«Technology is only a tool that offers more freedom. Aesthetics is a plus that evolvesover time. Innovation comes from ideas. Simplicity is the key: avoiding fashionsand the signs of the times». Frers changed
the way of thinking and building boats. By following the footsteps of his father, who started a three-generation dynasty of brilliant yacht designer
Frers Naval Architecture & Engineering design office life spans for almost a century, since 1925, when Germán Frers Sr. started his career in Buenos Aires. Frers designs gained fame during forays to Europe and North America. Germán, his son, took charge of the office in 1970, after returning from a training period in the USA working with Olin and Rod Stephens at their office in New York. More than 1,300 designs have been produced to date by the company based in Buenos Aires. Frers yachts have won every major trophy around the world including the Admiralʼs Cup, Whitbread Round the World Race, Maxi World Championship, Louis Vuitton Cup on two occasions, among others. We met Germán Frers in Milan and we could't miss to ask him a few questions. About boats and design, of course.
What’s design for Germán Frers?
Design is creativity.
Germán, how does it feel to be considered the greatest sailing boat designer?
I feel honored but I think it’s a bit exaggerated. I had the chance of working for many years, I started when I was really young designing a boat that my father didn’t want to do. There was an American that came back to Argentina in 1958 and he brought with him a new material that was fiberglass.
His idea was to develop a boat so to present that material. My father decided I had to do her; he didn’t want to. The boat was called Mirage and she was a 10-meter yawl, because in Argentina we were building boats with the American CCA rating system I designed a yawl with lower deck and a little coach roof, such as the one the Genie of the Lamp. The edge of the deck was round, and it was something I had never seen. She won many regattas.
Which was your preparation? What about your studies?
This profession has given me many satisfactions, a lot of endorphins. I have known the world; I also met many interesting people: success is also a good booster for life. As I told I started with my father, he was a very remarkable man and I learned from him all the skills and technicalities since when I was pretty young. Then, I started my career as a naval architect, I had good feelings for engineering. I went working with Olin J. Stephens in New York: that was my school.
Cornelius Van Rietschoten won The Whitbread Round the World Race in the third edition between 1981 and 1982. The victory of Flyer II was both in real and in compensated time and Van Rietschoten is still the only skipper to have won this race twice. Germán Frers already had considerable experience in the design of maxiyachts and rendered this design with impressive intelligence by combining performance and reliability. The aluminium construction took place in Holland at the Royal Huisman shipyard.
Noryema X, top scorer at the Admiral’s Cup, maybe is the boat that pushed you on the great stage opening your whole career.
I started with Recluta in 1973, she was an innovative boat where the crew had the same position both on deck and below deck. It had a very flush deck. We got the second place in the Fastnet and I think we were the second boat with an individual score. There I started having people ordering me to build boats, such as the 46 footer Noryema X that was top scorer in 1975. And my brother Raul called me and told me that there was an Italian in Brazil that wanted to build a large boat. I actually had to travel to America because there was another maxi that I had to build at Palmer Johnson so I sent my brother Pepe to the meeting. But Raul Gardini called and told me that he wanted me, and I had to go to Rimini. So, before going I draw some sketches and actually it was a really fun project to do, it was very inspiring and motivating. After that first Moro di Venezia, Raul Gardini and I became friends.
What is your memory of Raul?
He was a great person; he loved the sea and he loved to play with it. He was sort of an extremist in
some senses, he took risks, but he was very sensitive also regarding aesthetics. At the end he was a
really good person.
You designed three white maxi Moro di Venezia, you won the world maxi, then you made five America’s Cup boats and the Moro V. What does this evolution mark, what has it left you?
It was kind of the beginning of the change in the way boats are designed. The white Moro I was a boat that was designed at a time when everything was more intuitive, based on personal experience and my own ideas. With the Moro in the America’s Cup we started to play with computer design programs, I came to work in Italy and at first I didn’t trust software like Maxsurf to draw the hull, I always did two versions, one by hand and one by computer. From there we also started to do the first experiments in speed prediction, which today is a key element in designing boats of all types for both racing and cruising.
By the way, the name of the first Raul’s boat was Naso Blu, so there is a sort of connection with the ancient schooner and America. What does this experience also teach, fishing, schooners? There is a remarkable fascination in these things.
Yes, they are related to the Americanism and the way of facing problems in a very liberally thinking way. The Americans used to go fishing but they also used to have regattas with this kind of boats.They had very good sailors. They were not traditionalists like fishermen are in other parts of the world.
What value does manual dexterity and drawing still have for you?
I still continue to draw by hand. I can do the lines on the computer but then the ideas and the beginning of a project I do it all by hand. I have a certain skill.
We can imagine that! We also talked about wood. Recluta, your latest discovery is totally rebuilt,
your latest discovery. Can we call it a discovery?
This was crazy and a gamble in a way. I was in Argentina discussing politics and the artisans were worried because they didn’t have jobs, they had told me they were voting for a politician that I thought was negative. «So», I said, «I promise you that if the one I like wins, we will do a project together». He won by one percent, and I ended up with a promise I had made. I didn’t know what to do because they are still very primitive, old-fashioned craftsmen working the old-fashioned way.
There was this drawing made by my father to redesign a boat of a friend of his that had run aground, we are talking about the 1943/44 war period, there were not enough materials to make the boat and so the construction was abandoned. I had the drawings in the office, I liked the classic boat, it’s a niche where I can move well and race with friends or their families.
You also race Recluta with your children, right?
Yes, there were five Frers last time in Mahon, both my sons and my grandson, who is very good.
Your daughter Zelmira wrote a wonderful book that tells the story of the building of this boat.
