For the uninitiated, the designation “yacht designer” can be confusing. Ordinarily, the provenance of a superyacht’s design is granted to multiple entities: exterior designer, interior designer and naval architect. But what differentiates these roles? Does the naval architect design the hull shape and underwater configuration? Does the interior designer create the general accommodations plan and curate furnishings? As superyachts are highly complex machines, there’s a fair bit of collaboration and crossover.
Bill Tripp is a hybrid: a yacht designer and naval architect. His firm, Tripp Design Naval Architecture, was established in 1984 and now has offices in Norwalk, Connecticut, and Amsterdam. The son of yacht designer William H. “Bill” Tripp, Jr., he has expanded the family’s legacy by specializing in the design and engineering of modern sailing yachts.
“In lingua franca, I am a design engineer,” Tripp says. “Engineering is the language of naval architecture and helps us to design. It is one of the important tools, along with experience, technology and a certain degree of talent, that allows us to create beautiful and purposeful designs. I am not an architect of buildings. I make boats go.”
And judging by his portfolio of boats on the water, all of his boats “go” really well.
“A yacht is all about movement,” he says. “When you look at it, you should read its intent, which includes travel, exploration and joy.”
Tripp is well versed in the latest marine technology, but he is no stereotypical geek. He enjoys travel, biking, skiing, squash, books, dining and dogs. Tripp’s wife, Danielle Massé, a former executive in marine insurance, works at Tripp Design in sales, marketing, public relations and client relations. When the two are not at work, they travel together around the world to race or sail with clients at superyacht regattas.
Tripp’s designs have won major regattas and international design awards. His largest yacht to date is the 282-foot (86-meter) Oceanco and Vitters build Aquijo. Launched in 2016, she is the largest performance ketch in the world and can reach speeds over 20 knots under sail. The yacht embodies a lot of firsts: She had the world’s largest lifting keel and custom 40-ton winches, as well as two equal-height masts, each as tall as the Statue of Liberty from pedestal to torch.
The same year Aquijo was delivered, New England Boatworks launched the 62-foot (18.9-meter) Tripp design ChessieRacing. That yacht was conceived for an inveterate offshore racer and former CEO of T. Rowe Price who wanted to win races with an easy-to-sail, comfortable daysailer that had a light, modern interior.
Tripp has range in his designs, as well. Two decades ago, a German client hired him to design a yacht that he could sail around the world with tutors on board for his children. Abeking & Rasmussen delivered the 130-foot (40-meter) Alithia in 2002 with a family-friendly interior by Winch Design. The yacht has reached speeds up to 21 knots.
“When you look at the lines of Alithia, it is fun to see that she is a 20-year-old design since there are now many modern yachts constructed today with a very similar line,” Tripp says.
Tripp also has stretched boundaries with Italian designer and Wally Yachts founder Luca Bassani on three Wallys: Esense, Saudade and Better Place. The 143-foot (43-meter) Esense launched in 2006 with lightweight carbon composite construction, raised bulwarks and a flush deck. She was radically new at the time and remains fresh today.
Tripp says he stays away from façade, fashion plates and extraneous curves. “We want to look far enough into the future that our boats will be timeless enough to still look modern a generation on,” he says.
He inherited at least some of his talents from his father, who was renowned for, among other designs, the Block Island 40, Bermuda 40 and Columbia 50. The Tripp family home was in Port Washington on New York’s Long Island. Young Tripp often went to work with his dad.
“I was probably 6 when I drew my first boat at my dad’s drafting table,” he says. “In my youth, Mondays in suburbia tended to be grumpy days in my friends’ households. In my house, Mondays were always a good day because my father loved what he did and enjoyed going to the office.”
Boats figured into Tripp’s genealogy from both his parents. “On my mother’s side, my great-grandfather was a privateer and gunrunner plying the waters of the Chesapeake.,” he says. “My father’s ancestors worked on whaling ships, and my paternal grandfather was a civil engineer.”
When young Tripp was 5 years old, he started traveling with his parents to Europe. His father had design work at Abeking & Rasmussen in Germany, and at Van Lent in Holland.
“My father instilled in me the love of the sea, the love of design and the love of travel,” he says, adding that after his dad died in an automobile accident at age 51 in 1971, his desire to carry on in his father’s footsteps remained strong.
Tripp obtained a degree in naval architecture at the University of Michigan. Shortly after college, he went to work for California-based yacht designer Doug Peterson.
“We worked in a rarified niche within a niche,” Tripp says. “Peterson specialized not only in sailboats, but in offshore racing sailboats.” He designed yachts that won such regattas as the Southern Ocean Racing Conference and the Admiral’s Cup.
Tripp also worked as construction engineer on maxi yachts such as Kialoa and Condor, and did a stint at Derecktor Shipyards working on powerboats and U.S. Coast Guard cutters.
He still maintains a hands-on relationship with racing. He has done 10 turns in the Newport to Bermuda Race. He chuckles when he says that he is no longer allowed to steer because it is an amateur regatta, and he is deemed a pro. He also sailed in the notorious 1979 Fastnet Race where the weather wreaked havoc and resulted in 19 fatalities.
“That’s when you appreciate that a boat is so small and the ocean is so big,” he says. “I feel it is a serious responsibility to design a yacht.”
When Tripp built Alithia at Abeking, it was a particular milestone for him because that yard is where his father built two of his most famous yachts, Ondine III and Blackfin. At the 2021 Monaco Yacht Show, Tripp revealed his own new concept projects with Abeking: 295-foot (90-meter) Elemental Sail and 246-foot (75-meter) Elemental Power.
Also new in Tripp’s roster is the Y9 Prevail, a 90-foot (27-meter) sailboat that is a collaboration with YYachts in Germany and a continuation of the Y7 model, the first of which launched in 2019. Both the Y9 and Y7 are built of carbon and are easy to sail with just two people.
For Tripp, size—whether big or small—matters only in the interesting challenges that are presented. His mantra remains: “How will we find the best balance possible to meet the design brief of any given yacht and make it move through the water?”
His next boat to be launched is a 45-foot (13.7-meter) wooden composite sailboat being built in Rockport, Maine. “This yacht is a jewel,” he says. “My next design is always my best.”
For more information: trippdesign.net