The ability to get sailing quickly, easily and enjoyably is what makes the Y9 so appealing, says Toby Hodges after sailing Bella
Time. You may not be able to buy it, but some may be fortunate enough to buy the things that let you use it most efficiently. It was mid afternoon on a sweltering day in late June, Mallorca. I’d just come ashore from the Superyacht Cup Palma. With the rush hour traffic looming, roadworks stifling the city centre and the oppressive heat, there was surely no chance of any meaningful sail on the new Y9 that day, as it was located in Port Adriano, 25km along the coast.
Hitching a ride on Ulli’s (YYachts’s Hans-Ulrich Heisler) unnervingly powerful moped, we weaved through the city, avoided the motorway standstill and tailback and arrived at the Philippe Starck-designed marina within half an hour to be welcomed by Bella’s crew, ready to depart.
Just 15 minutes later we were out of the marina and hoisting full sail via push buttons in a perfect Force 4 evening breeze. Bella heeled onto her wide powerful lines and we were straight into double figures, sailing at 10 knots in 13.
I was slightly dazzled by it all, and certainly impressed. This is no 25ft daysailer, rather a contemporary superyacht and yet the speed and ease with which we could get sailing with minimal fuss yet maximum pleasure is quite something.
However, this should perhaps come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Michael Schmidt’s background. A veteran racing sailor, his esteemed boatbuilding career is latterly built on making large yachts fun but crucially manageable to sail short-handed.
He saw a gap in the market to create premium yachts in the 70-100ft sector, built in series production to help offer value. His YYachts yard build light and fast carbon sandwich yachts with a ‘keep it simple’ philosophy. They are the creation of top designers, who are tasked with ensuring they look good, sail well, and are easily handled.
The Y9 has a 90ft Bill Tripp-designed modern hull shape with the volume of a 100-footer, and is also available as a Pilot House and a Custom version (which we saw last year in the stunning Prevail with its prominent squared deck house).
Bella launched in time for the Cannes Boat Show last autumn, and as I soon discovered when skipper Iloy Van Berk offered me the wheel, it boasts credible sailing merits: performance, handling and tangible enjoyment on the helm. Yes, this is a comparatively lightweight (55 tonne lightship) performance design for enjoyable, fast sailing, with a lofty mast and formidable sail area. But it’s also a luxury cruising yacht with voluminous tanks, stowage, comfort systems and twin engines.
Not that I could detect drag during our sail. The twin rudders gave assured control, with direct connection to the wheel, and the yacht felt stiff and nicely balanced.
Van Berk and his partner Elvira Estrany run a slick ship and keep Bella ready to go on short notice. Having worked for these owners for seven years, they know what they like and how to be prepared for them. While the Y9 is designed to accommodate four crew, Bella runs with three, which the skipper puts down to Elvira, ‘a superstar’ who cooks, cleans and sails/does deckhand work. “The boat design also allows us to handle it with three people,” he continues. “With the magic trim I can work the sheets. And the gennaker is on a furler – it has to be at 800m2!”
His point was proven when we went to tack… and no-one needed to do anything. It’s a one person affair. I brought the main in a little at the push of a button and the self-tacking jib sorted itself out. The combination of this headsail, a staysail option and a bowsprit that can take a hydraulic furling code sail, helps make such a large yacht easy to handle.
According to designer Bill Tripp, it aids the Y9 to “sail well in blue water in the worst conditions and have light air performance to attract the keenest of sailors.”
When we cracked sheets to a beam reach, our average speed increased to 11.5-12 knots, and we clocked 12.5 in 16-18. Not bad figures for white sails cruising! And then the dolphins joined us to dance with and surf our bow waves. It was that kind of evening: gold standard sailing.
Secrets to simplicity
While we’ve talked about sail handling being key to the Y9’s ease of use, there is also the ease of manoeuvring, which we’ll come to, and the hull stability which help make it inviting for a broad spectrum of sailing experience.
The decks may be wide and flat, but the heel angle remained moderate. “The flared topsides allow for great deck spaces and added stability, a win-win that leads to a better boat,” Tripp explained. “Hull shape is optimised for 15° of heel, which is the most typical when globe-trotting.”
Bella’s shakedown sail was a delivery trip from the Greifswald yard to Mallorca – in 12 days. That’s an average of over 9 knots or 288 mile days, and includes two stops for swell/supplies/rest! Sustained speeds in the low double figures are what this long powerful shape and generous sail area brings.
So there is pace on tap but it needs to be measured. When the wind reached 15 knots or more, I noted how Van Berk eased the mainsheet. Although Bella has clocked 25 knots before, the skipper says he prefers to keep it below 12 knots otherwise the loads shoot up.
While the Y9 has a performance hull shape and build, and could well suit superyacht regatta racing, Bella is very much set up for cruising, with the corresponding payload and gear aboard. The twin engines, genset, dual watermakers etc, (as well as solar and hydro renewable energy) gives the yacht multiple power sources and redundancy.