It seems that your children all have a relationship with the sea and boats, you have managed to
transmit this passion, and Germán «Mani» does your work.
Yes, this has been a beautiful thing. With my sons I also sailed and cruised in the Mediterranean with the boat Heroina, which I designed to be my boat. Zelmira, on the other hand, one day came to the site where we were building Recluta and saw the bow, really liked the aesthetics of the wood pieces, and started taking pictures. Then she started talking to the workers, started relating to them, who have very special and funny characters, and then he got excited with the whole project. In a way she met my father who had already died when she was born.
Germán «Mani», among your children, does your work as you do your father’s. The contempo-
rary world doesn’t look so kindly on these legacies and this passing on of culture. However, for
you it is an important value, even in the name. You all call yourselves Germán.
Yes, that is true, even in the name. I am number four on the line, my grandson is number six. In the end no one knows which of the Germáns did what.
Stealth is a monument boat. When you see her still on the dock, she is absolutely new, modern
and beautiful. When you made her Gianni Agnelli just said, «She has to be black», isn’t it.
He told me: «I want a boat that I like, she will be black, and I’ll name her Stealth». That is all he told me. He thought there was only one shipyard that could do her quickly, because he was in a hurry. We went to Green Marine in England, and they built Stealth in less than a year.
Do you still like her?
Yes, and I am also very proud of this boat.
You mentioned the America’s Cup, what is it to you?
Is a game, a game of egos and characters. Now, it has changed so much. I used to follow it as a child, I remember when it started again in 1958 with the British and the Americans: Columbia vs Sceptre.
From there I always followed it and the 12-meter races I always found fascinating. I was invited to Olin Stephens and saw the design of the Intrepid. I didn’t think I could do an America’s Cup because Argentina was never able to do it. Then the rules changed. To design the Moro di Venezia I had to become an Italian resident, then an Italian citizen. Then arrived the Prada period. I was designing a cruising boat for Bertelli, Ulisse. I didn’t really know who he was, I had never asked him. He used to ask me to have meetings after dinner in his office in Milan. Then one day his friend, Federico Nardi came and told me that he wanted to do the America’s Cup. I thought: «This is a good problem». Anyway, he is a fantastic character, a strong character and very inspiring.
What is best endowment of Patrizio?
He is very smart and active; either he does things or he doesn’t.
Let’s take a leap. You have worked so much for Nautor Swan in series production, what needs to be expressed in that sense?
In the market, value for money is important. Plus, a good design is important to have beautiful boats with a resale value. So many things have to be considered. People have changed a lot, I started out when boating was about sea wolves going against the storms, but now a lot has changed. Now you also have to make boats designed for women and for the family. I think today the reason for the success is that people have realized that the boat is a place where you are free and you can choose where to go and what to do. And then it’s kind of a good vehicle for bringing the family together.
What do you think about the way yacht design is moving now? There is a lot of speculation and a lot of interest about yacht design and sometimes it seems to be a market driver more than a content one. What’s your opinion?
There is a little bit of everything in this world. There are the real designers and others who do marketing. I think yacht design involves aesthetic aspects similar to writing music or painting, but then there is also a technical part which is moving very fast. At the beginning it was all a question of intuition, while today everything is more related to technicalities about how the boat is going to perform and behave. I would say we’ve done a lot of progress. Today, we have evolved, and we can do better boats. I don’t know what is going to be the future with AI.
You have designed amazing boats and you were also considered very good from an aesthetic point of view. Did this somewhat mask or cover up the performance and marine qualities of your boats?
No, there is no conflict between aesthetics and performance, I’d rather say it doesn’t have any effect on the performance. Ideas and solutions are more important than aesthetic, as this is just a plus. It is something I enjoy: it is always nice to do something aesthetically pleasing. Aesthetic evolves with time.
Is there a challenge that you still miss? Is there a boat you’d like to design? Maybe a 100-meter sailing boat or a 200-meter powerboat?
Sure, I think there are a lot of things I haven’t done. The ideas that I’d love to develop come along with the time. But I don’t think a sailing boat should be too large, there is then a problem of heeling angle.
Do you think there is a limit in length?
No, I don’t think it is a matter of limits, there will always be someone who wants a longer boat. It is rather a limit of sailing. I’m actually a sailor, I started when I was young and I cannot understand the feeling you have when sailing very large yachts, it is like driving a truck. Obviously, it is nice to have accommodations but probably the solution might be having a multihull.
What do you think about powerboats?
Powerboats are different products. I have designed some very big ones, I think there is a lot more ground to develop, compared to sailboats. It is important to design a boat that will last in time.
What is the different approach when designing a sailing boat and a powerboat?
They are similar in terms of reducing resistance, improving the shape and proportions. I would say that the ground we have to work with powerboats is much larger compared to what we have to do with sailing boats.
In some ways, the long-lasting design is a goal, like the Stealth.
Yes, it is the same as historic cars that became a benchmark.
Among your designs, there are at least a hundred boats that became a benchmark. Maybe the
most visible is the Stealth but you also designed many other boats. Which is the receipt to a
It has to be harmonic. Harmony is an aspect that has to be valid from the practical point of view. We have to respect what the owner wants but in a valid way. We have to avoid doing fashion. Too many curves on a superstructure do not work.
Is it something that has to be related with innovation?
That is something related to people’s feeling about aesthetic. It is difficult sometimes to understand what the designer has in mind.
We always think technology as a driver for innovation but great innovators actually changed
the way of using the boats rather than the way of designing them. Does innovation go along
No, innovation goes with ideas. Technology is helpful because it offers new tools, but the reality is that new materials allow you to create something that was not possible in the past. The soul of
design remains always the same.