When you look at the classic mahogany brightwork, teak decks, and fine ends of a Spirit-built yacht, you are to be forgiven if you suspect it dates from the early twentieth century. Then you notice the rod rigging, the carbon-fiber spars, and the foil keel and lead bulb under a cedar-stripped hull—all part of the latest technology. This is how today’s builders blend the above-water appearance of a classic yacht with a modern underwater shape and a tall rig that provides the power for an exhilarating afternoon sail or a serious distance passage.
This 56-footer is the most recent in a series of yachts that run from 45 feet up to a 100-footer now in build. No matter what the overall length, they all have a similar theme—a long, narrow cedar hull crowned with a stylish coachroof and an elliptical cockpit.
As soon as you step aboard, you are aware of the clean deck layout. All halyards run aft to the cockpit, a feature that always helps make sailing shorthanded easy no matter what size the yacht. On this yacht, there are electric Andersen primary winches just ahead of the exquisite mahogany-clad carbon-fiber steering wheel. A low bulwark with a caprail that runs aft around the transom strengthens the yacht’s distinctive profile. Behind the cockpit are large lazaret lockers that provide access to essential systems—watermaker, generator, air-conditioning, and any other equipment the owner chooses to install.
Up forward, an electric windlass handles the anchor and ground tackle, both of which are housed in a large chain locker. Though the caprail does help to accent the yacht’s graceful sheer, placing it here makes it vulnerable to damage by an errant anchor chain.
The lifelines run through removable stanchions that sit neatly in stainless-steel receptacles in the caprail. Other details of note include Spirit’s eminently sound design for the flush-fitting hatches, which, though modern in appearance, complement the traditional chromed-bronze portholes in the cabin house. Spars can be ordered in aluminum or carbon fiber, with discontinuous rod rigging, Spectra halyards, and Harken deck gear. The mainsail is fully battened, and the headsail is mounted on a roller-furler. The total sail area for this yacht, a generous 1,445 square feet, is designed to capture the lighter summer winds of the Mediterranean.
The hull is strip-planked Brazilian cedar covered with two double-diagonal Khaya cedar veneers sheathed in biaxial glass and epoxy. The yacht’s internal ring frames and backbone structure are laminated Sapele and Brazilian mahogany; the keelson and horn timber are made from clear Oregon pine. The stainless-steel keel carries an antimonal lead bulb, and a stainless-steel rudderstock supports the laminated wood-epoxy rudder blade. Varnished Brazilian mahogany brightwork enhances the clean look of the teak deck; everything has been bonded with epoxy.
Belowdecks, the traditional mahogany-paneled interior is set off with a white painted overhead. The navigation station is to starboard of the companionway with the galley to port, so both areas are easily accessible from the cockpit at sea or in port. Comfortable blue Alcantara upholstery gives a warm feeling to the saloon just forward. Additional warmth can be derived from a generously sized bar built into the starboard side of the saloon. There’s plenty of room, too, for a flat-screen television and stereo equipment.
An inviting two-berth Pullman cabin with plenty of storage space is located to port just forward of the saloon, with the forward head compartment to starboard. A double-door arrangement effectively shuts off access to this cabin when the head is occupied. Even though the concept is a clever one and is easy to use, it may become a bit confusing in practice, particularly when the yacht is carrying a full complement of crew.
The light, well-ventilated master cabin, all the way forward, lives up to its name. It’s beautifully appointed with plenty of stowage. A large double berth surrounded by more immaculately finished mahogany is the centerpiece. The builder insists that having the owner’s stateroom forward is increasingly popular in areas, such as the Mediterranean, where stern-to mooring makes the forward cabin the quieter space onboard. But occupants of the aft cabin won’t be roughing it; a double berth and settee, together with an ensuite head, help make this an enjoyable and luxurious space.
Under way, a 75-horsepower Yanmar diesel provides ample power, and the yacht is remarkably maneuverable under power as well as under sail. I took a sail on a late-summer afternoon on the River Orwell, near the builder’s yard, and saw immediately that the tall rig was the right answer for the light-to-moderate breezes that we were experiencing. With 10 knots of true wind, the yacht had no problem accelerating to almost 8 knots on a close-hauled course. Theoretical hull speed is 9.5 knots, though in more-robust winds, I am told, the yacht will surf at 15 knots. The large rig does require reefing when the wind hits 12 to 14 knots.
Behind the wheel, the cockpit feels comfortable and secure despite the relatively low coaming; a dodger would provide an extra sense of security sailing offshore in cool weather. The instruments are flush-mounted in a large custom mahogany binnacle and are easy to read from several angles. There are numerous footholds for secure helming while beating, and the cockpit is large enough to comfortably seat six at sea.
The relatively higher freeboard on this yacht, compared to some of its smaller sisters, is a prerequisite for offshore comfort. But the general underwater shape remains very much like earlier Spirit designs. Performance plus craftsmanship plus comfort are bound to attract sailors who are interested not only in good sailing performance, but in a traditional elegance that is hard to find in a world of glass and epoxy. And what about all that varnish? This is something prospective customers ask all the time. The response from the builder is as follows: All surfaces first receive at least five coats of clear primer followed by many more coats of Epifanes varnish. The result is a solid base that, when looked after properly, needs only a light rubdown and an occasional touch-up coat, as necessary. Going back to bare wood will be necessary only if part of the structure suffers major damage. Otherwise, the varnish will last for as long as it is looked after. That said, it’s reasonable to assume that those who own a yacht like this also have the means to maintain it properly and consider having proper brightwork, a small price to pay for owning such a beautiful craft.
Designer and builder:
Spirit Yachts Ltd.
Ipswich Haven Marina
Displacement (light ship) 26,208 lbs
Ballast 10,483 lbs
Sail area (100% foretriangle) 1,188 sq ft
Fuel 95 gal
Water 95 gal
vAuxiliary Yanmar 75-hp diesel
with Gori prop
Sail area-displacement ratio 21.5
Displacement-length ratio 188.7
A smaller version of our 70-footer, this 56-footer is a no-compromise cruiser. Its three-cabin two-head layout is contained within a sleek and seaworthy hull that can go anywhere and has the stowage capacity to match that capability. While we have managed to maintain the look of the larger design in this yacht, the freeboard is slightly higher and the length-to-beam ratio has been reduced to make the hull more seakindly when offshore. The rig can provide plenty of power when needed. The yacht will enter this fall’s Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and will also take part in the Classic Regatta in Antigua next spring. Sean McMillan and Spirit Design Team
Spirit 100-Foot Daysailer This yacht is being built in cedar, but will have stainless-steel frames for extra stiffness. Commissioned by an experienced owner as a glorious day boat, the yacht will displace about 94,000 pounds and will have a fine entry, low wetted surface, and a very flat run aft. The interior will have a white overhead with gray washed paneling set off with mahogany trim. The upholstery will be aged leather, and the floors will be bleached. There will be only three cabins, and the entire area forward of the mast will serve as the owner’s suite. An accompanying tender will service the yacht with water, fuel, supplies, and laundry service.
Malcolm White is a freelance photographer and writer who takes a particular interest in the history and traditions of large classic yachts.