Italian builders Perini Navi are world leaders in the 50m+ superyacht market, but clients now demand better performance under sail. In Parsifal III they have produced a yacht with serious pace as well as a Rémi Tessier interior complete with mink bedspreads. David Glenn reports...

There’s no mistaking a Perini. Invariably massively ketch-rigged, with layer upon layer of deck, it will reveal on closer inspection a level of luxury rarely seen on a sailing yacht. The sheer size, or more precisely volume, has enabled designers of more recent examples to become expansive and ultra-creative.

Although the company recently sold their 40th yacht since Fabio Perini established the yard 24 years ago and the order book is fat, Perini have been embracing change to meet demand for better performance in their yachts.

Separating perception from reality and trying to convince the sceptics that a modern Perini need no longer be pigeon-holed as a motor sailer has been no mean feat for an Italian yard that prides itself in being responsible for almost every aspect of design and build and thus performance.

They have also made efforts to fix an aesthetics glitch. The look hasn’t always met with critical approval
but a spin-off in the quest for performance has been the streamlining of the superstructure and a reduction in bulk and top hamper, both enemies of stability. Again, this has been met with nods of approval.

But how else has the Perini marque changed to make it ‘go-faster’? Aluminium hulls instead of steel, carbon spars instead of their own alloy masts and, most importantly, collaborating with a naval architect from outside their own drawing office have been the major steps.

Murdoch’s new yacht

Supersail World - Parsifal III

If sales performance is anything to go by, the change must be regarded as an unqualified success because no fewer than five 56m Perinis (the first of the quicker breed) were sold in short order. The latest, Rosehearty, went to media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a repeat client. The Russian-owned Burrasca and then Santa Maria were the first 56s to launch and they immediately showed their performance superiority in the first Perini regatta held in Sardinia in 2004. The event in itself was a message that performance was very much on the menu at Perini.

At 53.80m LOA Parsifal III is slightly smaller than the 56m series and the second Perini to step carbon fibre spars – by Marten Spars in New Zealand. Unlike many Perinis she has a fixed keel with no daggerboard, an appendage used to enhance upwind performance. Instead the lead-filled bulb is fitted with 1m wings, also filled with lead, which enhance lift when heeled.

“We reached a compromise on draught,” explained Ron Holland, the naval architect commissioned to collaborate with Perini on their performance range. “We settled for 4.50m. I would have liked to have gone deeper and the owner would have preferred less. In fact, we have ended up with more stability than the centreboard versions, even though she is not as deep,” explained Holland, who went on to say that the most important departure from the traditional Perini has been in hull shape. “The defining change has been designing much finer bows.” 

Fine bows key to speed

Supersail World - Parsifal III

This trend started with the 56m which underwent exhaustive tank testing. Parsifal is a development and is even finer in the bow. “Perini were a little alarmed about the potential loss of volume but with yachts of more than 50m this wasn’t really a big issue,” said Ron Holland. In the event, crew space does not appear to have suffered.

Rudder design has also been an important factor and Holland has been able to use his considerable experience with other large sailing yachts, including the Huisman-built 140ft Cyclos and the Vitters-built 164-footer Thalia, both of which had unassisted wheel steering using chain and cable straight to the quadrant.

The skeg-hung partially balanced rudder has two major advantages. One, the skeg physically protects the rudder and two, it provides a more predictable and less agitated water flow over the rudder blade. A fully balanced rudder without a skeg can be exposed to high shock loading, making unassisted steering difficult. Despite this, Parsifal is fitted with hydraulic steering.

Two other key issues were the use of aluminium as the hull material, which saved about 70 tonnes over steel, and the choice of carbon spars, which took more than five tonnes out of the rig. A single rather than twin-engine installation and stern and bow thrusters which fully retract mean less resistance and further reduction in weight.

Charter success

Supersail World - Parsifal III

Parsifal was launched more than a year ago and since then she has met a punishing but highly successful charter schedule under the management of Camper & Nicholsons. Tom DeBuse from C&N told us that a charter party of ten could be aboard for a week for  €198,000 in high season (€178,000 in low).

She has, of course, also been used extensively as a private yacht. Her owners Kim and Nina Vibe-Petersen have owned two yachts, including a 108-footer also called Parsifal built by Valdettaro Shipyard in Italy.

Kim Vibe-Petersen, who invented an ingenious coffee and cappuccino brewing machine used in restaurants and hotels worldwide, took delivery last June but the yacht’s first substantial voyage was a charter to Montenegro in the Adriatic.

English skipper David Parish told us they then cruised all over the Mediterranean, including Sardinia and Cephalonia in the Ionian, before returning to Perini for warranty work.

Later in the year they started their transatlantic crossing to Antigua with a full complement of nine crew. Like so many yachts in the closing stages of 2005, Parsifal took a dusting from Tropical Storm Delta. For 12 hours she rode out the storm as winds maintained a constant 65 knots.

Parsifal was under bare poles but took  green seas right over the foredeck and onto the flying bridge where the large fabric bimini was torn from its metal framework. The crew at the time were controlling the yacht from the relative comfort of the main bridge area on the enclosed deck below. David Parish said that a lot of water found its way into the vast cockpit and external dining area aft but watertight sliding doors to the main saloon prevented any ingress to the accommodation.

