Epic Rob Humphreys design built in Lymington with drop keel, drying capability, water ballast, rotating mast and a great interior. For fast, rewarding and very safe mile munching.
ALISARA is a good looking yacht of many facets. Conceived and built for long distance cruising at pace, with a simple and well-engineered interior and great deck layout. She comes with many unique features including water ballast, rotating mast, solid sprayhood offering great protection, lift keel and the ability to dry out. Conceived and built for a very experienced owner, she has exceeded his expectation of her. Now the chapter is completed she has been pit stopped here at Berthon including new paint, service of the keel and other minor works, so that she can be ready for her next owner.
The concept behind Alisara was to produce a 40 foot, high-performance cruiser that would be faster, safer and more comfortable than a typical 50 foot, series-production yacht. Above all, she had to be fun to cruise, for an owner who had mostly raced, but at the same time be able to access shallow waters.
The North Sails, fully-battened main has a ‘fat head’ and full roach. It is set behind a rotating carbon wing-mast. The drifter and asymmetric are flown from a 2m bowsprit, extending the effective length of the yacht and allowing good speeds in light airs. The working jib is attached to an adjustable jib-boom which improves aerodynamics and aids goose-winging.
Stability is ensured by a deep-draft, bulbed lead keel and by a simple and effective water-ballast system, equivalent to 8 crew sitting on the rail.
The light, easily-driven hull, designed by Rob Humphreys, has twin rudders for better control.
Comfortable and Safe at Sea:
One of the greatest contributions to comfort is her speed, which allows one to minimise sea-time in bad weather and reduce the need for night passages. The next is the ability to sail more upright by virtue of the righting moment, aided by water ballast.
Protection from the elements is greatly enhanced by the fixed cockpit canopy, while the centre-cockpit arrangement reduces pitching while seated there.
Down below, comfort and safety have been thought through by extensive hand-holds, deep basins and a system of night lighting.
Safety, especially in the event of an emergency, has been covered by using a check-list normally associated with offshore racing. However, the immensely strong, self-supporting carbon mast is probably one of the greatest contributions to safety, because it has so few points of failure compared to a conventional mast and rigging. The dangers of grounding are also greatly reduced, because the keel lifts if it touches bottom and is enclosed within a carbon-reinforced strong box, rather than relying on keel bolts. Other safety features include a See-Me radar target enhancer.
Access to Shallow Waters and Small Harbours:
The keel lifts vertically through 5 foot, reducing draft to just 3’ 6’’ (1.06m) and Alisara dries out, supported by the long flattened bulb and twin rudders. Manoeuvring in tight spaces is aided by a drop-down bow thruster.
Comfortable to Live Aboard:
The cockpit makes a very pleasant area for relaxing or enjoying food produced in the well-equipped galley. The main saloon is exceptionally light and airy and has been given a Japanese theme. Sleeping arrangements are flexible and make good use of lee-clothes to portion off or not, as desired. The lighting provides ample reading lights and includes a dimmer over the saloon table.
Yachting World reviewed ALISARA soon after she was built (copy of article available). Toby Hodges described her as a “custom cruiser with attitude” and described the “wealth of good ideas” on board.
The Royal Cruising Club awarded the owner the Bluebird Trophy for the project to design and build ALISARA. This is only presented on rare occasions for a “noteworthy contribution to the development or heritage of cruising”. An article subsequently appeared in the RCC Journal, Roving Commissions, describing the project (copy of article available).
The 46 crewmembers that have spent a week or more on ALISARA have universally commented on how enjoyable the experience was.
ALISARA spent the first 18 months of her life undergoing sailing trials in the English Channel. Then, over the last 6 years, she has been on an extended cruise from Lymington to the west coast of Scotland, across the North Sea to Norway and Sweden, then to the Aland Islands, Finland and Estonia, before returning via Denmark, Germany, Belgium and France. Every year was made up of 6 one-week legs, with a crew change after each. During that time she has admirably proven the concept and given great pleasure to many friends and relations. The constant has been the owner /skipper, who has come to appreciate the way in which ALISARA has performed in all sorts of conditions and circumstances.
