead down aft to the VIP cabin, where the bed is also mounted high to accommodate a tank underneath. The interior can be fully customised to suit individual owner's needs.

On the prototype, the interior has been kept low key with cream leather furniture and panelling combined with traditional warm mahogany. Externally, the detailing is superb with the decks covered in traditionally laid teak.

A hatch in the cockpit gives access to the engine compartment. Everything is easily accessible and the varnished engine beds are a reminder that among all the complex machinery this is a wooden boat at heart. The engines are a pair of 810 kW MAN diesels and these drive forward to the ZF V-drive gearboxes and then back to a conventional shaft and propeller propulsion system.

A concept illustration of the Aguti 20m luxury yacht


The _Aguti _20m shines on the water as well as in the harbour. The Bodensee was enjoying a summer calm during our trial and so the conditions did not put the design to the test, but there is no reason to doubt that it will not perform well in rough seas as well as calms.

Her top speed is 35 knots, respectable for a 20m sports yacht and the handling is impeccable with no apparent hidden vices.

Aguti has used advanced construction techniques and innovative thinking and has come up with a winner that will undoubtedly turn heads when it goes on show. It is a great example of how past styling and future technology can be combined to create a stunning sports yacht.

The Camuffos estimate that 70% of the cost of their yachts goes into labour and materials, compared with 30 per cent to 40 per cent in a production fibreglass yacht.

Cantiere Camuffo

The Camuffo Shipyard in Italy can trace its roots back over 500 years, which makes it one of the oldest shipyards in the world. The yard was originally based in Venice and built beautiful wooden boats that sailed the Venetian lagoon and squared rigged ships for the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century. Ownership under the Camuffo family stretches back for 18 generations.

For the past 160 years, the yard has been located at Portogruaro, 40 miles to the east of Venice, in a quiet backwater that leads out to the sea. Since the Second World War, the type of craft built at the yard has changed from work boats, fishing boats and military craft to sports boats and then motor yachts for the leisure sector. But one thing has never changed: in a world that is now almost totally dedicated to the production of composite yachts, Camuffo still builds only in wood, producing some remarkable motor yachts capable of speeds up to 40 knots. The current building programme includes three flybridge motor yachts: a 55m, a 60m and a 65m.

Selected wood

Visiting the yard is like taking a step back in time. There is none of the nasal smell associated with composites, but rather the delicate hint of well-seasoned wood. For the solid wood sections such as the framing and the interior joinery, Camuffo buys in sawn tree trunk sections that continue their seasoning in the yard. Sapele mahogany is widely used for the interiors while Iroko and teak are used for the structures and for exterior trim.

Plywood is used for the outside skin and superstructure and for much of the interior panelling. This isn't your normal plywood however, it is made up of a series of thin, almost veneer-like layers that add strength. The exterior finish of these yachts is so good that you would be hard-pushed to think that wood was used at all.

Power tools are anathema to Camuffo's craftspeople.

Building a Camuffo

Building one of these motor yachts starts with the keel, which is made from thin planks laminated together using resin glues to create the required shape and length. The other longitudinals such as the engine beds are made in the same way to create a base on which the framing is built. With the framing erected and linked together with stringers, the hull is now ready for its plywood skin and the deck to be attached.

For the deck areas around the superstructure and in the cockpit, the yard reverts to traditional construction techniques, with the deck made from solid teak with tongue-and-groove joints that are then caulked in traditional fashion.

The craftwork involved in making a wooden yacht cannot be rushed, yet Cantiere Camuffo still produce up to three boats a year.

Interior design

The interiors are stunning, even though they follow traditional styling to a considerable degree. Mahogany is the feature wood and is used on all the furniture and panelling, with only the leather settees and chairs offering contrasting textures.

All of the interior wood is coated with 10 coats of varnish with sanding between each coat to bring a deep lustre. Design work is done in-house with senior Camuffo brother Marco leading the way.

'The yard employs around 10 craftsmen with a further five or so coming in as sub-contractors,' explains Giacomo Camuffo. 'Our production is running at two or three yachts each year and we find our clients discerning owners who want something special.

'So much emotion goes into the creation of our yachts and our owners appreciate this, which can be missing from modern, mass-production yachts.'

A 30m yacht built by Diano in its early stages.


Located on the west coast of Italy in the small town of Riva Trigoso, Diano has been building wooden motor yachts in the same corrugated iron shed for the past 30 years. Launched by Marco Diano and now continued by his son, Guiseppe, the facility can handle anything up to 33 metres in length: which is some feat considering the yachts have to be launched off the open beach.

You might wonder how a yard that builds in wood can survive in today's climate, but the Diano yard not only survives but has a long waiting list of clients. With production running at two or three yachts a year, nothing seems to be rushed, and there is a great sense of dedication among the work force.

The Diano yard

From the outside, it looks like the most unpretentious yard along the Italian coastline. The single building shed lies in the shadow of the huge building halls of the Fincantieri shipyard that have been squeezed into the compact cove on the beautiful Ligurian Coast. There is no name on the outside of the Diano building shed, no harbour for protection, just a large shed on an open beach among the fishing boats.

