Not only the first foiling superyacht - or foil-assisted superyacht, but the first cruising yacht with a foil, the 142ft Canova is a groundbreaking project in so many ways, says Toby Hodges
Were you to somehow be teleported into foiling superyacht, Canova’s palatial master cabin while under way – and let’s face it, many of us would like a sudden change of scene these days – you could be forgiven for thinking her owner doesn’t much like sailing.
For starters, it would seem remarkably quiet, thanks to the impressive insulation and a quiet ship system that ensures no unnecessary mechanical noise.
Then consider how surprisingly flat it feels for a monohull under sail, and not just because the generous berth you’re sitting on can gimbal.
However, once you look out of the considerable porthole, see the blue sea streaking past at over 20 knots and notice the orange plank of carbon fibre sticking out to leeward – which is serving to keep the boat a lot more upright than it should otherwise be – you’ll understand you’re actually aboard a truly state-of-the-art superyacht.
Anyone studying these pictures of Canova ripping along will quickly realise just how forward-thinking its owner is and how much he actually must enjoy sailing. Indeed, it can be argued that this yacht represents the present and future of cruising at speed and in utmost comfort.
Superyacht of the year
The 142ft/43m Farr design, launched from Baltic Yachts in October 2019, was conceived to be a powerful yet easily handled bluewater cruiser, capable of operating for long periods without specialist assistance.
It was commissioned by a serial yacht owner, who was also keen to minimise emissions by using hydro-generating electric propulsion. Canova was crowned sailing superyacht of the year winner 2020 at the World Superyacht Awards, with the jury commenting that it will “influence the future of sailing superyachts”.
Although this yacht teems with advanced technology throughout, you’ll notice little of it on boarding. You probably won’t even see the foil protruding while the boat is in port. The marvels of engineering have all been hidden behind a wonderfully luxurious cruising layout. Canova is a carbon epoxy wolf dressed in the finest lambswool clothing.
I was given a tour of the boat by her captain, Mattia Belleri, who project-managed the design and build over four years. I made the presumably common mistake of thinking Canova would be all about the foil, and while there are many integrated parts to that technological feat alone, I soon came to realise that the boat is full of innovative engineering, all aimed at creating a fast yet comfortable voyager.
Take the elegant, long and low deckhouse design for example, with its acreage of dimmable glass, which affords guests full protection and one-level living comfort.
Then there’s the inventive double deck design forward, which helps create room for a vast sail locker in which drums are stored for the furling foresails. And consider the diesel electric pod drive, which rotates to generate power while sailing.
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Canova employs the most sustainable tech the yard felt it could use to still ensure it would still sail safely round the world.
The design team is extensive, including Gurit and BAR Technologies, but a lot of credit is given to the owner for his initial and enduring vision. “Everything began in the summer of 2015, when the owner started this quest of merging new technologies, volumes conception and energetic efficiency into a yacht,” Belleri stresses.
Foiling superyacht, Trend or trailblazer?
But let’s first address the talking point feature of the boat: a foil on a cruising superyacht… really?
Let’s remember that when Canova was being designed, monohulls with foils were still only really discussed in cult circles. And while we’ve seen this scene explode in racing, to the point where a boat is boring if it doesn’t fly and miraculously challenge physics, we’ve yet to see any foils employed for cruising purposes at all.
To decide to go ahead and create a foiling superyacht shows serious confidence in the technology.
Hugh Welbourn’s Dynamic Stability Systems (DSS) foil design has proved itself on smaller boats including the Infiniti 46 and 36 over the last decade, and retrofits have been successfully made to existing race boats such as Wild Oats XI and Wild Joe.
The multi-million dollar question here, though, was always going to be whether such a system would work on a 150-tonne superyacht.
In theory, the foil, which protrudes 22ft/6.7m horizontally to leeward to add masses of lift, should create a paradigm shift in fast cruising comfort. It was predicted to reduce heel and help the boat reach in comfort at sustained high speeds.
In practice, during initial sea trials Baltic tested the DSS upwind in 20-24 knots of wind and found not only a VMG increase, but a heel reduction of 30%. “To put these numbers into context, it would take an extra 33,000kg in the keel bulb – the total displacement weight of an IOR maxi – to achieve the same heel reduction,” Baltic reported.
During Canova’s passage across Biscay in winter, aftersales representative Sam Evans described the yacht as much easier to handle with the foil deployed, “as boatspeed averaged between 20 and 22 knots and topped out at 24 knots”.
The DSS foil has also produced a dramatic reduction in pitching motion – measured at 42% less during trials – an element with which the owner was particularly impressed. Gordon Kay of Infiniti Yachts, the company that markets DSS, describes it as “industry-changing comfort”.
