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Very much the custom yacht specialist, the Royal Huisman Shipyard doesn’t often get to build any two yachts the same. But a few years ago along came some clients that essentially said ‘we’ve seen your ‘02-launched Borkumriff IV and we’d like one just the same please!’. That decision not only meant a quicker build time, which translated directly to less cost for the owners and improved efficiency for the yard, but also, now that their virtually identical 52m American east coast topsail schooner Meteor has been delivered, their yacht is all the better for it. Phil Draper reports.

JUNE 2007

At the motoryacht end of the spectrum, semi-custom metal projects are proving to be increasingly popular, not least for the fact that utilising common technical platforms, and to varying degrees exteriors and interior layouts too, means quicker build times, reduced costs for clients and improved efficiencies for yards, never mind the fact that a ‘series-built’ products ought ultimately to be a better finished products for no other reason than mistakes tend not to be repeated and so debug lists become shorter. But thus far such things have rarely been seen by the likes of the Royal Huisman Shipyard in Holland, whose enviable reputation is deeply rooted in bespoke yacht building.
So one can imagine the surprise at the yard when the Canadian clients for its recently launched Meteor first arrived at their door three years or so ago and said we’ve seen what you can do with the Borkumriff IV and we’d like one just the same please! Orders are seldom won as easily. New-build schooners in excess of 50m (164ft) tend to be a very personal affair, but for these owners, with plenty of sailing experience at their disposal, doing their own thing from scratch seemed daft — doubly so considering the widely acclaimed Borkumriff IV was close to perfection when she launched back in 2002 and has only been improved with tweaks since by her longstanding captain, Malcolm Bromilow, who had also served as her project manager.
Had 'Project Meteor' started from scratch, says Michael Koppstein, RHS’s North American representative who’s based in Ogunquit, Maine, and sold the boat, says it would have taken a lot longer between the decision to go ahead and final delivery. “In fact it probably took getting on for a year of the project,” he says. “Mostly the time was saved from the concept and engineering stages… To put that in a more meaningful way, it took around two and a half years instead of taking three and a half from the signing of contract to the actual delivery.”
To talk about the design process behind Meteor one obviously has to look back to her older sister. The original motivation for Borkumriff IV came from her commissioning owner, an elderly German businessman, who alas is no longer with us, although his family still retains both the yacht and Bromilow.
Few superyacht owners have as much technical knowledge and sailing experience as Borkumriff IV’s did, and particularly when as regards schooners, his passion. For he had already been responsible for three previous schooner projects of the same name over the previous 20 years or so, the first and smallest of which he actually designed himself. So he was never in doubt that his next step up was going to be anything other than evolutionary.
Decisions regarding builder and interior designer were easy. His 40m (131ft) Borkumriff III that launched back in ’94 had served him well and she was the work of RHS, unarguably then and now the world’s most impressive and revered aluminium sailing yacht builder. Engaging its considerable services once again was, therefore, no surprise at all.
He was also keen for John Munford to recreate a similarly peaceful and traditionally panelled environment below decks, in what by this time he clearly envisaged as a scaled-up version of Borkumriff III. That vision was the long-keeled American East Coast topsail schooner Borkumriff IV, which has an LOA including bowsprit of just over 50m (164ft) that would be capable of extended cruising with the owner and no more than four guests, supported by a crew complement of up to nine.
However, when it came to selecting a principal firm of naval architects, a keystone in any new-build programme, his choice proved rather more difficult. For over the years he had established a rapport with two highly accomplished firms on two different continents. So who to choose? Niels Helleberg of Alden Design in Boston, Massachusetts, had particularly impressed him with all his long-established office’s schooner experience, particularly its wealth of wisdom relating to the notorious Gloucester fishing schooners of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, whose capabilities had also evolved over the years as skippers and crews sought speed advantage in what was then highly competitive, highly lucrative industry. But then he had also got to know Gerry Dijkstra and his Amsterdam studio, whose track record is unrivalled when it comes to large traditional sailing vessels, and particularly their sail plans and sail-handling systems.
In the event deciding between them proved too much, which happily became an alternative solution. After much consultation and deliberation his ‘dream team’ was finally completed by a quite unique design co-operation — Alden Design and Gerard Dijkstra & Partners working together, recalls Malcolm Bromilow, who drew up the necessary design parameters for his owner and eventually re-wrote the specifications. Bromilow also helped on the Meteor work-up with her project manager and eventual captain Dean Maggio, who’s family is said to have had experience with schooners, so his learning curve should be a little shorter as regards ‘schoonerisms’ than most big-yacht captains taking on their first. His subtle inputs were greatly appreciated. For instance, he could advise on things like specifying higher rated hydraulic take-off pumps and so on, having had the hands-on experience.
Although at first the idea of two such capable design firms working together appears somewhat strange, particularly as either could have easily carried the brief alone, the association is said to have worked perfectly.
How this worked in practice was simple enough. Both collaborated with the owner on the overall scheme, before taking sole responsibility for specific areas — such as the bow, the sheerline, deck layout, hull apertures and so on. Certainly Alden Design worked on the long-keel form and the attached rudder, so it is no coincidence that her hull profile bears a more than passing resemblance to some of the more illustrious Gloucester schooners. And, of course, the Dijkstra studio took responsibility for the sail plan.
From the decision to initiate the project in mid-1998 and securing a building slot at the yard, it took nine months of rigorous design work — a process that included tank testing at the Delft Institute in Holland and wind-tunnel testing at the Southampton-based Wolfson Unit in the UK — until metal was finally cut in spring ’99. She delivered in ’02.
Aesthetically Borkumriff IV and Meteor have all the classic ingredients, from their archetypal clipper bow, complete with finely raked and scalloped stem and a belligerent bowsprit, to that high arc-like transom and its long clear counter. Indeed the differential between thei r overall length of 50.6m (166ft) including bowsprit or her over-the-deck length of 47.7m (156ft) to her waterline length of 35.8m (117ft) is dramatic. Never forget, however, that those lines belie considerable technical capabilities and that their superyacht engineering and systems are firmly rooted in the 21st century.
So what is different beyond the hull colours — Borkumriff IV’s hull is white; Meteor’s is blue.
Well for a start there is the slightest of differences in LOAs, but only as regards the length of the bowsprits. The hull dimensions are identical. The extra length in the sprit is about Borkumriff IV’s actually being slightly shorter than it should have been, owing to the fact that she was built literally to fit her commissioning owner’s permanent berth in Antibes. Had it not been for that constraint, her bowsprit would have been the 1.01m (3ft 4in) longer like Meteor’s.
