2010-2019 saw unprecedented changes: from conceptual design to simple handheld devices that improved the safety of every sailor. We trace some of the biggest shifts and ask: What next?
The world gets smaller
Around the world records have been pulverised over the past decade, with the most remarkable trend being how solo skippers now circumnavigate the globe at speeds that just a few years previously would have set a fully crewed record.
In 2012, Loick Peyron set a new Jules Verne Trophy crewed record of 45 days and 13 hours on Banque Populaire, but by 2017, Francois Gabart was able to circumnavigate the globe solo in 42 days and 16 hours on MACIF.
The foiling Ultimes will soon be bidding to take that record down again – Thomas Coville believes a sub-40 days solo circumnavigation is now the target, putting the crewed record of 40 days and 23 hours at risk (as set in 2017 by Francis Joyon on IDEC Sport).
The social set
In January 2014 a 24-year-old Breton, Guirec Soudée, set off on a small steel yacht on a circumnavigation. In the Canary Islands he adopted a red hen, Monique, and so began one of sailing’s unlikeliest partnerships. For five years the pair explored the world, including overwintering in Greenland and navigating the North West Passage.
In an ironic turn of events, Soudée set off on his adventure with no radio, wanting to be entirely cut off from the world to reconnect with nature. However, he shared his adventures with a friend who posted his updates online. The pair’s adventures captured the pubic imagination, and a social media phenomenon was born. Now back in France, Monique is the star of a book and a film, and the pair have a full schedule of high profile media engagements.
“The most significant change has been the impact of social media on cruising sailing,” comments Jeremy Wyatt of World Cruising Club. “For better or worse, we live in the age of the YouTube sailor. Today’s aspiring cruiser is much more likely to search ‘how to’ on YouTube than to reach for a copy of Nigel Calder’s handbook.”
Previously cruisers may have kept a blog, probably with a few images clunkily posted. Facebook, which expanded from being solely for American students in 2006 to 30 million users by the middle of 2007, gave cruisers an alternative platform to share news and photos.
When the first GoPro camera was launched in 2011, it was quickly adopted by the extreme sports community and the rugged, waterproof cameras also allowed cruisers to take footage underway or underwater. The ensuing leaps in camera technology were rapid, and between smartphones, digital SLRs and GoPro-style cameras it is now possible to capture every moment of a spectacular sail or destination.
The other hugely significant development has been the advent of drones. Back in 2012, Matt Sheahan pondered whether ‘quadcopters’ might become popular with sailors. Nowadays drones are near-ubiquitous among bluewater sailors. There are also trials taking place to discover how drones might be used for search and rescue applications in future.
With such 360° footage possible, the best sailing bloggers are now full-time vloggers, producing professionally shot and edited mini-travelogues, hosted on their own YouTube channel and generating substantial income streams.
One of the pioneers of the sail vlog genre was former software analyst Brady Trautman. Trautman set off on his Amel ketch Delos in 2010 and has produced over 200 videos since, for over 350,0000 subscribers. Will Bruton reported for us:
‘Thanks for the inspiration!’ A note on a crate of beer reads. It’s been left in the companionway of SV Delos, which has just arrived in Lanzarote. It is one of many tokens of appreciation the YouTubers have stumbled across when coming back on board. Others come in the form of cash donations from viewers, many of whom click the ‘Buy us a beer’ button on their website, or via regular Patreon subscriptions.
‘SV Delos has proven a magnet for viewers that have never even stepped aboard a yacht. Some are inspired to action. “The really amazing stories are the ones where someone in an anchorage comes over and explains how they bought their first boat after watching our videos, some are sailing full-time. If we can do that, we’re probably doing something right,” says Trautman.
‘For those already on the water, the value lies in the wisdom that can be drawn from a crew who have been sailing full time for almost a decade. As well as destination insights into less well-known cruising grounds (last year’s videos on St Helena were particularly popular) the crew experiment with new technology on board, running long-term real world tests (watch out for more on this in a future issue of Yachting World).’
Age of man
How young is too young to sail alone around the world? That was one of the burning questions ten years ago. After Mike Perham completed his solo circumnavigation in 2009 aged 17, he was swiftly followed by Jessica Watson, who sailed around the Southern Oceans from Australia, solo and non-stop.
American teen Abby Sutherland then attempted a solo circumnavigation to include the Equator crossing and three Great Capes in 2010, but was dismasted in the Indian Ocean. Her rescue, which involved both French and Australian authorities, increased the discussion about whether such trips were irresponsible.
But the most high profile of all was Dutch sailor Laura Dekker, who had to fight the Dutch authorities before she was able to set off on her solo circumnavigation aged just 14. Dekker completed the trip in 2012, after sailing for 17 months via Panama with stops, unofficially becoming the youngest ever sailor to sail around the planet solo (since 1998, the World Sailing Speed Record Council will not ratify records for being the youngest – or, for that matter, the oldest – sailor).
As the decade closed, however, another trend was emerging. In 2018, legendary French racer Jean Luc Van Den Heede won the solo Golden Globe Race aged 73, becoming the oldest skipper to sail solo non-stop around the globe. Then in May 2019, Tony Curphey completed his fourth circumnavigation aged 74 in a Nicholson 32, before Jeanne Socrates was proclaimed the new ‘record’ holder a few months later, aged 77.
Difficult though it may be to remember life before tablets, the first iPad was only launched in 2010. AIS was added to GMDSS the same year. Those two developments arguably led to the biggest changes to sailing habits for thousands of cruisers and racers.
So second nature is touchscreen technology that navigation by tablet or smartphone is now routine, whether as a primary navigation computer, a handy second screen that can be taken on deck, or a back-up device. The Navionics chart plotting app was among the first mobile systems, and many of the big electronics manufacturers swiftly launched apps to connect your tablet to onboard instruments.
Ever-improving functionality means that incorporating data from GRIB files and weather apps, Google Earth and Open CPN is constantly becoming easier. There are even apps to help you distinguish your dolphins from your porpoises, and identify the stars above your masthead as you go too.
AIS, meanwhile, has become the default technology for monitoring traffic for many cruisers, leaving radar relegated to the role of second opinion on many boats. AIS has also had a huge impact on offshore racing strategy, as navigators can now live-track their opposition to glean data on wind that might be coming their way.
AIS MOB devices are becoming increasingly widespread (they are now mandatory on all Cat 2 offshore races) and have already saved many lives. The Derry-Londonderry Clipper crew were able to locate and safely recover Andrew Taylor mid-Pacific in 2014 thanks to his own unit.
However, it is still rapidly updating technology, so it’s recommended that you thoroughly test the unit/system combination on your boat to know how the MOB symbol or alarm will appear.
Boom in cruising cats
In 2015 we asked: ‘Will your next yacht be a multihull?’ The answer is, possibly, yes. “Without doubt, the most significant shift that we have noticed during the last decade, from the perspective of cruising sailing, has been that multihulls are now mainstream,” comments Jeremy Wyatt, communications director of World Cruising Club.
“In 2009 multis were just 8.5% of the ARC fleet; in 2019 they are 19% of the fleet. Furthermore, if you consider boats that are new (less than 12 months old when they sail in the ARC), for the last two years multis have made up 50% of the new boats sailing in the ARC.”
What has driven the shift? Charter companies were quick to commit to catamarans and for many sailors once they’d experienced the stability and space of a multihull, and the drive-it-up-the-beach freedom of reduced draught, it was hard to go back – especially for anyone planning a Caribbean season.
The choice of boats has also got considerably better, explains Marc Van Peteghem of VPLP. “When we first designed the first Lagoon back in 1987, it was a nice boat in its own way, but there was a bit of a sense that ‘of course catamarans are not a real boat’.
“But now, you have a real choice. You can buy a catamaran that is really performance-orientated, or at the other end of the market you can buy a catamaran that is fully comfortable.” While lines such as the Lagoon have made catamaran ownership popular, with over 1,000 450s sold from 2010-2019, aspirational designs such as the VPLP-designed Outremer 5X (2013) and Gunboats made it cool.
“The yards have come up with new ideas, new design briefs,” says van Peteghem. “We’ve been very much listening to people and trying to understand the balance between comfort and performance. We’re also bringing ideas to improve the usability and performance on a catamaran, moving the mast back, simplifying the manoeuvres, those kinds of things.”
The past decade has seen a huge shift in monohull design. “Cruising yachts have followed the form of offshore raceboat designs, such as those seen on the Volvo Ocean Race or Vendée Globe boats, but more for increased volume rather than stability or speed and planing benefits,” explains Toby Hodges. “The designs are beamier, with max beam typically moved aft, they are often chined, and recently we’ve seen a move to include much fuller hull shapes at the bow, too.”
