Breaking new ground in performance sailing, the first ClubSwan80 My Song is a futuristic one-design racer on an unprecedented scale. Elaine Bunting experiences her under sail.
Spray thrown by My Song’s angular bow fizzes to leeward. The towering, black blade sails and reverse sheer make her seem as if she’s about to pounce. Even on a flat sea, the yacht rips out a wake with breeze of her own powerful making.
My Song, the new ClubSwan 80, is a futuristic racer-cruiser designed to provide an adrenaline ride for an owner-driver in the Maxi yacht race circuit yet be suited to short cruising. Built by Persico Marine, the ClubSwan 80 is billed as the first in a new one-design class where owners can vie with each other on level pegging, as they do in smaller ClubSwan 36 and ClubSwan 50 designs.
It is a punchy move by the Finnish-Italian company. It is joining battle with some of the world’s best custom designs and intricately rehearsed pro crews. The ClubSwan 80 may take time to fully prove itself. In the meantime, its looks can kill. That big, square top mainsail, hard chines and sloping shape not only defy convention, they make much of the competition look suddenly dated.
My Song is the latest in a succession of yachts of that name, owned by Italian businessman Pier Luigi Loro Piana in his 40-year sailing career, and was born from a very personal catastrophe. His previous My Song, a Baltic 130, was being transported on a ship in May 2019 when she fell over the side and was holed from the impact. The yacht was a total loss.
The boat was only three years old at the time, one of the finest high-performance sailing superyachts to be built, and her destruction was devastating. “It was as if my home had burnt down,” Loro Piana confessed. When your dream yacht is in ruins, where do you set your heart next? “I really loved that boat,” he says, “but afterwards, I wanted a different choice.”
At the time, Nautor was building the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios, the largest of its high-performance ClubSwan one-design racers by Franco-Argentinean naval architect Juan Kouyoumdjian (a surname so tricky to pronounce that everyone just calls him Juan K). The company had plans to flesh out a racing line they began with the ClubSwan 50 and ClubSwan 36 with a model that slotted into the elite Maxi class.
The ClubSwan 80 would be intended for owner-driver racing and the regattas that cater to them, and be the basis of a cost-contained, level playing field for other owners to join. The team assembled for the project included Pure Design & Engineering for the engineering and Nauta Design for the interior, while the construction of the carbon composite hull, its interior and exterior, went to race boat specialists Persico Marine.
As its first owner, Loro Piana and his sailing team had the chance to shape the characteristics of this new design for the inshore races that were their target. These are Mediterranean regattas such as the Rolex Giraglia, the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, PalmaVela, the Rolex Swan Cup and Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, as well as offshore regattas such as the Rolex Middle Sea Race, RORC Caribbean 600, and Palermo-Montecarlo.
While the ClubSwan 80 is an all-rounder, My Song’s team wanted to optimise the design for light winds – “upwind in seven to eight knots of true wind”, says Loro Piana’s long-time team manager Giorgio Benussi.
Some key aspects were changed. The original Juan K design featured a 4.75-metre canting keel and a rotating C-foil for sailing in “skimming” mode (similar to the other yachts in the ClubSwan range). That was changed to a canting keel and a single rotating canard.
The keel ends in a 6,500-kilogram bulb that can be canted up to 43 degrees. The four-metre-long canard, or daggerboard, minimises leeway when the keel is canted, and can be angled hydraulically or fully retracted downwind to reduce drag. It can be rotated plus or minus eight degrees to mode between pointing higher and sailing slower, or going low and faster, depending on fleet tactics.
“The leitmotif of this boat is reinventing what it is to go racing and fast cruising,” says Juan K. “An 80ft [24-metre] yacht that is very light displacement – just over 19 tonnes – achieved with a canting keel [that] allows the same righting moment with 25 per cent less displacement.”
The huge sail area, 447 square metres upwind, and displacement of just over 19 tonnes make this a fast and very responsive boat. The boat is fully powered up, keel canted, in just nine to ten knots of true wind. It is easily capable of reaching speeds of 12 to 13 knots upwind. Downwind Velocity Made Good (VMG) target speeds are two knots quicker than the true wind.
A four-metre retractable bowsprit allows a staysail to be flown as well as a spinnaker in some conditions. The headsails are on furlers and there is an internal spinnaker retrieval system. This means that it is possible to race My Song with just 16 to 18 crew. Loro Piana’s previous yacht needed a race crew of 30 to 40.
The tall rig and sail inventory is the result of a collaboration with Southern Spars, Future Fibres and North Sails, all part of the North Technology Group. North Sails’ president, Ken Read, a top round-the-world skipper and one of the world’s most skilled sailors of canting keel yachts, led My Song’s crew in their initial races and race training.
“My role is twofold,” he explains, “overseeing the collaboration, supplying all the aerodynamic coefficients and then putting together the package so it works right out of the box. The VPP [Velocity Prediction Program] says the boat is supposed to go this fast and [at] this angle, and the sails have to do that. There is no more designing a boat and [then] making the sails – if you’re doing that, you are already off the pace.”
Extensive design studies were carried out on how to reduce the weight of the rig and sails. North Sails’ Helix structured luffs were used in headsails and Benussi says that this has allowed forestay loads to be reduced by up to 30 per cent.
Technology is at the heart of My Song’s performance. The distinctive, broad orange draft stripes on the mainsail help with analysis of sail shape. Cameras can be attached to each side of the boom to record video to review after training sessions by a team that includes an analyst and sailmaker. Such detailed off-the-water analytics have trickled down from the America’s Cup thanks to the partnership forged with Persico Marine. In fact, the model was constructed using the same methods as the AC75 with the help of a Coriolis robot – used in the aerospace industry – to laminate the carbon.
But the ClubSwan 80 can be a pedigree thoroughbred racer one week and a downtempo cruiser the next. “The cool part for me is that you can have a weekend cruising in Bonifacio with three crew, or do a long race such as the Rolex Giraglia or the Rolex Middle Sea Race without sleeping on a sail bag,” says Benussi.
Nauta Design was tasked with creating a striking interior befitting a high-tech racer which could be transformed quickly into a comfortable family cruiser. On deck, the cockpit can be converted to an entertaining and lounging area with sunpads and a high-low table. The change from racing mode to cruising trim takes two crew only a couple of days.
The ClubSwan 80 will be an intoxicating ride, and a handful to race. This is an apparent wind machine, which behaves more like a multihull than the average monohull that cannot really be sailed by feel. “The feeling you have helming this boat is more exciting than my last yacht,” says Loro Piana. “The smaller you go with your boat, I think the more you are enjoying it. It is like driving a Gran Turismo, a supercar.”
Will it take off as a one-design? Nautor believes it’s a chance worth taking. Top race results will be crucial. So far, they are promising. In September, My Song came away from the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup with a fifth overall in a class of 13, including a first and a third place in five races. That was despite managing only a handful of training days since the launch.
The ClubSwan 80 is at the top end of the GT racer spectrum, but Loro Piana sees it as a long-term competitor: “I launched my 83ft Cookson Reichel-Pugh My Song in 1999 and sailed it for 17 years, and it is still very competitive. I hope this will be the same and have a very long life. It is a forever yacht.”
“A one-design class of this size and of this magnitude has never been realised by anyone,” Nautor Swan’s senior adviser Enrico Chieffi says, “but we believed it was time. The technology is not new but the combination of the long bowsprit, the huge sails and canting keel makes it a bit of a monster. It is a game changer.”
First published in the January 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW