Changing the Game: Innovation for 2023

Thanks to modern advances in boatbuilding, onboard systems and technology, the sport of cruising is poised for some exciting times ahead.

Sailor on a Fountaine Pajot Aura 51
The Aura 51 sailing catamaran has become the face of Fountaine Pajot’s commitment to environmentally responsible boatbuilding. Courtesy Fountaine Pajot

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Power Players

These boatbuilders aren’t just talking about performance and sustainability. They’re changing the way boats are built to achieve it.

By Andrew Parkinson

When Drew Lyman says his new Lyman-Morse 46 is “a cruising boat that can sail really freaking fast,” believe him. 

That was a quick mental note I took during Boat of the Year sea trials as we popped up the sail kit and shot off faster than a spooked buck in hunting season. The LM46 proved to be a showstopper on multiple levels while earning Cruising World’s 2023 Domestic Boat of the Year award

LM46 sailing
Lyman-Morse president Drew Lyman at the helm of his award-winning LM46. Courtesy Lyman-Morse

“Cold-molded construction, top-notch systems, a powerful sail plan, and an interior that is practical and lovely at once; wow!” judge Mark Pillsbury commented. High praise in modern times, and, for the venerable Maine shipyard that decades ago gave us the classic Seguin line, a revelation of just how far we’ve come in the modern world of boatbuilding. 

The 2023 Boat of the Year contest was hardly a runaway. This year’s field was among the most competitive in years. Innovation was thick in the air, which happened to be blowing between 15 and 25 knots out of the north, superb conditions for putting 17 thoroughbreds through their paces. Over the course of four days that featured some spectacular sailing, it became obvious that a number of technological advances are making boats faster, safer and more comfortable in all kinds of winds. 

PERFORMANCE INNOVATION

When we talk about performance innovation in boatbuilding, we’re generally talking about evolutionary changes to existing building processes, designs and tooling. These are made better by one (or several) contributing developments that are trickling down from the racing sector into mainstream sailing.

Proof of that lies in the America’s Cup foiling effect, which informed the fierce-looking 40-foot G4 from carbon cruising cat specialist Gunboat a few years ago. True, most ordinary sailors have little desire to sail at speeds over 20 knots, but it’s hard to ignore a production boat that employs that technology.

“With what the America’s Cup boats are doing, the innovation is pretty easy to catch,” says Lyman, whose company is also now playing in the foiling arena with its Navier line of electric foiling powerboats. “What has me and all of us at Lyman-Morse excited about the partnership with Navier is that we are developing something that is cutting-edge and certain to be the future of yachting in this type of market. To build a carbon-fiber, foiling all-electric boat fits well with what we do at Lyman-Morse, plus it’s a boatbuilder’s dream project. We built a reputation for beautifully crafted boats, and we are extremely proud of our ability to implement advanced systems and technology.”

The question for Cruising World readers is: When might we see foiling come into monohulls?

“It might not be for the faint of heart, but I think it’s only a matter of time,” Lyman says. “I do think at some point that a lot of these boats are going be using foil-assist in the future, at least to some capacity.”

In terms of construction, Lyman considers computer numerical control and 3D printing to be game-changers when building in sustainable wood. The yard’s Haas GR-712 CNC machine is used to cut planks, bulkheads and joinery, reducing the cost for hull and deck construction. All items for the LM46 were built as modular units outside the boat using a combination of time-tested processes and high-tech tools such as lasers and 3D printers. The result is an LM46 that stands out amid a world of fiberglass boats.

“We’re looking for that time when parts can be 3D-printed,” Lyman says. “You can do it now, it’s just very expensive, and they’re smaller parts to get the resolution and quality you want, but we’re getting closer. We just need some structural components that can be 3D-printed. Boat parts or tools that can be printed in short order for repairs. Can you imagine? That’s the future. It’s fascinating, and it’s coming.” 

HH Catamaran
The weight and strength of ­carbon fiber are integral to HH performance cats. Courtesy HH Catamaran

Jeff Johnstone, president of J/Boats, which specializes in high-performance sailboats, agrees that technology can simultaneously improve performance and handling in racing, while providing huge benefits for cruisers. His company’s newest model, the J/45, was the 2023 Boat of the Year’s Best Performance Cruiser. 

