Superyacht Pink Gin goes to David Glenn’s head in St Tropez

Mix America’s Cup Defender Alinghi’s lead designer Rolf Vrolijk, carbon composite wizards Baltic Yachts, a mock crocodile interior by Design Unlimited and an owner with a penchant for laid-back, high-speed sailing and you have an intoxicating cocktail. Pink Gin goes to David Glenn’s head in St Tropez

First things first. A pink gin comprises gin and a swirl of Angostura bitters (no ice) and was a favourite of Sir Francis Chichester. A pretty powerful mix, just as there was aboard the eponymous 152-footer when we joined her for a day sail off St Tropez.

Pink Gin is the second yacht to bear the name. The story goes that her owner, chairman and CEO of the German orthopaedic prosthetics empire OttoBock Healthcare, was thumbing through a cocktail menu when the matter of a name arose. He carried the name from his 97-footer to the new 152ft boat. Quite a leap, and by all accounts the performance of the smaller yacht has been surpassed by this exciting new sloop.

Back to that cocktail. On board were Per Goran ‘PG’ Johansson, a founder of Baltic Yachts who built Pink Gin, Kenneth Nyfelt, Baltic’s knowledgeable sales executive, Mark Tucker from Design Unlimited in the UK, who styled the 152-footer’s extraordinary interior, and Rolf Vrolijk from the German naval architects Judel/Vrolijk.

Vrolijk, currently heading up the Alinghi America’s Cup design team, was just back from Ibiza, where Peter de Ridder had cleaned up in the hotly contested TP52 Breitling MedCup, with a resounding series win in the Judel/Vrolijk-designed Mean Machine. De Ridder immediately announced plans for a VOR entry, also to be designed by J/V. It’s a track record few designers can match and retaining the designers for Pink Gin speaks volumes about what the owner wants his new yacht to achieve.

Living in Valencia, Rolf Vrolijk has a hectic schedule, but judging by the smile on his face, he was delighted to be aboard Pink Gin with skipper Henry Hawkins and his convivial crew, who were just beginning to come to terms with their new command. I’d been aboard the big sloop twice before, once at the yard in Finland, where she was afloat but in bits days before handover, and again in Monaco at the yacht show, where the finished product was unveiled to the press.

It wasn’t until we approached by tender as Pink Gin lay at anchor off St Tropez that I realised what a well-proportioned and good looking yacht she was, with long overhangs, vestigial sheer and a relatively tall rig that looks as though it could carry a lot of sail.

At first glance, the hull looks black, which I thought suited her high-tech carbon construction, but in fact she is dark green and her topsides tend to change colour depending on the angle of the light. Whether this was intentional is hard to say. At least she’s not pink.

Her 152ft hull allows her large deck saloon superstructure to be absorbed into the line of the yacht and the coamings aft, which form boundaries around the two cockpits, blend in well. All in all she is a great looking yacht, with a line which does nothing but improve as heel angle increases. There’s something of the J Class about the angle of that stem, particularly when she’s thundering along upwind; more of that in a moment.

Sailing out of St Tropez at the tail end of summer is a hit and miss affair. It can be all or nothing and as the morning wore on the conditions didn’t seem favourable. “Don’t worry,” said Hawkins, “we need very little to enjoy a good sail.” I wasn’t convinced. But I needn’t have worried because Pink Gin proved a flier in the light. However, the hiatus provided us with an opportunity to discuss how the yacht evolved with some of the key players. What makes her such a special yacht?

In Baltic Yachts, the owner has chosen arguably the most accomplished builders of carbon composite structures. His previous Pink Gin, also by Baltic, was an outstanding success and among other things made it out to New Zealand for the America’s Cup in 2002. Admittedly she was shipped there, but she proved a great cruising platform.

Clearly partial to the Baltic brand, the client also owned Bionic Elk, the first Baltic Yachts 56, which bristled with appendages such as a lifting and canting keel, asymmetric daggerboards and a powerful rig.

Elk proved something of a handful, too powerful and lively for short-handed cruising (Pink Gin’s crew loved her), so she had to go, but it didn’t stop her owner returning to Baltic in northern Finland for the new Pink Gin.

To achieve the company’s aim to produce fast, light, luxurious, performance cruisers, PG Johansson says: “The whole picture must be viewed, not just part of it”. Alongside lightweight construction methods, ballast weight, draught, sail area-to-displacement ratios, mast and rigging materials, internal structure, upholstery and decoration must all be taken into account from the outset. Weight is the enemy and it must be managed out of the yacht in the early stages.

Carbon structures
Baltic’s research into the use of pre-impregnated carbon materials, which ensure the correct amount and distribution of resin (the heavyweight element of a structure) goes back more than ten years and has seen them launch some extraordinary yachts; boats like Visione, the Reichel Pugh-designed 147ft super-cruising maxi which tipped the scales at 105-113 tons depending on whose spec you read. She is exceptionally fast and keeps serial yacht owner Hasso Plattner, the head of SAP business systems, at the front of any fleet.