It is sad to see ALISARA being prepared for a sale, with a freshly painted hull and replacement parts. However, I shall be trading down to a smaller yacht and teaching grandchildren the pleasures of cruising. I will not be able to go as fast or as far, but I still hope to have as much fun.
My intimate involvement in the project to design and build ALISARA means that I will be able to pass on to a future owner a wealth of information about ALISARA. This not only covers the manuals and specifications for gear and equipment, but also includes personal experience of how to get the best out of them. ALISARA is a unique yacht and I hope that a future owner will be able to enjoy her as much as I have.
RCD Status: The yacht conforms with the essential safety requirements of Directive 94/25EC (Recreational Craft Directive) and is categorised A – “Ocean”
Hull, Deck & Superstructure Construction:
Keel & Rudder:
Engine & Gearboxes:
Maintenance & Performance:
Propulsion & Steering:
Fresh Water & Water Heating System:
Grey/Blackwater holding tanks:
At workstation / chart table
Heating & Ventilation
Summary of Accommodation:
Description of layout from forwards:
In the bow there is a large anchor locker with two anchors and associated equipment, plus room for additional gear. It also contains the windlass, pivoting anchor arm and the retractable bowsprit. Underneath is the bow-thruster.
Next is the forward cabin WC/washroom with a large hanging locker and shelves for clothes including covered bins. Mirror fronted cupboards are located at eye level port and starboard.
Then in the forward cabin there is a double bunk to port, with sail locker under, and a top and bottom bunk to starboard. The top bunk folds down to form a settee and there is further storage under the lower bunk. All bunks are fitted with lee-cloths.
In the main saloon the folding table is to port with storage bins outboard and aft. The galley to starboard has a drawer unit with Penguin fridge/freezer located outboard and then a dustbin cupboard with top hatch. The Force 10 stove, with 3 burners and oven/grill can be covered with a worktop. Finally comes the double sink with mixer tap, which has food storage underneath. A row of cupboards above the kitchen range is designed for food storage and for crockery, glasses, etc. The Sanyo microwave cooker is located behind the sliding cupboard door above the sinks.
Moving aft, on the starboard side is the chart table and bookcase, followed by a storage bin for a folding bicycle, dehumidifier, etc. Opposite are hooks for oilskins and lifejackets plus a boot rack. On the port side is the shower room (with holding tank outboard) and the WC/washroom for the aft cabin. There is a further storage bin inboard of this which normally houses the dinghy, outboard and other equipment. In the centre is the engine compartment, which can be accessed from 3 sides.
Finally there is the aft cabin with a 6’ wide double bunk that can be divided in two, with cupboards either side, and seats. There is further storage underneath. Outboard, and discretely hidden, are the water ballast tanks, while aft of them are the steering compartments with lazarettes above.
Anchoring & Mooring Equipment:
Covers, Canvas & Cushions:
Tender & Outboard:
This is a tale of a different type of journey that begins over 50 years ago and is only now reaching its conclusion. ALISARA’s origins can be found in my boyhood dreams to build and sail an exceptional boat. The classic Beken images of the J Class racing dominated my early thoughts and I was certainly not alone in being captivated by the power and grace of those billowing sails. However, it remains a dream that very few can hope to realise. Too large, too many crew and far too expensive.
As the years rolled on, I continued to dream and eventually graduated from dinghies to my first shared, second-hand 30 footer, but I pined after something more exotic. I took to sailing in multihulls and frequented the Amateur Yacht Research Society stand at the London Boat Show. I devoured articles about speed records and solid-wing sails. In the mid-70s I built a 54 foot trimaran for the 1976 OSTAR. Quest was a tough and spartan craft that got me to Newport R.I. safely, but the bug of sailing something unique, fast and out-of-the-ordinary had not been laid to rest.
The years that followed were taken up with married life, a demanding job and ‘sensible’, family boats. I continued to scour the yachting press for ideas that broke the mould. Freedom yachts and the rotating aerorig mast found their way into a growing collection of cuttings. The dream continued. During the summer holidays I would bring out squared paper and draw the lines and interiors of a succession of craft: monohulls, swing-wing multihulls, sloops, schooners and wishbone rigs. Eventually the family began to refer to them under the generic title of ‘John’s retirement boat.’