“Starting with our first cruising design, the J/40, we’ve prioritized stability and seakindliness in all of our cruising designs,” Johnstone says. “This starts with lowering the vertical center of gravity by optimizing hull and deck laminates for maximum strength-to-weight ratio, introducing carbon-fiber spars as a standard option, and new keel designs that concentrate the lead ballast low without adding excess draft. Then we add a moderate-size sail plan (main and small jib) that can sail in as little as 5 knots of wind, and can depower with sail controls to handle 25-plus knots. With the J/45, we took it a step further, by also prioritizing liveaboard comfort and systems.”

Hylas Yachts, whose Swiss Army knife of an H57 won for Best Overall in the 2022 Boat of the Year contest, has a company philosophy that is somewhat of a testing lab in itself. 

“We still receive a ton of client feedback and are constantly improving on the H57—things like slightly extending the hardtop, a better-looking spray shield, moving the water heater to a more serviceable location, and more,” says Hylas Chief Operating Officer Peggy Huang. 

The team prioritizes the innovation process, employing people who are constantly driven and incentivized to improve the product and how it’s made. According to Huang, this culture of innovation extends to awareness of clients’ needs. 

“Some of our best resources are our clients,” Huang says. “It’s very rare that a new-build client hasn’t spent a great deal of time considering the options they might wish to introduce into their dream yacht. We actually have a great network of loyal Hylas cruisers who are constantly sharing ideas and flagging up new developments.

“So often, performance in yachting is measured in knots, windspeeds and polar plots,” Huang continues. “The reality is that durability, longevity, ease of handling, comfort, and efficiency are all part of how a yacht performs relative to the objectives set by the manufacturer and designer. Durability and longevity come from developments in the composites being used in construction. Not only are the materials important, but also how they’re formed. The introduction of vacuum infusion into mainstream yachtbuilding has helped considerably, as has the use of CNC equipment in the forming of component parts.”

Huang also says that the vast majority of Hylas’ suppliers are constantly striving to better meet those needs, directly benefiting the end product. 

“Everything from North Sails and their new 3Di technology to the ability to combine advances in lithium batteries with variable-speed air conditioning has really got people’s attention,” Huang says. “Although the wind is our primary source of power, we do have to keep an eye on the new hybrid developments in engines as solar power becomes increasingly efficient. The ability of batteries to hold a charge while reducing in size and weight is enormously important. If it isn’t already standard for other builders, then lithium has to be a consideration. We get a big response at shows when cruisers realize that the combination of battery improvement and air-conditioning efficiency means they can get a good night sleep with the AC running and no need for a generator.”

Naturally, multihulls remain on the front lines of any trickle-down effect from racing technology, and Chris Bailet, sales and commissioning captain at HH Catamarans, likes what he’s seeing in terms of vessel integrity. 

“You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”

—George Bernard Shaw

“Take a newish construction material such as carbon fiber—weight savings is everything on a performance catamaran,” Bailet says. “The structure and strength we can integrate into these boats today is incredible. The loads we see on HHs are astronomical, similar to loads on much bigger monohulls. The integrity has to be there.”  

So does safety, which, according to Bailet, is always at the forefront. “With the high level of performance involved, we try to keep some training wheels on the owner-operators, such as integrating a mainsheet release system that is connected to the cap shroud loads, based on heel and pitch, and it can also be connected to the main sheet load,” he says. 

With so many new technologies and products coming down the pipeline, from batteries and hybrid systems to deck hardware and digital switching, Bailet underscores the challenge of integrating it all. 

“I think we’re good on the cutting-edge side of the structures,” Bailet says. “Now it’s a matter of what you can drop in there while keeping the power-to-weight ratio as consistent as possible for a high-performance boat; adding bells and whistles while remaining a performance cruiser, not a clunky tub full of fun stuff. We still want to have those 250-mile days, but also with the air conditioning running and the pizza oven hot. That’s the challenge.”  

RESPONSIBLE BOATBUILDING

We tend to equate innovation with performance, sleek design and cutting-edge amenities. But innovation isn’t always about winning the race. For some builders, it’s as much about finding solutions to the world’s problems. 

“Maybe more on the constructive than the disruptive side, we’re seeing more focus today on sustainability,” Johnstone says. “We’re looking at advances in fiberglass recycling and end-of-life initiatives, new and innovative composite fiber, matrix resins and core materials that are sustainable, clean options for auxiliary power to replace traditional diesel, and solar technology. Is it conceivable that for every new fiberglass boat built in the future, one gets recycled? Well, yes.”

In an industry that exists on the front lines of climate change, there’s little debate about whether manufacturers should be taking a lead role in employing more environmentally friendly building practices and materials. Two French boatbuilders—Groupe Beneteau and Fountaine Pajot—are driving that initiative with tangible results. Their efforts caught the eyes of our Boat of the Year judges, who awarded special recognition for clean and innovative building practices. 

