Aquarius truly defines what it means to be a ‘modern classic’. She is a stunning yacht of rare beauty, combining classic hull lines with a powerful modern rig and a clean, contemporary chic above and below decks. With naval architecture by Dykstra Naval Architects and interior design from Mark Whiteley Design this magnificent 56m / 184ft ketch was realised by Royal Huisman together with Rondal and an outstanding team of rig specialists.
The owners’ brief was for an elegant yet muscular sailboat with a classic profile, for family enjoyment. The yacht should have favourable sea keeping characteristics that are ideal for world cruising as well as standing her in good stead for the occasional Bucket regatta.
Owners’ representative Godfrey ‘Goddy’ Cray said the clients had sought: “A modern classical yacht with a clean, uncomplicated look. Not a pirate ship but a modern, fashionable and chic looking yacht with performance, reliability and quality – a sailor’s yacht.”
The brief of course, evolved from there – particularly because the husband and wife owner-team remained closely involved with the project and in the development of new ideas to finesse their vision. Erik Wassen, senior Dykstra designer on Aquarius said: “These are adventurous owners, committed to serious world cruising and exploration with their family and guests, rather than just the well-trodden Med / Caribbean circuit. They certainly wanted a beautiful yacht but the elements of security, good sea-keeping and comfort unquestionably dominated our thinking.”
As experienced sailors, the owners were equally clear about performance requirements and the implications for the rig and sail management system. Again from Dykstra: “We needed to provide good performance for long passages but also ease of handling, so that it really is possible to get set up and sail off an anchorage in well under an hour; sail for a couple of hours and still enjoy an afternoon of relaxation or watersports.”
And as a strong foundation for the performance, reliability and lifestyle they expected of Aquarius, the owners consistently emphasised the word SIMPLICITY. This meant no superfluous systems or experiments, just the best modern technology platform already proven under hard sea miles.
While luxurious accommodation and amenities are a given for a yacht of this size and quality, flexibility was also highlighted, so that Aquarius could comfortably accommodate differing groups of family or guests when cruising. In terms of interior styling, the mood should be classic without ever being busy or fussy. It should feel calm, elegant and relaxing.
To develop the rig package, Royal Huisman worked in close collaboration with a highly experienced specialist team comprising Doyle Sails NZ, Dykstra Naval Architects, rigging producers Carbo-Link, the owners’ very knowledgeable project manager Godfrey ‘Goddy’ Cray and the shipyard’s sister company Rondal.
The Doyle design team had been introduced to the project at an early stage and so were able to tweak the initial specs for an optimal end result that went well beyond initial expectations.
Rondal manufactured the two carbon fibre Panamax spars and the style-to-order furling booms with performance outhaul feature. The solid carbon standing rigging by Carbo-Link is executed in a continuous configuration. The internal D-Tang connections (where diagonal stays meet the mast tube) remove the visual clutter of turnbuckles.
The sail inventory comprises: fully roached main and mizzen sails with integrated reefing, a blade jib, performance staysail, heavy duty delivery staysail and a reacher / Code 0 set on a removable furling torque stay to reduce windage. The downwind inventory is made up of a full running asymmetric gennaker and mizzen staysail, both crafted to perform well in Bucket racing with full crew as well as under regular cruising conditions.
A great deal of consideration was also given to the specification of the sail management system and associated deck hardware in order to maximise efficiency and reliability, while minimising deck clutter. Good examples of this attention to detail can be found in the superstructure teak detailing, or in the bespoke cowl vents that appear to have open space beneath their stainless steel caps but are in fact supported above a ring of black steel vents, shaped to throw off any line that might otherwise snag.
The twin helm stations combine clean, ergonomic design with superb sightlines to the bow and the rig. The direct steering provides excellent feedback to the helmsman and Aquarius has impressed her crew with her ease of handling, both upwind and downwind. This undoubtedly owes a lot to her underwater profile, with its 4.8m / 15.7ft fixed keel and balanced spade rudder, working in perfect harmony with her powerful yet easily managed ketch rig.
From almost any angle, the perfectly judged sheer and long overhangs of Aquarius’ slender hull, crowned by its majestic rig, provoke admiring comments. The black topsides, subtly enhanced by oval portlights, fairleads and a silver cove stripe that finishes in a flourish aft, gleam a discreet yet shimmering black as they flawlessly reflect the ripples on the water.
