The 203ft schooner Athos may have been delayed in her build at Holland Jachtbouw near Amsterdam but she will be worth waiting for

We were recently able to check progress of the remarkable 62m/203ft two-masted schooner Athos at her builders HJB (Holland Jachtbouw) in Zaandam, near Amsterdam. She is likely to be the stand-out super-sailing yacht launch of next year and although she has been delayed due to changes to her specification, she will certainly be worth waiting for.

The decision to postpone the launch of Athos – she should be sailing by the spring – means HJB have more time to fine tune this complex yacht and to run up all her systems before she leaves HJB’s new build shed. Too often yachts leave their builders prematurely – maybe the big schooner’s delay is a blessing in disguise.

Aesthetically, Athos will be outstanding with long overhangs, a very powerful sailplan with a lot of roach cut into her main and fore sails and a dark blue topside finish which is one of the best we have seen on a yacht. Exquisite deck detailing which, as HJB say, ‘reflects the Golden Age of sailing in the early years of the last century’ will set this schooner apart from many of today’s large sailing yachts.

Designed by Andre Hoek, Athos is fitted with a centreboard to increase draught to almost 9m/30ft and she will displace around 370 tons. She will not only be the biggest two-masted modern schooner in the world but will be equipped with some interesting kit including a dynamic positioning system, twin main engines with gearboxes which also drive powerful shaft generators, an enormously powerful hydraulic system to operate big stern and bow thrusters simultaneously and some interesting mast-track detailing.

The latter has been developed so that Athos can furl both her main and fore, both of which have full-length carbon battens, into her Rondal boom. Fully battening a sail like this is normally only possible with the use batten cars but these can not be used if the sail needs to furled into the boom.

So Athos’s owner has funded research into developing a system that will resist the estimated 750kg of forward thrust delivered by the battens and which under normal circumstances would quickly damage the luff reinforcement and bolt rope when the yacht is fully powered up.

The design team’s search led them to America and the fittings manufacturer Shaefer  Marine who some years ago developed a mast track extrusion for smaller yachts which articulates on a hinge on the trailing edge of the mast and incorporates a track for the bolt rope and a ‘seat’ for the forward end of the battens. See the picture below of a pattern of the extrusion.

Because the entire track articulates, the battens ends and luff bolt rope move as one as the sail is trimmed and the bolt rope is effectively protected by the batten ‘seats’ designed into the solid aluminium extrusion. When the sail is furled onto the in-boom mandrel the bolt-rope and battens simply slide down and off the lower end of the extrusion and onto the boom. Clever stuff!

It will be on trial in the early summer of next year but a prototype system has been in use for more than a year aboard the 33m/108ft 5in Hoek-designed Shamoun and the results have been promising. The extrusion, incidentally, comes in sections for ease of manufacture and fitting.

Much more roach has been designed into the mainsail than the original sailplans show so the fixed backstay has had to go. Jos Scholten, the project manager who is helping mastermind much of Athos’s build, said that in its place will be twin running backstays so that the vast sail can be gybed and tacked without having to be lowered. The mast height on the main is 60m/197ft and 54m/177ft on the fore. The booms, too, are vast, some of the biggest carbon structures Rondal have manufacturered.

Another big challenge for the Athos team was the decision to fit a dynamic positioning system. Essentially this allows the vessel to be held on station at given GPS coordinates and on a precise heading by linking the stern and bow thrusters and the twin main engine controls via a computer. By sensing the yacht’s movement, one or more of the drives are brought into play and the yacht is kept in position. Designing the electronic ‘brain’ to allocate power to the relevant drive unit has been a time consuming task for the team.

The system avoids the need to use ground tackle, but just in case, Athos is equipped with the normal bower and secondary anchors forward and a stern anchor which is deployed through an automatically opening pocket beneath the counter (see picture).

With the thrusters alone developing some 200hp/150kW apiece Athos needed to deliver a vast amount of hydraulic fluid flow and big PTOs (power take offs) on the front of the two Volvo main engines take care of this.

The owner’s keeness to have a belt and braces arrangement means Athos not only has twin propulsion units, but also twin shaft generators and twin main generators all of which can be divided into port and starboard systems. There is also an emergency generator bringing the total number of generating units to five. Looking along the engine room is a bit like being in a submarine, a complex ‘tube’ crammed with machinery with just about enough headroom for the two engineers to access the systems.

Clearly this has been a technological challenge both above and below decks. But there have been some lighter moments. Jos Scholten told Yachting World that after a year searching for the right door handles – the yacht needs more than 30 pairs – the team was at a loss. Eventually the owner grasped two pieces of modelling clay in both hands and from those shapes bronze handles were cast. These will, of course, be unique and, for the owner at least, the perfect fit!

Toys include a couple of Laser Vago sailing dinghies and three tenders one of which is a lightweight Zodiac flying boat with a wing, the entire rig being driven by a big prop.

Whichever way you look at it this is going to be one impressive yacht and with the innovations she has incorporated all eyes will be on her next spring/summer.

In the January issue of Yachting World were are looking at the current classic schooner scene but Athos will join the growing ranks of spirit of tradition style yachts like Meteor, Windrose of Amsterdam and Borkumriff 1V. The capable Nick Haley will skipper Athos and having run Windrose very successfully for several seasons will be well placed to work this yacht up to her full potential in short order, particularly in view of the extra time being spent in Zaandam enabling de-bugging to progress through the winter.