A wooden boat that blazes a trail for modern technology and sustainability sounds too good to be true. Theo Stocker went to see if the Spirit 44e is as good as promised
Boats have been built out of wood since Noah first put axe to tree, but when it comes to cutting-edge yachts, timber is right back at the top.
Spirit Yachts have been building head-turningly pretty wooden yachts with stiff, lightweight laminated wooden hulls since 1993, including the largest wooden yacht built in the UK since the 1930s in the shape of the Spirit 111, launched this year.
But away from all the fanfare, the Ipswich-based yard has also just launched Avvento, smaller sister to its 47 and 55 Cruising Range yachts.
Far from being a lesser vessel, however, the Spirit 44 Cruising Range Electric (44e for short) hides advances in sustainable technology under its gleaming topsides that offer a glimpse into the future of boat building.
Unrecyclable fibreglass and sails, toxic antifoul, and fossil-fuel propulsion are replaced by sustainably sourced timber, self-sufficient electric propulsion and zero-carbon emissions.
The proud new owner is Vincent Argiro, a retired technology entrepreneur who lives and sails in British Columbia in Canada.
Explaining his motivation to go for such a radical concept, he said: ‘My first sailboat was also the first of its kind to be built all-electric. I have never owned anything else, nor will I.
‘To me, it is a terrible corruption of the beauty and simplicity of sailing to add internal-combustion propulsion to it.’
She is built, Spirit claims, to last a hundred years and to be largely recyclable when the time does come. In the intervening century, she will burn no hydro-carbons whatsoever with not even a backup generator on board, or, for that matter, any obvious renewable energy sources. I was curious to see how she worked.
THE TEST VERDICT
The Spirit 44e is a fabulously expensive boat given her limited accommodation and shorter than average waterline length, if you are going to judge her by volume.
As managing director Nigel Stuart says: ‘You need to think about her volume relative to her waterline rather than overall length.’ That’s a nice idea, if you have the luxury of not worrying about marina fees.
You can get a lot of boat for this kind of budget, so why would you buy the Spirit 44e? Firstly, she is drop dead gorgeous. From her sleek lines to her dovetail joints, there is no part of the boat that is not a pleasure to look at.
Then, she is utterly engaging to sail. Lightweight, powerful and responsive, helming her will put a smile on your face, while she should cope equally well with the rough stuff. Finally, she is light years ahead of most production yachts in terms of environmental impact.
I would opt for the smaller rig and higher boom, and I’d like narrower cockpit seats. Most owners would opt for a backup diesel generator for peace of mind, though with new battery tech on its way, unlimited range is within reach.
The Spirit 44e goes a very long way to prove that yachts can be built and run in a sustainable way.
Would the Spirit 44e suit you and your crew?
This boat isn’t about mass-market appeal, but who wouldn’t fall in love given half a chance? In reality, for the kind of cruising most sailors really do, weekends and a few weeks here and there, she is luxuriously comfortable for a cruising couple with occasional guests. Liveaboard cruising is more of a stretch, but entirely feasible, while she’ll also do well racing round the cans.
There’s plenty of entertaining space, particularly on deck once you’re in harbour, and if you don’t mind the stares, she turns heads wherever she goes.
Very few boats out there could hold a hydrocarbon-free candle to the Spirit 44e. Even Noah might have been tempted to leave his animals for this boat.