A multipurpose design, a dual purpose yacht. Toby Hodges sails Spirit Yachts’ latest stunner, the Spirit 72DH and finds a new benchmark in modern classic quality
Clear the headland three miles south of Guernsey’s St Peter Port and the depth and conditions can change abruptly, as you transition from sailing around tidal banks into the English Channel proper and realise there’s suddenly nothing between you and 2,000 miles of North Atlantic swell. This became quickly apparent as we headed out on a reach, the Spirit 72DH Gwenyfar II in full stride at double figures, and I noted the rapidity with which the waves were building.
These soon became 3-4m ocean rollers, as thick as they were tall but with a goodly period between each crest. The Spirit took it effortlessly, the motion kind enough to become quite addictive. Heeled over at full waterline, her spoon bow cut through the swell and speed remained steady. When we then tacked and had the swell on our quarters she remained well behaved, just more sporty, the lightweight side of her modern spirit of tradition build coming into play.
It was a performance as graceful and intoxicating as her bewitching looks.
While it was the performance and handling which really transformed this yacht in my eyes, it’s no doubt the aesthetic attributes that will put the majority under a Spirit’s spell. A Spirit’s looks have long been their talking point – you don’t twice get to be a Bond yacht based merely on practical merits. The Ipswich yard has since found a sweet spot in this larger size range, in particular this Spirit 72DH design, for which it is currently building its third hull. While it still allows for plenty of flexibility with interiors, having the design and engineering in place creates a known base, a yacht which the yard knows it can reproduce to the highest standards.
The Spirit 72DH is also designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of experience and sailing preferences, with systems and layout options that allow for a paid hand. The deck layout is deliberately uncluttered, while intuitive push-button hydraulics and a tidy winch layout help make it manageable with a small number of crew.
The first example, Spirit of Anima, launched a year ago, is used for Med family cruising and charter and has a bright, modern interior with separate crew cabin. This second is more classic Spirit in style inside and lets the craftsmanship reign. It’s a dual-purpose boat, designed to be competitive with a full race rig and sails, yet be capable of both comfortable local cruising and an Atlantic circuit. And the third is a cross between the two layouts but reportedly with a starkly different interior finish.
All in the eye
Despite their different visions, the proud owners of both the first two Spirit 72DHs have talked of how their yachts share an inherent ability to relax them when on board.
In fact, as we made our way down to St Peter Port, it quickly became clear the owner of Gwenyfar II is infatuated with his yacht, despite having owned a Spirit before (a Spirit 63DH). He’d already moved the boat out to a neighbouring anchorage that morning, perhaps because we may have struggled with the depth over the marina sill. But maybe, I wondered, because first impressions and the ability to see a yacht’s lines really count, particularly when the sheer – the line it all started with for this owner – is so important.
I have rarely met someone so passionate about his yacht. We sat together in the whisky drinking armchairs in the saloon, as he pointed out the details and features, the fixtures and finishes, even the movement, smell and noise which brings this timber creation to life. It appeals to all the senses.
In particular, he wanted the finish to be kept minimal to expose and highlight the woodwork artistry. The hull’s sipo ringframes and yellow cedar planking are displayed wherever possible. So this yacht is very much in line with the original Spirit ethos, with an oyster white hull, gleaming mahogany brightwork and this uncluttered architectural interior. Or is it? While the majority of Spirit owners have raced as well as cruised over the yard’s past 30 years, Gwenyfar II’s owner wanted to turn the dial up on the yacht’s competitive ability.
Five years ago his Spirit 63DH stole the show at its Southampton debut, a yawl which was commissioned purely for cruising. Having owned a handful of thoroughbred cruising yachts until that point, he the got the taste for racing. The first Gwenyfar (meaning ‘white spirit’ in Welsh) was not set up for that nor easily modified, so a longer, comparatively lighter and faster Spirit beckoned.
‘GII’, as she became affectionately dubbed, needed to be a dual purpose boat. “She is built around the capacity to race, look good and go fast, and then transform to cruising,” the owner explains.
The rig is pivotal to achieving this. The high modulus carbon Hall Spars mast is super clean, with just one VHF antenna and the mast wand permitted, and sports a Park Avenue boom and EC Six carbon rigging. And then there are the sails – stacks of them – all built by OneSails. She carries a set of white heavy duty radial cut HydraNet sails for cruising (which we sailed with) or a full wardrobe of black 4T Forte composite race sails. In the words of skipper Simon Hughes, “we were allowed to go to town with the rig and sails”.
