The biggest. The fastest. The most expensive. That’s all child’s play when it comes to boating. Get the numbers. Put ’em in a table. And then it’s Excel’s job to do the rest. Depressingly, you’d be surprised how much of modern yacht design is ruled by those cruel, simple masters. Ever notice how many boats try merely to be really big, really fast and really pricey? It’s a lot. It’s too many.
But beauty? Pure luxuriant pleasure that somehow emanates out of hulls and sails and engines? Oh boy, that’s trickier stuff. What makes that boat more beautiful than this one? Why do we love rowing up to or stepping on this craft of that? We’ve gotten lucky that people we respect tell us our boats have a bit of prettiness about them. But for pure absolute excellence in yacht design, we go to the same benchmarks as everybody else. And just stand back and wonder. “How did they do it. What great fricken’ boat!”
Here then, is our current list of Top Ten Most Beautiful Classic Yachts from suggestions from our clients, colleagues, and our own notes. We crib from these ideas all the time. And we know you do too. But please let us know how you feel. We left out many a classic yacht.
Did we get this list right?
Designer: Bruce King
Year launched: 2003
Builder: Royal Huisman
Designer Bruce King has been a major influence on us and the entire Spirit of Tradition community. King deserves credit for pioneering the blending of classic yacht design with modern style and amenities. When word spread that we were making this top ten list, Maria Cattiva, the roughly 130-foot long sloop, popped to the top of that list among our clients and colleagues. We get why. She perfectly combines a gracefully sweeping sheer with an elliptical-shaped transom, with just the right heft throughout the hull. She’s a balanced, open platform for ideal sailing hardware, rig and fittings, yet she has restrained deck structures and minimal clutter. Maria Cattiva could have easily deteriorated into a busy bee of mess in the wrong hands. There’s a lot going on on this boat. But King and his design team did the near impossible: They created a complex, muscular yacht that distills down to a delicate elegance that’s almost … fragile.
Designer: William Fife III
Year Built: 1914
Yard: Fife & Sons
Some boats are classics because they just … are. Moonbeam IV is one of yachting’s greats. First built after the First World War, she was the fourth boat designed by William Fife III for Charles Plumptre Johnson, the son of the physician to Queen Victoria. That’s classic pedigree. She makes this list as the reference for much of Fife’s designs. And many conversations we have about design. We understand why: Moonbeam IV is thin and easily driven through the water, yet stout enough to carry a stormcloud of sail. In person, it’s almost a miracle she stays upright. Moonbeam also exudes a pure, relaxed luxury that balances speed with grace. She features a full dining room table on deck, yet still is a consistent winner on the classic yacht racing circuit. Many are equally in love with this classic beauty. The otherwise incorrigible French sailing superstar Eric Tabarly once wrote that Moonbeam IV was, “The most beautiful yacht ever built.” He is correct.
Designer: William Reed/Cäsar Pinnau
Year Built: 1948
Yard: Smith Dock Company
Christina O. started life as the HMCS Stormont, a Canadian anti-sub frigate that saw stout duty in the North Atlantic and the WWII invasions of Normandy. But in 1947, Greek magnate Aristotle Onassis bought her off the scrap heap and retained legendary designer Casar Pinnau to begin a ground-up refit. Decks, sheer, and amenities were all reworked. A pool was added, as were subtle pastels and finishes. This once-warship is now the single-most interesting private yacht conversion afloat. Christina O. presents a daring blend of utilitarian world of war with a unique vision of peace and harmony. Each of the hull lines reinforce or deny the mass of the decks above or below. Christina O.’s beauty starts with the grit and girth of business-like strength, yet is melded with subtle womanly figure. Her flowing stern is probably the best treatment of open, common space in a ship of this scale. If there’s more elegant smoke stack anywhere on earth, please let us know.
Designers: German Frers/Bannenberg & Lowell
Year Launched: 2010
Power yachts are exciting — runabouts, express cruisers and mammoth uber-yachts alike. It’s just like cars for us: We always want to know, “What’s she got under the hood?” In the case of the 280-foot Pacific, there is not one, but two, roughly 5700-horsepower diesel generators wired to drive twin propellers that also power the gym, spa, elevator, helicopter pad, movie theater, tender garage, Jacuzzi, underwater lights, and, in a new feature, at-anchor stabilizers that keep the boat level even in rough water. The art with Pacific is how underdone all that power is for a superyacht this complex. Unlike the other floating bloat-fests of similarly fitted out mega-boats, Pacific stands out by standing for less. Much less. Note how designer German Frers reduces the density of the overall deck superstructure by keeping it low relative to the hull mass. Frers then suppresses that volume even more by using lyrical horizontal decks, each following its own sheer from stem to stern. This cool interplay of horizontal masses is made even frostier with her ice-blue finish. Pacific is both streamlined and aggressive, depending on your mood. She is an ocean of pure power and performance shrouded in the secret grace of how technology enables a modern yacht.
