Much like Victor Kiam of the Remington razor ads of the 1970s, Hans Georg Näder was so impressed with the Baltic Yachts product that in 2013, he acquired an 80 percent stake in the Finnish brand. He heads up Ottobock, a German orthopedic technology company that his grandfather founded, but beyond a fondness for Cuban cigars, he is not the typical corporate executive. His eclectic style and disruptive spirit were the driving forces behind his latest yacht.
From the outside, the 177-foot (53.9-meter) Pink Gin—Näder’s sixth yacht of the same name—is every inch a beautiful sailing yacht. Her balanced lines, classic transom and cutter-style plumb bow belie the fact that she is also the largest carbon composite sloop on the water. Roads had to be widened and traffic signs removed when she was transported from Baltic’s inland shipyard to its waterside facility for finishing.
But what makes the yacht so unusual is her engineering and interior design. With the yacht having covered more than 25,000 nautical miles on both sides of the Atlantic since her delivery last year, it’s now possible to gauge whether Pink Gin’s technical and aesthetic innovations are performing as predicted.
“I was most nervous about switching from hydraulic to electric steering, but I think we’ve nailed it,” Baltic Yachts CEO Henry Hawkins says of the Force Feedback Steering System, which the yard developed to mimic the nuances of load and movement. Unlike with hydraulic steering, sensors in this system transmit data from the rudder to the wheels, so the helmsman can feel exactly what’s going on. Apart from minor issues with a couple of sensors, Hawkins says, the system has performed flawlessly.
“The part I enjoy most is hearing what people have to say after they’ve sailed the boat,” he says. “We had an experienced pro sailor on board recently who was very skeptical about how the boat would behave. But he was blown away, so much so that when we were maneuvering in port, he preferred to have it on sailing mode rather than harbor mode, because it’s easier to feel how much water is passing over the rudder when reversing.”
Whether this fly-by-wire solution is poised to revolutionize big-boat steering systems is another matter. Sailing purists are unlikely to be swayed, despite the fact that the absence of mechanical connections means helm pedestals can be positioned virtually anywhere on deck.
Photos | Have a closer look at Pink Gin in the gallery below:
“Of course, there’s the cost factor, and at the moment we’re looking at the very big boats or complex smaller projects where you don’t have room to put in a standard quadrant,” says Hawkins, who skippered the owner’s previous 152-foot (46-meter) Pink Gin before moving ashore as CEO of Baltic Yachts. “But I can see it being used again in the future, and we’ve had interest from other shipyards. It just needs the right boat.”
Another first for Baltic were the fold-down openings in the sides of the carbon fiber hull, a feature usually only seen on steel or aluminum yachts. The platform amidships to starboard serves as the main access for guests arriving by tender at anchor, and for delivering victuals to the adjacent galley. The balcony forward on the port side provides the master suite with a terrace on the sea.
All hulls (even the stiffest built from pre-preg carbon fiber, like Pink Gin’s) flex to some extent, and it’s hard enough to ensure hull integrity on such a powerful sailing vessel without punching holes in the hull where the stresses are highest. A very real danger was that the hull would simply bend in the middle under the load of the tensioned runners and backstay.
It quickly became apparent that to satisfy surveyors, forces would have to pass through the doors rather than around them. Working with composite engineers at Gurit, the shipyard came up with a system of stainless steel locking pins that secure the hatches. Load paths travel through the pins, which effectively become part of the hull structure.
Because of its size and position amidships, the critical opening is the hatch leading to the lower salon and galley. Hawkins says the shipyard had an issue with an inflatable seal, which marine growth probably punctured, and has been replaced (although it was not the main seal and not required by class). The precision engineering of the door is so snug that the backstay has to be eased to take tension out of the hull before the door is opened.
“I joined the boat in early summer in Ibiza, and we had to run back to Palma [de Mallorca] overnight so guests could catch an early flight,” Hawkins says. “A boat came out to meet us, and we thought about dropping the transom platform. In the end it was easier to use the side balcony. It works, it’s functional and the crew trust it completely.”
The naval architects at Judel/Vrolijk designed Pink Gin to be powerful, seaworthy and stable for global cruising. But her lightweight construction (the carbon shell weighs just 18 tons, a fraction of the overall displacement of 250 tons), a 71-ton lifting keel with a torpedo bulb and a mighty rig that’s a smidgeon under 223 feet (68 meters) mean she is also a swift performer in light and moderate airs. She has clocked 15 knots upwind in flat water. She is a very big boat to handle around a regatta circuit, but having retired from racing after winning the 2007 Millennium Cup with the old Pink Gin, Näder is considering competing in next year’s St. Barths Bucket.
Pink Gin’s interior is by U.K.-based Design Unlimited. An evolution of the previous Pink Gin’s interior, the décor draws on an exotic palette of materials ranging from 8,000-year-old bog oak, brushed bronze and petrified stone to hand-painted silk, hammered copper and shagreen inlaid with bone. Delightful details abound, such as the wall tiles in the owner’s bathroom inspired by those of the Paris subway, only made out of composite instead of ceramic to save half a ton in weight.
“Since we designed the old boat, the owner’s tastes have evolved,” says Design Unlimited’s principal, Mark Tucker. “He came to me and said, ‘Mark, I’m old enough to make my own decisions and not have other people telling me what I should or shouldn’t do.’ That opened the door, and from there the concept gelled almost organically.”
Punctuating the bespoke finishes are more industrial flourishes, such as louvered metal doors that slide across the entrance to the owner’s balcony and the cabin portholes, for a steampunk look. Distressed panels of recycled wood covering the forward bulkhead in the owner’s suite, an installation by Cuban artist Roberto Diago, heighten this effect.
Another Cuban artist, Roberto Fabelo, created the life-size sculpture of a sea nymph that stands behind metal mesh doors in the guest foyer. The cast-bronze figure is securely battened down—it was thought—but Hawkins recounts one occasion when she decided to go on a walkabout.
“The doors were open and the lady came out and tried to go into the double cabin,” he says with a chuckle. “Fortunately, she was stopped by the rhino’s horn on her head that punctured the wall. She was bundled back into her cage and, needless to say, she’s properly restrained now.”
Pink Gin’s interior is high maintenance for her crew, and the jury is still out on the pewter surfaces, which, despite constant polishing, don’t buff like other metals.
But Näder, who was looking for a second home on the water rather than a pristine showpiece, is unconcerned.
“The point is the boat will mature gracefully,” Hawkins says. “Obviously she should be clean and well maintained, but she’s a home to be lived in, and that means she’s going to wear, which fits with the industrial look and distressed feel of the interior. She turns heads and creates stories, which is all part of the fun.”
Deck Plans | See Pink Gin's general arrangement below:
For more information: balticyachts.fi