A happy combination, with everything right
If you want a yacht that can give you the ride of your life during the day and provide hotel-style accommodations at anchor, Jean de Fontenay’s Reichel Pugh designed 62-foot sloop, Baraka, takes the brass ring in both categories. Fontenay, a sailor with impressive credentials, thrives on the challenges that come with sailing a large yacht offshore with just a few crew. It’s a demanding mode of travel, and arriving at the designated destination without mishap calls for an ability to anticipate problems and make the correct decision quickly.
Fontenay has been involved with yachts all his life, and in recent years sailing his Swan 53 to Europe and the Caribbean with small crews had become almost an annual ritual. He has also watched the advances in boatbuilding techniques and materials, and four years ago he concluded that the time was ripe for realizing a design concept he had been refining for a number of years. It wasn’t that the seakeeping ability of the Swan was at all suspect—far from it. Rather, he had moved to another level. “For starters,” says de Fontenay, “the Swan had 16 winches, making it almost impossible to walk around the deck without tripping on something.” And the yacht’s relatively heavy displacement made potential sail loadings higher, in turn making it harder to sail at the efficiency levels he wanted with just a few crew on board.
Having a light yacht with plenty of sail area is always the starting point, but de Fontenay had other requirements that carried equal weight. “Although I enjoy sailing offshore with just one or two crew,” he says, “I expect to be aboard Baraka for up to six months a year.” Even though a partially modified pipeberth-and-camp-stove solution would have been the easy way to add to the performance side of the equation, he focused on a more intellectual solution. After all, Baraka would be his home for much of the year and therefore needed the appropriate amenities; among the many were leather upholstery, stereo systems, and flat-screen PC/video monitors.
He took his dream to a number of designers. All of them were interested, but John Reichel became absorbed in the challenges created by de Fontenay’s design brief for a comfortable home that had exceptional performance potential. Although the subsequent dialogue between them produced several design variations, Reichel’s experience with the firm’s designs for the ocean racer Morning Glory and the 148-foot cruiser/racer Visione had a lot to do with the final hull form and underwater profile. While the interior volume of these new hull forms is relatively small, by going up in overall size Baraka has as much interior accommodation space as the Swan 53 does.
Typically, the greater weight of a larger yacht works against the performance side of the design equation. But this is where de Fontenay’s assessment that boatbuilding had progressed to the point where almost any dream could be made into a reality proved correct. “In fact,” says J.B.Turner, the managing partner of Lyman Morse, Baraka’s builder, “the total weight of the yacht came in just a touch over 36,000 pounds, and that’s even lighter than we had dared hope for.” Turner is congenitally disposed to optimism, but even he concedes that there were some very serious moments during the 18-month build process. Everyone involved knew from the outset that weight and performance were inextricably linked and that doing something over again wasn’t an option because the structures were so complex. The work had to be done correctly the first time because any mistakes meant putting more weight in the yacht’s structure.
Structural complexity is everywhere—in the engineering for the carbon prepregs, for the box that supports the lifting keel, and in the hull and deck structures. Turner decided to build the yacht using female molds for both hull and deck. When the prepreg carbon from SP Systems and the CoreCell foam had been placed in the molds, technicians from Seeman Composites were standing by with their own pumping system to make sure the epoxy-infusion process was done correctly. “Because you don’t have the gel time that you do with vinylester,” says Turner, “the timing is critical because there’s no room for error.” Once the infusion was completed, the hull was put in an oven and the heat turned on to help kick off the epoxy: the hull was cooked at 120F for 12 hours; and the deck was cooked at 140F for 12 hours. Attaching the hull to the deck involved making the hull-to-deck joint and then cooking the whole structure in another oven for another 12 hours.
The same sort of precision was necessary when covering the inside of the black carbon hull and the overhead to create the interior spaces that would become a home. Lightweight tabs were carefully placed along the carbon surfaces, and then Plascore honeycomb covered with an 1/8-inch birch wood veneer—all the veneers were hand picked—was painstakingly attached to the tabs. Transforming what was a dark, cavernous void into a bright and modern living space took countless man-hours, and the result is spectacular.
While the living spaces are designed for comfort, de Fontenay also made sure that everything was aligned to provide maximum safety and efficiency when the yacht is under way. For example, the efficient and seaworthy galley is amidships to starboard, away from the companionway, and the two guest cabins are located aft of the companionway on either side—a perfect location for an off-watch crewmember to get on deck in a hurry should the need arise. The large office and master stateroom with its head and shower are forward, and the area can be secured for an ocean passage if conditions warrant. And yes, there are other cruising amenities, including a Spectra watermaker, an 8-kW generator, and air conditioning.
Air conditioning was the last thing we needed on a beautiful clear day last November as we headed away from the Maine coast more or less toward Monhegan Island. With a crisp northwesterly pushing us along, we had a romp under full main and jib. As with all northwesterlies that pass through at this time of year, the flow contained a full package of gusts. And when one would overtake us, Baraka would react immediately with a slight heel to leeward as the pressure began to build across the span of the tall rig; then the sails would be eased, the yacht would stand up again, and we would start to scoot along over the tops of the waves. It was only a matter of time before Turner and de Fontenay decided that, what the heck, it’s a great day to see how the large asymmetric handles in the freshening breeze. When it was up and pulling, Baraka really started to run. And when the puffs came, the yacht would again heel slightly and then come back up and shoot effortlessly well past 11 knots.
De Fontenay designed the deck layout to fit his own requirements, and much of the lead placements—almost everything runs back to stoppers in the cockpit—come from what was learned on the Open 60s. If he has one regret, it is not having a pedestal under the powerful Harken 990 hydraulic winch that dominates the deck area aft of the dual helm stations. Still, it’s the workhorse aboard, and it’s positioned so it can handle almost any piece of line on the yacht. Having it aboard gives the crew the confidence of knowing that if they feel like carrying sail on this yacht, there is no telling what the top speed might be.
That’s one of the questions de Fontenay wants to answer. In the Caribbean this past winter, Baraka hit 17.5 knots coming off a wave, and there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the best is yet to come. But sailing offshore at high speeds is a demanding game, and no matter how exhilarating it may be, there are attendant risks. There’s also a hidden physical cost. “Even though the yacht is an absolute joy to sail,” says de Fontenay, “let’s be honest. It is quite physical.” But as long as he has the strength to do it properly—that could be five years or more—he’s not going to pass up the opportunity to have the ride of his life.
Designer: Reichel Pugh Yacht Design
2924 Emerson Street, Suite 311
San Diego, CA 92106
Tel. 619-223-2299, www.reichel-pugh.com
Builder: Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding Co.
82 Water Street, Thomaston, ME 04861
Tel. 207-354-6904, www.lymanmorse.com
Construction: Hull, carbon-fiber skins with CoreCell foam core. Deck, carbon-fiber skins with Nomex core
Draft (deep/shoal) 14’3”/7’11”
Displacement 40,546 lbs
Ballast 20,064 lbs
Sail area (100% foretriangle) 2,229 sq ft
Auxiliary Volvo Penta 110-hp diesel
w/saildrive and Gori prop
Fuel 217 gal
Water 160 gal
Sail area-displacement ratio 30.21
Displacement-length ratio 102.8