There isn´t much introduction needed when speaking of both: Germán Frers and Hallberg-Rassy. Germán Frers is a living legend, nothing less than one of the most influential naval architects and yacht designers of our century. A person, who´s ideas have not only shaped a whole fleet of yachts but had been pathbreaking and game-changing for yacht brands like Nautor´s Swan, Wally or – you name it – Hallberg Rassy. When I was meeting Magnus Rassy during last Cannes Boat Show (read the article here) I on one occasion walked passing by Mr. Frers on La Croisette – I was so stunned and shocked that I didn´t had the guts to just talk to him.
So I afterwards asked Magnus Rassy if he could arrange a contact for me, which I was pleased to hear he did with joy. Months later now we both found the time to have a long and intense phone conversation. I found Mr. Frers in a lush mood talking freely and open about his decades long experience with designing yachts, spiced with funny anecdotes and personal opinions. Here´s what Germán Frers and I were talking about in relation to the collaboration of Frers Yacht Design with the Swedish brand Hallberg-Rassy:
Lars Reisberg | NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “Mr. Frers, first of all thanks for taking your precious time to talk to me. It´s an honour and I am excited to finally getting in touch with you. When we are talking about the Frers-Rassy-collaboration, we are speaking about a long partnership, aren´t we?”
Germán Frers: “Well, yes. I started my work for Hallberg-Rassy around the year 1988, which is now exactly 30 years ago. Christoph Rassy, the father of Magnus as you know, was contacting me and invited us to the yard in Ellös. It took some time but we finally visited them in Sweden back in the yard which at this time was making already impressive fine boats. During this time I was working with the America´s Cup yacht IL MORO DI VENEZIA in San Diego, California. But it all started back then with the Hallberg-Rassy 45 as my first ever boat to design for the company.”
NFS.com: ”Have you been their first choice as designer?”
Germán Frers: (laughs) “I would think so, yes. You see, what I can tell you is my perspective: I found the idea of working for Hallberg-Rassy interesting because they did exactly the opposite of what we were doing. We were making yachts as fast and as racy as possible. We wanted to win hard offshore races and things like the America´s Cup. Hallberg-Rassy makes cruising yachts, which was something of a counterpoint. But in the end as it turned out not so much: A Hallberg-Rassy should be sailing fast as well. Should be coping with offshore ocean realities as well. Christoph on one occasion, when he was briefing me on a project, got down to the floor and on his knees, like a dog, and barked. He said: I want a yacht that´s like a wolf in a sheep´s clothing. You see: In cruising, performance is part of the cruising pleasure. And this is what we try to achieve with our designs for Hallberg-Rassy: Making quick boats as well, of course within the limitations set by the design brief, the measurements, displacement and so forth.”
NFS.com: ”Hallberg-Rassy is just one of your multiple clients and the yachts are just a fraction of what you design: What is special though on working with Hallberg-Rassy compared to other clients, like Nautor´s Swan for example?”
Germán Frers: “Well, first of all Hallberg-Rassy yachts are very special in their own sense. They have a unique character and are very much respected and appreciated by a wide audience. When talking about the company and the style of collaboration: Hallberg-Rassy is a very, very practical client. Very hands-on and uncomplicated due to a very small overhead. They have a tendency to think operative and they very strongly believe in what they do. I like very much the company-inherent strive for constant evolution and improvement, which may sound odd because Hallberg-Rassy´s image is perceived as being rather conservative. They retain a good balance between sticking to classics and striving for the new, but without getting overly excited with all those trends popping up here and now. And, of course, at last those boats are also a source of pride for me as a designer.
NFS.com: ”Is it true that Magnus sends over sketches of his own ideas when a new project is started? How does the design process of a new yacht look like in particular?”
Germán Frers: “No, he seldom sends sketches. But therefore very, very explicit design briefs. That´s mostly a text, in written form. He first designates the model he is planning to replace and often gives exact specifications like the new width of the stern or other things. On the other hand, I am working with Hallberg-Rassy now for a very long time and I do possess an intimate knowledge of their philosophy which makes me feel safe in making my own suggestions for the project. When I send over my designs, that´s mostly CAD or other computer aided design or renderings. Magnus and I mirror all the alterations to surely shape the style of the new design. That´s a very nice process.”
