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Views of the Future

Glass is unequaled in its ability to brighten the design space on board and connect us to the water.

Market trends and client demand tend to pilot the ship. Any boatbuilder worth its salt knows this and keeps an eye trained on the marketplace while, at the same time, attempting to set its creations apart from the competition. Some developments have been instrumental in pushing boating forward while others still have us scratching our heads. No matter the trends, one goal remains: to connect us to the water.

And what better medium than glass? Working in tandem with lighter, stronger hulls and superstructures and utilizing glazing innovations trickling down from the automotive and architectural sectors, glass has become a more workable building material, while opening up the design space more than ever before.

The glass “beach house” on the Ocean Alexander 90R is on the same level as the swim platform. Consider it a mini salon.

The glass “beach house” on the Ocean Alexander 90R is on the same level as the swim platform. Consider it a mini salon.

Take hullside windows. Techniques like interlayering—technology developed to toughen composite materials—have seriously upgraded the once tiny, damage-prone portholes. Sizable portions of the hull can now be replaced with strong, stiff, fixed or operable glass panels. They’ve been a game-changer in lighting up typically dark spaces belowdecks—and that’s a trend that shows no sign of abating—but they’re dwarfed by the expanse of glass making its way above decks.

“Part of the appeal and fun of boating is being on the ocean, and large areas of glass celebrate this,” says Horizon Yachts Marketing Director Elise Moffitt. It’s a design hallmark across the Taiwanese builder’s eight-model line but most evident in its Fast Displacement Series. The striking profile of these vessels—with their large, angular cutaway bulwarks—are even more appreciated when standing in the salon or on-deck master stateroom of the series (the model line includes a 77- and 87-footer, with plans for larger boats) due to floor-to-ceiling windows in both areas, the first models from Horizon to offer this.

Another Taiwanese builder, Ocean Alexander, employs an astounding quantity of glass in three specific areas on its latest design departure, the 90R. Like Horizon, large sections of the bulwarks are absent, allowing for unobstructed views from enormous windows in the salon and the on-deck master. There’s also the “beach house,” a very cool, all glass (even the ceiling) salon-type area on the same level as the swim platform where you might find a tender garage or beach club. And atop it all is the skylounge (flybridge) which also gets the floor-to-headliner window treatment.

I wondered how they accomplish this without sacrificing hull strength and rigidity. Sally Doleski, Ocean Alexander’s vice president of marketing, mentions that while having an all-carbon-fiber enclosed bridge—a first for the builder—helps with an ideal strength-to-weight ratio, credit goes to the support structure surrounding the openings. “[We] invest in aerospace-grade aluminum alloy to allow for industry-leading large windows and doors,” Doleski tells me.

I know what you’re thinking: It’ll be hot as Hades with all that glass. Boatbuilders innately understand that their clients are not looking to grow geraniums but rather take in panoramic vistas in climate-controlled comfort. Doleski chose to keep some of Ocean Alexander’s methods under wraps, but did say they work with specialized glaziers, utilizing “internal coatings and chemical treatments that embed the UV blockers inside the glass.” Moffitt, on the other hand, credited tinted and tempered low-E glass as the means to control temperature in their boat’s glass environs and tells me, “We use professional glass manufacturers who specialize in making sandwich-core window panels.”

Expect the material to keep innovating—and in some cases dictating—yacht design. I’ve seen plans for megayachts that utilize structural glass (think: Apple Store) for superstructures. I have no doubt engineers and naval architects will figure out how to pull this off and meet the rigorous standards put forth by the various classification societies. After all, the benefits are quite clear.

This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.