In just five decades Baltic Yachts has evolved from respected series production boat builder to the world’s best composite custom yacht manufacturer, the go-to yard for innovation, performance and a hand-crafted finish second to none.
Baltic Yachts has become firmly established as one of the best superyacht builders in the world, renowned for its comprehensive knowledge of advanced composite building materials and its skilled workers’ ability to innovate with the latest materials and technology.
The company has achieved this in just 50 years and celebrations are now underway to mark its foundation and recognise its success through the 566 boats it has built.
In the modern era, names like Visione, Nilaya, Hetairos, Pink Gin, Nikata, WinWin, Perseverance and Canova dominate the world’s regatta podiums and awards ceremonies and with the company’s latest launches, including the Baltic 110 Zemi and the ground-breaking, Baltic 111 Custom, it maintains its dominance at the leading edge of superyacht sailing technology.
The significance of Queen Anne
As Baltic Yachts prepares to celebrate its foundation in Bosund in 1973, with a party for 500 including our workers, local partners and international guests at its Jakobstad headquarters, it’s appropriate that the very first yacht it built, the C&C-designed Baltic 46 Diva, now Queen Anne, will also be in attendance along with her owner and the owners and friends of the recently launched Baltic 110 Zemi. Queen Anne underwent a refit in Bosund, the place of her birth, and with a new engine, freshly painted topsides, new hatches, a refurbished teak deck and updated instrumentation, is almost as good as new.
Her presence is doubly significant because she not only demonstrates the sustainability of yachts Baltic built 50 years ago, using what was then the latest boat building technology like balsa sandwich construction, unidirectional glass fibre and tank tested design, but she also illustrates the story of Baltic’s foundation.
In the beginning…
In 1973, superyachting, the genre with which we are familiar today, was non-existent, but series production boat building was really getting into its stride. One of its leading proponents, Nautor Swan, based in Jakobstad, was successfully building yachts for a growing global market and had established an enviable reputation.
Despite this, a small group of the company’s young boat builders had devised ways of building boats lighter and stiffer to improve performance. They tried to convince their managers at Nautor it was the way ahead, but their ideas fell on deaf ears.
Convinced their theories would work, five young men, Per-Göran ‘PG’ Johansson, Tor Hinders, Nils Luoma, Ingmar Sundelin and Jan-Erik Nyfelt struck out on their own, setting up Baltic Yachts in the small village of Bosund just north of Jakobstad.
Generations of skilled workers
Why Bosund? It is no coincidence that modern yacht building of the highest standard continues to thrive in the area of Finland known as Ostrobothnia. Generations of skilled wood-workers built warships and trading vessels as long ago as the 16th Century, supporting Finland and Sweden’s vast fleets of ships which travelled the world. Seafaring was part of the local population’s DNA and plentiful local timber made the area a natural choice for ship building.
In many ways those traditions are still very much in evidence and in 1973 the most important resource for the fledgling Baltic Yachts was a skilled local workforce. The Baltic Yachts Family came into being and now aged 50 is very much alive and well!
It was a tough winter start, snow falling relentlessly as the new company built its first boatshed. But their first model, the ambitious 46-footer Diva already described, reflected everything Baltic’s founders stood for – she was comparatively light, stiff and fast and was selected for the Canadian Admiral’s Cup team in 1975.
Boom time at the Hamburg Boat Show
The Hamburg Boat Show was a key outlet for Baltic in the early days with 15 sales in 1975 followed by 26 the following year. Although series production was the business model which underpinned Baltic’s early success, there were already signs of customisation and in Thomas Friese’s Doug Peterson-designed Baltic 42 Tina I-Punkt it was all-embracing. She was a full-on IOR Two-Tonner, stripped out and armed for racing in the German Admiral’s Cup team as part of which she survived the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race. This heavily customised yacht was a sign of things to come.
But even PG and his team couldn’t have foreseen the phenomenal success of the Baltic 39 which sold out at its premiere in Hamburg in 1977 and went on to become the company’s most successful design in terms of numbers, with 74 sold. Her designers, Cuthbertson and Cassian (C&C) and their chief naval architect, the late Rob Ball, had impressed PG Johansson because of their use of VPP (velocity prediction program) computer calculations and other advanced design techniques which mirrored PG’s own belief in improving yachts with modern methods.