Although it’s a significantly complex piece of engineering, Baltic wanted to make the casing and mechanism to move the foil as simple and reliable as possible. The Finnish yard constructed a full-sized dummy system before the foil itself was fashioned by ISOTOP to within 1mm tolerance tip to toe.
It is controlled using a system of rope pulleys led to a Harken captive winch and, remarkably, can be pulled in or out at up to 17 knots of boatspeed.
As Belleri demonstrates the system, pushing the button to make the fluorescent diving board extend silently outwards, he explains that they wanted length for maximum leverage, but that it had to be practical too, to allow other boats to moor alongside. The resulting appendage is the same length as Canova’s beam, so although the foil doesn’t retract fully, it meets a straight line to the top of the topsides.
After a season spent mainly in the Tyrrhenian, especially in the breezy area between Sardinia and Corsica, Belleri tells me Canova has clocked over 25 knots, “and reaches the early 20s fairly quickly”. He also thinks her light wind performance is incredible: “she can sail at 14 knots in 9 knots of breeze.”
“She’s fast, stable, silent and always ready to thrill,” he enthuses. “The foil was aimed primarily at comfort, motion dampening and reduced heeling and it is impressive to see how easily all these points are achieved at the push of a button.”
More retractable appendages
Advanced engineering is employed below the waterline too, in the form of a lifting keel with trim tab and an electrically-powered propeller leg. The latter rotates 170° each way to greatly ease manoeuvring. When sailing, water flow can turn the prop to generate energy and charge the lithium battery bank.
Belleri reports that the regeneration numbers go beyond expectations: “We have been generating many times more energy than required to sustain the yacht’s operational consumption.
Imagine sailing along at high speeds in full comfort, with no noise, no gases and no pollution, in a zero emissions energy balance. It is incredible and a must-try experience.”
Baltic predicts that Canova is able to sail across the Atlantic “using all her systems without recourse to conventional charging using an internal combustion engine”. The composite specialist also points out that the yacht was always devised around bluewater cruising, which means being independent of specialist support.
This includes the ability for it to be serviced without being lifted out. Canova can take her own weight sitting on her lifting keel in the raised position and the skipper told me they also wanted to be able to sail with the keel up in shallow waters. A super duplex stainless steel fin was constructed, with the keel mechanism itself made by APM in Italy.
Hiding the sails
At first glance, the rig may appear relatively conventional. The carbon Rondal mast and boom has electric in-boom furling and Carbolink rigging. A 3.5m batten supports the head of the huge square-top main, which can pass between the flying backstays once reefed.
The closer you look, the more you start to understand that the rig set-up is a clever one for power cruising once sails are unfurled.
The mast is stepped only slightly forward of the keel trunk, which leaves a large foretriangle area with tack points on deck for storm jib, staysail, self-tacking jib, code and asymmetric sails.
The really neat part is how this canvas stows. The three furling code and asymmetric sails use underdeck drum stowage, all housed in a gargantuan sail locker. The two drums act like giant fire hose reels. “They allow us to hoist and drop the heavy [400kg] furling sails safely, using minimal crew,” Belleri explains.
“I wanted furling sails that were easy to manage,” the skipper continues. The idea is that six permanent crew can run and actively sail the boat around the world and can manage a big (1,200m2) gennaker downwind. The sail options also include a quadrilateral, twin-clewed headsail, developed with Infiniti Yachts to complement the DSS system, which has found favour with the crew for its wide performance range.
The foredeck is kept particularly clean thanks to the intelligent design of hiding a second deck below. This keeps mooring equipment, including capstans, cleats and warps, all away from view yet accessible. The captive winches are also contained here, all built in carbon, which equates to a reported 200kg weight saving on each of the eight winches.
A large portion of the space below the foredeck is reserved for the guest tender. A crane mounts on deck to lift the 1.5 tonne limo into the water. The 7m length of this boat was one of the driving forces for the yacht’s overall dimensions, as the guest tender is also equipped with a 1,000lt bladder to allow for fuel bunkering in remote locations.
This also means there’s a proper watertight bulkhead aft instead of a traditional garage. Instead, the 4.6m crew tender stores in the lazarette under the aft deck. The aft deck itself is high enough to give clear visibility from the two outboard pedestals over the deckhouse and forward. “The idea was to be able to see the jib furler from the helms,” says Belleri.
The design and construction of the deckhouse is another standout feature that should influence the design of large cruising yachts in the future. Why? Because of how well it blends into the lines, how much comfort it affords guests, and how well-finished it is for what is a seriously complex piece of engineering.