Designer: German Frers
Year Built: 1999
We have a thing for Rebecca. And we know you do too: See how her profile, ample beam and full head of sail drive her low through the water? She is kinetic homage to turn-of-the-century sailing clipper ships blast reaching, fully loaded at the peak of the Age of Sail. Designer German Frers echos this classic past with a simple deck house and open classic layout. Richard Henry Dana Jr, author of the 1840 sailing memoir Two Years Before the Mast, would feel perfectly comfortable in Rebecca. And her sense of pure sailing power is softened by unheard of amounts of open, undefined deck space. With the right provisions, this girl can surf the world’s winds, stopping only for love and fresh water. A bit of controversy surrounds this boat. Rumor has it the stem profile was famously (or infamously) designed by her owner. Is it beauty? Or a mistake? True love always makes you ask why.
Designer: Tripp/Eidsgaard Design
Year Launched: 2008
Saudade is the essence of elegant yachting cool. She’s not just clean, spare, and sleek, she represents all things modern in yacht design: Aridly reduced lines, ruthlessly open deck layouts, and a sheer that’s so close to dead flat that it vibrates; and note how the deck house is sunk in, like a breaking wave, into the sea of its wooden deck. This boat is a direct rejection of the lyrical, sweeping design themes that dominate most craft we like. Yet somehow Saudade features a beauty built of the simplest of forms. While the traditional standards of sweep and sheer we hold dear may not be present, if you look long enough, the distilled version of what it means to be a beautiful boat emerges before you. The question Saudade asks is, “What still is beautiful, when everything else has been removed?” You can spend a lifetime answering that one.
Designer: German Frers
Yard Launched: 1993
What would the designer’s designer, Argentine genius German Frers, design in a boat for himself and his family? The 73-foot sloop Heroina is the answer. Not too fancy and built quickly with recycled parts, she reflects the mind of a great and ambitious architect who seeks comfort and ease of use. She’s the floating checklist for a modern classic yacht: gobs of relaxed, open-deck volume; large, easy-to-handle wheel; and just enough mass in the boat’s hull to allow for reasonable-sized cabins and state rooms, all without a raised deck house and its attendant complexity. Heroina is a true performer that can be handled by amateurs. She’s sleek and beautiful. Even better, she is done on a sensible budget. That’s design at its classic purest.
Designer: Arthur Holgate
Year Built: 1984
Do we really to need to explain? Behold this three-masted schooner with looks straight out of the War of 1812, but made in 1984. Of pure plate steel. Meaning the sweeping shape and voluptuous form is an engineering and construction tour-de-force. she is 213 feet long and 30 feet wide, probably the largest classic sailing boat built since the 1930’s. There is so much room on her, in fact, that you can get lost below among the nearly 30 crew and guests that can fit on her. (Note to self: take breadcrumbs.) It’s all here: two deck houses, port decks, advanced venting systems. Adix just goes on and on. She’s the Spirit of Tradition on steroids.
Designer: Philippe Briand
Year built: 2008
Designer: Yachting Developments
Here’s our sleeper pick from master French designer Phillippe Briand. Usually Briande works in a stark, hyper-modernist idiom bordering on floating brutalism. Lovely, but not our thing. But with Bristolian II, Briand balances a classic race car vibe with traditional yacht influences. And that, we love. The story here is the design brief called for a boat built to a 1950’s Maserati road speedster idiom. The helm stations and cabins are straight out of post-war European road-race designs. Steve McQueen in LeMans would feel comfortable on Bristolian II. The contrast in styles raises bizarre narratives: Are the helm stations and cabins connected below decks? Is there a second ship hiding under the deck? Does that ship fly? It’s all pure design intoxication. The secret to this apparently outlandish boat is the drill-sergeant attention to detail and the black sails and hull forms.The boat’s all about its deck and deeper mysteries. Bristolian II is, in a word, “crisp.” Or “croustillant” if you are speaking French.
Designer: Michel Berryer
Year Launched: 2015
Yard: Van Dam Custom Boats
what would happen if you dropped A Chevy Big Block 496, 400 HP gas engine into A 1950’s muscle car-inspired hull. all made from a single log of Mahogany? Enough wood and spirit to look awesome at 60 miles an hour on the water and 85 miles an hour when getting towed down the highway on its trailer. We love how Don Don balances its just-under-30-foot length with a hefty 8’8” beam that frames and blends its classic heritage and modern dimensions. Just count the ideas designer Michel Berryer blends into this tiny package: a sense of running at blistering speed; the sweeping, art-deco flowing line; AND the luxury details in leather and stainless steel of classic cars. Where’s the wheel? Why, on the left side. Like in a car. Face it: If you’d known as a teenager you could have showed up to the prom in Don Don, you never would have bothered to learn to drive. This Don would have made all your dreams come true.