First Look: Vaan R4 – Yachting World
A recyclable electric catamaran built from recycled alloys and designed for sailors. Is the new Vaan R4 a vision of the future, wonders Sam Fortescue?
Even if Vaan’s first boat had not been the only catamaran moored to the old canal masonry at Hellevoetsluis, there would have been no doubt about this fascinating boat. With its elegant silver “spoiler” arch, open cockpit and sculpted hull, the Vaan R4 turns heads.
The impression is more than superficial. Vaan’s premier 12.8m model is built to be as sustainable as possible, with an almost entirely recycled aluminum hull and a host of recycled or naturally sourced interior materials. Quite simply, the R4 is unlike any other catamaran I’ve been on. It’s neither a testosterone-laden flyer nor a buxom, moaning family caravan of modern conveniences. It’s a catamaran designed for people who really enjoy the feeling of sailing – a bit of heeling, a burst of acceleration and a helm position that puts you close to the water.
“We also built this boat for monohull sailors,” says Vaan founder Igor Kluin. “We wanted to create a feeling of sailing.” He motions me towards the huge aft lockers where you can see the steering gear. Heavy-duty Jefa direct linkage gears connect the twin helms to the rudders. “No hydraulics or cables to get in the way. There are real feedbacks.
And that’s true. From the shade to the wind from the low coast, we get 10, then 12 and 14 knots of true wind, pushing the boat to the best of the day at 8 knots. Well, we’re going downwind with the huge black gennaker pulling hard, but there’s a lot of information coming out of the helm.
My crew of three is content to choke and lower the gennaker, then unfurl the jib to tack upwind. With one of the most famous dinghy sailors in the Netherlands whispering advice in my ear, I experience what this boat will do. On a heading around 50° AWA, the boat speed was 4.2 knots in 8 knots of real wind. It’s respectable, but not stellar for a catamaran. The optional longer daggerboards (fixed or pivoting) should improve upwind pointing.
Vaan R4 Cockpits
Even in the cold greyness that passes here for spring, this boat is a real pleasure to sail. And while the cold isn’t due to Kluin, it brings up a valid point about this boat. Unlike most ‘family’ cats on the market, there is no heavy aft extension to the coachroof – no large sheet of bright white GRP covering the cockpit. I appreciate this, because it looks like real sailing, but there is a downside. Combine that with the bars on the quarter, and you’re more into the elements than you would be on a Lagoon or Fountaine-Pajot, for example. Unexposed, as the tops and rear railing protect you, while an optional bimini arrangement provides shade. But if the sea produced spray, you would certainly feel it.
Fortunately, there is a solution, as Kluin points out. “Just move over here,” he said, from the leeward helm station. Both helms have a comfortable seat that folds up out of the bulwark, giving you something akin to the perspective a MOD70 helm enjoys: back in the water, head turned into the wind with the helm at your shoulder.
Sail handling is well thought out, with the control lines all led below deck to emerge at a unique V-shaped winch ‘shaft’ which springs from the aft end of the deck. The lead Harken’s electrics were still waiting to be hooked up (the boat was six weeks from delivery), so some elbow grease was needed to trim the sails. But the concept is great. The mainsail sheet is attached to a trolley high on the arch, while the jib is on a self-tacking system and requires only one sheet. The boom carriage rail is equipped with manual stops, which allow you to limit the angle at which the auto-tacker is tuned.
“I wanted to build a boat that had decent performance in light winds, so you were more likely to use the sail instead of starting the engine,” says Kluin.
Engine hours are a big issue on the R4, as the boat is designed for electric saildrives from Oceanvolt (2 x 15 kW) or Torqeedo (2 x 12 kW). Standard equipment includes 22 kWh of batteries – enough for almost an hour of full-throttle driving, or four to seven hours at cruising speed. Naturally, some owners have chosen to increase this somewhat. Power is also paramount for hotel loads, as the boat uses a Canbus system to run the lights (with backup on-off on the board), induction hob and electric cooker.
But the Vaan can also generate energy as it goes. There can be 1650W of high efficiency semi-flexible Solbian solar panels on the coachroof, with the option of an additional 400W on the spoiler. And Oceanvolt’s variable-pitch Servoprop is capable of regenerating 350W at 5 knots, or even 5kW at 10 knots, a speed it is just able to graze with the big offshore gennaker in 20 knots.
“I have a background in renewable energy,” says Kluin. “So I would always suggest Bluewater owners install emergency generation. It doesn’t have to be built-in – you can just use a portable generator for traversal. »
Sustainability is a very authentic design principle for Vaan, not just a facade. The hull is constructed from aluminum, up to 75% of which is recycled from old window frames and traffic signs. The concept extends to interior fittings where cork decking, flax insulation and glass wool are used. Pineapple leaves even help create an alternative to leather. There is no melamine or carbon on board, and the joinery is all plywood veneer.
To me, the living room is a bit empty, with the kitchen in one half and a sofa in the other. There’s only a small table, so I’m not surprised to hear that some owners have added island units and other accessories. The title is that two of the four rear doors open to connect to the wide and comfortable cockpit. The port hull is a generous owner’s suite, with plenty of storage, toilet and shower. To starboard you have the choice of a second double or twin cabin, and even a third cabin forward with berths or a V-berth. Bluewater cruisers will want to use some of the stowage space here for a machine to be washed, as in the first shell.
The test boat had been fitted out on the water and was not fully finished, so there were some details, but the quality of the finish should be improved by the imminent move to dedicated manufacturing facilities.
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Vaan’s durable R4 marks the evolution of the catamaran into a yacht that is genuinely fun to sail, without being racy. It offers the stability and volumes of a multihull with handling closer to a monohull. The interior is cozy with the look of a posh hotel, but Vaan didn’t try to fill every cubic inch. Some may find it too basic, and lacking the armchairs, wine cellars and flybridges that characterize this market. But many will appreciate the aesthetics – and the lighter displacement it brings. And with an aluminum hull, it should be a boat that can take you safely to higher latitudes.
LOA:12.80m / 42ft 0in
LWL:12.75m / 41ft 11in
Shine:7.06m / 24ft 11in
Shift:10,900 kg / 24,030 lbs
Disorganized:1.30m-1.95m / 4ft 3in-6ft 5in
Main sail area:55m2 / 592ft2
Sail area jib:30m2 / 323ft2
Gennaker of sail area:135m2 / 1,453ft2
Engines:2 x Torqeedo 12FP (eq 25hp) or 2 x Oceanvolt SD15 (eq 30hp)