Stephens Waring Yacht Design and Van Dam Custom Boats Launch Italmus

The S/Y Italmas illustrates the many elements found within a bespoke project coming into alignment: committed, thoughtful owner, exceptional craftsmen, and innovative design team. From the beginning, her owner aimed for leveraging Van Dam Custom Boats’ remarkable ability to shape wood, metal and ideas to create a throwback sailing yacht – a strong, sturdy cruising vessel in the manner of a century ago, but with cutting-edge performance due to the careful use of the best materials and modern construction methods. We tend to make the shortlist for designers when sailing enthusiasts begin looking for a shop who can put thoughtful design to a client’s project, particularly a spirit-of-tradition yacht whose genre embodies the essence of 21st-century state-of-the-art technology in concert with the soul of the past.

Exceptional Partnership – Always, these projects are custom and highly tailored to our clients’ goals. Our confidence comes in no small part through the boat builders that manifest all that we imagine. Our collaboration with these clients can only take shape through the masterful hands of the talented people in these yards. We’ve always had great respect for the craft, and for helping our clients select the most suitable builder that matches best with the project mission and our client’s personality. So, imagine our surprise when we found the traditional client/architect relationship reversed as this highly respected boat builder brought us a project; their confidence in us was humbling and the experience was truly rewarding.

Van Dam Custom Boats contracted with us to design a yacht for one of their most devoted customers who was ready to replace his first custom boat, built by the yard in the late seventies. The brief: a classic-looking yacht capable of great performance and modern comforts. VDCB came to us because we had been seeking the right opportunity to work together and they believe we produce some of the freshest design ideas for these types of projects — we all agreed we could help them meet all of the owner’s requirements. Acting as the customer’s representative and project manager, Van Dam became our “client.” And so it began in this unusual configuration, we had little interaction with the end-user, the owner of the yacht. The experience of designing in collaboration with VDCB in this way was a first for us.

Establishing a vision – Through the initial discussions, we learned that the owner wished to create a yacht largely based on the interior configuration of the boat he currently owned, but aimed for greater refinements to style and comfort, to cruising capability, and sail-handling operations. The boat would mostly serve him and his wife as a family cruising yacht and would be sailed primarily on the Great Lakes of the Midwest. While the waters in Lake Michigan and Superior can be wonderfully easy to sail, they can also produce challenging conditions when caught in high winds or when finding yourself in light, shifty weather. From our perspective, this meant the design needed to be as robust and seaworthy as any serious cruising sailboat, and have the capability to operate in this range of conditions.

With the client’s first custom boat as the inspiration, the goal of the design was to blend a 1940’s vernacular into the stylistic details and overall aesthetic of the yacht. The interior styling and design is aimed to mirror the era with a theme of highly crafted raised paneling and elegant joinery detail of select quarter sawn mahogany and finished in satin varnish. Some readers will call this ‘Traditional’, but standards such as this are not typically seen aboard classic boats of this size. Compared to the owner’s first yacht, Italmas is 30% larger in volume. This results in more elbow room everywhere, while on deck we have a roomier cockpit, and, in the hull, a longer waterline.

Attention to detail – One notable part of the project that amplified the design process lies within the Sail Plan for the vessel – the detailed design of her spars and rigging. The owner’s closely held preference was his wish to sail the boat with a classic looking rig: a wooden mast and spars that closely resembled the design solutions that came from the 1940’s era. After much deliberation over matters of weight and performance, or of cost and complexity, the owner rejected the modern carbon rig quotes and set us out to engineer a period-looking wooden mast and boom that employed modern rigging arrangements and updated sail handling details.

Getting into the weeds, we explored many interesting design solutions to resolve the modern-versus-traditional approaches to building such a rig, like disguising the modern Ronstan ‘Constrictor’ line-clutches inside the mast, or in the attachment configuration (gooseneck and internal structure) for mounting the roller furling boom from Offshore Spars. The entire spar is decorated with uniquely designed pieces of hardware fabricated of stainless steel that were conceived to streamline rigging connections for both weight and visual elegance. The end result appears as a rather orthodox varnished spruce mast and boom that supports a conventional sail plan for a yacht of this size. A rig that clearly lends a nod to that timeless ‘old-school’ look and feel, yet is as current and smart as any modern rig package that can manage her various sails in a clean user-friendly way.

Our designs consume a good deal of time in planning how a yacht is operated and enjoyed by her crew and owners. The cockpit is arguably one of her most critical, and more challenging, features. This careful consideration of the sailing platform for Italmaswas also of large interest for our extended team at VDCB. Because significant operations of a vessel come from the cockpit, we must always accommodate a balance between comfort and style while placing emphasis on an organization of space for safely and efficiently managing and controlling the boat.

As an iterative process, we explored solutions for various cockpit arrangements. The possibilities can seem endless, the detail to resolve a giant puzzle, but eventually a focus comes to view and the iterations derive into a cohesive design. The challenge was not just the marriage of multiple concerns: a stylish hard-top dodger, good views from the helm, organized sail handling and comfortable seating. It was keeping to a layout that arranged all functions efficiently within a small space, while striking a beautiful centerpiece to the most-used part of the yacht.

Hidden under cockpit – under all the beautiful joinery and facade of teak and mahogany cladding — lies a complex arrangement of hull and deck structure, a shaft driven steering system, the propulsion and exhaust systems, and the myriad network of plumbing, wiring and various other machinery that all aid in the operations of the yacht.  It’s a culmination of the many disparate elements that each have specific installation and access requirements along with the structures that will mitigate the loads and stresses of sailing the boat – all unseen to the user when she views the world from the cockpit as the boat sails into the sunset.

Masterful results – Named by the owner’s wife as a remembrance to her Russian heritage, the word Italmas is the name of a wildflower that is known through folklore and has become a national symbol of the Udmert Republic, in Russia. The Italmas flower is recognized to symbolize hope and joy, love and sadness, separation and loyalty. With that, we take great pride in the design of Italmas, and like planting a seed and watching a flower grow, we observe the great care and attention to detail from the crew at Van Dam while they nurtured the birth of a yacht, taking shape by their expert hands. It’s a true reward to work with such a deliberate crew and see the masterful results of the craftspeople who work there. Italmas is genuinely a reflection of hand-crafted skill: one of the most highly-valued pieces of the VDCB brand. All of us at Stephens Waring are honored to have been a part of her creation.

As always, if you or other sailing enthusiasts within your personal network would like to, please reach out to us directly by clicking here: info@stephenswaring.com. We always need great design and SoT stories.