“As boaters, we’re dependent on nature every time we step on a boat,” says Damien Jacob, sailboat product director at Groupe Beneteau. “We have a responsibility to be aware of our impact on the environment. As builders, that starts with being honest with our own processes. The truth is, it’s not a clean industry, but we can improve it.”   

Hylas H57 sailboat
Lithium batteries deliver countless options on the Hylas H57. Courtesy Hylas Yachts

For Groupe Beneteau, that meant looking at product development and manufacturing processes. On the product-development side, the company is reducing environmental impact in two key areas: composite materials and propulsion. The first results were seen at December’s Nautic boat show in Paris with the premieres of the First 44e and the Oceanis 30.1e, which have two different types of electric engines developed in partnership with Torqeedo.

The Oceanis 30.1e uses all-electric propulsion based on a Torqeedo pod that can be recharged dockside or by solar panels. 

The First 44e is made entirely from Arkema’s Elium resin, which is recyclable after the separation of the fiberglass from the resin during the dismantling of the boat. The resin can then be reused for new parts, reducing the amount of waste and the need for raw materials. Instead of traditional teak decking, there’s iroko from Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests; iroko is comparable to teak in terms of resistance, grain shade and touch. The builder also favors natural fibers and bio-based resins for nonstructural composite parts. In the long run, the company hopes to spread these innovations through all of its sailing and powerboat lines.

Fountaine Pajot has taken a similar tack, with a corporate goal of zero carbon emissions by 2030. 

“We are living through a great cultural change, and the new generation expects much of us at the dawn of this new era,” says Fountaine Pajot Deputy CEO Romain Motteau. “Our owners are also changing their needs and today expect their boat to be more environmentally responsible, while maintaining a high level of comfort. We [know] that 20 percent of our carbon footprint comes from production and 80 percent from the use of the boats.” 

According to Motteau, three objectives will help the builder achieve its goal of carbon neutrality: Reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from thermal engines by developing electric propulsion and helping owners understand how they can reduce engine and generator time; reduce the impact of construction materials, particularly wood and glass fiber and resin; and reduce the impact of the builder’s industrial footprint with a more sustainably oriented production system, through significant investments in factories to limit the use of gas and electricity, and to limit and recover waste. 

Beneteau First 44e
The First 44e is Beneteau’s first sustainable concept production boat built with recyclable Elium resin. It also employs iroko wood, natural fibers and Torqeedo ­hybrid propulsion. Gilles Martin-Raget/Courtesy Beneteau

The Aura 51, which debuted at the 2022 Cannes Yachting Festival, is the early result of the company’s Smart Electric initiative to offer a sustainable cruising catamaran, a part of its Odysséa 2024 strategic path toward sustainable boatbuilding.

The technological advances aboard the Aura 51 involve two pods, one under each hull, that propel the boat while their hydrogenerator is producing electricity. The energy is stored in two batteries no larger than those found in a small electric city car. An electronic power-management system and the interface between the various components complete the block. 

“It’s offering the possibility of zero carbon emissions while cruising,” says Fountaine Pajot deputy managing director Mathieu Fountaine. “The boat has enough solar production, hydrogen generation and storage to spend a weekend sailing 100 percent electrically, or a week at anchor without using an internal combustion engine. At full electric power, the battery will provide two hours of autonomy, and at reduced power, three to four hours. If the air-conditioning system is used sensibly, it may be unnecessary to start the generator. Ten similar prototypes will be produced next year in the 40- to 50-foot range.”

Paying lip service to sustainability is easy. It’s been done for years. How refreshing to see some builders putting plans in motion. If their current progress is any indicator, perhaps we’ll have a chance to continue enjoying this great life afloat for generations to come.

The Days of Dishy McFlatface Have Arrived

Cruisers are embracing Starlink for high-speed internet in remote locations.

By Amy Alton

 “Where are you?” my friend asks, peering at me through the video call. In the picture-in-picture, I can see myself and the view out the window behind me. Our Fountaine Pajot 44, Starry Horizons, is rolling, with the swells of the Atlantic Ocean picking the catamaran up and sliding it down. Intermittent bursts of sunlight constantly cause my camera to adjust the exposure. 

I glance at the chart plotter, wondering how to describe my location and the technology I’m using in a way that portrays just how amazing it is.

