It’s so true, we have to say it again: What’s so flipping cool about expedition yachts?
Sturdy, serious-looking and able, it seems like everybody loves a yacht that feels like it can circle the globe not once, but time after time. We sure do. And we’re not shy about just waiting for the right person to come through the door and ask us to make one. Here’s why:
That Hard Body, Expedition Look.
What speaks to us about expedition yachts most, is their ability to take on whatever duties the captain asks them to do. They’re not dazzle and speed, like the fancy runabouts that run circles around them in harbor. They are built for serious work. And oh boy, do they look it.
Typically, the expedition yacht aesthetic draws heavily on military craft, and that bad-ass plumb stem and transom look. Bows are tall. Sheers are broken. There’s all the angular superstructures, with vertical — or even-better forward raking — windshields. There’s the businesslike mast and deck gear. The palette that’s riffs off shades of naval grey. It’s all an eye-catching package that no one’s gonna mess with. Yes, maam!
An expeditions yacht’s business is this simple: limitless cruising. These vessels can take you anywhere. Naturally, that “anywhere” needs to be seasoned with a couple of grains of salt to moisten the idea: An 80-foot expedition yacht can’t have the range and capability of an 80-meter yacht. But each is designed with much greater self-sufficiency and seaworthiness than their more conventional inshore-yacht cousins.
So: What makes an expedition yacht, besides looks and seaworthiness? Range, silly-head. An expedition isn’t short! We’re not talking about a long weekend, here. We’re talking getting to all those “lands” out there: Greenland. Iceland. Falkland. We will need to call on some islands as well: The Canaries. The Aleutians. The lovely San Blas Islands, hidden off of Panama. We all need a boat that can ferry us to all these “theres and backs.”
We just do.
Going Really Long.
There are two ways to build long range into a boat, and both involve taking the slow road. Most motorboats are very efficient at very low speeds, say below a speed-length ratio of 1, or better, 0.8. As we sometimes do in this column, we get into multiplying numbers by themselves, exponentially, over and over, to learn how a long distances might be achieved in a boat. If you recall, the Speed-to-Length ratio is the speed divided by the square root of the waterline length. It’s often called the Froude number, after the math-geek William Froude, who discovered that water waves travel at a speed that’s a constant fraction of that wave’s length. That the science of “hull speed.”
When you push a boat fast enough, the waves it makes matches the natural speed of that wave in the water. And with it comes a jump in the boat’s resistance. Keep pushing that boat, and boat climbs up on the bow wave it makes. The bow sticks out in the air, with a bone in its teeth. And your boat actually planes on its own bow wave. But it’s got to have a strong power-to-weight ratio to overcome the physics inherent in that Froude number. Get it?
But — and here is the secret of long-range cruising — if you go slower and stay off the bow wave, you will live happily content within the constraints of the sea: You efficiently and comfortably cruise around for as long as you have the energy to push your boat. Nuclear-powered military ships actually have systems to stop because if something happened to crew they could essentially keep steaming for centuries, probably until they rusted to bits.
Boats meant for distance can’t help but keep going.
The Shape of Sturdiness.
The shapes found in old-school expedition yachts, like this Nordhaven, are based on traditional fishing trawlers: Slow and very heavy. The extra displacement is used to hold huge fuel tanks. (That’s why the boat’s “hold” is called a Hold. ) A big heavy boat is a lot to push through the water, but you have lots of fuel, so who cares? The heavy hull has good seakeeping properties and comfort, if you don’t mind wallowing and rolling on an old-school craft.
There’s another means to achieve long range: Instead of increasing fuel tankage, reduce the boat’s resistance. Make the boat long, narrow and somewhat lighter. Like this lovely Nigel Irens design. Lower weight and resistance, makes a boat leaner and more efficient to run. If you get the balance of light weight and fuel capacity just right, you can skin the long-range cat, yet spend less money on fuel. An added bonus: If you want to go out for a long weekend, you can run the boat faster than the old-school big, heavy, floating fuel tank.
We have many ideas in expedition yachting, here’s one at least in miniature. This 50-footer called Kodaik. Obviously, she is too small for true global circling. But we love the aesthetic, and the all business “attitude.” Wouldn’t we love to expand on some of these ideas and sink our teeth into the classic military styling.
It’s nothing but love around, here, for the no-nonsense, no-compromise mission of these tough yachts.