The International Offshore Rule resulted in yachts which, like the Baltic 39, were particularly fast upwind, but like many racing yachts of this era, were fully fitted out and made excellent family cruising yachts too. Combined with the quality of build these were very effective selling points.
The Hollming era
In the late 1970s the new company was dealt a body blow by the global oil crisis and sought a new owner. The giant ship builder Hollming Oy believed in Baltic’s approach and provided the resources to support its rapid growth, fund the development of new models and build a sales organisation. Baltic Yachts would remain part of Hollming for 12 years and during this period was famously asked by its owner to assist in the development of a secret Russian submarine by providing input for its composite shell structure. Despite some political controversy over the project, it was a productive exercise, the vacuum-infused, epoxy resin technology directly benefitting the build of the Baltic 43 Bully.
Expansion, masts and Midnight Sun
A combination of factors in the late 70s and early 80s saw Baltic advance dramatically as carbon fibre was first used. The new Baltic 51 showcased many of the technical developments the company had evolved using computer aided design and engineering. And in Bosund a new building hall was opened, vastly increasing production capacity and enabling much larger yachts to be built. All sorts of innovation was in evidence, including pneumatically-powered cradles which would allow yachts to be moved effortlessly across the super-smooth floors of the new facility.
Baltic’s policy of drilling down into design and developing its own specification and checks for construction was not only beneficial for the quality of its yachts, but also impressed clients who were increasingly keen to get involved to learn how their yachts were built. They were actively encouraged to visit the yard to see their yacht under construction, something some other builders discouraged.
Baltic’s approach to design enabled the company to start building its own masts around 1980, their black anodised finish becoming a hallmark. The ability to build on site and on time greatly assisted production.
By the 1980s there were clear signs that clients were looking at bigger and faster yachts with the associated need for complete customisation. The Baltic 80 Midnight Sun was the first fully composite racing yacht in the world, built as an IOR maxi for a Swedish owner who wanted to move on from successful Admiral’s Cup campaigns. Built using a super-light end grain balsa core in her hull she was quick upwind and enjoyed success on the maxi circuit before being converted into a luxury cruising yacht.
Lisbeth Staffans takes the helm
A need to return to their core business forced the Hollming Group to dispose of Baltic Yachts in 1990 which led to a management and employee buyout which saw 34 managers and workers including PG Johansson and Jan Erik Nyfelt immediately becoming owners of the business. The existing marketing manager Lisbeth Staffans (picture below) became managing director.
Her style of management, driven by straightforward communication, honesty and transparency across the business, plus strict financial controls, returned the yard to profitability. Lisbeth Staffans led the company for 18 years during which time Baltic Yachts went from strength to strength and took it to the cusp of the game changing era of modern superyachting.
One of the first genuine multi-role supersailing yachts which took part in the increasingly popular superyacht regattas springing up in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, was Anny, an 87ft all-carbon yacht from the board of judel/vrolijk.
The German naval architect had already designed numerous Baltic production models prefacing a future in which they would become key, especially in larger superyachts.
With her lifting keel, extensive hydraulic systems and tender garage, Anny could be regularly seen at the front of superyacht racing fleets, particularly in Palma de Mallorca. She remained successful for many years.
Demand for the dual-role superyacht
The burgeoning superyacht regatta scene, many of the new ones trying to emulate the success of the St Barths Bucket in the Caribbean, offered a new dimension to ownership with many demanding a genuine dual-role yacht, one equally at home on the race course as crossing oceans and visiting the world’s remotest cruising grounds. This provided a great opportunity for builders of large sailing yachts, one which Baltic grasped with enthusiasm.
Anny was followed in the later 1990s by the Bill Dixon designed Vittfarne and the Baltic 70 Loftari, the former a classic looking yacht above the waterline with a high-performance underwater shape and the latter with an entirely pre-preg carbon and Nomex interior which demonstrated how large amounts of weight could be saved by building ultra-lightweight interiors.
