—An ‘80s love story in Communist East Germany that led to 2019’s best custom sailing yacht build.
Photography by Stuart Pearce
A strong and favorable wind fills the ship’s iconic sails. Its hull knifes through the rhythmic ballad of the Mediterranean Sea, each bounce an elegant bow into the crashing waves below. This graceful dance is both classic and modern—evocative of a bygone era, yet, emblematic of modern imagination. Whether from arm’s length atop the ship’s bowsprit or by a rapturous gaze from the water’s edge, the Vijonara’s captivating performance leaves both its sailors and observers mesmerized in the wake of its unyielding splendor.
It was an unusual genesis for Vijonara—her aluminum hull was built at Bloemsma in the Netherlands, and the rest of her details were completed by Pendennis Shipyard in the U.K. But the ship’s story really begins with her owners, who first met living in Communist East Germany in the ‘80s as university students. It was there that the pair quickly formed a bond over sailing, with aspirations of one day enjoying the freedom of the open ocean.
At the time, the Swiss couple would transform an old 32-foot hull into their very own sailboat to take onto a small nearby lake. But like East Germany, they outgrew the lake and opted for the task of bringing their boat to the only place they were permitted to sail, the Baltic Sea. The duo crossed a canal under close watch of East Germany’s armed guards and battled government regulations each summer, simply for the joy of sailing. By 1989, they were finally both free from Communism and subsequently began their life of freedom.
Though they had owned several smaller sailboats since the ‘80s, the 138-foot Vijonara would be their first-ever new-build project. With a taste for both top performance and classic charm, they began their research by chartering the Atalante, the first Truly Classic 128 design by Dutch designer Andre Hoek. Aboard the Atalante at the Monaco Yacht Show, Hoek would introduce them to MCM’s Nigel Ingram to handle the project’s management. There was instant chemistry among the group, and it wasn’t long before the project was underway.
Being experienced sailors, the owners were after more than just a carbon copy of ships past—something symbolic of their journey and unique to their own vision. They entrusted Ingram—a former racing sailor and yacht captain himself—to help bring their ideas to life. As a co-founder of MCM—one of the industry’s leading yacht management firms for over 30 years—Ingram and his business partner, Peter Wilson, have handled the new construction of over 80 superyachts.
Perhaps Vijonara’s greatest challenge—outside of her stunning details—was the project’s short construction schedule, which had to be completed in time for the owners’ sailing plans. “I had completed two refits at the yard and knew what they were capable of,” says Ingram. “When the owners visited the yard in Falmouth, they just clicked with the people there and a contract was signed pretty quickly.”
“The owners had a very clear vision of what they wanted to achieve and it was my job to make sure all the parties pulled together to achieve that vision,” Ingram explains. “Understanding what the owner wants is paramount, but then we have to explain what the constraints are and be very clear about the challenges. Building a superyacht is all about teamwork and the tight build schedule was achieved largely because everyone involved worked so well together.”
Vijonara’s owners had plenty of big ideas for her custom build. One of the earliest requests was for a bowsprit, the purpose of which was twofold. The first was for practical reasons. A true evocation of vintage sailing yachts, the bowsprit carries larger downwind sails, which in turn deliver more power in addition to the improved ease of handling the yacht with a small crew. The second, however, was simply for the thrill of lounging in the ship’s netting while at sea.
“Despite her classic lines, Vijonara is a thoroughly modern sailing yacht with a very powerful sail plan, but those long elegant overhangs also mean you lose interior volume and a major challenge during construction was fitting everything in,” says Ingram. “For safety reasons, the owners also requested quite high bulwarks on what is a very sleek hull with a low freeboard. This pushed the deck down and we had to be careful to maintain the ceiling heights below deck because the owner is quite tall.”
The owner’s called for a new deck layout with Vijonara’s helm station in the midship and an aft suite featuring a study in the deckhouse and a gym. For the ship’s interior décor, the team tapped Hermès. Inside, the luxury French brand used its signature leather and white stitching, a color palette well-suited for the ship’s understated brushed metal and nautical blue accents. Couple its chic style with exterior features such as its teak deck, Vijonara pays homage to both sailing’s sophisticated past and imaginative future.
Also working closely with the yacht’s owners, Hoek’s role in the owner’s distinct vision was crucial to Vijonara’s short construction window. Using modern 3D scanning technology, the Dutch naval architect ensured the symmetry of what would become the second Truly Classic 128 sloop—down to the last inch of aluminum. It was also the task of the designer to restructure the ship’s deck to be both practical and unique to the owner’s personal tastes.
“The deck layout has been reconfigured in line with the owners’ requirements, with a helm station positioned in front of the aft deck house creating a social atmosphere close to the center cockpit, enabling the helmsman and guests to remain in close contact,” Hoek says. “In doing so the aft cockpit has become the owner’s cockpit, not only creating privacy but also providing an extension of the aft owner’s cabin and deckhouse. The central steering wheel with two adjacent side consoles are flanked by winches and hydraulics for performance sailing by a small crew. The stainless-steel steering pedestal is piece of art in its own right, with a classic nighthouse housing the compass encircled by a double-spoke wheel with an oval shaped rim.”
Both Ingram and Hoek’s roles, however, would come to an end in the early spring of 2018, when they handed Vijonara over to her owners. But for MCM, and Ingram in particular, the oversight of the project was one of great pride. So much so that they still have an open line of communication to this day.
“A good owner’s representative is essential on any new-build project,” the owners say. “Not someone who’s fighting over every penny necessarily, but someone who can bring together the different partners to make it happen. [Ingram] was very good at doing that and a gentleman to boot. Being involved as owners makes the experience much more rewarding, but it’s important not to try and second-guess every decision.”
Though Vijonara’s owners couldn’t be happier with the final build, her time in the spotlight was not over. Most recently wowing judges at the 2019 World Superyacht Awards, taking home the title of Best Sailing Yacht for both her outstanding performance and classic charm. “We are absolutely delighted the judges decided in Vijonara’s favor, as we feel that the team created something very special: a timeless and elegant spirit-of-tradition yacht with fine sailing characteristics and a well-proven sea-kindly hull form,” says Ingram.
A near perfect example of a modern classic, Vijonara has paved the road for ships three and four in the Truly Classic 128 series—the builds of which will also be managed by Ingram. But like Vijonara herself—which is a culmination of her owner’s names—the real story is one not just of adventures on the horizon, but also an homage to journeys past.