A carbon spinnaker pole helps allow for a range of symmetric spinnakers, plus there’s a remotely controlled high speed padeye for a Code 0. A removable inner forestay rigs to a padeye on the forward watertight bulkhead, and provides the option for a soft hanked staysail to help reduce the sailplan centrally in the most efficient manner. “The staysail makes a big difference,” says the owner, adding: “We had a storm jib up for 10 days on our return trip across the north Atlantic on GI.” Another neat feature is the extra track which extends into the mainsail track to allow a storm trysail to be rigged.
Hughes helped skipper the previous 63DH, particularly on long passages, and was instrumental in the commission of the Spirit 72DH with regards to the rig, systems and electronics. He also helped put together a friendly race crew, some of whom joined us for our sail.
With full main set and genoa unfurled in 15-19 knots north-westerly we set out at pace in the flat water between Guernsey and Herm. Reaching off to the south we were soon into that impressive ocean swell, making 9.5-10 knots at 110º to the apparent wind, with waves heading across our starboard bows.
Pleasure sailing the Spirit 72DH
There were nine of us in the cockpit and I wondered why so many were aboard. But it was during that first leg as we hit open water and I caught their collective expressions of unmasked joy that it dawned on me – they were coming out for the sheer pleasure of sailing this yacht (granted, it also gave us the option of flying a spinnaker).
This deep cockpit provides security. The Spirit has the length and shape to handle those conditions with ease and carries her way through the waves, putting you at ease. I imagine it would have felt distinctly different out there on a smaller, flightier yacht with modern full bow sections.
While the Spirit 72DH’s cockpit benches are really wide and may be better suited for sun lounging than sitting comfortably, the vertical coamings allow you to sit up high and from here or the helm there is good visibility forward over the low deckhouse.
As we tacked to reach off back towards Sark, I appreciated the ability to control the main easily from the wheel. The speedo, which had varied between 8.5-9.5 knots depending on the tide when fetching, rose to double figures when broad reaching and hit 11.5 knots with wave assistance.
The Spirit 72DH boasts good balance and communication. While I’ve enjoyed sailing many Spirits on the breeze, it’s rare to find a design that’s as rewarding to sail in both directions. The large mahogany wheel, sunken into a well in the cockpit sole, is directly linked to the carbon blade and stock via chain and wire. I preferred to sit to windward at heel, straddling the wheel with a foot braced on the pedestal, as it’s a bit of a stretch to see the telltales from within the cockpit to leeward.
The aft winches are dedicated to the mainsheet, the central winches for the spinnaker and the forward ones for the jib or guys, with the latter kept manual to avoid over tensioning. The hydraulic Cunningham, vang, backstay and outhaul are all controlled on a pushbutton panel by the mainsheet trimmer/winch or on a remote control. A hydraulic cylinder under the cockpit bench moves the traveller, and the helmsman can easily reach the controls for this and the mainsheet winch. The central winches also have foot switches so the kite trimmer can stand and trim. Halyards, meanwhile, all exit at the mast base on to two powered winches each side on GII, including a high speed three-speed model.
We plugged in the masthead spinnaker in the Little Russel channel and squared the pole back so the big white kite could pull us along at graceful 9 knots (up to 11 knots SOG) in 16 knots, running at 160°apparent. It felt like a timeless classic yacht scene, yet it was also clear to see how such a sail could be handy when racing in these notoriously tidal waters, as it allows you to run so much deeper. But it does need many hands to get it up and down!
We dropped the kite through the companionway as it started to get lumpy in the larger swell, with Hughes proving an expert influence, calmly directing proceedings.
Decks are kept particularly clean with the aid of removable padeyes. In its continued search for a teak replacement, Spirit has tried Lignia decks and is currently using Douglas fir, traditionally favoured for its straight grain, which looked like a commendable alternative on GII.
The guardrails are also removable for classic style racing. Handrails had yet to be fitted on the coachroof but were due to be added before the Southampton Boat Show debut. Even so, the side decks are narrow by the deckhouse and have a camber to them which makes it a little unnerving moving forward.
A retractable bow thruster is offset to port and uses a neat 48V pancake motor Lewmar adapted to fit the boat’s sail locker. The starboard side of this locker is large enough for the trysail, staysail and spinnaker. Meanwhile, two lazarette lockers under the aft decks form the bulk of the deck stowage. There’s enough space for a couple of spinnakers on one side and a F-Rib tender to the other, while both feature useful outboard trays for spare lines.
The fun of sailing this yacht is arguably matched by the pleasure of just being aboard. Whether gathering for drinks in the cockpit, socialising around the galley or soaking up the peace in the saloon, it is a boat you are happy to linger on.
‘Tranquil and simple’ was the brief for the interior. Gwenyfar II is designed to be at anchor in this part of the world. The owner has no interest in Med sailing – he might do a Baltic and Caribbean season, but otherwise it’s for local cruising and racing.
