Sail versus motor

SYOG investigates the love-hate relationship between 'stink pots' and 'blow boats'.

To sail or to motor? Clearly there are differences in the construction, operation and enjoyment of each type of craft, but which elements should be considered when making the vital decision of sail versus motor? We questioned a select panel of Superyacht Owners’ Guide experts and their responses are enlightening, educative and often surprising.

Though multi-deck motor yachts predominate the world’s fleet of superyachts, there is a significant number of sailing yachts, too. Statistics suggest that this figure already exceeds 10% of the fleet, a percentage thought to be on the increase.

A sailing yacht photograph by Carlo Baroncini

Each type of yacht has its supporters. Motor yacht owners wax lyrical about the high volumes of space aboard their vessels dedicated to recreational use, while sail boat aficionados love the sheer romance of it all, the excitement of the race, and the more eco-friendly nature of their craft. There are detractors, too. Owners of motor yachts call sails ‘laundry’, with sailing crew referred to as ‘rag monkeys’. The sailing crowd return the favour with vigour, referring to motor yachts as ‘stink pots’ and their crews as ‘grease monkeys’.

Communications: Roger Horner, e3

Roger is group managing director with communication specialist e3. He came up with the company idea while captaining the Tobago Clipper, giving the defining moment as “too many blue azure bays and palm fringed beaches!”

What communications advantages does each yacht have?

Motor yachts’ satellite communication systems have tracking dishes inside their >big white domes, which can suffer from ‘mast shadow’, a term used to describe what happens when a fixed part of the yacht blocks the signal between the dish and the distant satellite.

Roger Horner from e3 systems

Motor yachts have more opportunities to find a 360˚ view of the sky so that satellites can be seen with fewer obstructions than on sailing yachts, due to the latter’s masts and rig. Motor yachts can usually sport larger dishes than sailing yachts, providing stronger reception over greater areas.

With sail vessels, certain lightweight antennae can be mounted much higher than on motor yachts and can work over a greater distance. The same applies to VHF radio services and VHF and UHF tender tracking antennae. Any line-of-sight service benefits from being mounted higher.  The quality of the cable used to reach very high antennae is critical, too, so as not to undermine the height benefit with the loss of signal along the cable. In terms of sail material, some carbon fibre sails have been known to obstruct certain radio frequencies, causing mast shadow for antennae mounted below the head of the sail.

What problems can heeling and rolling create?

Excessive movement will accelerate the wear and tear on tracking dishes. Though today’s tracking antennae are designed to work in most conditions at sea, it’s important to be aware that the movement felt at deck level is dramatically amplified at height, so any antennae with moving parts should ideally be mounted as low as possible to reduce wear and tear. Keeping a clear view of the sky should not be forgotten.

A superyacht in tropical waters

Interior design: Ken Freivokh

Ken is a Californian-born multi-disciplinary designer renowned for his out-of-the-box design solutions. Following his architectural studies he graduated with a Masters in Design from the School of Industrial Design (Engineering) at the Royal College of Art, London.

How do interior design considerations differ?

In terms of overall appearance, the only differences relate to the owner’s styling preferences. However, we have found that sailing yacht owners will temper styling concerns with practicality. They are less likely to insist on vast open spaces for entertaining; expect more appropriately nautical features; and often place more emphasis on functionality and maintenance.

Which yacht is more expensive to design?

The difference is unlikely to be significant. Items such as handholds and tie downs are needed for sailing yachts and a requirement for lightweight construction is also more likely to be suggested by the naval architect, which has a cost connotation.

What design constraints do heeling and pitching pose?

It is quite interesting that, in most circumstances, sailing yachts offer the most stable and pleasant platform. Even with efficient zero-speed stabilisers, a motor yacht is more likely to feel more lively and unstable. This is because rolling and pitching would be of a higher velocity without the major stabilising effect of the sailing yacht’s keel and rig. However, a sailing yacht when underway will heel to greater angles, and will stay heeled. This should be considered when designing stairs, doors, showers, baths and handholds.

Do you prefer sail or motor?

Statistically, many superyachts do not spend enough of their lives navigating the oceans so it is largely immaterial whether their owner chooses motor or sail. However, for owners who do intend to enjoy their yacht and to travel to distant places, a sailing yacht will undoubtedly provide the greatest enjoyment; that true feeling of quietly gliding through the ocean with the power of the wind. From a green perspective, most certainly the sailing yacht can claim to be the better option, with by far the lower carbon footprint. Sailing yachts add further levels of interest and technique that must appeal strongly to all of us who really love yachts and the sea.

Naval architecture: Ed Dubois

After graduating in 1974, Ed went on to design many winners of the major offshore racing trophies around the world. He has sailed on many of his racing designs over the years and still sails avidly. Living next to the sea with his family, sailing is very much on the agenda!

Which is a more involved design and why?

A sailing yacht’s design is normally more involved and time consuming than a motor yacht’s of equal volume. The naval architecture of motor yacht hulls is generally more straightforward than for sailing hulls, though both require skill and full consideration of the various factors governing the concepts.

The beauty in designing sailing yachts is to create the right balance for the vessel to sail well in all conditions and to be totally seaworthy. It’s also necessary to consider the correct distribution of structure with regards to supporting the ballast keel, the mast step, the rigging chain plates and the highly loaded high-aspect ratio rudder that is usual in modern sailing yachts.

With regard to styling, both motor yacht and sailing yacht outboard shapes and line-flow are a vital part of our work and create the character that appeals to each individual client. Usually, the volume of a motor yacht’s superstructure is far greater than a sailing yacht’s and therefore this consideration for motor yachts is more time consuming.

