The original Nilaya was a groundbreaking cruiser-racer. Her 12m larger replacement incorporates enough innovation and weight-saving techniques to ensure she sets new super trends too. Sam Fortescue reports

When Nilaya’s 46.82m hull emerged from the vast build sheds at Royal Huisman’s Vollenhove yard in 2023, she was slipped into the water with minimal fanfare and taken to Amsterdam to have her mast quietly stepped.

Eagle-eyed observers may have spotted her towering over the National Maritime Museum, where the owner held a private naming ceremony before sailing away. Now, six months after delivery, a wealth of fresh detail and new images has been released, painting the aluminium and carbon superyacht in a new light.

With interior and exterior design by Nauta and a hull from Reichel/Pugh, Nilaya was always going to be a fast, handsome yacht. In proportion to her Panamax sloop rig with its Rondal mast, the hull itself looks sleek and low to the water.

Her broad ‘flying’ stern displays the double-chined hull which, together with the low coachroof and flush decks, speaks of pace. But we now know this promise is delivered by a horde of smart, weight-saving innovations.

The experienced owner was clear from the off that he wanted a boat capable of serious racing. “He wanted comfort and safety to explore the world in an extremely lightweight yacht that could also assure victories in superyacht regattas,” says Mario Pedol of Nauta.

Photo: Nico Martinez/Studio Borlenghi

“The deck design plan meets the often-conflicting needs for a solid and safe yacht that is also efficient, modern and powerful. Nilaya’s racy, low profile, straight bow, wide aft sections and twin carbon fibre rudders echo the look of her owner’s previous yacht while communicating even greater speed and performance.”

Ocean Race legend and long-term tactician and race captain on Nilaya, Bouwe Bekking, sheds some light on the design process (we spoke with him after he completed the first transatlantic aboard). “The previous Nilaya was built as a cruiser, but we started racing it more and more,” he explains.

“We turned it around for this boat – she should be perfect for racing, but then the cruising is fantastic as well. Very often cruising boats are a little restricted in the layout. The whole philosophy is a little different.”

Metallic appeal

A key part of the quest for performance was low displacement, and almost no stone was left unturned here. Intriguingly, the designers calculated that the difference between a carbon and an aluminium hull was just a few percentage points of the overall boat weight, so the owner eventually opted for the safety and impact resistance of metal.

“For the kind of size he wanted, you get into heavy displacement,” adds Bekking. “You can go with carbon, but how much lighter really is it? And one of the disadvantages is how noisy it is. Turn a winch and you hear it through the whole boat – it’s the same with sailing through waves.”

The cockpit becomes an oasis of relaxation when moored, or a comfortable place to watch the action when Nilaya is racing. Photo: Giuliano Sargentini

The aluminium structure of the hull was planned by engineers at Royal Huisman using a new tool that draws on computer modelling established by the European Space Agency. In essence, it makes detailed calculations about the size and positioning of the structural members of the boat – what used to be called scantling. In areas where greater forces will be at work, the frames are closer together and the hull panels thicker – elsewhere they are fewer and lighter.

Alustar aluminium is used throughout, and this offers an immediate 20% weight saving over other alloys. Elsewhere, carbon fibre reinforcing is bonded straight to the aluminium structure, and the whole 16m coachroof structure is also in carbon. This really is a composite yacht.

Time and time again, the owner was willing to invest in order to achieve weight savings – especially up in the rig where it has the greatest impact on the yacht’s stability. Royal Huisman sister company Rondal also did its bit by designing new curved spreaders which are shorter and more aerodynamic. And a taper to the masthead with a novel headboard hook for the mainsail saved 150kg up top.

“The mast was built at Rondal with important input from Doyle Sails, Scott Ferguson and Bouwe Bekking, amongst others,” explains owner’s rep Nigel Ingram, whose company MCM Newport managed the build.

“Having the rig and sail package design early allowed that information to be included in the weight study and ultimately the hull lines. Plus, of course, it gave us the benefit of the experience and expertise that these guys brought to the table. I believe the end result is the best big-boat rig that I have seen.”

Just a couple of steps down the companionway and you enter the raised saloon. Photo: Giuliano Sargentini

Other weight-saving tricks included speccing titanium deck gear instead of stainless steel – a costly but worthwhile exercise which also reduces maintenance time. Then there was a 1,200kg saving through using a new lock-based runner arrangement and a new-generation of hybrid (carbon/aluminium) captive winches which weigh less than half a typical all-metal unit.

Bekking’s feedback here was also central to developments. “I was active on the whole deck layout,” he says. “Very often, you’re getting under winched, but when you’re cruising, you want to go fast and sail optimally. The layout on Nilaya looks like a race boat on deck – it’s very comfortable.”

Below deck, the engineers managed to shave 2,000kg off the propulsion system, including using a smaller diesel engine that can get a hybrid boost from an electric motor. They also saved 600kg with a smart aircon setup that recovers waste heat.

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It all began to add up, and the yard estimates that it has managed to reduce the weight of Nilaya by some 11% compared to its previous advanced cruising yachts. After the build had begun, Huisman branded this new weight-saving approach as ‘Featherlight’ and it is now offering the benefits to other clients.

But to focus solely on this aspect of the boat is to miss much of its appeal. Yes, she should be able to hold her own on any superyacht regatta course, but she is no all-out racer. With ambitions to cruise remote corners of the globe for long periods of time, the owner was clear from the off that Nilaya had to be supremely comfortable to live on – after all, that was part of the purpose in moving up from his previous yacht, a highly successful Baltic 112.

