4 Simple Questions with Sailboat Designer German Frers

"I have to say that I don't believe sailboats with rakish and slippery superstructures that look like they are out of aerodynamic superfast vehicles enjoy mixing the company of spars, rigging, cloth sails and large angles of heel and pitching in heavy chop." -German Frers

This week I'm welcoming German Frers to the helm of SailFarLiveFree.com.  Below is my mini-interview with German that continues the blog series asking four questions to prominent cruising sailboat designers.

If the name German Frers doesn't ring any bells for you, you're still almost certainly familiar with some of his designs. He has been the exclusive designer for Nautor's Swan in Finland, much of the Hallberg-Rassy range and several Hylas sailboats. In fact, Frers firm, Frers Naval Architecture & Engineering, is responsible for many high end racers, cruisers, superyachts, day sailers, multihulls and even some motor yachts. Far too many to list here!

The Hallberg Rassy 342

As you'll read in his responses below, German spent time at Sparkman & Stephens in the 1960's and has carried on the design work from his father, German Frers Sr.

As always, a sincere THANK YOU to German for taking the time to answer my questions. And now, here are his responses:

1) Sum up your sailboat design philosophy in a few sentences.
I am not sure I can call it a philosophy, but what I try to achieve when designing any kind of boat is to do something which is fast and good looking. That is to say, the whole thing is well proportioned and has grace regardless of the size and type. A boat that is responsive, gracious and has character. A boat that meets the owner's specifications and/or is commercially successful is the goal I follow.

2) What's one of your personal favorite sailboat that you designed and why?
I can name a few. Mirage, a 10-meter yawl, was my first design built back in 1958 when I was 17. She had a flush deck with a very small dog house and well rounded deck edges to gain headroom and reduce windage. It won a lot of races under the CCA rule. Scaramouche, a 53' Palmer Johnson sloop, was the winner of the 1974 Bermuda Race. Recluta II, which I sailed in the 1973 Admirals Cup, was another flush deck boat which also won her class in the 1974 Bermuda Race. The 1981 Swan 46, the third design I did for the Finish builder of more than 30 models and counting. The Beneteau First 42. The 143' spirit of tradition ketch Rebecca. The 51' Acadia. The Maxis - Boomerang and Moro di Venezia. Stealth, the 98' sloop built for Fiat boss G. Agnelli. Unfurled, the RHS 112. All of them succeeded in meeting their owner's expectations and I was deeply involved in one way or another.

3) Is there a sailboat design and/or designer that inspires your own work or career?
Obviously my father, with whom I started learning the trade and did a lot of sailing, racing and cruising with. And Olin Stephens for whom I worked for a few years in New York and learned to make a living. They were different in character, but both were very talented, curious and always in search of innovations and improvements.

Father was much older, charming, a bit of a rebel and somewhat eccentric. He started designing a boat for himself in 1925, a Colin Archer type double ender by the name of Fjord. It was the first of a long list. He was very prolific and successful here in Argentina and worked hard until the early 70's and never stopped sailing until he died in '86.

He designed all types of boats at different stages. Initially, thanks to unexpected events, his Fjord became famous and the local sailing community aware of its sea kindliness and the inherent safety of the Colin Archer type flooded him with orders for similar designs.

For a few years, he became a builder in partnership with his cousin Ernesto Guevara (father of the famous "Che"), employing more than 100 marine immigrant workers from Europe coming to the new world from Italy and Spain creating a new industry in the process, which is alive and reasonably well in spite of governments of every color. Upon his return from a long trip to Europe, which included sailing the 1936 Olympics, he found conditions not to his liking and closed the shop.

In the late thirties and forties, father's designs became very refined and classics. Numerous fleets of yachts ranging from 30' to 60' were built. Fjord was one of them and it won the 1950 BA to Rio race. In parallel, he began to do a few small hard chine light displacement fast sloops. The first sketches of these light boats were started while flying to Germany on the Graff Zeppelin blimp where he was detained by the German crew who thought he was spying.

The Swan 66 S. She's a new design from the Nautor shipyard and German Frers.

