When the 88 metre Perini Maltese Falcon burst onto the yachting scene in 2006, she was hailed as revolution in superyacht design. What made her so different is her patented Falcon Rig, using freestanding, rotating spars that carry canvas reminiscent of the square-riggers of old. The square-rigger concept had seen its heyday fall as steam took over, making ships more efficient and requiring less crew. The last trading square-riggers disappeared in the 1950s.
But necessity being the mother of invention, the 1973-74 OPEC oil embargo had ship owners looking toward sailing ships once more. A German hydraulics engineer, Wilhelm Prölss, proposed a 'DynaSchiff', a 160 metre bulk carrier with six steel tripod-masts. It used the DynaRig sail he first posited in 1967, in a research project studying the efficiency of many different sail concepts for commercial shipping. When the coefficients showed the DynaRig concept to be twice as efficient as conventional square rigs, the idea became credible.
But in spite of being promoted heavily in technical papers, the idea was untested at full scale until American venture capitalist Tom Perkins decided to use it to power Maltese Falcon. Part of the reason the rig had never been built was that technology in the 1960s and '70s was not advanced enough to make lightweight spars even as a tripod instead of a single pole. It was too heavy, hydraulics were not advanced enough in the marine world to be reliable, sail controls required many people and roller furling systems were in their infancy. But with advances in carbon fibre and fibre optic sensor technology, roller furling sails, computer optimisation of sailing angles and reliable hydraulics, the DynaRig was finally feasible for a large vessel. The rig now known as the Falcon Rig was designed by Dykstra Naval Architects, Damon Roberts of Insensys and Perini Navi under Perkins' direction.
At the HISWA symposium in 2004, while Maltese Falcon was in build, Gerard Dykstra and Roberts, the spar builder, discussed the rig in some detail. (Insensys Ltd was acquired by Moog, Inc, a wind turbine blade producer. Roberts is now technical advisor to carbon fibre expert Magma Structures, which is building the next Falcon Rig, this one for a yacht nearly 17 metres longer.)
In 2001, Dykstra had investigated an optimal sail plan for an environmentally-friendly, large, world cruising project. Evaluating all possible hard- and soft-sail options, for that project, they chose an Aerorig schooner, with the DynaRig a close second. At that time, however, the construction of a carbon fibre DynaRig was cost prohibitive. But Dykstra saw the value of the DynaRig and showed it, along with a traditional and modern square-rigs, a schooner rig and a sloop, to Perini Navi and Tom Perkins as potential sail plans for the existing 88 metre Perini Navi hull that would become Maltese Falcon. Perkins, a laser engineer by training, was intrigued by the DynaRig, enough so to buy the patent rights and residual technology originating with Prölss's DynaSchiff from the German government, which included reams of testing data. Perkins set up a company to build the carbon fibre spars on site with Fabio Perini designing the small captive outhaul motors that unfurl and tension the sails and the mandrel that winds them back into the mast.
The design engineering and concept has proven itself since the yacht's maiden voyage in 2006, consistently delivering speed under sail at 16 to 20 knots. With the success of Maltese Falcon and the research done by Dykstra Naval Architects, it would appear that such a rig could have a successful future for large yachts. But in a note to us, Gerard Dykstra mentioned that the response has been slow in coming. To date the company now has refined the rig for a yacht under construction at Oceanco, is working on an 8,000 DWT cargo ship to be called the Ecoliner, and has researched the concept of two-masted yachts with Perini Navi and Ken Freivokh, who did the styling and interior design for Maltese Falcon.
But why revive the clipper concept? Dykstra says because the windward performance is good and boat handling potential is excellent, 'in fact it's ideal for single instrument panel operation one crewmember can control all functions. But most importantly, the rig allows safe, high average speeds in ocean conditions.'
For Freivokh, it has been an ongoing mission to promote the Falcon Rig concept, but an uphill struggle. When asked how quickly after Maltese Falcon people started enquiring about the concept, his reply is short. 'Not quickly enough!' he quips. 'We spoke to many people and it created quite a bit of stir and interest. People would talk to us but would then say that they didn't want to be seen copying Maltese Falcon. Of course, my answer was that instead of copying the Falcon they were going to copy everybody else by having a conventional mast with spreaders and all the normal paraphernalia.