A 30m motor yacht is nearing completion at the yard. Nine layers of one nch-thick planking are laminated to form the keel with the wood set in a special jig which holds the components while they are glued together. The mahogany comes from renewable sources in lengths up to 13 metres, and the planks are carefully scarfed at the joints. High-strength glues are used to bond the keel components into a single piece.

The mahogany hull planking is laid up over a plywood base that is supported by transverse frames set 50cm apart with intermediate frames added at the high stress areas in the bow.

The owner of this particular yacht requested a white hull and it is a tribute to the design that a fine white finish can be applied that will not crack with any movement of the hull planking.

Mahogany, plywood and wood laminates are moulded and carved to produce the traditional curves and form of a motor yacht.

Traditional design

Just because a yacht is built in wood does not mean that it has to have a boxy shape. Compound curves are included in all the right places and the craftsmen have developed ways of constructing these using laminated sections to create a style that would not be out of place on any modern yacht.

There may not be some of the extravagances of designs found with fibreglass, but then the style of the Diano yachts follows tradition rather than fashion.

'An owner can have whatever he likes in terms of style and interior layout and finish if we can build it in wood, it's no problem,' says Giuseppe Diano. 'We tend to have discerning clients who know exactly what they want.'

The quality of the almost completed yacht is apparent. The engine compartment housing the big diesels is surrounded by a pierced aluminium lining covering the sound proofing. Diano says that part of the appeal is the low noise levels in the yacht.

Tradition is still alive and well in Italy and this latest 30 metre is a tribute to traditional wooden motor yacht building skills.

The Vicem 72's high level of luxury turned heads at the 2009 Monaco Yacht Show.


Traditionally, the focus of much of the production at Turkish yard Vicem has been on producing wooden motor yachts for the US market, but now it has turned its attention towards Europe.

The designs are based on the New England concept of a low coachroof that runs aft into a classic superstructure shape using a semi-displacement hull with a flared bow. The result is a range of beautifully crafted designs with performance up to 30 knots.

The main timbers of the hulls, such as the keel and engine beds, are built from laminated strips, mainly mahogany. Framing is then erected on these timbers and the hull skin is laminated. Mahogany is the main wood used for laying up the cold moulded hull, constructed in several layers to achieve the required thickness.

The superstructures of the yachts are mainly made from plywood sheets combined with laminated sections where curves are required. Solid wood is used for the furniture with teak or mahogany veneers creating a traditional-looking interior. The attention to detail is obvious in the curved louvre doors which are made from solid wood, cut to achieve a 90 degree curve.

The range of wooden yachts offered by Vicem starts at 10 metres and runs up to 28 metres. The yard this year signed a contract to build the revival range of Trumpy Yachts, which are classically styled wooden motor yachts that date back to the 1930s, originally built in the US. Production of these yachts ceased 20 years ago but now the partnership means the designs will be available again, starting with a 20m motor cruiser that was last built in the 1970s and with larger yachts in the pipeline.

To cope with the planned increase in production, Vicem has recently moved into a new production facility close to its original inland shipyard. This three-storey facility covers 33,500 square metres and represents a huge investment of $20 million.

Vicem won a contract to build a new range of Trumpy luxury yachts.
Seya is a 35m sportsfisher designed by Ed Fry, built by Logos.

Logos Marine

Logos Marine, based in Tuzla, Turkey, is a project management group that oversees the construction of new wooden motor yachts. Its most recent launch is the 35m Seya, a large sportsfishing design developed by American Ed Fry.

This fine wooden boat was reviewed in Boat International and is one of the largest wooden motor yacht hulls built in recent times.

Wood was selected for the construction of this yacht because of its sound-absorbing qualities that help to give a quiet ride at sea. Seya is unique in having a triple engine installation that gives considerable flexibility in the way that the vessel can be operated.

'Designing and building a vessel of this size in wood was an interesting experience,' says Fry, 'and we were impressed by the quality of the workmanship carried out in Turkey. The craftsmen in Tuzla must be one of the last outposts of quality wood construction on this scale.'

The success of Seya has led to a contract for another 35m for the yard, Meya Meya, but this one will be fitted out as a motor yacht rather than a sports fisherman. It will have a more extensive superstructure and the main deck level will be maintained right to the transom. She will retain the triple engine installation.

Unusually for yachts of this size, both are made from cold-moulded mahogany, finished with a skim of composite laminate. Plywood is used extensively in the superstructures.

Far from being a material going out of fashion, Cem Tunçyürek, manager of Logos Marine, sees wood as a material for the future.

'Wood can be as durable as composites and it offers a warmth and sound-absorbing capability that is much better,' he says. 'The wood is sourced from renewable sources and in Turkey it is easy to still find the skills necessary for building large motor yachts of this size in wood.'

Superyacht Meya Meya was contracted after Seya, and launched in 2010.

Originally published: December 2009.

Bugsy Gedlek and courtesy Aguti, Cantiere Camuffo

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