Paja is a 30ft carbon daysailer designed by Paolo Bua for famously innovative owner Jack Setton. Olivier Péretié steps aboard
The appeal of many slim hulled designs lies in their traditional charm, but building an ultra-modern, super-skinny dayboat in 2020 is something else entirely.
Paja is beyond slender, she is closer to a blade than a board, with a beam of just 1.76m (5ft 9in). Her dimensions most closely resemble the Valhalla whaleboats that legendary naval architect and sailor Uffa Fox used to sail almost a century ago (with their LOA of 9.3m/30ft 6in and a beam of 1.7m/5ft 7in), and which he praises in his book The Crest of the Wave.
“Those who have not sailed in a lightly-built whaleboat have missed one of the greatest joys of sailing,” wrote Fox, “for such a boat fills one with the buoyant hope that springy turf imparts on a sunny day.”
Fox’s whaleboat weighed just 385kg and had nothing under her thin bottom. By comparison, Paja weighs in at 1,100kg, which includes a 660kg keel with a deep lead bulb set. But while the whaleboat was designed to carry close to 500kg of gear and seven crew, Paja is designed to be sailed by just one man.
That man is Jack Setton, famous for never following trends when it comes to yacht design. He has a reputation for inspiring designers to instead produce exactly what he has in mind.
A solo passion
In 2010 Setton launched Ciao Gianni, a slender Frers-designed 60-footer created for single-handed day sailing. The yacht was named in tribute to the late Gianni Agnelli, “The only man on earth, except for me, to know what a pretty boat must be,” Setton has said.
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Ciao Gianni was designed without downwind sails, but with a long waterline and deep draught keel for upwind performance. However, as Setton explains: “I was not getting younger. So I needed a shorter boat, but a fast one, of course.”
In 2015 he developed his ideal daysailer concept further with Roljack, a Judel/Vrolijk 36ft all-carbon design with no cockpit, only a single helming position inset into a flat deck, and planing downwind performance.
Above all, Setton loves to sail upwind. “Roljack is a joy of a boat, but she is a modern hull, with a flat stern, in order to surf and plane easily. The thing is, I love to be close-hauled and I hate boats which slam in the waves. So, I needed something else,” he muses.
His ‘something else’ is the modern whaleboat Paja. Setton discovered the Sardinian designer Paolo Bua and was impressed with the pretty, sleek hulled yachts he was creating.
An exacting brief
Setton commissioned Bua with a brief that was as simple as it was formidable: a radical open dayboat, very slim, very fast, very simple and very stable.
It must be built strongly enough to beat into the short broken chop of the Bonifacio Strait in a near gale, and never, ever slam. It must be able to sail at 25° to the apparent wind, be very stiff with only one crew, and remain very light on the helm when heeled.
The dayboat also had to carry an outboard engine: Setton is adamant about outboards, their weight to horsepower ratio is one sixth of a diesel engine, and they create no drag when sailing because they can be raised out of the water. Last, but not least, the boat should be easily transportable by road, so it should have a removable keel.
“We must have studied something like 250 hulls,” says Setton of the design process, “with 40 projects just for the deck design. Some had a conventional deck, even a short coachroof and a real cockpit, some were totally empty like the whaleboat I had in mind. I dreamed of a boat with no deck at all! I wanted to be able to walk to the bow safely, without any ugly guardrail.
“Also, I wanted some features like electrical winches that I could control from either side of the boat, for instance for tightening the jib sheet from the windward rail with a fingertip. I wanted a big rudder, because I hate rudder blades which fail in gusts, and two sails only, with a self-tacking jib, to keep things simple.”
The result is a truly different boat, with a unique mix of traditional and modern features. Paolo Bua designed Paja’s extremely narrow hull with a pronounced sheer, a slightly reversed bow, a lowered and undulating deck with raised bulwark and no guardrail, and an open transom (with the requested outboard).
Built at the famous custom yard Multiplast in Vannes with the help of Technologie Marine, Paja utilises high-tech techniques and materials including pre-preg carbon-Corecell sandwich structures and a milled steel keel blade. She is equipped with a carbon mast and boom, electric Harken winches and lithium ion batteries for the autopilot. But Setton sails without electronics: keep it simple is his motto.
Westerly winds were blowing a good Force 5 with gusts of up to 23 knots when we sailed the boat from between La Trinité and Vannes. Paja delivers on her promises. We were a little caught out when, as soon as the main was up, we were hit by a strong gust without warning.
Immediately the boat looked like she wanted to lie flat, and seawater lapped over the leeward rail. While it reminded us of our dinghy sailing days, we didn’t capsize: the deep keel did its job and proved this is a surprisingly forgiving boat.
Narrow designs surf naturally in the smallest seas, provided they’re neither too heavy nor too deeply V-shaped in their hull. Their wetted surface is so minimal, they don’t need much power to plane. With boats this slender and light there is no need to over-canvas. When we took in the first reef, not only was the boom no longer dragging in the sea, but the speed remained exactly the same.
In light winds and flat waters she seems to glide silently like a seabird over the surface of the sea. Beating upwind is not a punishment; on the contrary, with the certainty of never slamming, you begin to look for the slightest pretext to sail almost head on into the wind…
But above all, Paja is fast. We were easily reaching 11 knots in the gusts on a close reach. She surfed the waves naturally, taking off very smoothly. When we reached sheltered waters in the Golf du Morbihan, we were able to beat as close to the apparent wind as 20-25° at 6.5 knots. The helm was light, and the sensation one of pure joy.
An extraordinary fleet
Jack Setton is a French businessman who has owned an ever-evolving collection of unique yachts, as well as one of the world’s most extensive collections of supercars. He first drew the sailing world’s attention in the 1980s when he launched Pioneer, an aluminium 78-footer that was based on the racing yacht Kriter VIII, and famously powered by twin 200hp outboards when not under sail.
Besides his sailing vessels he has also owned a 77m icebreaking ocean tug; the custom built 57m superyacht Senses; and a former shrimping vessel which he refitted for cruising, called Pink Shrimp. His most recent purchases include an offshore wave-piercing Safehaven XSV20, which has a top speed of 45 knots and 500-mile range.
At last count, he also owns two Saffier daysailers, a 6-Metre, an F40 trimaran, a Dragonfly 32, and a Doug Peterson IOR Three-Quarter Tonner.
LOA: 8.99m / 29ft 6in
LWL: 8.15m / 26ft 9in
Beam: 1.76m/ 5ft 9in
Draught: 2.40m / 7ft 10in
Displacement: 1,100kg / 2,425lb
Sail area: 32.1m2 / 345.5ft2
Design: Paolo Bua
About the author
Olivier Péretié is a French journalist, author and sailor who has been cruising the Caribbean for the last six years.
First published in the November 2020 issue of Yachting World.