By 2005 I was lucky enough to be able to retire from full-time work and confront my bug head on. Family pressures were pushing me towards a comfortable cruiser, which just might appeal to my reluctant wife and allay the fears of my son that he would spend his days sitting out on the rail. The next stage was to use my new-found leisure time to surf the web and to catch up with friends and boating industry contacts. A cruise with the Langdon’s on Fidelity yielded pages of notes. The tape measure came out to compare and contrast many of the existing mid-range yachts. How deep a cockpit? How high to make the boom? More extreme ideas, such as foils or twin keels were rejected. The dream was becoming more realistic.
Before taking my rather crude designs to the experts, I drew up a brief description and a set of key criteria:
FAST, SHORT-HANDED, VARIABLE DRAFT 40 FOOT CRUISING YACHT
Fast, responsive, light and strong all speak to my racing pedigree (Who wants a slow yacht when the pubs are closing soon?) but short-handed was a deliberate move away from the hassle of having to assemble a sizeable crew. I wanted to be able to enjoy sailing two-up in an elegant craft and I wanted variable draft to access those shallow waters that add so much to the cruising experience.
Simple was intended to avoid fitting gear that would seldom be used. For example, the specification included a smart alternator, but no generator; AIS but no radar. Efficient was an all embracing concept that covered sail handling, performance, ease of maintenance and value for money. The idea was that future design or equipment choices could be weighed against these criteria, but this proved challenging in practice. My first expert, the well-known designer, Rob Humphreys, said ‘John. I can fit all your ideas into a very nice 43 footer, but anything smaller will be very tight.’
I had known Rob since 1976 and he and, his colleague Nick Pike, were good to work with, because they were prepared to put up with my sometimes obsessive attention to detail and general interference with the design process. However, Rob was also involved with a much more lucrative design brief for the Russian Volvo 70, so he made it clear from the beginning that he wasn’t going to get involved with my strange ideas for a rig. That is where Julian Smith came into his own, because he had worked on carbon aerofoil masts in New Zealand with Greg Elliott and he quickly persuaded me to add two side runners and save on the weight and cost of an unstayed mast. The core design team was also made up of Neil Mackley at North Sails, Peter Gribble on electronics and Steve Etheridge at Seyco Marine, who was key to the whole project as builder, engineer, practical designer and problem solver extraordinaire. My experience to direct such a group and act as project manager was woefully lacking at first, but thanks to massive support from many people, we were able to function as an effective team.
And the reality……..ALISARA is indeed 40 foot long and includes some unusual features. In addition to the rotating mast, she has a jib boom, which incorporates a number of refinements over the common type, and a 6 foot bowsprit. She has a fat-head mainsail (Traditionalists can think of the top batten as a mini-gaff.) and 4 headsails which all appear as ‘sausages’ from the sail bin just below the forehatch. Each headsail is at least twice the size of the previous one, so that one moves through the gears from storm jib, through working jib and drifter, to the 105 square metre, asymmetric spinnaker.
The rig has quickly proved its worth, because the main and jib provide much better than normal aerofoils, as the sheets are eased to rotate both mast and jib boom. Goose-winging is easy and the danger of sudden gybes by the jib boom can be countered by rigging a preventer to the end of the bowsprit. (It is not hard to guess why jib booms are sometimes nicknamed ‘widow-makers’.)
The deck is also unusual, because the centre cockpit includes a fixed canopy that covers an on-deck navigation area. No more disappearing down the companionway to consult a chart or pilot. All the heights and dimensions were custom designed for ergonomic efficiency. (Although you might struggle if you are more than a few inches either side of my 6 foot.) Finally, the spacious after deck was organised around the inflatable dinghy, which fits snugly between the lockers and is easily launched over the stern.
