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The Peak magazine

A peek inside the Maltese Falcon, a US$150 million 88-metre superyacht

The revolutionary DynaRig concept made famous by the 88-metre Maltese Falcon superyacht, is getting a second outing more than a decade later

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 9:02pm

In 2006, the yachting world witnessed a spectacle. The late Tom Perkins, one of the world’s most successful and infamous venture capitalists, launched his pride and joy, the Maltese Falcon. The story behind the 88-metre sailing superyacht, then the world’s largest, is the stuff of maritime legend.

Perkins had already amassed a fortune from his time as one of the founders of what we know today as Silicon Valley. He was, in many ways, the ideal of a venture capitalist, having staked early claims in Google, Genentech and Facebook.

He was also an MIT-trained engineer with an unabashed love of technology.

When Perkins found an 88-metre hull left over from a previous superyacht project, he bought it with the aim of building the world’s largest sailing yacht. In the early 2000s, Dykstra Naval Architects, one of the Netherlands’ best known yacht design companies, had given Perkins the idea of the DynaRig. It was a concept first conceived by German engineer Wilhelm Prölss in the early 1960s. Prölss had wanted to bring back square-rigged ships (so named because their sails face across the direction of the wind) and reintroduce wind power as a means of propulsion for the cargo industry. The aim was to reduce pollution and reliance on oil.

Prölss filed his patents in 1960, with his design sketches showing a giant set of furling sails and independent masts that didn’t require large numbers of crew working in dangerous conditions. The idea was to have sails that were efficient and could be controlled by a handful of people – the rigging on any sailing vessel can be extraordinarily complicated and labour intensive.

The idea gained currency during the Opec oil crisis of 1973-4, but then went nowhere until Dykstra introduced Perkins to the idea almost 20 years later

The idea gained currency during the Opec oil crisis of 1973-4, but then went nowhere until Dykstra introduced Perkins to the idea almost 20 years later. He bought the patent rights to the DynaRig, and yacht history was set in motion. In 2006, the towering Maltese Falcon was launched to considerable fanfare and a cacophony of plaudits. The following year, award-winning business journalist David Kaplan published an acclaimed book about Perkins and the building of his boat, titled Mine’s Bigger.

For a time, the Maltese Falcon and its impressive DynaRig were on the cover of every major yacht magazine, and Perkins was the focus of attention for news organisations across the globe. Inevitably, the plaudits and the media circus faded away. Perkins wound up selling the Maltese Falcon at a loss in 2009 (he reportedly paid US$150 million for it and sold it for less than US$100 million). At the time, he said that instead of sailing the world he’d moved on to new technical challenges. He ploughed his efforts into personal submarines and began exploring the deep.

The Maltese Falcon has remained a popular charter boat with yacht brokerage firm Burgess ever since, but little more was said about the DynaRig – until now.

Later this year, Dutch superyacht builder Oceanco plans to launch the Black Pearl, which is fitted out with an even larger DynaRig that stretches 107 metres into the sky. Once again, Dykstra Naval Architects are working on the project. Oceanco is not yet revealing information about Black Pearl, but photographs are starting to appear as she undergoes sea trials in the North Sea.

Already, the DynaRig design is drawing attention, and talk of its potential is starting up again. Erik Wassen, a naval architect with Dykstra, said the sea trials had yielded “very positive results”.

The fact that it’s been more than 10 years since the launch of the Maltese Falcon has done little to dampen the enthusiasm at Dykstra for the DynaRig concept.

“The experience with Maltese Falcon has strengthened our belief in the rig,” Wassen says. “The rig is reliable, it is easy to set and reduce sail and is therefore very versatile to adapt to wind conditions.”

On board the Maltese Falcon, a single person at the futuristic helm can control the entire operation of the sails. A single touch screen directs the whole sail area – the captain can push segments of the screen to fill in sail areas, with thousands of square feet of sail able to furl and unfurl within minutes. Meanwhile, a small knob controls the steering.

I expect that having a second DynaRig yacht on the water will help future owners consider the rig for their superyacht
Erik Wassen, Dykstra Naval Architects

The fact there are so few controls required to run the sails is a good incentive to use them more. Owners of large sailing superyachts will often just run on the motors, as hoisting and deploying sails is both labour- and time-intensive. The Maltese Falcon runs on its sails most of the time, thanks to the simple operation. And that translates to lower fuel costs.

So why haven’t more yachts – or even commercial vessels – taken up the DynaRig? Among superyacht buyers, Wassen says “it takes time for people to understand the rig concept and accept the technology, [but] considering the speed [at which] new technologies are being introduced and accepted, I expect there will be more vessels with a DynaRig in the near future.”

Of course, the original point of Prölss’ concept was to power commercial boats rather than superyachts. The key to making that work is bringing down costs, according to Wassen, particularly with regard to the materials used in construction. But making a DynaRig practical for commercial purposes is as much about information management as hardware. Wassen points out that routing software and incorporating weather data, to allow for route optimisation, will be the key to making it all work.

As Black Pearl, only the second boat in history to sport a DynaRig, continues to garner attention, it may be that the floodgates on this particular sail arrangement will finally open.

“I expect that having a second DynaRig yacht
on the water will help future owners consider the
rig for their superyacht. Not knowing is not liking; getting to know the principle and seeing it work will help,” Wassen says. He adds that Dykstra, now the unquestioned leader in DynaRig architecture, has received serious inquiries from commercial shipping companies, as well as from other private owners, about using the rig.

Should the DynaRig gain even more ground among superyacht owners, it’s worth wondering whether this design technology, originally meant for commercial shipping, could ever wind up finding its way back home.

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