Few builders possess the power of seduction demonstrated by British wood epoxy experts Spirit Yachts. David Glenn reports

Nigel Stuart (left) and Sean McMillan are together behind the renewed success of Spirit. Photo: Emily Harris

Highly stylised furniture

Two of the defining features of the Spirit 111 are aesthetics and a determination to use modern technology to make the yacht as efficient as possible, reducing the amount of fossil fuel required.

In profile she has a noticeably low freeboard and while the owner was warned this might limit headroom in the ends of the accommodation he was prepared to sacrifice this for looks. “The freeboard is just 1.4m which means she looks stunning – she’s more J then a J,” said Sean McMillan who is clearly relishing working with a client who won’t let anything get in the way of aesthetics.

Using some unusual, highly stylised furniture as guidance on how he wanted the interior designed, the client went to Rhoades Young in the UK to develop the accommodation. The result, which suits the use of wood construction perfectly, is quite extraordinary.

The yacht’s drive train comprises a 200hp electric engine served by four banks of lithium ion batteries providing a 380V system. The technology has been developed by the German outboard manufacturer Torqeedo, which has branched out into other forms of what it calls ‘water-based electromobility’ in response to the need for boats to be super eco-friendly on European inland lakes.


Nigel Stuart and Sean McMillan visited several companies developing the technology and were impressed by what they saw at Torqeedo in Gilching, Bavaria. One of the attractions is that the company considers the system as a whole, including batteries, the drive train to the folding Gori propeller, the ‘freewheeling’ prop generator system while sailing, and smart control to keep electricity consumption to a minimum.

The electric propulsion package perfectly suits the Spirit 111’s easily driven hull and relatively light displacement of just 59 tonnes. The batteries, which are similar to those used by BMW for their i3 and i8 electric cars, have a nine-year warranty and are small enough to fit under the yacht’s cabin sole in way of the keel.

It is anticipated that the Spirit 111 will be able to remain in quiet ship mode (no generator running) using all domestic appliances including air conditioning and water making for three to four days, assuming charging via the propeller while sailing can be achieved for up to five hours a day. Recharging the batteries using the yacht’s twin 25kw/33hp four-cylinder Torqeedo generators takes just four hours.


The deckhouse of a new Spirit in build showing the fan skylight. Photo: Emily Harris

In addition to propulsion efficiency, low current means running motors for cooling systems for the battery bank and the electric engine itself, plus pumps for the hydraulic system and a Webasto electric water heater, will also be far more efficient through smart control and monitoring. If these targets can be reached, the Spirit 111 will use half the amount of fuel than that of a conventional system, demonstrating a big advance in the search for the genuinely eco-friendly superyacht.

Another yacht in search of low consumption, and attracting considerable attention, is the recently-launched Spirit P70 motor yacht. She’s a semi-displacement fast cruiser with a top speed of 25 knots, whose owner required a 1,000nm range at 18 knots enabling him to complete cruises from Hamble in the UK to Scandinavia and back without refuelling.

Her advantageous power-to-weight ratio is achieved through her lightweight timber construction requiring two MAN diesel inboard engines of just 800hp each to reach the required performance. She carries 10,000lt of fuel, divided into five tanks, which is automatically distributed between the tanks to maintain efficient trim as the fuel is consumed. With luxurious accommodation on three levels this is a businesslike-looking yacht capable of high average speeds in almost all sea conditions.


The P70 powerboat hull in the early stages of build with major engineering fitting such as engine and stabilisers. Photo: Emily Harris

With these three yachts alone, Spirit Yachts is displaying not only its known ability in sophisticated wood epoxy construction, but also its keenness to use advanced technology available from other industries. It’s a powerful combination likely to attract considerable attention in the demanding world of superyachting.

The Spirit Yachts story: From a cowshed in Saxmundham to building superyachts

Spirit Yachts has come a long way since a 37-footer called Spirit was built in a cowshed in Saxmundham in 1993. The hull of this beautiful long-ended, wood epoxy sloop was so light that Sean McMillan and his late business partner Mick Newman could pick it up between them and turn it over for completion.

Demand for larger yachts soon grew with eleven 46s built to date, four 52s and many other sizes including a 56, 74 and the 100-footer Gaia. Despite a steady flow of orders over the years and a big spike in interest when a Spirit 54 ‘starred’ in the James Bond movie Casino Royale, Sean McMillan had to spend a lot of time explaining the advantages of building in wood epoxy to the boat buying public.


Daniel Craig took the helm of a Spirit 54 in Casino Royale

“Thirty years ago people thought wooden boats were dirty smelly things, difficult to maintain with dodgy stuff lurking in the bilges,” said McMillan. “The journey has involved subtly re-educating the yachting public about composite wooden yachts.”

Due to its epoxy saturated protection, composite wood yachts are almost maintenance-free, they are easy to repair and can be done so invisibly, maintains Sean McMillan. The very structure of the hull is, without doubt, a thing of beauty something illustrated by the interior of the stripped out Spirit 52D Oui Fling. And it is the outward appearance of the Spirit genre that gives it its must-have status.

In 2007 Spirit Yachts launched five yachts including the 100ft Gaia, but it was also the year in which Sean lost his business partner Mick Newman, who died in a light aircraft crash in Turkey. Shortly after that in 2008 the financial crisis hit, although the effects didn’t filter down to Spirit Yachts until 2010 when business slowed.


The stripped-out interior of the Spirit 52D Oui Fling exhibits the yard’s craftsmanship. Photo: Mike Bowden

When Nigel Stuart arrived in 2013, the first thing he did was replace the industrial style metal door leading to reception with a solid mahogany one. He booked a stand at the Düsseldorf Boat Show, fired up the media machine and sat Sean down at his drawing board.

Stuart has also encouraged the company to re-define its range, which now includes, The Classic Style (Spirit 46,52, 56); The Cruising Style (Spirit 47CR, 55CR); The Deckhouse Range (Spirit DH57, DH60); Spirit Superyachts (100 to 130) and then the entirely bespoke. Spirit Yachts expanded into new, modern premises in 2017, making the build process faster. In all respects it’s a very long way indeed from that cowshed in Saxmundham…

The go-faster factor

A key player in almost all Spirit Yachts projects is John Parker of OneSails, based in Suffolk Yacht Harbour. He is passionate about Spirit’s modern classic ethos. His sails are not only Spirit’s preferred choice, but clients are urged to discuss their needs from early on in a project.


The interior of the Spirit 74 is beautifully built in ruby rich mahogany and flooded with light. Photo: Anthony Morris

“It’s important to understand how people are likely to use their yachts,” said Nigel Stuart. “Are they setters and leavers, or non-stop tweakers? Will they simply go cruising or take to the race course?” Based on these facts carbon mast specification can be decided.

“We try to futureproof yachts by building in items like additional sheave boxes and mast track laminate reinforcement for spinnaker poles – it’s amazing how many clients seem convinced they don’t want to race but end up being tempted,” said Stuart.

Low friction rings, soft shackles and bespoke, colour-coded running rigging – even hand stitched leather winch handle pockets – are all part of what’s on offer to ensure clients get the best out of their Spirit and that the boat looks the part.

Adapted and updated from an article published in the September 2017 edition of Yachting World.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Highly stylised furniture
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