'The reality,' he continues, 'is that the DynaRig concept is an extraordinarily good solution for a large yacht. It means you can break down the sail areas, and can control them to suit the conditions, feather the whole rig in gusts or bad weather, which gives you time to deal with the situation. You should be sailing 90 per cent of the time, even off your mooring something that was proven by Maltese Falcon.'
Freivokh remains optimistic that the Falcon Rig has a place in superyachting Maltese Falcon has stood the test of time, has proven the concept, and the masts haven't fallen over. Alongside the initial designs for a large, 100 metre-plus Falcon Rig yacht now in build in Northern Europe, Freivokh has been busy producing concepts and design studies on a variety of Falcon Rig yachts ranging from 65 metres to 105 metres.
Freivokh thinks that 60 metres is the smallest design the Falcon Rig becomes viable, and in collaboration with Perini Navi and Dykstra, he has developed a 65 metre two-masted version for an existing yacht owner. 'At 65 metres,' Freivokh explains, 'the preferred layout would be that of a raised pilothouse (RPH), which would typically have a section of the bridge that's slightly above the main deck with a technical space underneath. The idea we came up with was to relocate the technical space associated with the bridge and the core services down to the tanktop, effectively freeing the intermediate space as a series of split levels.' The communication between the aft main deck and the forward owner sections would be via a half level, so there are no corridors and no separate circulation spaces just a few steps and you're at a different level. It's interesting not just in terms of how you travel and use the yacht but even how you can allow light to come into the yacht in different ways.
'It's not just a new concept in terms of the rig,' Freivokh adds, 'it's new in terms of the interior because to my knowledge I haven't seen anyone trying this split level idea on a yacht layout.' Freivokh says there are two potential clients for this design, but the green light largely depends on whether they can sell their existing yachts.
Freivokh has also been working on a 90 metre Falcon Rig concept. 'We had the enquiry for a 90 and a 105 almost simultaneously,' he states. 'The owner interested in the 90 metre wanted something much more contemporary than Maltese Falcon. He was interested in us exploring a plumb bow, a flybridge, a much more open boat with shell doors for big tenders, helicopter facilities, pools, an open transom so a very different feel and look to Maltese Falcon. He was keen on large panoramic windows as he didn't want to feel claustrophobic, so the design has amazing large windows.' It also incorporates those openings such that you can board the yacht amidships and access other decks via a lift, as well as launching tenders straight from the shell doors and offering private owner's landing points and access to the yacht. 'It's going to have certain structural challenges,' says Freivokh, 'because of the number of openings, but it's all doable and it's a good, modern, very contemporary interpretation of the DynaRig.'
The updates also go through to the hull architecture itself. 'These designs would not be as tender as Maltese Falcon,' Freivokh explains. 'Falcon's hull shape was such that it was more aligned to the concept of sailing of yesteryear, but these concepts are much more stable platforms and have greater beam so much so that the 90 metre, while only fractionally longer than Falcon, is probably as much as double the volume.' Further, Dykstra has studied the rigs already and the designs have been successfully scaled up from the original Falcon Rig. 'They're still proper sailing yachts,' says Freivokh.
The 105 metre concept is, as Freivokh describes, much closer to being a development of_ Maltese Falcon_. 'It has to some extent the same slightly traditional feel, even though it's a sort of plumb bow, etc,' he says. 'It has some of the styling cues we developed for Falcon. It has a certain amount of deck camber and sheer you would expect on a slightly more traditional yacht. But it has a flybridge, which gives the ability to steer from the outside, which Falcon didn't have, and it has a very open deck, a huge number of shell doors and the aft end is a complete beach club.' Developed for an owner with a young family, the brief was to have the family cluster in one area with their own platform to the sea for privacy, with a more communal family area elsewhere so they could mingle with guests.
'This design has exciting features,' Freivokh enthuses, 'underwater viewing on the keel, a helipad forward, a pool and beach sections, a central lift, a cinema, a children's area fun features that maximise the chance to enjoy the experience at sea.' The project, he says, was started for a client of Edmiston, and may still happen. With a large Falcon Rig yacht in build, and growing interest in this new generation of designs, it seems Maltese Falcon will finally have the kin it has deserved for so long.
Originally published in Boat International December 2013