This is the alluring sight that greets the owners and their guests as they approach Aquarius from ashore by way of the yacht’s main tender. A few steps up take the owners’ party onto the deck, beside the main cockpit and just aft of the main deckhouse. First-time visitors experience a collective intake of breath as they are presented with the vast sweep of immaculate teak decking, subtly seamed in grey, and the gleaming masts that tower above.
Aquarius carries two tenders with three tender-stowage locations on deck to maximise flexibility. Boarding options comprise a range of carefully thought-out options. The highly stable 3m / 10ft fold-out side boarding platform amidships (complete with shower) not only provides secure and easy access from a tender but – by way of an additional side gangway with self-levelling steps – secures starboard access to low-level docks. In addition, there is a passerelle for dockside boarding while docked stern-to. With extensive family cruising in mind, Aquarius is extremely well equipped for watersports activities. There is ample stowage space below for Sea Bobs, diving gear, kayaks, windsurfers and bicycles, as well as lockers for sunbeds and a wide range of mattresses for relaxation.
At the bow, stainless steel anchors are mounted either side in the classic fashion. The recessed furlers on deck are partially visible but what cannot be seen is a pulpit, since this has been discarded to achieve a low tacking point for optimised rig balance and sail area.
Visitors stepping onto the decks of Aquarius for the first time are likely to be powerfully struck by the confident and highly successful fusion of classic and modern design references. The hull lines and traditional deckhouses say ‘classical purity’ yet the clean, spare execution and modern detailing on deck could be equally at home on a far more contemporary yacht. This is no easy trick to pull off but, by paying attention to detail in every aspect, the team have succeeded in achieving ‘classical modernity’ that others might only dream of.
The contemporary wheels, with their polished and tapered steel spokes, provide just a nod to tradition with their teak rims, but no more than a nod. The helm displays have adjustable teak covers that can be fully closed when not sailing, or adjusted against the sun for optimum readability in all conditions.
The deck features two low-profile teak clad deckhouses and a sheltered crew companionway forward. A mid-deck lounge area, with sun canopy above, is easily set up when at anchor. Immediately aft of the glass-rimmed main deckhouse and salon, the main cockpit provides the perfect social hub on deck while also offering direct access to the interior. Luxuriously appointed, this cockpit is sheltered by a large bimini that links with individual biminis providing sun protection for the helm stations.
Aft of the main cockpit and the twin helm stations, the mizzen mast signposts the approach to the owners’ private deckhouse and cockpit – and to the luxurious owners’ suite below, which is flooded by natural light provided from a circular skylight around the mizzen mast.
Views over the stern are completely unrestricted, even by guardrails or a pushpit . As if this set-up did not cover all possible options, the private cockpit table can also be converted to a sheltered bed between the coamings for safe and secluded relaxation at sea.
The deck cleats are a truly stylish composition of curving, polished steel and crafted teak. Sail management is powered by high-speed winches with line speeds of up to 110 meters per minute. The Harken winches on deck are complemented by Rondal reel winches in deck lockers with electrically-driven variable speed feeders. These feeders have been developed for high speed operation, contributing to overall safety and reliability.
A ‘New England feel of relaxed elegance’
Mark Whiteley has designed a classic modern interior based on the owners’ preference for brush-painted white panelling and deckheads, with contrasting mahogany joinery for walls and flooring. The overall ambiance, as they set out in their brief, should not be too busy or fussy, but calm and elegant, providing a ‘New England feel of relaxed elegance’ – achieved by Mark Whiteley with crisp mouldings and fine detailing to add a touch of contemporary sharpness.
Descending a few steps from the main cockpit into the magnificent deck salon, a new guest immediately gains a powerful impression of the light, airy and subtly nuanced combination of fabrics, paint and furnishings that sets the tone throughout the interior. This is another example of how well the classic / modern fusion works: original classic yachts never had more than small portholes facing forwards.
From a sofa to starboard, one can observe how easily crew members are able to electrically elevate and convert coffee tables opposite to create an impressive dining table for eight. Seating around the table is provided by the large portside sofa and stylish folding directors’ chairs brought in by the crew.
The aft staircase leads to the dayhead and provides access to the main owners’ and guests’ accommodation area, with double guest cabins either side of the corridor and the owners’ suite aft.
The forward staircase descends, on the port side, to a lower salon equipped with a very large hi-res cinema screen, an exceptional sound system concealed in the walls, and luxurious informal seating.
*Photo credit: All courtesy of Royal Huisman