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Let It Slide

Today’s disappearing windows and doors are the ideal mélange of robust construction and ease of operation.

I tend to glorify the past, recalling only the pure joy of being young with little responsibility, forgetting the challenges I faced. It’s in my wake—so why not forge onward?

Case in point: those fine summer evenings so long ago aboard my buddy’s sailboat, anchored in a secret gunkhole. There was plenty of beer, BBQ and swimming, and getting there was a blast. I tend to overlook sweating like a coal stoker belowdecks, the only light and air coming from tiny windows in the coachroof. Or, the many rounds of fighting with that oft-jammed sliding hatch. “Let’s bring the outside in,” was the line of thought, when the companionway was a superhighway of berserk mosquitos hell-bent on keeping us alert all night.

Now you see it, now you don’t. The inner workings of a disappearing window can really open up a salon, no magic required.

Now you see it, now you don’t. The inner workings of a disappearing window can really open up a salon, no magic required.

Things have changed, but our desire to be connected to the water has not. Builders now offer a wealth of features that go far beyond doors that’ll hinge open and operable hatches and portholes. Hard- and soft-top sunroofs led to cockpit balconies and transom garages that are as easy to operate as ringing a bell. And those electrically retractable sunshades make a world of difference on a blazing afternoon aboard a midsize center console—the whole crew can now take a sombra siesta well beyond the shade of the hardtop.

Manufacturers take full advantage of these advances—aft galleys on larger cruisers are popular in part due to reliable, retractable or drop-down windows. Some builders execute their systems in-house. For others, nautical design outfits like Opacmare and Besenzoni provide high-quality solutions that are stylish, easy to operate and reliable in the marine environment.

The features that seem to have made the biggest impact on boatbuilders are windows and doors that completely disappear from view; these represent a big step up from folding doors and tiny, manual windows. One builder, Fairline, has forged a relationship with Besenzoni for the doors on its express and flybridge model lines from 43 to 65 feet. Andrew Pope, Fairline’s head of design, says the doors do more than simply bring the outside in. “We invest in technology to completely open up the aft end of the salon, allowing the free flow of social traffic around the yacht. Guests are no longer herded between areas through narrow walkways and doors.”

Ease of operation is a critical factor for windows and doors, and it’s achieved with manual and hydraulic functionality. Take the Targa 63 GTO. Besenzoni worked with Fairline designer Alberto Mancini to create a single door that the user manually slides to starboard; the entire assembly then hydraulically drops belowdecks, forward of the engines, where it’s hidden within an enclosure in the engine bay. Considering the boat has a 17-foot, 2-inch beam, it’s a mighty impressive feat to have a door this size just disappear. The complete door system also has its own bilge pump for any water that may seep inside.

On the same model—and first appearing on its Targa 58—Fairline added electric, one-touch-control side windows to the salon. Nearly 10 feet wide, they employ a belt-drive system (more reliable than conventional worm drives, according to Pope) that allows them to first fold on a hinge vertically, then drop down into the sideboard. My water intrusion nightmares are quickly doused when Pope says, “We also added pneumatic seals to the window perimeter to ensure no leaks can make it inside.”

These are complex systems that are easy to operate, but they must hold up. As for maintenance, Besenzoni and Pope said there’s not much to it. Both mentioned keeping the seals clean and using the inspection hatches to ensure motors, rams and pulleys are clean and free moving.

I may still be a bit sentimental for the old days, ones of side plates and scuppers gone awry, cheap suds and fine friends, but thanks to today’s technology, it’s a fine time to be a yachtsman.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.