Powering upwind with green water rushing over the leeward rail, an enormous mahogany-clad wheel in hand and a view of the cleanest flush decks ahead, I couldn’t help but feel this was as good as it gets. This is real big boat sailing, yachting glamour at its finest.
It is tempting to compare this Spirit 111, with her timeless lines and towering sloop rig, to the mighty J Class, which are well known to evoke such rapturous feelings. After all, this is the largest single-masted wooden yacht to be built in Britain since the oldest existing J, Shamrock V, launched in 1930.
However, striking though any initial impressions are, there is so much more to the Ipswich-built Spirit 111 than first meets the eye. It has a multitude of qualities which combine to make it incomparable. In short, this is one of the most sensational yachts ever built.
First, there is the scale of the project. Not only is this one of the largest timber craft constructed on our shores, it is also one of very few yachts of this size capable of being sailed without a professional crew.
Spirit’s new flagship is a technical masterpiece. It is conceived to be one of the most environmentally friendly superyachts to date, a particularly demanding brief which has driven some fascinating solutions for the equipment and engineering throughout.
And finally – yet to my mind fundamentally – this Spirit 111 is an art exhibition, a yacht that takes aesthetics to new heights. The interior, from layout to furniture design to craftsmanship, is unlike anything seen on a boat before.
Geist, German for ghost or spirit, is “a project for someone who wanted to do something different from the norm,” confirms Spirit’s managing director, Nigel Stuart. This someone is a young European owner in his mid-thirties, who already has a Spirit 52, but wanted something larger.
The result of his clear vision is a celebration of bespoke design and engineering. Going below decks feels like walking into a gallery. As long as you can put practicality aside, it’s a mind-boggling, fantastical experience.
The initial design started at 90ft, but in a clue to the importance of aesthetics, got stretched an additional 20ft to ensure the most appealing lines. A skipper will help maintain the yacht, but while on board the owner wants to sail it himself. There isn’t even accommodation for crew. Many of us who view private time aboard our boats as sacrosanct may understand such a request, but it is rarely seen on this scale.
Our trial sail proved that such self-sufficiency really is possible, with most operations able to be carried out from the helm pedestal.
SOUND OF SILENCE
I joined Geist at Endeavour Quay, Gosport, a significant venue for it was here, under the yard’s former owner, Camper & Nicholsons, that the British J Class yachts were built in the 1930s.
Leaving port is a smooth, peaceful affair. As we glided silently away from the dock and entered the bustle of Portsmouth Harbour, the only detectable noise on board came from the turning of the prop or the whir of a hydraulic pump.
The Torqeedo electric drive is always ready for instant activation, with no pre-heat needed and no throttle lag. Just push the lever. This is particularly handy if you need a quick burst of power to help the bows through the wind or to clear an obstruction while under sail. Spirit has also fitted a power on/off button, a sensible safety measure to avoid accidental operation.
Hoisting sail is equally without fuss. It involves using one finger on a portable remote control to instruct the boom mandrel to unfurl the main, and another to direct the main halyard to pull the sail up the four-spreader carbon mast.
As the genoa released, I let the bows fall off a little and Geist powered up gracefully. What a feeling!
We were treated to a proper sea trial of an elegant large yacht. Sailing upwind at 10-11.5 knots and back down at 12-14 knots makes the Solent seem pretty small. It is a delight in both directions, but particularly on the breeze with a rail awash and 23-27 knots blowing over the decks.
Sheeting off a bit of main in gusts is done via the push of another button to release the captive mainsheet or drop the traveller down the rail. It all seemed so manageable considering the sail area aloft. These are the largest sails yet produced by the OneSails UK loft and use its 4T Forte technology, a recyclable performance cloth.
It was also the most breeze Geist had sailed in and we kept full sail up for the duration. She handled it all with delicious ease as we worked our way through the deeper parts of the Solent.
IN ITS OWN CLASS
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