Providing the proof
In July 2020, the sailing yacht GEIST, a 111-foot sloop from the Spirit shipyard in the UK, came to life. Looking at the vessel for the first time, it is difficult to discern whether it is indeed a seaworthy yacht or more so a work of art. The owner who commissioned the build, however, wasn’t seeking to pay homage to the tradition of classic wooden tall ships; GEIST was about shifting standards and generating inspiration for more sustainable actions in yacht building practices. We spoke with the German owner, and Pantaenius customer,
about the meaning and spirit of sailing.
They might seem obvious to some, but we'd still like to hear the answer from you. Why do you sail?
Sailing is so natural to me that I do not really know the answer to that. It is part of my life and was already part of the life of my father, who was very successful sailing dragon boats. The passion has been laid in my cradle, so to speak. I have never not sailed. This has had a lasting effect on me and makes me constantly seek closeness to water and the elements.
GEIST is the largest wooden yacht constructed in the UK since the J-Class Shamrock V was built. What made you decide to go with wood for such a large project?
The point was to demonstrate what is possible. Of course, it would be even more sustainable not to build a ship at all, but I am convinced that it is only by continuously challenging established standards that we can bring real innovation to the fore and allow ourselves to live the way we want to, while remaining sustainable. The yacht industry is booming, so why not deliver a vision that shows it can be done differently: that it is possible to build a light, fast, dynamic and elegant vessel that at the same time meets the most modern standards in terms of energy efficiency. Wood has emerged as the perfect material in this regard because it is extremely flexible, noble and versatile, but unlike many other materials, it can be obtained and recycled in a very controlled manner.
One of the leading yachting magazines has reported that the yacht is one of the most extraordinary ever build. What makes GEIST a stand out yacht for you?
Actually, the yacht follows very familiar requirements in its basic layout. It is the perfect charter yacht booked by four friends with their partners, but implemented in a very generous space. It offers an excellent overview on deck and always lets you feel the proximity to the water despite her size. For me, the most important thing was that GEIST met these requirements. At some point I realized that sailing together with friends only works if there is enough space on board, because by now everyone has created their own little family. So the path from my 52-foot Spirit to 111-foot GEIST was, in part, also quite pragmatic. Her elegance, of course, is also a unique quality for me. The shipyard meticulously responded to every one of my wishes and contributed a number of innovative ideas themselves. The interior design is exceptional and there were almost no limits placed on me by the designers during the planning. This is another aspect recognized by people who are passing by. GEIST has the charm of a wonderful vintage car and at the same time something ultra-modern.
The yacht is not designed to accommodate a large crew. Handling and layout are designed for shorthanded sailing in an almost uncompromising way. Do you always sail yourself?
The goal was to be able to operate the ship alone with friends and family. I actually prefer to sail myself, but even GEIST cannot do without a professional crew. Maintenance alone requires specialized personnel. However, even here, the technology on board is a great help, because troubleshooting is made possible remotely - thanks to a sophisticated cloud-based monitoring system, similar to that used in modern cars. At the end of the day, of course, the ship should be ready when you want to use it, and unfortunately, I do not spend nearly as much time on board as I would like.
From the beginning, you had a clear vision of what GEIST was supposed to achieve in terms of sustainability. Can you explain that vision?
I wanted to show that it does not have to be a compromise to design a luxury object like a yacht and at the same time measure up to the demands of our time. We cannot pretend we do not know about the impact we have on the planet through our consumerist behaviour. Yachting in particular, however, still seems pretty divided in this regard. In addition to using recycled and sustainably sourced materials as much as possible, the yacht should avoid fossil fuels whenever feasible and make the best use of available renewable energy. When we sail, we continuously generate power that is fed back into the batteries. The propulsion system regenerates the battery banks through the rotation of the propeller shaft while the yacht is under sail. For up to four days, the fully charged batteries allow us to use all the yacht's amenities, including air conditioning and hot water, without needing a generator or shore power. The two builtin generators are actually only due to class conformity and serve as a backup in case of a real system failure. This ambition has made everyone involved go above and beyond and work very closely together. We have been able to reduce the consumption of oil in the hydraulic systems to a minimum, saving not only waste but also weight.
A benchmark that applies to almost every part on board. To be even more efficient, the hydraulics also allow the boat to operate in an eco-mode. Only in emergency situations or during regattas do we fully exploit the possibilities and work in a much faster, but less economical mode. Above all, I want to leave nature as I found it. That is why wastewater is passed through a treatment plant before it is discharged. I think everyone involved challenged each other. Yes, the sustainability aspect was my wish as a client but everyone shared my vision.
The word compromise leads us to the last question: were you really able to realize everything you envisioned? Moreover, if so, what is the consequence? Are you even more inspired now and already planning the next project?
Of course, it was incredibly complicated. That is probably why many people are afraid of turning their yacht into a supposed million-dollar grave by using new, innovative technologies. However, it really worked better than you might imagine. I have the shipyard to thank for that, but also the project management. Now and then, there were points that were discussed controversially. How narrow can the boom be? Where can weight be saved? But, as I said before, I never had the feeling that there were different sides in these discussions. Everyone was working towards one goal. This worked so well that some of SY GEIST's ideas have been established as permanent components of the Spirit program. Especially in the refit area, I think there will be a lot of electrification in the future. My next project is an all-electric and foiling tender in the style of the legendary Bystanders, with a range of 100 nautical miles. I am convinced that there is huge potential for more sustainable designs in yacht building, that
are currently only being exploited in rare cases.