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Spirit Yachts – The ultimate racing machine?

by Alison Willis 10 Sep 2018 08:00 PDT
The 52D is a stripped out version of the Spirit 52 Classic and has been custom built for a yacht-racing enthusiast. Is this the ultimate mix of grace and pace? © Paul Wyeth

The Spirit 52D has combined traditional timber, carbon fibre and PRO-SET epoxy to make a high-performance head turner.

Building in wood is enjoying a huge resurgence due to the ability to make stunning one-offs and the 52D from UK-based Spirit Yachts is a classic example – classic being the operative word.

Spirit Yachts draws its inspiration from the 'metre-boats' of the 1930s, with flush decks, easily driven hulls and 'supremely elegant' overhangs. Each hull is built with a mix of yellow cedar, rich African mahogany and Burmese teak; all held firmly together with modern epoxy techniques. As such, the Spirit range has become highly sought after, mainly because of its timeless elegance and the ability to fully customise.

The 52D is a great example. Based on the template of the 52 Classic, the D version has been stripped right out to create a thoroughbred racing machine for an enthusiastic owner. Her rig and deck gear is awash with hi-tech carbon fibre fittings, chosen over gleaming stainless steel to help shave an impressive 1,500kg off her cruising counterparts. With nothing aboard this 52D except the absolute essentials, the D notification stands for 'distilled' Spirit.

Here are some pictures of this amazing yacht during her build, with comments from the small but dedicated team of professionals who put it all together.

The roll over

Each bespoke hull is created upside down, with the planks laid over a hardwood frame. Once the shell has been completed, and PRO-SET epoxy has cured, the hull is rolled upright for work to continue on the interior.

Ring frames from paper printouts

With the upturned hull fully supported, the rest of the fit-out can begin. Note the hardwood laminated frames, all bonded using PRO-SET epoxy adhesive.

"We printed out the plans at full size for the ring frames," explained Spirit Yachts' Managing Director Nigel Stuart. "This gives us very accurate results."

Lightweight installations

As the deck beams go on, so the small diesel engine is lowered onto its bed. Interior hardware and systems were kept to a minimum. "If it wasn't needed, it wasn't put in," Nigel said. "We also installed a lithium-ion phosphate battery pack, which is super light for the power density it carries."

Less steel, more carbon

Gleaming 316 marine stainless steel looks great but is heavy, so the 52D is equipped with carbon fibre fixtures and fittings throughout.

The carbon fibre fittings were custom made and infused using PRO-SET epoxy.

"Gary Scott Jenner, the founder of composite specialists High Modulus, helped us with the design of longitudinal stiffeners," Nigel said. "We also have chainplates and backing pads made from carbon and Gary assisted with the keel and rudder designs. Both are now stiffer and harder but – essentially – lighter."

Ultra Hi Modulus rig

Spirit Yachts have a sparkling sailing performance due to their High Modulus carbon rigs but with the 52D the owner had specified HS40 instead of HR40. This means that the rig was made from 'Ultra' High Modulus carbon fibre, shaving an additional 10kg off the installation and giving added strength. "No engineering detail was left out, within the rules," Nigel said.

Bare bones interior

When you are born to race, you don't need any clutter. The interior of the 52D is pared back to the minimum required, as seen here in this view looking aft. The bare timber has all been treated with multiple coats of Awlgrip's relatively new two-pack varnish Allwood, applied in thin layers using a spray gun. This results in a tough and long-lasting finish that also affords some traction underfoot.

Here is the view looking forward, capturing the yacht's elegant lines. Now compare this shot with the one below, of a similar camera angle in a fully fitted 52 Classic. Spirit Yachts maintains the traditional timberwork throughout the interiors on the cruising versions but an owner can have pretty much any layout they want. There are no mould tools to worry about.

Epoxy wood – an ideal 'green' material

"Building in wood and epoxy is a very low impact combination," Nigel Stuart explains. "The hulls will have around a 100-year lifespan – more if routinely maintained – and can easily be broken up and recycled if required. Even if converted into firewood, the very low epoxy content will make the 'end of life' disposal very easy."

However, it is almost impossible to believe that anyone would ever want to deliberately break one of these boats up in the future. Meanwhile, Spirit Yachts continue to build entirely in wood, which will capture both carbon – and imaginations – for decades to come.

"Currently we have a 111-foot superyacht nearing completion, along with a 70-foot powerboat and two sailing yachts of 50-foot and 65-foot. We're happy to say our order book is very healthy indeed."

For more information on Spirit Yachts, visit

For more information on West System International, visit

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