The guest cockpit, which is fully-protected by the hard bimini extending from the superstructure, is on the same level as the decksaloon. It means the guests have an amazing amount of protected space to enjoy their surroundings with almost unhindered views.
The whole aft section of the roof is freestanding and incorporates side windows that drop down at the push of a button to let fresh air into the guest cockpit.
Dimmable glass is used on the coachroof windows and skylights, all highly UV-protective to spare the interior woodwork. Made by Vision Systems, the dimming level of each window is adjustable.
As well as incorporating all this glass, the structure and its central supporting bulkhead has to take the 24-tonne loads of the mainsheet track. The traveller stretches over the beam of the roof, which helps keep loaded sheets away from the guest area.
The styling by Lucio Micheletti here – and throughout the interior – is particularly tasteful. It is peaceful and in harmony with the design. The majority of the finish is in teak timber veneers and white panelling, making natural light the star of the show.
Canova’s general accommodation plan is formidable for cruising purposes. The guest accommodation is all forward of the saloon and central bulkhead. The presumption when you walk into the forward cabin is that this must be the owner’s suite – it certainly feels large and luxurious enough.
This makes for a particularly pleasant surprise then when you find the real deal beneath the deck saloon – in the most sensible, central section of the yacht, which boasts the greatest beam with the least pitching.
The owner’s 65m2 apartment features a gimballing island berth, the largest bathroom or ‘spa’ you could imagine on a sailing yacht, including sauna and carbon fibre bath tub, plus his and hers/walk in wardrobes and washbasin areas. The owners spend a lot of time aboard so the idea was to provide the most comfortable facilities possible.
The crew area is all located abaft the saloon, with a central galley and private access from the aft deck. It’s an excellent design for ensuring privacy between guests and crew, while providing the accessibility serving staff need.
The day heads and entrance to the engine room are at the foot of the companionway to the saloon. The bank of programmable logic controllers in the control room should warn you that this is no ordinary engine room.
An electric heart
The machinery room proper houses the remarkably compact 420kW propulsion motor, two custom 210kW Cummins generators and six banks of Alkasol lithium-ion batteries.
The benefits of choosing this electric-hybrid route over conventional diesels include less vibration, noise, smell, maintenance, fewer running hours and a fraction of the oil required. And it is much more efficient, because the high-voltage charges are quicker and the gensets never run unnecessarily.
The 750V DC system is supplied by batteries, shorepower or generators. The generators were custom-built in carbon housings to optimise size, weight and performance and can charge the battery bank in two hours. The engineer shows me how everything is controlled from a Toughbook screen, flicking a genset on with the swipe of a finger. Canova can run silently at 9 knots with only one generator running.
I notice how comparatively cool it is in here. The engine room is strictly temperature controlled to a max of 31°C (as opposed to a more conventional 50°C or so). The battery bank and powerful inverters are water-cooled and the gensets have built-in ventilation extraction units.
It also feels alien to be able to talk rather than shout with a genset running. A lot of attention was paid to insulation, particularly as we are only one bulkhead away from the owner’s cabin (the 9m foil running under his berth encouraged the yard to focus intently on insulation). Mounting the batteries vertically also reportedly helps with damping.
With such a large battery and electrical capacity, the need for hydraulics is reduced, hence less weight and fewer space-hungry cables. The flexible energy system used means that power can be generated from multiple sources. The captive winches for instance draw energy, but when you sheet out they also create energy that can be tapped.
Belleri says the owner wanted the electric-hybrid technology from the outset, but that it needed to be safe and reliable for bluewater sailing. The environmental side was one of the big draws.
“Superyachting is not a green industry so we tried our best to go that way,” the skipper explains. “But it’s not fully possible without gensets yet.”
Instead he feels that the combination of electric engine, inverters, batteries and generators gives them plenty of redundancy power for cruising. COVID may have put their cruising temporarily on hold, but Canova’s crew is still gearing up to start a circumnavigation later this year.
We often see technology trickle down from the racing or superyacht sides of sailing, where the large budgets and thirst for technology abound.
Many of the big ideas employed on Canova have been around for some years, including DSS foils and the regenerating drive system. But it takes a bold project (and owner) such as this to integrate them practically before people really take notice.
Canova is like a giant Swiss Army knife: it has so many useful features it can pull out, which stow away to leave a graceful profile. I would go so far as to say the sheer quantity of intelligent design incorporated makes this as innovative a project as we’ve seen to date in the superyachting world.
It is actively using technology, design and engineering that may have a telling effect not only on sailing superyachts, but on many cruising yachts to come. Given a choice, Canova is certainly the boat I would choose to be beamed aboard right now.
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