Starlink dish on a sailboat
The Starlink dish allows cruisers to easily stay connected from the most remote waters around the globe. Amy Alton

While in Rhode Island for the summer, we picked up the latest accessory riding the crowd of sailboats down to the Caribbean this year. Its name is Dishy McFlatface, and it’s the hottest topic in offshore communications since, well, ever.

Most cruisers are familiar with the two predominant satellite companies: KVH and Iridium. KVH claims a data rate of 6 Mbps, which is close to 3G cellular speed, but the company also has costs that are prohibitive for the average cruiser—tens of thousands of dollars for the equipment, and thousands more every month for high-speed internet. Iridium’s Go service allows unlimited data for a lower price, but download speed is at best 2.4 Kbps, and the selection of apps and features is small. Neither option is viable for cruisers like me who want to work remotely, share photos or stream entertainment.

Enter Starlink. Dishy McFlatface is the 19-by-12-inch dish for its residential satellite internet service. With a network of more than 3,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit, Starlink is bringing high-speed internet all over the world.

Cruisers have two options: residential service with portability, and the RV plan. Upfront costs for each are $599, with a monthly fee of $135. When I performed a speed test in the Atlantic Ocean, the results were astounding: 149 Mbps.

This kind of service simply wasn’t an option for us eight years ago, when my husband and I took a sabbatical to sail around the world. There were months of spotty, expensive cellular service in beautiful, exotic destinations. When we finished our circumnavigation, our priorities changed. We turned our boat into a home office where my husband and I both work and cruise full time. This past season in the Bahamas, I was balancing being disconnected in the out islands with bouncing my novel between editors. It was a disappointment to have to coordinate a half-day’s sail to have enough juice to send a small text document and then wait to get it back.

This year, we plan to spend even more time away from busy areas. We want to visit less-crowded islands, have few neighbors, and lose all cellphone service. Starlink seems to be a good choice for us to blend our desire for remote locations with a need to stay connected.

Starlink signal boost
Internet speed test with Starlink. Amy Alton

The service is mostly working. In congested areas, video calls freeze. At sea, we sometimes have outages and need to restart the router. We won’t be ditching our Iridium Go or backup offshore communication systems yet; we want to be able to place a video call to show our rigger the problem we are having, and in an emergency, we don’t yet trust Starlink to save the day.

There’s also the matter of installation. The Starlink dish self-aligns with an electric motor, so it must be free to move. Dishy also comes with a 75-foot cable and a four-legged base that allows the dish to be set on a flat surface. It’s a starting point, but there are better options for boats, which often have obstructions, curved decks, and limited access to power.

In anchorages now, I can look to either side and spot a few of Dishy’s clones hanging out on various locations on their host boats. Online forums are filled with pictures of how to mount the dish. We have opted to keep it mobile for now, to try to get the best view of the satellites when we swing around at anchor. We found a robust, marine-grade stainless rail mount that we can easily move from one location to another, and we kept the standard base in case we want to put the dish on a flat surface.

We’ve heard from fellow cruisers all over the world who love their Dishy. But Starlink is still in the early stages, and new hardware and features are constantly coming out or rumored in forums. There are multiple plans such as a maritime service (similar to KVH in pricing but at a much higher speed) and RV service (with an option for in-motion hardware), in addition to the standard residential. There are rumors of add-ons for transcontinental service and ocean data. 

There are also concerns about Starlink enforcing its policies. The RV plan states that using the service for more than two months outside your home country will require you to move your account to that country or get a new dish. The residential with portability plan threatens “performance degradation” when used in a secondary location for an extended period of time. 

There are cruisers buying dishes on one continent and moving to another with no effect on service, even though the contract says that service is restricted to one continent. The terms and conditions also state that use of a Starlink kit (that’s the antenna, router and so forth) is not approved for in-motion service on an in-motion vehicle, and might result in your account being terminated.

Reports are minimal of Starlink enforcing these terms, but it might be only a matter of time, with a future flood of secondhand dishes hitting the market.

Still, to me, it feels incredible to have high-speed internet 500 miles from shore. Most people don’t know the struggle of spending hours trying to troubleshoot a tricky antenna or the agony of someone sending you a “big mail,” but we cruisers do. For us, Starlink feels like a game-changer.

Generators Not Included

Multiple advancements are changing the way standard power systems work on sailboats.

By Ed Sherman

Cruising World’s 2023 Import Boat of the Year, the Hallberg-Rassy 400, is a perfect example of what I think will be a trend for powerboats and sailboats as we look ahead: fully equipped cruising boats without an onboard AC generator to run traditionally high-current-demand electrical equipment. 

