Shearwater is a unique custom Frers cruiser-racer with twin rudders, lifting keel and hybrid power. Crosbie Lorimer takes a closer look
Wheeling effortlessly from crest to trough, wingtips kissing the wavetops, the shearwater is Australia’s most prolific seabird and a constant companion of offshore sailors on the country’s eastern and southern coastlines. Its mesmerising flight is a model of elegant efficiency.
Having set out to achieve similar characteristics for his next yacht it was apt that Guido Belgiorno-Nettis – businessman, engineer, arts patron and yachtsman – chose the name Shearwater for his latest creation.
Belgiorno-Nettis, whose sailing accomplishments includes six Farr 40 Australian National Championship wins and a World Champion title in 2011, commissioned Mani Frers, of the famed Frers yacht design dynasty, to create his yacht. “We liked each other immediately,” said Frers, adding: “I already had been thinking about designing this sort of boat.”
“We both had a ball,” Belgiorno-Nettis says on their creative meeting of minds. “We spent three hours every week for three months on Skype. Mani also came and sailed on my old boat Satori to get a feel for how we use it.”
The brief was to create a fast and comfortable yacht that Belgiorno-Nettis and his wife, Michelle, could readily cruise together, while also being suitable for local twilight racing at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and Middle Harbour Yacht Club.
The term cruiser-racer does little justice to the result, a remarkable twin rudder, 57ft lifting-keel hybrid design. Being principally for Guido’s and Michelle’s use the design could be tailored very much to their own needs; and as neither of the couple is tall, some typical design parameters could be freed up to meet performance criteria.
“I wanted to have a self-tacking jib track that went from sheer to sheer,” explained Belgiorno-Nettis, “but I also wanted the cabin top to stop at the mast to keep the foredeck clean and uncluttered. I asked Mani how long the boat needed to be to do that and in reply he asked me how tall I was. So we ended up with a cabin height of 1.68cm on a 57ft yacht, with a pleasingly low sheerline.”
McConaghy’s Central Coast yard was chosen as the builder, thanks to their reputation for combining high-tech composite construction with fine craftsmanship. Belgiorno-Nettis has a long-standing relationship with the company, which also built his previous boats, and with the site just a one-hour drive from his home in Sydney, it gave the owner opportunity to be actively involved in the new build on a week-by-week basis.
Turning out a 57ft yacht packed with creature comforts at a displacement of only 13 tonnes required an almost obsessive focus on weight. Building a pre-preg carbon hull (with Nomex core in key areas) was just the start. “The quest for weight started with the owner as chief weight reduction policeman with one or two McConaghy leading hands acting under instructions as weight reduction Lieutenants!” said Belgiorno-Nettis.
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Fuel and water tanks were fabricated in plastic, the joinery is made from carbon/foam panels covered with sliver-thin veneers or paint, there is honeycomb foam in the furniture cushions, the Corian worktops in the galley are thinned down to 3mm, ceiling panels are made of carbon covered with light weight fabric. The weight loss checklist was endless and so effective that at launch the yacht initially had a half-degree list to port because the galley had ended up lighter than anticipated!
With Italian heritage in his family it is no surprise that Belgiorno-Nettis favours the elegant Med-style simplicity of cockpit and deck layout. To achieve that simple appearance, however, requires some extraordinary behind-the-scenes complexity.
Real ingenuity of engineering allows Shearwater to transition in minutes from party to business mode without losing one iota of class. Nowhere is that better manifested than in the cockpit where, like a Transformers toy, tables and bench seats materialise from the cockpit sole and coaming at the push of a button.
Power and sail
Energy efficiency and self-sufficiency were central drivers in all aspects of Shearwater’s design, with permanent solar power panels inset into the coachroof, an onboard watermaker and a high output, low consumption alternator attached to the 55hp Volvo Penta engine.
The rapidly evolving marine application of electric propulsion (more frequently applied to yachts up to 50ft in length) also appealed to the owner and designer, with the yacht being driven by two Oceanvolt SD 15 fixed sail drives with variable pitch propellers.
Generating and maintaining sufficient onboard power to sustain electric propulsion, hydraulic deck and rig systems, instrumentation and all the house needs (including fridge/freezers, dishwasher, washing machine, hot water, watermaker and air conditioning) in a boat of only 13 tonnes required some complex design integration. “We spent a lot of time talking about redundancy,” said Belgiorno-Nettis, pointing out the numerous back-up systems also incorporated into the boat.
Under sail, Shearwater is a real performer and quite a head turner, as was evident when we sailed on a busy Sydney Harbour. Everyone from Laser sailors to supermaxi crews waved, smiled or raised thumbs as we powered effortlessly down the harbour at 12 knots under our large, black Code Zero in 17 knots of breeze.
“Michelle is a sailor, but technically I can pretty much sail the boat on my own,” said Belgiorno-Nettis as he furled the Code Zero and deployed the headsail from the helm, turning the boat upwind again.
Below decks the layout is anything but conventional. All accommodation lies forward of the companionway to create room for voluminous cockpit lockers and all the systems, hydraulics and batteries, as well as a small garage for the tender in the transom.
The main saloon is light, open and airy, with natural teak flooring, walnut veneer joinery and matte-finished carbon features. But one of the most ingenious features on the yacht is Shearwater’s elegant guest cabin module, which can be fixed and dismantled in the saloon in as little as ten minutes, with all of the ultra-lightweight parts neatly and compactly stowed under a cabin settee.
There’s room to accommodate the owner’s other favoured pastimes too. “I’m a road cyclist and a classical guitarist,” adds Belgiorno-Nettis, “So I had a special locker made for my guitar in the main cabin and I can easily stow a couple of my bikes in the deep cockpit lockers.”
“I’m only going to do this once,” says Belgiorno-Nettis of Shearwater’s marathon design and build, “So this boat is for at least the next 15 years.” If this remarkable yacht lives up to the ocean-spanning endurance of the bird after which it is named, that timeline seems safe enough.
LOA: 17.40m (57ft)
Beam: 5.05m (16ft 7in)
Draught: 2-3.60m (6ft7in-11ft 10in)
Mast height: 26.00m (85ft 4in)
Displacement: 13 tonnes (28,660lb)
Mainsail: 110m2 (1,184ft2)
Upwind sail area: 200m2 (2,152ft2)
Downwind sail area: 330m2 (3,552ft2)