Supreme comfort

Guests have the run of three dedicated areas on deck. A section of the aft deck folds out hydraulically to reveal stairs down to the beach club, and there are sun loungers, a sofa and even a coffee table here. The helm and sail controls are all led clear of the cockpit, which becomes another oasis of relaxation when the boat is moored, or a comfortable vantage point for watching the action when she’s underway.

Up to 14 people can dine in comfort, while two sun loungers transform into chaise longues that can be adjusted to compensate for heeling angles up to 30° (you might want to hold on in the tack). The foredeck tender bay can also become a cosy forward cockpit with a table and fitted cushions.

For the first time, the new photography also brings the yacht’s interior to life. It’s just a couple of steps down from the cockpit into the raised saloon, which has fantastic views through its 360° glass windows. This social hub has dining and lounging as well as an office corner and a fold-away pantry arrangement which leaves no trace when it’s not required.

There are three flexible twin/double cabins down further companionways, two of them with Pullman berths. And the master cabin lies forward, filling the full beam with its own dressing area and bathroom.

“The cabin was a design challenge, as it lies beneath the tender bay and required careful study of volumes,” says Nauta’s Pedol. “The ceiling balances the tender bay’s central dip with two higher domes at the side passages giving an excellent sense of the impressive width of the cabin.”

It’s all wrapped up in a blend of traditional and modern styling chosen by May Vervoordt, a Belgian designer and member of the art aristocracy known for a taste in understated luxury. “Working with her and the owner, Nauta conceived a colour scheme that combines a modern look on the bulkheads with classic elegance,” says Pedol.

“The use of white lacquered panels with a groove detail makes the interiors fresh and bright. Mahogany used in furniture, flooring and ceiling frames gives classic warmth and a sense of breadth to the interior.”

Crew cabins and working areas have not been neglected and are well dimensioned. The design allows for a complement of eight permanent crew on board – enough to allow much-needed down time on long cruises without sacrificing service levels.

The working areas of the boat are positioned aft in a clear division from the guests. A dedicated companionway emerges aft between the two wheels, from where it is simple to reach guests in the cockpit or down on the beach club.

Light wind race practice for the seasoned Nilaya team on Palma Bay.

Throughout the boat, close attention was paid to reducing noise levels. “Noise and vibration on board was the only area where the owner chose to ‘spend’ additional weight in order to achieve maximum effect,” says Ingram. “Additionally, the yard researched many alternative insulation materials and techniques, so we were able to achieve the best results.”

Not that Nilaya will need it when she’s in her native sailing mode. With her Doyle sails hoisted and set, she’s capable of matching wind speeds up to her hull speed of 16 knots, making for rapid passage times. Bekking can attest to her performance after a pre-Christmas shake-down passage across the Atlantic to Antigua with the owner and a bunch of his friends.

Performance potential

“He wanted a fast crossing, pushing the boat as hard as we could – just a little flatter for mealtimes,” Bekking says. “Otherwise, we tried to sail the boat to the maximum. We had relatively light breezes, so it wasn’t difficult conditions as such. It took us 10 days sailing a long way away from the rhumbline course. We had 11-12 knots average boat speeds.

“We had one little transition across a front where we sailed a bit upwind, but otherwise it was easy downwind. We sailed full main and a lot of Code 0 with a smaller staysail in between. When the breeze got wider it was the gennaker and the staysail.”

The passage gave the crew valuable information about the way the boat performs, including the crossovers between sails at different wind speeds and angles. It’ll all come in useful for Nilaya’s next big test, racing at the St Barth Bucket Regatta, where she’ll be competing alongside another fresh launch, the 59m Frers-designed Maximus from fellow dutch yard Vitters.

Doyle’s structured luff sail design requires less forestay tension to maintain optimum foil shape. This in turn allowed Nilaya to use a slightly lighter rig

Nilaya will be taking on extra race crew to boost the full complement to 22, including the owner and a number of his long-term racing buddies. But otherwise, Bekking says there’s not much about the boat that needs tuning ahead of the start.

“We will reduce the amount of fuel and water on board. Then there’s two anchors, so we take one anchor and chain off. The interior of the boat remains because the permanent crew stays aboard, and part of the race crew as well. Maybe all the toys will come off. The rig is quite close to optimum already, but you can still do a couple of things. Just tweaks – if you make big changes you have to go through the yard for the insurance aspect.”

Bekking is typically understated about their prospects at the Bucket. “It will be an eye opener,” he says. “You never know the first time you go racing against the others. Also, because it’s a pursuit race and it’s still difficult to overtake. Nilaya’s a big beast – hard to get the sails up. But we’ll have a couple of days beforehand in St Barth and the crew have been sailing a lot together.”

After that, Nilaya’s future is less clear. Between the transatlantic and another long passage to Cuba and back, she’s already covered plenty of miles. She has no further racing scheduled for 2024, but the year will certainly involve bluewater and there’s the hint of warm Antipodean Pacific Ocean breezes to come.

Nilaya specifications

LOA: 47m 154ft
LWL: 45m 147ft
Beam: 10m 33ft
Draught: 4.5-6.9m 15-23ft
Propulsion: Scania D1 16090M (plus 140kW PM motor; 2x Volvo D4 175 gensets)
Sail area upwind: 1,269m2 13,659ft2
Sail area downwind: 2,141m2 20,045ft2

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