A Conversation with Bill Tripp lll
How the legendary American yacht designer continues his family legacy.
One feels a serious disconnect when sitting with Bill Tripp lll, America’s foremost yacht designer. A glance at the yachts he has designed immediately tells you that he works at the very top of his field with clients who can afford the most ambitious and elegant boats. Yet his demeanor is humble and relaxed—he dresses very casually and laughs easily. He could be mistaken for the manager of a boatyard in Maine.
Tripp learned at the knee of his father, the legendary Bill Tripp Jr., who in the 1960s was responsible for iconic yachts like the Hinckley Bermuda 40. By age 6, Tripp lll knew he wanted to be like his dad. Why? “Mondays were always a good day at home,” he answers. “Dad loved to go to work.”
Tripp built his career from the keel up by studying naval architecture, something he considers crucial to the design process and his success. “The language of design is engineering first. If you can engineer, you can think of what is possible.”
Before putting up his own shingle in 1983 on the Connecticut coast, Tripp worked in several top-drawer design firms. His first commissions on his own were for racing/cruising sailboats in the 40-foot range. He also got some nice powerboat orders. One he is particularly fond of is Wicked Witch. “She had a unique transversely-stepped hull, making her more efficient, beautiful and powerful than a simple V hull.”
The breakthroughs, however, were in sailboats. Starting in the ’90s, yachts like Breakaway and the Tripp 40s“won a lot of races. They were fast, good-looking boats. They sailed well. People saw them and wanted one.” Tripp also designed High Noon, Anthem and some Baltic 50s.
Then the superyacht owners came calling, and Tripp’s small Connecticut office started having a global footprint. Yachts like Shaman (1997), which was the first all-carbon, lifting-keel cruising boat, has “sailed hundreds of thousands of miles, from the Arctic to the Polar Circle.”
Alithia came in 2001 and won the 2003 Showboat Award for most innovative sailing yacht. “She was built to take a family of seven around the world for several years and did so very successfully.”
Next came Esense, a prestigious collaboration with WallyYachts, which won an outstanding achievement in sailing yachts award. “She has been widely copied but never outclassed,” Tripp says. The 130-ft Mystere was next, and Tripp is proud of her. She won awards at Boat International’s Sailing Superyacht Awards for best exterior and best overall.
Regardless of the design, Tripp has a clear priority: speed. “On this feature, I will not compromise. But I try to balance real-world needs [like an elevator] with sailing ability.” Indeed, the all-carbon Saudade won several superyacht races including the Loro Piana Regatta in Sardinia.
Black Pearl is one of his favorites. Built at Baltic Yachts, it is “striking, capable and fast.” Tripp calls it a “pocket superyacht.” Never content to rest on a life buoy, the very cutting-edge Sarissa was launched. It racked up the 2012 Showboat Best Naval Architecture Award.
Occasionally the maxim “save the best for last” really does apply. The 282-ft Aquijo, delivered in 2017, is in a class by itself. With two masts (ketch rigged), each the height of the Statue of Liberty, Aquijo is the largest ketch in the world. “She has everything: The most advanced construction, styling, comfort, luxury and ease of sail,” Tripp says. Built in Holland, Aquijo is without doubt the most advanced yacht ever designed by an American.
Up next is a top-secret powerboat project with a European shipyard. Tripp is hoping this boat will become the technological benchmark for efficiency and design. It’s the future that excites Tripp most. Continuing the tradition, his stepson, Jeb Barnes, is an avid sailor who is now teaching his children to sail in Narragansett Bay. Tripp’s wife, Danielle Masse-Berger, who previously led a major marine insurance group, now works with and travels alongside her husband. And Tripp, like his father, loves Mondays.
For more information, see trippdesign.net