October 13, 2018
When a Gunboat sails into an anchorage people stop what they’re doing. Heads turn and mouths open – It’s part of the joy of owning one! First impressions are important but so is the view from two feet away, from any angle. Like a Ferrari, the finish has to be millimeter perfect and the luster unusually deep. After all, the owners are going to spend a lot more time looking at it up close while they’re enjoying life on board than admiring it from afar.
Relatively speaking, it’s easy to produce a boat that’s beautiful and heavy, but far more complex to achieve a superlative quality of finish while striving at the same time to build immensely strong and unusually light. Beyond the exhilarating speed and sleek design, the difference you’re noticing also has to do with the additional science, engineering, and technology that go into that perfect finish.
Gunboat 6801 at anchor. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget
Most yacht hulls are finished with gelcoat because that’s the most straightforward way to do it and the result is a very good, durable coating. You spray a layer of gelcoat on the inside of the mold, laminate the hull on top of the gelcoat, and it’s stuck there for life. High-end, high-performance yachts are typically painted instead. You won’t find any gelcoat on a Gunboat, either inside or out, and here’s why.
Aesthetically, Gunboat owners are connoisseurs, looking for a bespoke color scheme and the highest possible quality of finish. With gelcoat, we have a limited range of colors to choose from and can’t give the hull a metallic surface, which is a signature look for much of our fleet. Gelcoat also follows the exact shape of the mold with all its tiny discrepancies that detract from the smoothness of the finish. On the other hand, paint is available in virtually any color and the boat can be faired to create a perfect mirror finish.
Functionally, paint is a lot lighter than gelcoat because it’s thinner and doesn’t need a tie-in layer of lamination behind it to keep it well-stuck to the hull. Gunboat COO William Jelbert explains the important fundamental reason though: “Making paint the final process allows a lot more design optimization and potential client customization before locking it in by the final finish, and it also keeps our options open to evolving.”
A look inside the paint booth at our factory in La Grande-Motte, France. An incredibly organized and clean paint process, inside and out.
Gunboat Paint Supervisor Julien Denizot and Gunboat COO William Jelbert admiring their reflections in the freshly painted black gloss in the forward cockpit
A stand-out feature of early Gunboat models was the fully painted interior, with beautifully faired hull sides and bulkheads that gave the boats a uniquely racy, yet luxe feel. The downside was that many hours were required to sand and paint inside the boat. The fairing process produced a huge amount of dust (unhealthy for our team, messy on the boat) and the whole procedure delayed production by many months.
Instead of painting inside, more recent Gunboat models had a fabric covering directly attached to the hull – a good solution in most respects but still with drawbacks. The fabric was more delicate and easily damaged than a painted surface, especially in areas close to your feet, and when it did get damaged it was tricky to remove and repair.
For the Gunboat 68, we established three key parameters for a better solution. First, some areas inside the boat had to be painted for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Second, we wanted other parts of the interior to be covered in fabric but it had to be easily removable for cleaning, maintenance, and repair. Third – and this one required ingenuity – to avoid long delays in the production process, it all had to be implemented without any fairing inside the boat.
Beyond the broad concepts and sketches that are normally supplied by designers of high-end yachts, we involved our designers in the fine details and practical challenges that are often left to the yard’s engineers and shipwrights. Patrick le Quément and Christophe Chedal Anglay share our passion for attention to detail, and they design all of the paint accents down to the millimeter. As we mention consistently, completing the design loop by integrating it with systems engineering is an important part of our boatbuilding philosophy. Smart, collaborative teamwork between designers and engineers enables us to build fundamentally better – and better looking – yachts.
Christophe Chedal Anglay standing by the davits and finished aft beam of Gunboat 68-01
Rendering: Paint design, planned to the detail
Patrick and Christophe worked very closely with us and our naval architects, VPLP, to design the tooling and part splits in a way that allows us to finish most of the interior fit-out before joining the hull and deck. More importantly, these components can be prepped or even faired before being glued and laminated together. This alone makes the build process much more efficient.
So how does she look? We wanted the Gunboat 68 to stand out from the crowd, with a striking finish that flows seamlessly around refined curves from the exterior lines throughout the interior. Details such as the cockpit bulkheads and window mullions are black, rather than white. “Your eye is drawn to white,” says Christophe Chedal Anglay, “whereas details in black tend to disappear.” This color scheme continues up the rig, with satin black details. Thoughtfully, details such as the antennae, radar, and satcom domes are satin black to make them less conspicuous.
For the exterior surfaces, we designed a 3D model and built a mold that is extremely fair, with surfaces that mesh together perfectly. Five-axis milling the hull mold gave us an even smoother surface that needs less fairing and thus saves on weight. We created little recesses in the tooling so that the taping doesn’t protrude, which further reduces the amount of fairing compound applied to the hull. On deck, all hatches are flush and many of them are composite so they also disappear into the surface. For drainage we incorporated carbon tubes, to avoid any ugly flanges standing proud on the painted surfaces.
Working closely with Christophe, we concluded that the best way to avoid fairing inside the boat was to line the hull with ultra-light panels, which can be pre-painted or covered with fabric outside the boat and then fixed in place. Many yacht builders use some sort of cladding for similar reasons, but it tends to add a lot of weight. Instead, we developed composite panels specifically built for the task. ‘The inside skin of a hull is more uneven, especially with bulkhead laminates added,’ Jelbert explains. ‘Our hull-liner panels are the same weight as the fairing compound you’d use to make it smooth, and they bring valuable benefits.’
Fabric panels can easily be removed for cleaning or reupholstering. These liner panels are slightly spaced off the hull and bulkheads, which delivers excellent sound and heat insulation. The bulkheads are, in effect, triple-glazed!
For 6801, the owner chose dark silver metallic paint with a clear varnish overcoat that gives an incredible depth to the finish. Light reflected from the sea and sky plays on the metallic flakes in the paint to create an astonishing luster on the hulls.
“As the first Gunboat 68 came out of the shed to be rigged and launched, she literally reflected everything around her like a mirror, but most importantly she aso reflected that our ethos of carefully analyzing real data delivers tangible rewards,” says Benoit Lebizay, Gunboat Managing Partner. “The quality of finish is critical. It’s a great feeling to see the aesthetic benefits of all this work spring to life and to enjoy the lines of this incredible design with each reveal of an owner’s selected color.”
Gunboat 6801 displaying perfect gloss and shine. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget