Over the past decade we’ve been treated to the rise of the custom built cruiser-racer. Arguably inspired by the success of the Baltic 112 Nilaya, which launched in 2010, these are typically 30-35m/98-115ft carbon composite monohulls, powerful, sexy designs that will take you around the Med or across an ocean in suitable luxury, yet still be capable of ripping round the cans.
Composite specialist shipyards Baltic and Vitters have been particularly active in this area – think Nilaya, Inouï, Nikata, WinWin, Missy, and Ribelle – in addition to the series-built models by Nautor’s Swan and Southern Wind.
The trend thus far has been for flat, modern deck layouts, designs that place an emphasis on sleek looks and performance. But what if you could have the speed of such craft allied with the comfort, protection, volume and systems demanded for long-term ocean cruising? This implies a delicate balance of design, materials and engineering and it requires the vision of an experienced owner and his team.
Step aboard the new 34m/112ft Baltic Liara and you’ll see the combination is possible. Not only is this a masterpiece of style, thanks to UK-based super designers Malcolm McKeon and Adam Lay combining to stunning effect, but it clearly represents a formidable amount of experience. And that all stems from the boss.
This is the fourth Liara for British serial yacht owner Tony Todd, who is now in his seventies. His initial brief was for a safe, comfortable family cruising yacht for circumnavigating the globe, hence the deep and well-protected cockpit. However, Todd has been racing yachts all his life, and once his competitive side kicked in and the odd regatta was mentioned, the speed, weight and deck layout to make this possible became critical features. The result is Liara, the definitive multi-role superyacht.
Moving the goal posts
I was given a tour of Liara by John Walker, one of her two skippers. He worked on the owner’s previous Dixon 100 and oversaw the build. Liara has since crossed the Atlantic and was gearing up for the Antigua Superyacht Challenge and St Barths Bucket in March. The plan is then to sail across the Pacific to New Zealand in time for the America’s Cup celebrations and onwards for a two-year world cruise.
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“The goal posts moved when it was decided she was also going to go racing and that we needed to focus further on weight saving,” McKeon explains. With his previous design, Missy, her owner only got the racing bug after the yacht’s 2016 launch. At least with Liara there was the chance to address this aspect pre-build.
“People who know Tony, knew he was always going to race it,” Walker adds with a smile. The UK’s Cape Horn Engineering was contracted to run computerised fluid dynamics (CFD) studies on more than 15 different hull shapes – a project Walker considers to be a ‘no-brainer’. “It resulted in a hull with 0.5m more beam, significantly increased righting moment, and this was projected to be nearly a whole day quicker on a transat,” he reports.
Initially Todd wanted to build an all-British boat. But the appeal of Baltic Yachts’ carbon expertise proved too strong. The Finnish yard’s experience helped instigate weight savings in all areas, down to the use of carbon cable trays, Nomex-cored furniture and the liberal use of titanium, from the stanchions and deck fittings to the hydraulic oil reservoir. Its ability to keep the displacement below 90 tonnes is an impressive feat, especially when you consider the size, volume and comfort of Liara’s interior.
A dominant aspect of the design is the solid bimini, which protects the deep and generous guest cockpit. For racing it’s removable to save weight and create space. The structure uses a mix of high modulus prepregs and Nomex and weighs just 480kg. This means the boom can be used as a crane to lift the bimini clear of the deck to sit in a cradle ashore.
A lot of design work also went into the hull appendages and how to minimise drag. A single rudder was chosen for minimal weight and a telescopic keel from Italian experts APM was selected for its ability to offer deep-draught performance without impacting interior space. The attention to hydrodynamics went as far as streamlining the steps for this telescopic keel and minimising the through-hull fittings.
However, the biggest savings in drag were to come from the propeller – or lack of it during sailing – thanks to the choice of a retractable propulsion system (RPS).
“The RPS makes a big difference to light wind sailing,” says Walker, adding: “In anything over 8 knots of breeze we’re sailing.” McKeon’s CFD studies back this up. “It was clear that the yacht would accelerate and power up much more quickly than expected with her propeller retracted,” he states.
The pitch of the propeller can increase when motor sailing and the forward-facing leg can rotate through 160º each way, which eliminates the need for a stern thruster. Although Baltic installed a similar system on My Song, the RPS and particularly its hull aperture in relation to the telescopic keel, took eight months to plan and engineer.
The design work has obviously paid off in performance terms. Walker reports that during their transatlantic they were consistently hitting low to mid 20 knot speeds – “25 knots with the A5 and second reef in mid 20 knot winds.” He says he’s most impressed by how achievable these speeds are sailing short-handed. “On the previous boat we’d passage plan at 9.5 knots. But during the first six days form the Canaries we averaged over 300 mile days [12.5 knots], which is a big difference.”
A deckie’s deck
So we get the picture that Liara’s bottom is as slippery as a greased eel. A considerable amount of thought has also gone into her sail plan and deck layout to ensure the horsepower aloft does the underwater sections justice, while being practical to manage.
As we go over each detail on deck, I can tell Walker is rightly proud of their achievements in this regard. He is only 32 years old this year, but has accumulated a wealth of experience, including more than six years skippering for Todd. I have sailed with him and his rotational co-skipper Tom Haycock on different J Class yachts in the past, and it’s clear their experience of running a deck safely at the top end of the sport has filtered through onto Liara.
