ISSUE NO. 284
January / February 2022
Durability and Transformation
The boat under construction on the cover of this issue is the 100' GAIA, from the U.K.–based company Spirit Yachts. Spirit launched its first yacht 27 years ago, and since then has built 73 more ranging in length from 33' to 111'. In the process, the company has become one of the most successful wooden boat building companies in the U.K—and beyond.
Spirit Yachts has its roots in an earlier company, McMillan Yachts, which, as Nic Compton notes in his article about Spirit (page 66), went “spectacularly bankrupt during the 1990s financial crash.” When the company re-emerged as Spirit Yachts, its focus was to be on wood-epoxy sailboats rooted in the aesthetics of the racing classes of the 1920s and ’30s. These boats would have separate rudders and modern appendages and rigs. Lacking standing headroom, the early iterations would favor performance over comfort. One of Spirit’s most recent boats, IO (see page 72), a 50' racer-cruiser, signals a new direction for the company, with yachts featuring comfortable standing-headroom cruising interiors. This idea of taking a classic concept and keeping it relevant for modern use runs through several articles in this issue.
Consider the peapod. As Ben Fuller describes beginning on page 22, this distinctive double-ender was developed for the Maine lobster industry, and it diversified into a sort of waterborne pickup truck ideal for everything from fishing to lighthouse-keeping. It is Maine’s iconic saltwater rowboat, and it survives today as a popular tender and recreational boat because of its enduringly relevant hull form and size. One of the most popular recreational peapods in recent years is the glued-lapstrake-plywood Beach Pea (see photo, page 32) designed by Doug Hylan. It marries the utility of the classic peapod’s shape and size with the functionality of glued plywood construction—which yields a light boat that’s able to live for long stretches out of the water without drying out.
And then there are the Sonder boats. From 1906 to 1913, this German racing class competed in regattas in the United States and Europe. These races were meant to foster international friendship—and to advance Kaiser Wilhelm II’s naval ambitions. Author Stan Grayson, in his article beginning on page 50, writes that “Ultimately, the German–American races fell victim to the political failures that resulted in the Great War, but for those involved, the contests represented an experience they remembered all their lives.” Many of the early Sonder boats are still sailing. As Stan notes in a sidebar, “The Sonder Sails On” (page 58), “150 Sonders were built in Germany between 1899 and 1921. Thirty boats are known to exist today.” Among these are two recently built ones. The spectacular BIBELOT II, originally designed by N.G. Herreshoff, was re-engineered by Steve Barnes for a new boat launched in 1993. That build inspired an even “more radically modernized Sonder, FIMA,” writes Stan, which was launched a year later and famously clocked 18.6 knots. That modernization allowed this astounding feat in a boat whose concept is more than a century old.
And so it is, too, with Spirit’s yachts: they look like they’re a century old but, says company founder Sean McMillan in Nic’s article, sail “rings around everyone.”
Editor of WoodenBoat Magazine