Other than the aesthetics, it’s the layout, particularly in the deckhouse, and the attention to detail that stand out. Typically a deckhouse may accommodate a pilot berth or raised navstation. Here it forms the social heart of the boat, a galley area around which people can congregate as they would in a modern home, and still provides a proper chart table with views.
The signature fan windows built into the deckhouse pour natural light over the galley, the traditional butterfly deck hatch does the same for the saloon, adding ventilation at anchor too. And the lighting, including indirect and subtle uplighting, helps celebrate the planking.
Obviously there are compensations that need to be made with a classic shape with long overhangs. So they haven’t tried to pack in the accommodation; instead, the three cabins are inviting and well appointed. The question for prospective owners concerns how much they want to sail with a paid hand and whether to accommodate them in these cabins or in a separate crew cabin and thereby lose some valuable deck stowage.
The overhangs also restrict mechanical space. So the engine is contained under the galley unit as its shaft exits the hull in front of the companionway steps. This helps centralise weight, while the layout around this engine bay and the tanks each side of it has been done intelligently. A day tank gravity feeds the engine, while the fuel filter and manifolds are easy to access quickly.
Smart details are numerous, while behind the scenes and in the bilges everything is sealed and finished properly, down to wooden trays below the fuel filters to prevent any diesel drips fouling the locker. A surprising niggle then is the lack of soft closing mechanisms on drawers and lockers.
The items that can be removed, such as crockery and cutlery, have all been designed to lift out easily in one unit. When racing, the companionway doors fold away flush, the galley taps are removable and the whole area is protected by custom covers, allowing the crew to pull spinnakers down through the companionway without fear of damaging the woodwork.
GII has the larger galley option. To stand looking out at a horizon view through the deckhouse windows while making a brew or preparing food is special. Watch our full video to see all the details and features such as the customised knife drawer, the marinised Miele induction cooker and a bespoke tea tray for kettle and mugs which fits neatly into a locker.
Directors’ chairs can join the saloon table to help seat 10, with stowage for them in a locker below the bulkhead cabinet. The two comfortable leather armchairs, separated by a lift-top cabinet for the single malts, are the choice place to sit and admire the structures. Spirit used carbon fibre to help support the highly loaded areas, which helped shave 1,200kg in stainless steel around the ringframes.
Another two reading chairs in the forward master cabin offer privacy, and there is also a writing desk with fold out mirror to help it double as a vanity table. The owner points out the marquetry and neat pen stowage built within:
“I didn’t ask for it but Spirit takes it upon themselves to go the extra mile.”
At 6ft 3in he has full standing headroom up to a double berth, which can be separated by lee cloths when cohabiting with other crew. Otherwise furniture was deliberately kept to a minimum. No full wardrobes for example, just half height lockers and deep drawers. The ensuite is a good size, with rainfall shower, low wattage towel rail, and a bevel-edged mirror neatly set into the front face of the locker.
The excellent navstation has good visibility of the sails and a nice mix of modern and traditional systems. There is touchscreen control for the C-Zone digital switching plus a manual switch panel for primary systems. GII also has a full B&G H5000 racing system, the 12in Zeus touchscreen for which can double as the house computer.
Power management is based around Victron’s Quatro smart inverter charger, which specialises in distributing power when and where needed, says Hughes, in this case from the 1,000Ah lithium battery bank (below the forward saloon berth). It also helped enable the choice of a more compact genset below the companionway.
GII’s traditional fossil fuel based system seems noticeably at odds with Spirit’s recent launches and drive for renewable power. The yard has recently produced a foiling electric motorboat, the extraordinary 111 Geist with electric drive, and a 65 and 68 with hybrid drives.
“We probably wouldn’t even do a 44 or 52 now with a diesel drive,” says marketing director Helen Porter. However, those doing ocean cruising still tend to choose more traditional power systems.
The Spirit 72DH is the definitive modern classic. It has gorgeous traditional lines mixed with modern materials and appendages to make it relevant, fun and practical today, and crucially the layout and systems to make it repeatable. GII is also used just as the classic gentleman’s cruiser once was, when owners raced with friends or crew who valued the experience of sailing such a yacht, then cruised with family or friends.
The true spirit of this Spirit design is all about how it affects you personally. For me the 72DH shone from behind the wheel at sea. From past experience a Spirit revels in flat water, but going through, across and with an Atlantic swell showed this yacht has special qualities. For Gwenyfar II’s owner it’s all about how it made him feel.
That’s what the beauty of wood and Spirit’s master craftsmen and women bring: lines you’ll never tire of, joinery that calms you and that added quality that gives the yacht a soul.
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