Appropriately, it’s a long train ride through thick, thick forest before I reach the LA Yachts yard on the banks of Lake Müritz in central Germany. This seems apposite because the boat I’ve come to see is an exquisite example of how wood is just as relevant as ever when it comes to boatbuilding. In truth, the LA28 has little in common with the endless rows of fir that fringe the lake; she is cold-moulded from nobler stuff. But it is striking that this young shipyard chose to build in wood. I ask yard owner Lothar Fichtner why.
“It’s lighter than GRP and cheaper than carbon,” he says without blinking. So much for the romance of traditional construction, then. In fact, there’s little about this vessel the boatbuilders of 100 years ago would recognise.
For one, cold moulding is a technique that relies heavily on epoxy resin to stick each layer of wood to the last and sheath the whole structure to keep the water out. Then there can be as much or as little carbon in the rig and the finish as you want, while propulsion comes courtesy of a Torqeedo electric motor. Despite her elegant tumblehome and the plunging curve of her coachroof, this is a thoroughly modern boat. “The best of modern and traditional,” Fichtner says.
The story of the LA28 begins with the desire of a wealthy man to have a beautiful sailing toy. Lothar Fichtner was that man and, having sold his engineering business, he wanted to enjoy more of life from his second home on Mallorca.
He approached a boatbuilder in the Muritz region called Andreas Zehle who specialised in the building of the German 20er Jollenkreuzer racing dinghy class, also cold moulded. Then he drafted in designer Martin Menzner from Berckemeyer Yacht Design in Laboe on the Kieler Fjord. This small design house has worked on everything from dinghies to highlatitude yachts, using a range of construction materials and techniques. Crucially, Berckemeyer is strong in cold-moulded yacht design, or ‘speed strip’ as they call it.
The brief was for a trailerable 8-9m boat, that was “Simple to rig, as single-handed as possible and with excellent sailing characteristics,” Around of Sicomin epoxy is used in the lay-up Fichtner explains. “I am bothered by the current development in boatbuilding. Almost all boats look the same. I wanted something exclusive that is modern in design and traditionally built.” Menzner is a successful J/80 sailor himself, and the two men quickly saw eye-to-eye. The whole design process took just three months. Fichtner had no clear idea of it at the time, but he wasn’t just buying a boat, he was establishing a yard.
“I founded the shipyard because two boatbuilders were unemployed and I wanted to have a boat for my area in Germany and Mallorca,” he recalls. But one thing led to another, and Fichtner is a naturally ambitious man. “We had a lot of success at trade fairs and continuous orders. Then I found my way into Germany’s Yacht magazine.”
They have now sold nine boats since 2015, when the first garnered rave reviews at Interboat in Friedrichshafen.
Working with wood
Cold moulding requires a rough plug to be made, but no female tooling is needed, making it much cheaper to set-up than in the case of GRP or carbon. The plug around which the
Specification LOA LWL Beam Draught Keel raised Displacement Ballast engine price ex VAT 8.8m 28ft 11in 8.0m 26ft 3in 2.5m 8ft 2in 1.7-1.9m 5ft 7in-6ft 3in 0.8-1.0m 2ft 8in-3ft 3in 1.5 tonnes 600kg 1,322lb Torqeedo Cruise 2.0FP €120,000