For example, an extremely high-pressure hydraulic package was specified, reportedly only the second time a 350bar system has been used on a superyacht (following the race-optimised Swan 115 Odin). As well as exceptionally high line speed capability on the winches when racing, this gives pushbutton (and therefore short-handed) control of the three-dimensional headsail sheeting bridles via rams under the foredeck, and of the mast deflectors.
A further benefit is that the smaller pipework required saves weight and space. “You gain in pipe diameter, fluid in the lines, fluid in the tank, smaller winch motors etc. – there are gains everywhere,” says Walker.
The deck is also kept scrupulously clean. An example is the winch farm at the mast base, comprising four semi-sunken winches and compartments for rope tails, but all kept tidy by sliding hatches above. “The deck layout changed a lot from the original design, including underdeck sheet leads, sail lockers, tack line runs…” explains Walker, elements that come from sailing ‘proper sailing boats’ he adds. “It was great that Malcolm [McKeon] let us do that.”
Liara carries a large wardrobe of North Sails, designed with Jeremy Elliot in the UK loft, including a powerful square-top main. But as cruising sailors know, any sail needs to be easy to stow and deploy. The code and asymmetric sails are set on fixed or soft stays with halyard locks and there are five dedicated stowage bins below the foredeck into which sails can be raised or lowered safely and efficiently.
The two furling staysails set on rams look like a particularly practical feature. Walker says this set-up of using multiple furling foresails was inspired by current offshore race boats. With the owner still wanting to play an active part on deck, the ability to set and reduce sail easily is a big benefit.
“There was a big focus on making sure things could happen quickly,” Walker continues. “From picking up anchors and tenders to go sailing, to the stowage systems of the lazarette and the way the swim platform folds neatly into itself… a lot of it came from the old boat too.”
Walker explains that Baltic created a 1:1 mock-up of the whole deck so the owner could appreciate the full experience. This also helped create an intelligent sailing cockpit around the twin pedestals, keeping the winches well abaft the rope-free social zone. “We tried really hard to make sure everything can be led to any winch,” he says, pointing out the sheaved bases of the drums which allow clear cross-sheeting.
The bimini is a clever design, which includes a boltrope groove around it, so the entire guest cockpit can be closed off in bad weather. There are also vents in the forward end for fresh air circulation and a 9m2 sunroof.
This large covered cockpit leads through wide, curved glass companionway doors, which slide open at the push of a hidden button, like something out of Star Trek, and down into a full-beam deck saloon. The integration of these two areas forms the heart of the boat. Both are highly inviting, generously proportioned and very comfortable sections of the yacht from which to appreciate the surroundings.
And then there is the impact of the interior styling. In recent years there have been two superyachts of moderate length that, in my eyes, have truly standout interiors. Both are Baltic yachts with Adam Lay interiors: the 32m/107ft Inukshuk and now Liara. It transpires that the former was an inspiration for the latter. Inevitably, with all that glass Liara has a light, open feel, but the combination of the pale, bleached and stained oak with distinct textures and vibrant colours is superb.
“The design brief for Liara was to create a practical, functional sailing yacht interior with smart stowage solutions and an open feel that reflects the natural environment of the owner’s home, the Channel Islands,” Lay explains. He chose the joinery style and colour schemes and the artwork was commissioned from Guernsey-based artist Valerie Travers.
Much attention was paid to making the interior and particularly the deck saloon appear as large as possible. Lay describes the feeling of openness as incomparable with any vessel of Liara’s size.
When we were aboard, McKeon pointed out the engineering and geometry challenge involved with engineering the exposed mullions on the coachroof structure. The deckhead panels are recessed between these beams and the result is maximised volume and headroom inside while keeping the deckhouse as streamlined as possible.
Walker told me that although the owners wanted a large interior, they also insisted on a practical layout for use at heel. So although the master cabin is forward, two guest cabins were positioned abaft the saloon so they’d have a choice
of berths on passage. These midships cabins also have racks for pipecots.
Like all good offshore yachts, stowage is very well thought out. This includes rack and box systems under the soles to help access under-utilised areas, says Lay. “It is safe to say that every available space has been used!”
Controlling noise reverberation through a carbon shell, while maintaining this high quality of interior finish presented its own challenges. “How and where to use weight was very important,” says Walker, adding: “you could build it 10 tonnes lighter if you wanted.” He also made the point about the time and investment in saving grams in every part of the boat, but that the owner will still want to cruise in comfort, which includes shipping a hearty selection of his (own label) wine.
Tony Todd has a strong interest in mechanical engineering, evidenced by the engine room, an area to which he paid particular attention. Again a full mock-up was made of this beam-wide area below the saloon and the systems chosen show advanced thinking. The wet box for the propulsion leg forms part of the structure. The main engine is offset from here, driving the RPS via a 90° bevel gearbox.
A novel solution is to use a generator on the back of the main engine. The owners wanted to be able to cruise silently at night, and this provided the best option for weight, space and efficiency, together with a single variable-speed generator and a high voltage DC battery bank. The 115kW of batteries allows Liara to run in silent ship mode for up to eight hours with all ‘hotel’ services running.
The final part of the layout that particularly impressed me is also one of the most important: the crew area. Keeping a good crew happy is imperative when sailing long distance. “It’s one of the success stories of the boat,” Walker declares, pointing out the size of the mess, laundry, galley and captain’s cabin. The large ensuite Pullman cabins each side of the navstation and the wet hanging lockers at the base of the crew companionway complete the smart layout.
It seems a real sailor’s boat, and Walker agrees: “The owner has a life of experience behind him. The biggest success of this boat is him – he put the right team in place and knew the right places to spend or save money.”