The forces driving this trend are both economic and technical. On the economic side, one of the biggest problems that boatbuilders have been facing since the start of the pandemic in 2020 is supply-chain backups. Truth be told, acquiring generators became nearly impossible. Learning how to build boats without them became as much a necessity as a desire. 

On the technical side, meanwhile, several developments gave these boatbuilders options that quite simply haven’t existed in the past. There not only was a problem, but there also were potential solutions—and builders began to embrace them in ways that we’re now seeing coming to market with smart benefits for sailors.

Mastervolt ­lithium-ion ­batteries
A pair of Mastervolt ­lithium-ion ­batteries are at the heart of the new Hallberg-Rassy 400’s power system. Ed Sherman

Most important, from a technical standpoint, is that lithium-battery technology is now coming of age. With leading companies such as Brunswick Corp. (parent of Bayliner, Boston Whaler, Sea Ray and other boatbuilders) and its newly formed Navico Group introducing Fathom e-Power late last year, targeting a no-generator approach for powerboats, we can expect this trend to take off on new sailboats. We also now have an American Boat and Yacht Council standard in place (ABYC E-13) to address the details of proper lithium-ion battery installation, so I’m quite comfortable with this technology being on board, as long as the standard is followed. 

The Hallberg-Rassy 400 followed the standard and utilized a pair of Mastervolt lithium-ion batteries as the heart of its system. The ability to deeply discharge these batteries without harm, and their ability to be recharged very quickly, are several of the keys to this no-generator concept. 

Also key from a technical standpoint is the evolution of onboard electrical systems. We now have LED lighting and modern refrigeration systems that use a fraction of the electrical power that older equipment consumed. The Hallberg-Rassy 400 had a refrigerator and freezer that ran on battery power when offshore. At the dock, the Mastervolt inverter charger took over to recharge the batteries that supply the power. 

This particular Hallberg-Rassy 400 is based in the Chesapeake Bay area, so it also needed air conditioning to handle sweltering summer getaways. It had not one but two units. One was rated at 6,000 Btu, and the other at 12,000 Btu. These ran on 120-volt AC power. With two units available, the owner could use the smaller one to cool the sleeping quarters at night, and the larger one for the saloon during the day. This approach saves energy, so the Mastervolt inverter at 3,000 watts could handle the power needs, again with the two 400-amp-hour lithium batteries.

solar panels on a sailboat
Maximum-power point-tracking voltage regulation systems can get 30 percent more charge out of modern solar panels. Jon Whittle

Additional equipment besides the usual selection of navigation and communication devices are a bow and stern thruster, as well as electric winches. This gear is powered by an AGM battery series that’s connected to provide 24-volt service. Most lithium batteries cannot deliver the instant high amperage needed to drive electric motors; the batteries are engineered to deliver steady current over time, as opposed to a sudden high demand required by engine cranking motors, electric winches, and thruster motors. On this boat, the bow and stern thrusters were 24-volt DC, and the engine-cranking motor was 12-volt. All were AGM-type batteries. To deal with this combined voltage system, the boat was equipped with an increasingly popular device known simply as a power converter, which is essentially a step-up (or a step-down, in some cases) transformer. I’m seeing this approach more and more on new boats as 24-volt equipment—and, in some cases, 48-volt equipment—becomes more available.

The Hallberg-Rassy also had a small solar-panel array to add regenerative power back to the lithium batteries. These solar panels were led through a maximum power point tracking voltage regulation system, which offers about a 30 percent better charge utilization compared with a pulse width modulation option, which is beginning to fall into the obsolete category among solar charging systems.

Finally, this boat was equipped with a 60 hp Volvo Penta saildrive that had two 130-amp-rated alternators. With 260 amps of recharge power available here, the owner of the Hallberg says, it takes approximately 90 minutes to two hours of engine run time at 1,500 rpm to get from a 25 percent state of charge to an 80 percent state of charge. 

So, while the Hallberg-Rassy 400 did not totally eliminate fossil-fuel consumption, it did eliminate at least one diesel-fuel consumer, and reduced routine engine maintenance down to one engine instead of two. Additionally, the lack of a generator allowed for improved service access to other systems. Generators, after all, take up a lot of space on a fully equipped monohull sailboat.

We’re at an interesting point in history when it comes to the ways that cruising sailboats get equipped. Innovation is driving changes that are only going to get better and more prevalent.

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