Baltic Yachts has built a number of motor yachts and while it cannot be regarded as a regular part of its portfolio a lot of information was gained about sound deadening which transferred to sailing yachts to great effect. The Raymond Hunt-designed M48 Far Niente and her slightly larger sistership Ben Nevis were powerful seagoing motor yachts delivered in the late 90s. Baltic later built the Mani Frers-designed M78 Bill and Me, a stylish offshore motor yacht.
Baltic at the leading edge of technology
By the turn of the century advances in technology were gaining even greater pace, exemplified by the Baltic 78 Super Baltic 5 which sported a canting rather than lifting keel, an additional benefit of which was virtually no loss of internal space, as the hydraulic canting mechanism was contained almost entirely beneath the cabin sole.
At the yard the company installed a 5m X 3m lamination press which meant they could custom build composite parts like bulkheads and interior components to its own specification ensuring that weight savings could be made without compromising strength or durability.
And then, in 2002, an iconic commission was secured to build the extraordinary and technically advanced Baltic 147 Visione. With naval architecture by Reichel Pugh and all the design and engineering capacity at Baltic Yachts coming to the fore, Visione became a marker by which many subsequent performance superyachts were judged. Even today, 22 years after her launch, she is still capable of winning.
To say Visione was ahead of her time is an understatement. She remains a development project to this day, and has been updated and used as a testbed for a multitude of new ideas and technological breakthroughs. In a way she fired the starting gun for the race to build new superyachts, a plethora of which followed from Baltic driven by technology which made them easier to sail, faster, more competitive and more fun!
The first genuine supercruiser was the 141ft Canica, a complex yacht using all the advanced composite building experience accumulated by Baltic’s design engineers resulting in a yacht displacing half that of a typical 140-footer – and there was no compromise on comfort. She was the first yacht with a Siemens PLC computer control system and to reduce vibration and noise levels her entire accommodation was set on shock absorbers so that, in effect, it ‘floated’ within the hull shell.
A waterside home in Jakobstad
Ten years into the new century Baltic Yachts realised its dream of its own waterside premises. The Jakobstad yard was a state-of-the-art building which enabled larger yachts to be built and reduced the complex and expensive trucking operation from Bosund 23km away. It also provided deep water access for yachts returning to Finland for a refit.
This development went hand in hand with the yard becoming the first of its type in the world to achieve ISO standards in quality, environment and occupational health and safety. Baltic Yachts was also awarded full DNV GL certification giving customers peace of mind over the performance of all aspects of the building operation.
2010 saw the launch of the highly successful Reichel/Pugh designed Baltic 112 Nilaya, which epitomised the superyacht racer/cruiser genre many owners sought. The yacht won almost every regatta she entered benefitting from grand prix pedigree design combined with Baltic’s exacting engineering and build standards designed to save weight. In short, Nilaya was an all-round winner.
The Professor provides stability and vision
Shortly into the new decade, new owners for the company were sought as the shareholding staff began to retire. In March 2013 Professor Hans Georg Näder, a keen yachtsman and a Baltic customer acquired an 80 per cent stake in the company through his family-owned prosthetics company Ottobock.
Professor Näder’s enthusiasm and vision was a shot in the arm for the company and he eventually increased his stake to become sole owner ensuring Baltic Yachts’ financial independence and solvency. He also appointed Henry Hawkins as Executive Vice President, a former yacht captain who brought a wealth of sailing knowledge and industry contacts to Baltic.
A presence in Palma – superyachting’s service capital
Not long afterwards, the first moves to establish a Service and Refit base in Palma de Mallorca got underway. Service and the need to look after everyone in what had now become a large Baltic Family became high on the company’s agenda. Today, the Palma operation is a vital part of Baltic Yachts providing refit, modifications and almost any service requirement in the heart of the western Mediterranean’s superyacht action.
For the next 12 years a succession of remarkable yachts was launched, many of which became award winners while others dominated the superyacht race courses of the world. Hetairos remains one of the most spectacular modern sailing yachts ever launched, her neo-classic styling hiding a phenomenal performance made possible by full carbon composite construction and a massive ketch rig with a mizzen sailplan almost as powerful as the main. An enormous lifting keel and a cassette style lifting rudder were examples of the advanced engineering required to make this yacht a success.