NFS.com: ”What would you say is the Hallberg-Rassy “DNA” and how do you try to work out those unique features in your designs?”
Germán Frers: “Basically, these boats are reliable, strong and safe oceangoing yachts at first. It´s a unique pedigree and it transpires through the whole construction. The finish of the installations, the aesthetics and the practical solutions are special in each model. I understand that a Hallberg-Rassy sails very well. You see, I´ve been at sailing and out at sea a lot in my life and I still am. I know what it means to sail in foul weather, I know what is necessary to make a boat feel safe and yet at the same time to enjoy life at sea. Sailing is a source of joy and with Hallberg-Rassy this pleasure is imminent in the boats. Speed isn´t necessarily a factor of pleasure. In bad weather you want to slow down to feel safe. You don´t go fast in bad weather because this makes people worry. On the other hand, reaching nice destinations quickly is a fine thing. It´s a good mix I guess. Hallberg-Rassy has chosen a style and maintained it over the decades. Some like it, some not. My daughters for example do not particularly like it – I by myself love it.” (laughs)
NFS.com: ”Speaking of new designs: When I saw the Hallberg-Rassy 44 for the first time and read about it here in German yachting magazines, it was perceived as a true “revolution” for the company in many respects. Who of you was pushing for the twin rudders, the wide stern and all those new details in this boat?”
Germán Frers: “Both were pushing. And both of us always push for constant evolution. I always opt to go to the future and try to present new solutions to my clients. Magnus accepts some of them and some are refused by him. Sometimes he comes up with his own ideas. I can say that in either way I don´t find difficulties or big differences in our ways of thinking. Which, I guess, is a result of both our own large experiences at sea. When talking of the HR 44, the original ideas came indeed from myself. You see, the double rudder configuration has so many advantages: From better steering when heeled to a massive gain in interior volume and so forth. It´s just a pleasure for helmsmen. I like classic styles for sure but people change and so do we. We have to adapt for certain demands in order to keep up with the developments. On the other hand we try not to sacrifice anything due to trends. It all is for the joy of sailing.”
NFS.com: ”What makes a true blue water oceangoing cruiser perfect, in your eyes?”
Germán Frers: “Its reliability, its sea-kindness and a well-balanced design. A strong construction of course and a simple rig. Effective deck distribution and a decent speed of course and last not least there has to be enough space to enjoy life at sea, because we are here for pleasure in the end, aren´t we? Personally I prefer 70 to 75 feet for my family and guests. That´s a great size to sail in the Med, a sailing area I particularly love. Lots of sailors prefer this size.”
NFS.com: ”My last question, Mr. Frers: What do you think will a Hallberg-Rassy look like in, let´s say a 10 years time?”
Germán Frers: (laughs) “What I know for sure is that there will be a blue stripe. No, honestly, I think they will retain a superior quality and a strong built construction. I think that there will be further improvements in the sailing system, the controls. I guess the appearance to the naked eye won´t change too much from nowaday´s boats but a closer look will show a constant evolution …”
NFS.com: ”… will there be a foiling Rassy?”
Germán Frers: “ … no, no, of course not! Foiling is for racing. And it´s a great gadget for going very fast. But it has too many risks, it needs special crews and capabilities that I don´t see any foiling technique in cruising yacht construction. As long as you don´t hit anything and have smooth waters with prevailing and steady strong wind conditions, it´s a great tool to win a race. But I just don´t see it on cruising yachts.”
NFS.com: ”Mr. Frers, thank you so much for taking your precious time to answer my questions!”
You like this interview? Please stay tuned for part 2 of our conversation on Mr. Frers´ history and present work with Finnish luxury-performance sailing brand Nautor´s Swan.
Pictures with kind permission of Magnus Rassy and German Frers.
You may also like to read the following articles:
Magnus Rassy shows me around in the Hallberg-Rassy 44
The role-model blue water cruiser? Review of the Hallberg-Rassy 64
Designing a yacht: Talking to Marc Lombard