In the early fifties, the light displacement hard chine wide transom offended many traditional sailors, but were all the rage in Argentina. The CCA rule which was locally adopted at his recommendation, killed the light boats, but they were fast and surfed downwind and people enjoyed them. He built Fjord IV (40'), Trucha II, a sistership sailing in class C that was second overall in the 1954 Bermuda race in spite of the rating penalty. (Fjord III won class B. Joanne was a sistership that was second and beat Rod Stephen on his own Mustang.) Later on, the designs became a bit more rule oriented and Fjord V turned out to be a successful medium displacement yawl following the American fashion at the time.

I started racing offshore on Fjord IV with my brother Pepe. The subject of conversation at home was mostly yacht design. Father did not care too much about money or its administration. He did not think it was possible to make money out of yacht design. When he needed to build a new boat, he just sold a piece of property to pay for it to the point where by the time I was in my early twenties there was little left and I had to start thinking seriously about making a living. I wanted to be a yacht designer.

Then there was a stroke of luck! In 1965 a letter arrived from Rod Stephens (of Sparkman & Stephens yacht design) asking me to join him at their Madison Ave office. I could not believe it. A couple of months later I found myself in New York, living on my own, free of my earlier protected environment and making $110 a week to pay for rent and food with pencil in hand trying to remember all the years of English lessons.

Working at Sparkman & Stephens (S&S) was fantastic with lots going on. The S&S designs were some of the best: America's Cup Twelve's, RORC Admiral's cuppers, CCA racers, large production cruising boat designs, etc. I learned the importance of designing to a rule and finding loopholes, the importance of delivering the work on time and assisting builders worldwide. Olin's designs and Rod's methodic attention to detail during construction formed an unbeatable team, assisted by a number of engineers and draftsmen. I think we were about 40 or more persons at Madison Ave.

I thought Olin was going to tell me what to do. Instead, I found he was always willing to listen and curious as to whatever idea or experience anyone may have. However, he was very strict in some parameters and hydrostatic coefficients, to which he paid very close attention.

The design method was by evolution and we were to maintain similar proportions of various well defined planes of the favorite designs. Designs had to be very good and attaining the best results in races was the primary goal. Before computers, all calculations were made with simple calculators or sliding rules and finding the right place for a comma was a fundamental feat for me.

At S&S, I learned to work and how to deal with clients successfully. It was thanks to my apprenticeship at S&S and the experiences gained while living in the US that I was able to set up a successful yacht design career including making a good living in spite of my father's skepticism. Enough so, in fact, to grow a large family and survive a couple of divorces.

4) Is it more difficult to design a sailboat that looks good or sails good?
Father always said, "Between the face of San Martine (our national "liberator") and that of Sophia Loren, there are only a few millimeters difference, but the effect is very noticeable." I have never found a real conflict between form and function. Anyway, taste and aesthetics change with time and perhaps one can say that form adapts itself to function. I have observed that on cars where models that came out in the 60's until the 80's or 90's looked terrific at their time, but today look a bit ridiculous. Perhaps one can say that the appearance matches the technological advances and new materials.

Earlier classic cars as well as classic boats purposely built always look very good, which leads me to think that it is better to avoid designing after a fashion. Having mentioned cars I have to say that I don't believe sailboats with rakish and slippery superstructures that look like they are out of aerodynamic superfast vehicles enjoy mixing the company of spars, rigging, cloth sails and large angles of heel and pitching in heavy chop. The problem is completely different on motor boats where wind resistance is a consideration.

Traditional values meet modern technology in Frers' 138-foot Rebecca

Thanks again German!

If you're interested in more design perspectives, visit SailFarLiveFree's Sailboat Reviews page. There you'll find content written for SFLF by other designers such as Bob Perry, Ron Holland, Chuck Paine and others.

Stay tuned as this series will continue with more mini-interviews with sailboat designers!


  1. This is an awesome series. Thanks for doing it. I wish it had been around 20 years ago!

  2. Anonymous10 November

    The Recluta that you mention in this article was not RECLUTA II was RECLUTA III.
    RECLUTA II was built fiberglass built with airex foam above the water line and there were 3 sisterships RECLUTA II, FJORD VI and RED ROCK II, built at the shipyard of Mr Ratti in San Fernando, Buenos Aires, Argentina and there were launched in 1970.
    RECLUTA III (una maquina), was built in laminated wood by Mr Sarmiento and launched in 1973.


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