The Baltic 115 Nikata was a highly successful, stylish multi-role superyacht taking part in the RORC’s iconic Fastnet and Caribbean 600 races and the Middle Sea Race while providing a superb platform in cruising mode. At 130ft My Song was a study in exterior and interior design and as much at home on the race course as crossing oceans, while the Javier Jaudennes designed WinWin accumulated almost as much silverware as Nilaya.
A mix of Pink Gins
A string of Pink Gins built by Baltic saw the latest iteration, Pink Gin VI, launch in 2017. She is still the largest carbon fibre sloop in the world and notable for some advanced structural engineering which enables two large fold-down platforms to be set into her topsides, the forward one providing the owner’s cabin with a magnificent private balcony and swimming platform.
By 2018, technical advances in sailing were moving at such a pace that design features normally seen on much more performance-orientated yachts were now being considered at superyacht scale. Baltic Yachts’ ability to meet the challenges these design innovations set made it a natural choice for customers looking for something special.
First foil-assisted superyacht
In the Baltic 142 Canova, the world saw the first foil-assisted superyacht using a Dynamic Stability System (DSS) sliding foil set athwartships in a cassette beneath the owner’s cabin. When deployed to leeward the 9m long foil provided lift to reduce heel and also dampen pitching motion.
The yacht was also one of the first to be fitted with an electric propulsion motor, large banks of lithium-ion batteries and the ability to charge them using her free-wheeling propeller while sailing. This reduced the use of internal combustion engines for propulsion and charging, cut emissions and took a large step towards improving the ‘green’ credentials of superyachts.
The move to power yachts with electric motors, big battery banks and the propeller-driven hydrogeneration developed by Baltic Yachts and its partners, has rapidly gained pace in recent years although in 2020 the company launched the Baltic 146 Path which opted for a conventional drive train. This yacht’s construction was complicated by the devastating COVID pandemic but she was launched to schedule and kept the company going over a difficult two-year period.
Apart from her sheer size – the third largest yacht by volume built by Baltic – Path had a remarkable combined deck saloon and covered cockpit the hardtop ‘bimni’ for which was also a landing for the largest array of solar panels ever seen on a sailing yacht.
Testbed for technology
Two smaller semi-production yachts were also gaining in popularity at this time. The Baltic 68 Café Racer was conceived as a testbed for sustainable build materials and rig technology designed to make a high-performance yacht easier to sail for a short-handed crew.
Naturally grown flax instead of carbon was used as a reinforcement in 50per cent of the hull and deck mouldings, a swept spreader Marstrom rig and Doyle Sails’ Structured Luff technology were used to improve performance and simplify sailing, while cork decks and twin electric motors all combined to provide a glimpse of what, in the future, might be the norm.
The third Baltic 67PC, Freedom, was launched last year, a different take on a series production hull designed to speed up build time and control costs. The 67 also provides an opportunity for highly efficient shorthanded, long-distance sailing and offers a multitude of interior layouts and finishes.
Modern classics are occasionally commissioned, their looks often belying the use of the very latest in superyachting technology. The Baltic 117 Perseverance is no exception, her elegant lines, straight stem, long counter and deep bulwarks giving the impression of a vessel from another era. But she has electric propulsion, hydro-generation, optimised pump technology and her superlight hull and easy to manage rig make her a very potent sailing yacht.
Epitome of the modern superyacht
Just launched and available for viewing at Baltic Yachts’ Anniversary party is the stunning looking Baltic 110 Zemi, the second yacht built by the company to a Malcolm McKeon design. Her metallic bronze hull is complemented by a stunning teak deck and superstructure while her systems represent the very latest in superyacht design and engineering. She is the epitome of a fast, luxurious world class cruiser with serious racing potential.
Baltic 111 Custom – in a class of her own
It is perhaps entirely appropriate that Baltic Yachts’ 50th Anniversary Party coincides with the near completion of the most extreme yacht the company has ever built.
Her, aesthetics, control systems, rig, generating and propulsion systems use the most advanced engineering, building and design techniques available in yachting.
Baltic Yachts was chosen to build this ultra-lightweight yacht because her owner believed it has the track record, design and engineering ability and, above all, highly skilled workforce to meet the immense challenges Baltic 111 Custom sets.