Working on the strategy that weight is the enemy of performance, Johansson and his crew work out early on how light a yacht has to be to notice the difference. In Pink Gin’s case, the carbon structures, hull, deck, bulkheads and stiffening frameworks weigh about 35 tons. The hull is cored with foam rather than Visione’s Nomex; Johansson says a Nomex core saves about 1 ton in a structure of this size, but Pink Gin’s owner preferred the foam route. Comprising a 40-ton torpedo-shaped bulb and stainless steel fin, the yacht’s ballast accounts for 64 tons and the rest of the total 180-ton displacement is taken up with fit-out and equipment.

This is seriously light for a cruising yacht of this length and volume. While it is dangerous to generalise, equivalent yachts using non-lightweight construction weigh in at around 220 tons. For example, the Swan 131 displaces 180 tons in light ship mode, but is more than 20ft shorter and much less voluminous.

Look closely at the detail of Pink Gin’s build and you realise just how extensive the use of carbon has been. Take the cockpit table, which looks like solid teak. In fact, a wood veneer covers a large but super-lightweight carbon carcass. One man can pick it up with ease. The smallest locker lids are intricately moulded in carbon and even the grabhandles along many of the passageways and cabin bulkheads are carbon tubes in wood veneer. This sort of attention to weight-saving is evident throughout.

Baltic have used high modulus pre-preg carbon in the hull structure, with Kevlar in the outer skin to increase impact resistance. Unlike some hulls of this size, which are made in two-part female moulds, the matrix is laid up over a male plug. “We like to use a lot of unidirectional fibres and by stretching them over the plug you can get them really well laid out,” says PG Johansson, something not easily achieved in a concave shape of a female mould. The matrix is vacuum-bagged at a temperature of 185?F for 24 hours.

The result is a lightweight structure that saves about 10 tons over a conventional hull and deck, presenting comparatively less wetted surface for her length and is therefore more easily driven. And it follows that all sorts of equipment can be downsized. Winches can be smaller, the main propulsion unit can be reduced in size. Less fuel capacity is required, tanks can be smaller and so on. As one area of calculations feeds into another, savings can be made every time in the basic structure of the yacht, a process perfected by Baltic’s computer programs.

At this point Rolf Vrolijk takes up the story. With such a light structure there are more options for rig, ballast and draught. But in this case the desire was for horsepower and speed, so that big mast by Marten Spars (now Custom Projects after the merger with Southern Spars) is stepped.

With a lot of sail high up in the 160ft sloop rig, the 40-ton bulb has to be suspended well, 6.20m (20ft) below the boat. This produces a very powerful righting moment, but in shallow water a single ram hydraulic lift mechanism can reduce the draught to a more manageable 3.85m (12ft 7in). The keel can be locked hydraulically in either the fully up or fully down position and Baltic have learnt from Canica, the 141ft Judel/Vrolijk sloop launched last year, that the locking device should be kept inside the yacht rather than as part of the moving keel fin.

Look at Pink Gin’s underwater shape and appendages and her rudder is noticeably on the short side, something that cannot be avoided given the advantages of the lift keel. This didn’t present a problem on our day out and the crew say Pink Gin is well behaved in rough quartering conditions, when any shortcomings might manifest themselves.

On the water
So much for the stats, what’s she like to sail? Gorgeous – no other word for it. With almost full main – a technical problem meant we couldn’t quite get full hoist – and a full headsail (all sails are North 3DL), Pink Gin took off in nine to ten knots of true breeze and was quickly sailing faster than the TWS. Sometimes people suggest to me that sailing these superyachts must be like driving a dumper truck compared with the sports car qualities of something like a Swan 45.

Not Pink Gin. This yacht is extraordinarily responsive and reacts to trim and wind speed variations much as a 50-footer would. Like many large modern sailing yachts, she doesn’t have to rely on hydraulic steering (apart from engaging a ram for autopilot use). Instead the Edson gear works through a chain, which in turn drives cable, which leads to the quadrant. French-made JP3 bearings ensure very smooth operation. At the top end of the system, one can alternate between high and low gears; one gives about four turns of the wheel, the other eight depending on the effort required. The whole system is easy to adjust and the feel through the helm is most satisfying. The twin-wheel steering arrangement means you can view the headsail luffs with ease and my only criticism is the lack of footrests by the wheels, which would come in handy as heel angle increases.

As we headed seawards from St Tropez, I noticed we were level-pegging with the Wally 94 Magic Carpet, out training prior to Les Voiles de St Tropez. We switched to the blade as the big headsail – really a light-weather reacher – approached its upper wind speed limit in a strengthening sea-breeze. Under this bullet-proof looking sail, which overlaps the foretriangle by a few per cent, Pink Gin had some bite and boat speed reached 12 knots. She was in her element and from the tender she looked an absolute treat.

Back on board there was just one task left – to mix a pink gin. However, having perused the recipe, we opted for a cold beer instead.

Re-printed from Yachting World April 2007 issue