Nonetheless it was an uncomfortable crossing, during which many of the crew were on their hands and knees as they moved around the large open spaces in the accommodation.

When I met Parsifal at the Antigua Yacht Club dock area in Falmouth Harbour, yacht and crew appeared to be fully recovered and, in short order, lines were slipped and the V12 Caterpillar diesel was propelling us with ease down the channel to open water.

The tradewind was in fine fettle for our day out, with 18 knots true showing regularly and squalls with a bit more breeze on their leading edge in the offing. As normal off the southern coast of Antigua the sea was large and a little confused and as we went head to wind to hoist, Parsifal pitched into it, taking the odd sheet of heavy spray over the bow.

With a number of guests aboard, David Parish decided to put a roll or two in the main then set the genoa with two or three rolls and a full staysail. As we bore away, the yacht picked up her skirts, the motion improved and we rumbled off at 10 to 12 knots.

I suspect that had we not had guests aboard we could have set a little more main plus the mizzen and easily topped 15 knots on a broadish reach. Ron Holland told us that Parsifal is a 15 or 16 knot yacht but to really get her going one would have needed slightly less sea for close reaching. There’s no doubt that if you have to go upwind in a yacht this big you have to slow her down if there’s any sea to deal with.

Broad reaching on the other tack had us up to 14 with full genoa and, despite her 438 tons and hydraulic steering, one definitely got an impression of power, movement and speed, even high up on the flying bridge.

It was significant to hear from David Parish that Parsifal was also impressive in the light winds and flatter waters of the Mediterranean.

Out with the knife

Supersail World - Parsifal III

Sadly, it wasn’t all plain sailing during our day out as the crew’s worst nightmare unfolded trying to furl the staysail. This 149m2 beast is a self-tacker sheeted to an adjustable car which runs on a track spanning the deck just forward of the main mast. Furling the sail usually involves pushing a joystick in one direction to ease the sheet and then another to revolve the power furler.

On this occasion the sheet refused to ease. In fact, when the joystick was pushed to the ease position, the underdeck winch – one of 11 Perini-built custom sheet winches aboard – worryingly kept sheeting the sail in. Needless to say, the sail quickly became like a board and the sheet bar taut under maximum load, at which point the captive winch thankfully failed.

Heading south away from Antigua meant we had plenty of searoom to work out what to do. After much toing and froing from the machinery room, checking behind the control panel and inspections of the captive winch in its deck locker, it was decided to bend on a change sheet, lead it through a large deck block to a traditional deck- mounted Harken drum winch, which could take the load. And then someone reverted to the time-honoured solution of taking a knife to the sheet at the splice. Job done, minimal damage and furling could commence.

But it took the best part of half an hour to sort out and raised questions about complex auto furling winches. Nine times out of ten they work but when they don’t it’s imperative to have a manual back-up or alternative system ready to take over. David Parish dealt with the situation impeccably but I’m sure he was glad it was the staysail and not the genoa, or indeed the main.

The initial diagnosis was some sort of electronic switching or possibly software problem and one wondered whether that hammering in the Atlantic had anything to do with it.

One other moan. On occasions other members of the crew and some guests took the wheel and had difficulty maintaining the asked-for course simply because there was no conventional steering compass on the flying bridge. There was a digital readout (difficult to read in the sun) for the gyro, but nothing your average yachtsman would recognise. “Yes,” said David, admitting to the omission, “I’m going to fix that!”

The serious business of lunch and a swim duly followed at anchor in Carlisle Bay. Swimming was easy from the excellent aft platform, which allows occupants of the superb owner’s suite to walk through the toy garage straight onto the bathing deck itself. It’s a sort of en-suite beach.

Two things were noticeable when you were in the water. Parsifal was ‘hunting’ round her anchor cable in the gusts and I momentarily wondered whether is was possible to be run down by a yacht at anchor. And as I approached the stern platform I made very sure I didn’t find any part of my body underneath the substantial structure which was being slapped hard from beneath by small waves in the bay. The platform is, however, adjustable and could be lowered to below water level.

Back on board, the yacht had been transformed from a lively angled platform to something more comfortably horizontal and a magnificent table for 15 was laid for lunch. An outstanding meal was served before we motored effortlessly back to Falmouth and returned stern-to for the remainder of the Antigua Charter Show, which was in full swing. 

Supersail World - Parsifal III

Before we left we were able to tour the accommodation, which revealed another departure for Perini. Instead of the trademark teak or cherry interior, traditional in character but extremely comfortable, the Vibe-Petersens had opted for a much more modern style by French interior designer Rémi Tessier.

Tessier has already demonstrated aboard the Ed Dubois-designed 52.3m Squall that change could work well aboard such large yachts and the 17m long deck saloon, which leads seamlessly into Parsifal’s bridge area, presented the ideal opportunity to design something open and modern.

The effect is stunning. The extreme contrast between white furnishings and ebony-black woodwork might not be to everyone’s taste and might be regarded as impractical, but for this writer the overall effect was impressive.

Topped off with details like cabin TV screens disguised in mirrors which only reveal themselves when turned on, and mink bedspreads covering all ten guest berths, the mixture of modernity and sheer luxury was ridiculously seductive. In fact, with Perini’s new-found performance, it’s a summing up that could apply to the yacht as a whole.