The biggest step-changes have been in vastly increased living and stowage space. But as well as interior volume, the length of yacht a couple would consider has also increased. Both production and semi-production yards now routinely offer a yacht in the 55-65ft bracket, as a slew of launches between 2014-2017 included the X-Yachts 65ft X65, the Contest 67CS, Oyster 675, CNB 66, Jeanneau 64 and Hanse’s 675 – and many more.
Push-button electrics and hydraulics, and bow thrusters are all designed to make sailhandling and manoeuvring simple enough that yachts of this size can be manageable doublehanded. Berthon’s Sue Grant sees this trend continuing. “The days of muscle yachts is over. The next 10 years will see technology powering manageable performance for bluewater. Heavy displacement, slow yachts are on the wane.”
The J Class rises
One of the most iconic fleets of the past decade was in fact the feted inter-war designs of the J-Class. Hanuman was the first of the new generation Js to be built in 2009. She was swiftly followed by Lionheart (2011), Rainbow (2012), Topaz (2015), and Svea in 2017.
Seven Js lined up in Bermuda in 2017, the largest gathering ever seen in the class’s 88-year history. Fans of the spectacular fleet will be hoping that their current custodians repeat the performance in New Zealand in 2021. If you’d like to join them, the 1934-built Endeavour is for sale, with an asking price of €17,500,00. Rainbow is also listed, at €8,750,000.
In 2012 two sailing achievements were set that may be unbeaten for a very long time to come. Ben Ainslie became the greatest Olympic sailor in history when he took his fourth Gold medal at Weymouth. He’s the third sailor to win five consecutive Olympic medals and the second to win four golds, after Paul Elvstrøm. There is no one in sailing close to equalling Ainslie’s Olympic record at present.
Later that year, Paul Larsen sailed at an unthinkable speed of 64.45 knots. A decade previously, designer Bruce Farr had mused in a 2002 issue of Yachting World that 65 knots was plausible – but it seemed light years away. At the time nobody had even hit 45 knots.
But Larsen and his design team’s dedication to achieving the seemingly impossible with the wing-sailed SailRocket 2 – and Larsen’s personal bravery (he considered leaving a ‘final note’ the night before his record breaking speed run) – decimated the 55-knot records that had been set by kiteboarders.
SailRocket 2 was 11 years in the making, but its 64.45 knot run on Walvis Bay, Namibia took just 16 seconds to complete. Can it be beaten? Larsen has always believed that the technology could take it past 70 knots.
…and another thing
2010-2019 was also the decade that…
- Introduced peer-to-peer boat lending. Will we charter boats on an ‘Airbnb’ basis’ in future?
- We marvelled at the biggest superyachts ever launched: Sailing Yacht A, Black Pearl and Aquijo hit the water in 2015/16. At 142m, Sailing Yacht A was a huge jump from the 88m Maltese Falcon launched 5 years previously.
- Double-handed racing boomed. Two-man crews can now compete in offshores including the Rolex Fastnet Race and Sydney-Hobart, and regattas such as Cowes and Antigua Sailing Week.
- Hugo Boss skipper Alex Thomson clocked up nearly 9 million YouTube views with his three unsurpassed media stunts: the keelwalk (2012); mast walk (2014); and skywalk (2016).
- We all took up paddleboarding. The inflatable tech the SUP manufacturers developed also created a new stowable watersports genre including SUPs, kayaks, dinghies and windsurfers.
- Spinnaker takedown systems turned kite-drops into five-second manoeuvres on pro racing yachts (but took away a traditional ‘nippers’ or ‘girls’ job on the boat in the process).
- A man tried to sail the Atlantic in a 42-inch yacht called Undaunted.
- The first woman skipper won a round the world race when Wendy Tuck (pictured above) led Sanya Serenity to 1st in the 2017-18 Clipper Race. Carolijn Brower and Marie Riou also became the first women to win the Volvo Ocean Race as part of the victorious Dongfeng
Few people could have predicted how much sailing would have changed from 2010-2019. However, one ambition that some would like to set for the future of sailing is that it should become more sustainable. “It’s about power, materials, and deconstruction also. When you look at a car almost everything can be recycled, on a boat everything is glued. I think that’s going to be a concern – it has to be,” comments Marc van Peteghem.
Guillaume Verdier agrees: “If only I was offered to make an America’s Cup where the aim was to make a foiling boat out of renewable stuff, with no resin, no composites… that would be quite a challenge! I’m joking a bit but I’d love to go in that direction.”
First published in the December 2019 edition of Yachting World.