Wednesday 13th April 2022
In 1990, X-yachts received an unusual order: “Build me the world’s best racing boat. The budget is unlimited.” 32 years later, Birger Hansen brings the historical vessel back to it’s birth place.
Birger Hansen is one of the three founders of X-yachts. Along with the two Jeppesen brothers – Niels and Lars – he launched the groundbreaking X-79 in 1979, setting off a series of race winning boats that changed the world of sailing.
Birger still comes regularly to his office at the boat yard. Anyone entering will notice that the wall behind his desk is almost entirely covered by a huge, framed photo of a white X-yacht, with the characteristic three stripes at the water line.
The most advanced boat ever
That picture has been there for a long time. And it’s no coincidence that it’s exactly this boat, Birger chose to decorate his office. Before he even sits down to tell the story, he points to the picture and says:
“That boat… that is the Stradivarius of X-yachts. The most advanced racing boat we ever built. We had never built anything like that before. And we never did anything like that again.”
Steep learning curve
The 80’s was a wild and crazy time in Haderslev – the new danish boat yard launched one winning racing boat after the other, and in record time, X-yachts had taken a position as one of the world’s leading boat yards for fast performance sailing boats.
There were more than one reason for this. Obviously, Niels Jeppesens design was something radically new and different. But it was definitely also about how the boats were built.
The yard was driven by a strong passion, and everyone involved – boat builders, engineers, technicians of every kind – really wanted to produce the best boat possible. Boats were sold fast and the learning curve was steep.
All through these formative years, Birger was often found in the production facilities, with his hands buried deep in polyester, epoxy, divinycell, Nomex, glassfibre, carbon fibre – whatever material that could be imagined to optimize the production of a fast sailing vessel. Actually, he was the business man among the three founders, and spent almost 25 years as the CEO of X-yachts. But at the same time, he was deeply involved in the composite technology and the boat building competence that was developed at the yard – a knowledge that still today is the hallmark of X-yachts.
“Okyalos won the world championship in Marstrand 1990”, he says. “And the boat also sailed the world championship the following year… in Skovshoved, Denmark I believe it was. And again, they were number one coming out of the inshore races. But in the long offshore race, they sailed themselves into a patch of no wind and lost their lead. So they ended up being third or fourth. After that the boat was chartered to the french Corum-team, where it becomes a part of the french Admiral’s Cup team. They ended up winning Admiral’s Cup, with a french crew, the year after.”
One class up
“The whole thing started because the owner, Ioannis Kostopoulos, had sailed with us at the ¾ Ton Cup in 1988 and 1989. We won on both occasions, the last time even in his own home town, his own sailing club. And right after that we held a meeting with him in Greece, and told him that there would be a One Ton Cup the following year in Marstrand Sweden. And since he couldn’t really win any more in the ¾ Ton class, we suggested that he should step a class up. Which he decided to do. And so he put in an order for a new boat, that we would build for him.”
Right around 1990, X-yachts built three one off racing boats in vacuum infused, prepreg carbon fiber/epoxy – a brand new technology at the time, and the most advanced, optimized way possible to build a boat. Okyalos was the last of the three boats.
”Okyalos was an extremely expensive boat to build. Back then, 32 years ago, the price was three million in danish currency, which translates to about 400.000 euros. Today that would be in the area of one and half million euros. For a 40 footer. So when we started the project, we knew there were no limitations. We could build it in the most optimal way possible.
He makes little drawings on a piece of paper while talking, to demonstrate what things looked like. “Down in our development department”, he says, “I had this little room, two by two meters, that I could heat up to 80 degrees celsius. I had a sauna oven installed in there. In that room I did my experiments… vacuum infused composite, all kinds of things…”
He stops for a second, thinks back and smiles:
“Yes, yes”, he says eagerly, “we made lot’s of testing with those new materials. Even prepreg, carbon fibre fabric that had been pre-treated with epoxy resin. We had to store it in a freezer container. This was a brand new invention back then. The best of the best.”
He leans back again. And proudly exclaims:
“It’s still the best. Even today. A professional racing boat today is built the exact same way we did it 32 years ago, here at X-yachts.”
Okyalos was built in a 14 meter oven, built for the purpose using styrofoam blocks. Heating and ventilating was extremely energy demanding. The crew had to connect wires directly to the electrical mast outside. The temperature had to reach 80 degrees, to ensure an optimal hardening process.
Actually, the boat was so well built, with such a stability and optimized weight distribution, that the lower piece of keel had to be replaced with wood, to make the boat measure as a One Tonner under the IOR rule. The extremely well centered weight around the lower mid section of the boat reduced pitching in waves, and was one of the reasons why the boat was so fast. The whole deck section, with reinforcements for winches and so on, was only 120 kilos.
While building the boat, a phone call came from a danish, national research facility – they wanted to know more about this new thing called carbon fibre.
“I passed it on to Niels, he was the engineer. But you see, we were the leading ones in Denmark on this area. And I remember several other experts stating that Okyalos was the world’s best built One Tonner.”
The crown jewel
For many years I have said that if this boat ever comes up for sale, I will buy it. And then, suddenly, it happened. I bought it immediately. So, our Stradivarius has finally come home to X-yachts. And this time she will stay.”
Birger pauses and fingers through the drawings he has made while talking. “This was such an amazing era”, he says. “We won the ¾ Ton World Championship six times. The first time in 1981, the last time in 1989. Every time with the same hull, the same one we used for all the X-102’s. It’s incredible. After that came the very advanced, specially designed one off racing boats, with Okyalos as the crown jewel. And it was all of that – everything we learned during those years – that really got X-yachts going. After Okyalos we felt that we had built so much knowledge – knowledge that very few had… so we wanted to turn it into a business. Build boats in bigger numbers, boats also suitable for cruising. So in that way, Okyalos is a piece of history. That boat was our peak, when it comes to advanced, high end racing boats. And in a way you might say that Okyalos became a turning point for our boat yard.”
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