Each has hulls and deckhouses fabricated in Alustar aluminium, RHS’s favoured material for the past seven or eight years, but whereas Borkumriff IV’s masts were aluminium and only her ‘Park Avenue’ booms and yards carbonfibre, all Meteor’s spars are carbonfibre. RHS’s daughter company Rondal not surprisingly supplied them for both yachts, as well as most of the winch systems, captives and drums, the deck hardware, hatches and an assorted of other subassemblies and parts.
In terms of displacement, Meteor has a little less, despite having that extra LOA and having a 2m (6ft 6in) taller rig. What difference in displacement there is virtually all down to Meteor’s rigging, which is composite rather than conventional discontinuous rod rigging. Indeed she is the first big yacht to receive Element C6 carbonfibre discontinuous rigging from Southern Spars’ Rhode Island facility. The system is based on the very latest in carbon-strand (pultrusion) technology developed outside the marine sector by Airlogistics, but that Southern Spars has the exclusive marine sector licence. Each stay is full of loose individual strands of carbon that have been pultruded — a high pressure, high temperature process. The jackets round them are Spectra and really only there to make them look good. The terminals are conventional.
Element C6 carbon stays weigh in at around 10 per cent heavier than PBO equivalents, but are potentially a lot less problematic.
Certainly these Element C6 carbon stays are incredibly strong and durable. The material has twice the breaking strain of Nitronic 50 and all the intensive load cycle testing that has been done — and there’s been a hell of a lot of it, according to Southern Spars’ Rhode Island facility manager John ‘JB’ Barnitt — shows that it is not going to suffer fatigue problems. “The normal industry standard for testing Nitronic 50 calls for 40 per cent load and usually the cold ends fail first at around 100,000 cycles,” he says. “But we ended up testing our Element C6 stays at 50 per cent load for almost a million cycles over a five and a half month period and we never did break anything.”
Owing to the weight savings in the rigging, it has been possible to remove a fair amount of ballast. The savings in rigging, some 2.5 tonnes, has meant seven tonnes has been lost from her keel.
On the water the theory says Meteor should average 2.5 per cent faster than Borkumriff IV, which means somewhere between one and three per cent faster depending upon wind strength. In light winds she’ll be a lot quicker. In stronger winds the difference will be less marked.
Essentially, Meteor and Borkumriff IV, being heavy-displacement long-keel ships, can go to windward whatever the weather. Indeed these yachts need wind. Their performance drops off disproportionately as the wind speed decreases. In reasonable breeze and above, they will deliver true wind angles of 45 degrees, which is pretty good, says Gerry Dijkstra. “The tacking angle is 90 degrees, so 10 degrees or so more than an equivalent-length sloop.”
As an example, sailing upwind with the right sail combinations Meteor will deliver around 11 knots or so in 18 knots of true wind and relatively smooth water. But in bigger waves she’ll do a bit better still.
Of course, off the wind is when schooners really pay, because they have simply so much more sail area to present. They fly when reaching and are so much faster than comparable length sloops. For instance, Meteor and Borkumriff IV would be something like 1.5 knots faster than a J-Class when reaching. Reaching speeds of 14-16 knots would be normal.
On a schooner like this the main trimmer tends to be the one really steers the boat. And reducing sail is simple enough. The inner jib tends to come down first. Then down would come the topsail. Next one reef would be taken in the mainsail and then a second, although with that in place the inner jib could be re-hoisted to regain some balance. Reefing the foresail (the one on the forward mast) would be rare; it has to be really blowing for that to pay.
At the time of her launch, and during the Superyacht Cup, Meteor only had cruising suit of sails, but she will soon get a ‘regatta’ set of sails that are more suited to racing. One of her owners has a lot of grand prix racing experience. That wardrobe when it comes will include a blade jib and a fully roached foresail.
While they would be certified to carry up to a maximum of 36 people aboard for occasional day sailing and racing, under normal cruising conditions, which for a yacht like this could easily mean a circumnavigation, there would be no more than 12-16 souls aboard, just six to eight guests in three to four cabins aft attended to by a permanent crew complement forward of up to eight.
Another difference between Meteor and her older sister is their props. The former has a fully controllable pitch propeller or CPP, whereas the latter has a variable pitch prop. The full CPP affair works so well, as engine revs can be kept constant, even when going from full ahead to full astern, which is done simply by flipping over the blades. Crash stops are really fast and incredibly smooth.
Meteor is also loaded with a lot more in terms of ‘comms’, as can be seen from her spec. Her owners plan to take her round the world, but still want to be fully connected to the rest of the world when it comes to business and pleasure. Borkumriff IV’s owner was more casual with his time aboard, which also explains partly why Meteor has a much more advanced control system than her older sister, but then things move fast as regards such technology and particularly at a yard like RHS, which has gained bugely in that area from having computer and IT industry clients onboard such as Dr Jim Clark (Hyperion, Athena and Endeavour II) and Bill Joy (Ethereal).
Certainly Meteor sails beautifully and she has already seen a reasonable amount of action. When she finally departed the yard on May 25th she headed out into a full gale, with wind speeds occasionally topping 60 knots.
Then, having both competed in the Superyacht Cup over June 16-19, both Meteor and Borkumriff IV put out to sea together the day after, which gave all those on board, including your author, and any other boats in the vicinity a real treat. One just doesn’t see identical schooners of 50m (164ft) and more sailing in close company everyday for the simple reason these two are the only identical pair of large schooners on the planet and this is the first time they actually got together. Owing to Meteor’s bigger rig, reduced displacement and so on, handicaps during the Superyacht Cup meant they started well apart during the racing off Palma and so during race days they never got closer than 10 minutes or more apart.
Since departing the Superyacht Cup in late June and Palma de Malorca, Meteor has made her way across the Atlantic for a christening party help in Newport, Rhode Island, in August.
Meteor will accommodate just six guests aboard in three cabins… The normal crew complement aboard Meteor is eight to nine, but of course for regatta sailing a lot more than that are required to be aboard and ‘working’.
Both yachts are similar below decks, being the work of the revered yacht interior specialist John Munford. The scheme majors on 'Swietenia' mahogany, mostly ‘raised and fielded’ panelling, all rather reminiscent of a gentleman’s club. The accommodation is very similar aboard both – the crew spaces, save for two cabins that are aft, are forward and the guests are amidships and aft.
The owner’s cabin in aftmost on both yacht, but whereas Borkumriff IV had twin beds Meteor has a double.
The other two twin-bed guest cabins are identical.
The full-beam main saloon space is almost the same. Save for Borkumriff IV including a sliding door that can divide up the space.
Oh and Meteor’s got a wet-bar instead of a writing desk and a sofa-bed instead of a sofa in her forward deckhouse.
As to prices, of course such things remain strictly confidential, the business of the yacht owners and the yacht builder, save perhaps for their insurers. But just to satisfy the quite natural curiosity of onlookers, let’s just say something a little under €30 million would probably be required to fund a two-year-plus build programme to produce these two another sister. But that’s several millions euros less than designing and building a comparable length and specification vessel from scratch.

Sailing together...
RHS’s Meteor and Borkumriff IV are virtually identical twin-masted leviathans. They may appear to be relics of the ‘Golden Age of Sail’, but in reality they are both thoroughly modern state-of-the-art sailing superyachts. The white-hulled one, Borkumriff IV, is just five years old. And the gloriously dark blue one, Meteor, which shares her name incidentally with the Kaiser Wilhelm’s five infamous racing schooners of the 1930s, is brand new, having launched in late spring. The day after the Superyacht Cup drew to a close the pair posed for the cameras together, sailing in close company off Palma de Mallorca. Under sail they would be doing well to get much above 16 knots. But speed, just like beauty, is very much in the ‘eye of the beholder’.

Background - Gerry Dijkstra
Certainly Gerry Dijkstra is a world authority when it comes to traditional sailing vessels. Beyond Borkumriff IV and Meteor and all manner of glorious retro-vessels already delivered, current Dijkstra projects in progress include a new 58m (190ft) Rainbow Warrior II for Green Peace, which was recently put out for tender with a view to construction starting in December this year and a cold-moulded sister to the Holland Jachtbouw-built 46.3m (152ft) aluminium schooner Windrose that is a year into its build programme at a Turkish yard. The replica design of the famous J-Class Rainbow is also ready to go, although the commissioner Chris Gongriep, the owner of Holland Jachtbouw, is said to have postponed construction of that project for another year.

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© Phil Draper