Below decks, the immediate impression is one of light and space. Headroom in the saloon is over 7 foot and the walls are adorned with Japanese prints. Dividing the saloon is the keel casing, which doubles as a bar when the keel is down. When up, the draft is reduced from 8 foot 6 inches to 3 foot 6 inches and ALISARA can dry out, supported by the long flattened bulb on the bottom of the keel and the twin, outwardly canted rudders. Further aft is another surprise, which contributes to a stiff and powerful boat. Either side are water ballast tanks which fill in 5 minutes and can be tacked in 40 seconds. Weighing in at 700 kilos when full, they have been nicknamed the 8 gorillas, but they never need feeding, never complain and can be dropped overboard without incident.
ALISARA is something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. One has to look hard to discover the ballast tanks, because they are hidden away and most of the interior is given over to creature comforts. I am definitely getting soft in my old age. Light dimmers, fridge/freezer, microwave, domestic shower, duvets and proper pillows – why even my wife is quite impressed! However, penthouse style living has not completely taken over. I insisted on having special deep basins made that would hold water in a rough weather (I couldn’t find anything suitable off the shelf.) and along the complete length, on both sides, is a strong grab rail, something which is often overlooked on boat show models. Large stowage bins have been included and a row of hooks to dry oilskins and lifejackets. Careful thought has been given to power consumption, with widespread use of LEDs, incorporating a red diode for night lighting.
A custom made boat was part of the dream, but the tough question is ‘was it all really worthwhile?’ Emphatically I would say ‘yes’. Managing the project was enormously time consuming and often challenging, but overall very satisfying. Some things were a bore, like preparing all the documentation to achieve conformity with the EC Recreational Craft Directive. I have a strong regard for safety but, after adding pages of warnings to the owner’s manual, I felt like simply typing in bold letters ‘Boats are dangerous’.
A lot of the pleasure of a one-off was in overcoming the design challenges. Steve Etheridge and I spent happy hours mocking up the bow area, where jib boom, tack downhaul, anchor arm and pulpit legs have to coexist in close proximity. Other areas, such as the main hatch, were solved over lunch in the pub. The lifting keel caused Steve some sleepless nights, because the 2:1 disadvantaged ram has to handle forces of over 6 tons to lift the 3 ton keel through 5 feet. This is where the epoxy foam sandwich construction gives way to judicious use of carbon.
I am sometimes asked whether ALISARA has caused me any nightmares. Fortunately, the answer is no, except perhaps when Formula Spars went into administration just before the mast was due to be delivered. She has been soundly built and is fully living up to expectations. Inevitably a few small refinements were carried out over the first winter, such as fitting a stronger jib boom vang and a different water filter, but most of the changes have been as a result of getting to know her better. Anchoring in strong winds has been a worry because the wing mast tends to act as a sail, causing her to tack to and fro. The best solution to date has been to drop a large drogue over the transom, but a second anchor off the bow has also been suggested, although is yet to be tested.
I am not sure whether one should even acknowledge the question of cost. It is a bit like asking someone how much they earn. Custom building in the UK is not a cheap option and certainly not if one goes for a high specification and top quality equipment. However, I was able to substantially reduce the cost by project managing the build and buying practically all the equipment myself. Shall we just say that the costs add up more like an Oyster or Halberg-Rassy than a Bavaria? My dear wife accuses me of prejudicing future help with grandchildren’s school fees. To which I reply that they will learn far more sailing with their Granddad than they could ever learn at school. I was also exceptionally lucky with my timing, selling shares at the top of the market so that the effective cost was much less than if I had waited. However, my wife isn’t convinced and mutters something about marina fees.
If you have dreams that partly resemble mine and welcome a challenge, then my advice is pursue them avidly. It would be unusual not to have occasional doubts as to whether it is all worthwhile. Just as the buyer of an expensive new car seeks reassurance by reading again the publicity and comparing with other makes, so I have to remind myself of the unique benefits ALISARA brings of performance and comfort in a 40 foot package. It was nice that Yachting World produced a complimentary review, calling her a ‘thinking man’s cruiser’ and a ‘custom cruiser with attitude’. Just as important are the comments from all the people who have enjoyed looking over her or coming for a sail.