Do owners have different attitudes towards design?

Sailing yacht clients are probably – and I hesitate, as this is a slight over-generalisation – more aware of their environment and are drawn to the natural force of the wind over the sea. Ancient seafaring history usually fascinates them and their motivation to build a large yacht is often, if not always, rooted in this passion.

Do you prefer sail or motor?

I began yacht design out of a passion for sailing and the sea, alongside a competitive instinct to design yachts to win the major offshore races. My particular background is therefore built on sailing yacht design, which remains my passion.

Crew recruitment: Laurence Reymann, YPI Crew

Laurence started her specialist yacht crew agency in 2002, recruiting at all levels from deckhands to captains. She has established a proven ability to match the right crew and captains with superyacht owners and their yachts worldwide. 

Which type of vessel is hardest to find crew for?

Sailing yachts are generally harder to recruit for, especially under 35m as this is
a niche market. Analysis of our 2012 activity shows that 89% of our jobs related to motor yachts, 11% to sail. This is coherent with the worldwide fleet of yachts. It is our experience that, for instance, recruiting engineers for sailing yachts is always challenging as the pool of candidates with the drive, passion and interest to succeed and make a long-term impact on board a sailing yacht is small.

Also, smaller work and living space make it challenging to attract mature crew who, with time and as they go up the ranks, will be lured away  by motor yachts offering more space and therefore comfort of movements. There is a clear benefit in using established crew agencies to source crew for sailing yachts, as these agencies will have the adequate network to find the best crew.

What are the challenges in finding sailing crew? 

Newcomers, especially on the interior side, are often concerned about joining a sailing yacht if they have no prior recreational sailing experience. Of course, some are not able to overcome seasickness. On the deck side, many crew rise up the ranks in sail yachts to then switch to motor yachts at chief officer level, with a view to gaining senior officer experience before going for their first motor yacht Captain’s job. Experienced sailing crew looking for work are generally in demand by motor yacht captains as they are perceived as having more of a well rounded hands on experience and a team spirited attitude. 

Are there differences in crew salaries?

Sailing yachts used to pay a lot less than motor yachts. These days the gap is narrowing and, in fact, large sailing yachts are often on a par with motor yachts. On the engineering side, we notice that fewer rotations are being offered on large sailing yachts, putting them at a disadvantage when recruiting. It is common knowledge that the worldwide shortage of engineers is contributing to the big push towards rotation in the yachting industry. 

Yacht Management: Adrian McCourt, MD Watkins Superyachts Captain Adrian McCourt, MD of yacht managers Watkins Superyachts, sailed for many years on tankers and passenger ships, coming ashore to become a commercial fleet manager.

What are the management differences?

Other than the obvious technical differences, there are few differences as we adapt our management services to each yacht as a unique entity. There is a tangible difference in crew outlook of course, as both sail and motor yacht crew have different reasons for being at sea. Sail yacht crew will often accept living arrangements that most motor yacht crews would not, but this doesn’t really pose a management obstacle per se. With the larger motor yachts; leave ratios and salary demands are higher.

Do motor and sail owners have different temperaments?

There are exceptions to every rule, but we all understand to the sail owner; it’s the journey that counts, to the motor owner; it’s the destination. Sail purists will accept and have a passion for the sensation of wind and waves, and may have less interest for the lifestyle choices of the motor sailor. After a day’s sailing, an owner will still want his beautiful sail boat to make a statement alongside the dock, rather than to look like a Grimsby smack.

Do you prefer sail or motor?

I have a terrible confession to make. Despite having been at sea in numerous trades, roles and ranks for almost 40 years, I experienced sail for the first time only last year. The owner and Captain knew this and so, while teasing me mercilessly as a ‘stinkpot’ man, were keen to gauge my reaction. I quite liked it, but still hankered after sailing in a straight line. I rather enjoy being upright and have never been a huge fan of getting wet! I did enjoy the silence though…it was a bit like being on the bridge of a big cargo ship, but without the sound of sliding crockery!

Charter: Neil Moore, Burgess

Neil has been with Burgess for over 18 years, 12 of which have been spent directing the charter division, which represents 50 yachts between 30m and 95m in the company's charter management programme.

What are the marketing differences for both charter types?

Sailing yacht clients tend to be more knowledgeable about yachts and are more precise about what they want. Their requirements might range from a fast modern cruiser for exhilarating regatta sailing, to the comfort and style of a traditional motor yacht or a unique varnished classic. The level of detail tends to be greater and we target these clients with bespoke marketing material, especially when a yacht is on a round-the-world cruise or in an exotic cruising location. In terms of return on investment, overall demand is greater for motor yachts, but sailing yachts are often built to their owners’ specific requirements and so offer greater variety. A popular sailing yacht which ticks all the boxes can be in just as much demand as a popular motor vessel.

Are sail and motor yacht charterers different?

Most clients who like to charter sailing yachts are yachting enthusiasts, who have a passion for sailing and enjoy making passage under sail. These clients are more likely to have started sailing in dinghies and small yachts, moving up to superyachts later. Therefore, in the main, we are marketing sailing yachts to genuine enthusiasts, whereas people new to yachting tend to gravitate towards the facilities and space of a motor yacht.

Do some locations suggest sail over motor?

Absolutely. The most obvious example of this would be the Caribbean. For anyone who likes to cruise, the trade winds of the Eastern Caribbean are perfect for sailing. There can also be quite a swell running in the open sea between islands during the high season months and so, the motion on a sailing yacht is often more comfortable than on a motor yacht. The steady winds allow guests to experience the thrill of a sailing yacht performing to its optimum.


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