A new breed of sailors is driving a push towards more luxurious 50-footers, writes David Lockwood.
The latest blow-ins from the big European yacht makers mark a shift in the way we are setting sail - today's sailors demand motorboat-like comforts from bigger but more forgiving yachts.
To meet the market, designers are stretching things and yachts are becoming wider. This way, they provide greater stability and more space on deck and down below, where interior style has become almost as big a deal as making the racing dais.
Such is the redefinition of nautical style that external design houses are engaged and dare to think outside the square, while yacht builders keep adding amenities to enhance liveability for the new generation of "soft" owners.
Meantime, portlights and glazing abound to enliven those once-sombre cabins, storage space is a key selling point for toting everything including the kitchen sink, while electric winches and the latest navigational aids make sailing a 50-footer a push-button affair.
Between all the competing European marques, the recent Sydney International Boat Show offered rich pickings. It was to prove the launch platform for our favourite keel-yacht brands and a litter of cool cats with even bigger living spaces and level-deck sailing.
The new models weren't hard to find - look for the throngs - and Sydney sailors certainly clambered aboard the long-awaited Hanse 575 moored near the marina gates.
Launched in Europe last year, the yacht had a build target of 25 units in the first 12 months. A sail-away success, the 575 has already accounted for more than 70 builds, with the German yard working around the clock to meet orders.
Costing from $833,000 for a base boat and slightly less than $1 million with all the trimmings including jet tender landed here, the 575 underscores the new market's demand for yachts that not only perform but offer a luxury on-water lifestyle, says importer Windcraft.
With a bow thruster bundled in the package, (stern thruster optional), docking won't be an issue. Go for the upgraded Volvo engine and you achieve a slippery 10 knots under power. Not that the 575 is difficult to sail, mind you.
Designed by naval architectural firm Judel/Vrolijk & Co, the 575 features twin helm positions with ready access to all the halyards, sheets and reefing lines for short-handed crews. A signature self-tacking rig, with furling or battened mainsail and tidy German mainsheet system plus electric winches, make setting sail and trimming a snap.
The pedestals for the Danish steering system run diagonally from the wheels, thereby freeing up floor space, while dedicated storage lockers for rope tails, fenders and so on keep your 575 tidy while under way.
The uncluttered teak decks are low-profile and trip-free, with flush hatches to aid safe movement and direct light and fresh air below. On the anchor, the sunbaking areas, twin tables that can be converted into day beds, submersible swim platform and, get this, electric tender garage will appeal to lounge lizards and the shore party.
The garage has been designed to house a semi-deflated Williams 285 jet tender, a water toy with a top speed of almost 80km/h. Thus, provisioning is within quick reach of just about any anchorage.
The loft-style interior features a new linear galley loaded with home-like appliances, from drawer-style fridges and dishwasher to ice maker and coffee machine. The combined lounge and dining area adds to the living space, and the dinette converts to a king-size bed opposite a large flat-screen television.
Available with three, four, five or six cabins, the 575 at the Sydney show had a stateroom forward with an island bed and bathroom, twin aft twin cabins with single beds, and a separate kids' bunk cab sharing the communal second head.
Two 575s have been sold here, but more will be on the way once the sea trials are completed, we're told.
Not that the French have been sitting idle watching the Germans rule the waves. The Sydney boat show included the launch of a new high-volume Beneteau Oceanis 55 cruising yacht, a competitor in the hip mid-50-footer market, accompanied by the catchphrase, "A new lifestyle at sea".
Its clean, modern lines come from contemporary design codes, there's a de rigueur submersible swim platform, four large sunbathing areas, and a sharp interior courtesy of Nauta Design, whose portfolio is replete with some stunning superyacht projects. The 55 comes in three-, four- or five-cabin variants to sate everyone from couples to charter companies. While big on volume, the 55 is an easy yacht to sail, Beneteau says.
But the Sense range pushes the production-yacht design envelope further east. Its raison d'etre is to provide a superior living platform built around hedonism.
The new 46, which made its Australian debut at the Sydney show, flaunts an especially wide hull with chines to improve stability. It's not quite cat-like, but there is a great deal less heeling motion.
The modular cockpit has a retractable transom, folding table and benches for entertaining or relaxing, and a helm station where all the controls are centralised. Below deck, the yacht embodies its design spec, with just two cabins to ensure owners are treated properly.
News of the even more avant-garde Oceanis 38 breaks new ground. The concept yacht comes in three distinct guises - Day Sailer, Weekender and Cruiser - to evolve and adapt to different stages in its owners' life. Simply add or subtract the key elements. In Day Sailer guise, for example, the interior is designed like a loft where the bulkheads have been removed. You get a striking feeling of space, the view to the bow is unfettered, with large sofas and a deliberately minimalist galley catering for the quick-sail set.
For a few days on board, the Weekender iteration offers a choice between two- or three-cabin accommodation. You can also create a "custom" yacht to call your own. There's even a Longchamp-designed roller locker that lets you pack your Sunday best ashore and wheel it down the gangways and aboard.
The Oceanis 38 Cruiser is more conventional, with large galley and six-person saloon. But you can still leave bulkheads out to get that open-plan feeling, which is a far cry from the fixed ways in which yacht design existed.
As for catamarans, the new Catana 42 on show cracks more than 20 knots under sail on a good reach, while the Fountaine Pajot Sanya 57 has one of the best outdoor bars we've seen on a boat. Something for sailors to toast, indeed.