The renewables help allow for a silent ship at night. The twin drives and joystick-controlled thrusters also help offer better manoeuvrability in port and promote motorsailing efficiency. In light breeze Van Berk runs the leeward engine at 1,800rpm (for just one litre of diesel per hour), which creates enough apparent wind to sail at over 9 knots.
The power set up and ease of manoeuvrability all help make for an easy to use yacht.
“Our thought is to also attract new people to the sport and to tug people out of powerboats into something far more interesting,” said Tripp.
Bella’s owner is a case in point as he previously had a Sunseeker 75 motorboat. Wanting to get into sailing he bought the first Y7 in build (also called Bella, which we sailed in 2019), on the understanding YYachts would build him a 90-footer as it scaled up. Despite he and his family having made so many happy memories on the Sunseeker, after just two weeks sailing the Y7 he confided to his skipper that he couldn’t believe he had ever had a powerboat. The owner now particularly likes long daysails, typically 100-200 miles from port to port.
This helps explain the fixed bimini and the shelter that provides to the vast cockpit. It also supports 5kW of solar panels on the roof. The bimini concept came from Van Berk after a scare on the previous Y7 when the skipper was struck in the head and knocked flat by the mainsheet while sailing off Corsica. Hence he lobbied for an arch for the mainsheet on the Y9. “Once we had that, it made sense to go for a hard bimini and the solar panels,” he explained. “It’s super comfortable, I love it.”
The captive mainsheet is led from a single point on the bimini through a Cariboni hydraulic cylinder system in the Park Avenue boom, which not only keeps the mainsheet out of the cockpit and harm’s way, but allows for instant push-button control of the substantial mainsail from either pedestal.
Elsewhere Bella is kept relatively simple on deck with rod rigging for the carbon rig and halyards run neatly through the coachroof to two winches by either wheel.
So what are the downsides? Some may not like the fixed bimini look – but that’s obviously an option, which I consider to be a highly practical one. Solar field apart, sailing in upwards of 30ºC soon makes you seek shelter, while a sprayhood can also connect to the bimini.
Then there are the flat wide decks, which aren’t easy to negotiate in a pitching sea. As mentioned on previous YYachts designs, the expansive aft deck has its merits but it does present a long distance between the wheels or those aft winches that can be unnerving at heel. The majority of the aft deck hinges open to reveal the tender garage, so it would be difficult to install fixed structures on the deck, although there are handles on the pedestal and surrounding the crew companionway.
This YTender, which we have featured before, deserves another mention as Bella is the first yacht to carry one. The 4.35m carbon composite catamaran weighs just 230kg with a retractable electric drive to allow for beaching. It’s spacious, stable and designed to be the maximum size to fit in a large yacht garage. The YTender’s air tubes can be emptied or filled in just 45 seconds, reducing its beam by 30cm.
Plenty of choice
We’ve also featured the interior of Bella following a tour at its boat show debut, but when I reluctantly passed the helm over I had the chance to revisit below decks at heel where YYachts’ trademark sliding leather handrails came into good use to cross the saloon. It also felt noticeably calm. The yard uses an epoxy layer on the outer skin which it says helps with noise insulation.
It also uses a semi-custom production process where the parts are finished outside of the hull, the furniture subcontracted. This helps allow for a variety of layout choices yet a high standard of finish for the price. There are five different layout options for the Y9 including the opposite to Bella’s, with a full beam master suite aft and crew area and galley forward.
Owners can specify their own interior designers and in Bella’s case, Norm Architects from Copenhagen were again the choice. The dark and smoked oak styling might seem a little urban to some but is designed to create a retreat, described as soft minimalism. It has the feel of the owner’s previous Y7, while his forward cabin features suede-covered wardrobes and leather panels. Practical features include the rounded fiddles, spacious machinery area and good crew accommodation with private access.
A question of time
Most owners are not typically going to use a superyacht for evening daysails (although YYachts new YBreeze concept is designed around such a mentality), however, our sail showed how achievable that is on the Y9. In an increasingly time-poor world, that could prove invaluable.
As we enjoyed a lovely fetch back towards the marina, still making easy speeds of 9.5-10 knots, I discussed the future cruising plans for Bella with her skipper. They aim to cross the Atlantic this autumn for a Caribbean season, before possibly going through Panama to Galapagos and then on up to Vancouver. The prospect of that latter leg instantly recalled one of my most memorable sails: the same passage on the same size boat by the same designer 20 years ago, when delivering the remarkable carbon ocean cruiser Shaman.
You have to hand it to Mr Tripp, he has a gift for drawing large yachts which are rewarding to sail and devour the miles with ease. Couple that with Schmidt’s boatbuilding knowledge, innovation and the ease of handling that he demands of such craft, and it’s clear to see why ‘Y’ represents the new sweet spot of superyachting.
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