The Flax 27 is a Judel/Vrolijk-designed daysailer built using flax and linseed resin. Matthew Sheahan takes a closer look
In the face of it there was nothing unusual about the Flax 27. Set in a corner of one of the 17 halls at Boot Düsseldorf at the beginning of this year, the 27ft cruising dayboat may well have been elegant and beautifully finished, but at the word’s biggest watersports show there were plenty of others like her.
So, as the visitors strolled past, her elegant lines, with a modern plumb bow and a classically styled counter stern, weren’t always sufficient to cause them to pause. Even the immaculate finish to her topsides wasn’t always enough to turn heads: perfection is commonplace at Boot.
Yet ironically, while the Flax 27 fitted in so well, she was fundamentally different to them all. She may not look eccentric, but this was the greenest boat at the show.
To the careful observer there were several clues on display: a bunch of dried flowers and a handful of seeds on the cork laid deck. But the biggest clue was the easiest to gloss over: her immaculately finished topsides, where a flawless clear resin provided a glistening finish to the woven fabric of the yacht’s structure. While it may have looked a little like carbon, that base material is in fact flax, encased in a resin that is made from linseed oil – which is also derived from the flax plant.
“Our focus was to build as green a boat as possible without compromising the structural properties,” said boatbuilder and Greenboats founder Friedrich Deimann. “In fact this boat is around 70kg lighter than if we had built it in glassfibre.”
Light weight is just the start. “The flax fibres are mainly grown in Belgium and France and are half the weight when compared to glassfibre. They also have great impact and abrasion resistance and don’t create any splinters when fractured,” he continued.
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“The linseed epoxy resin is also derived mainly from the flax plant and provides an odourless resin that is infused into a sandwich laminate that uses a foam core derived from recycled PET [Polyethylene Terephthalate] bottles.”
The deck is built from another green material, cork, which offers several key benefits too. Providing good thermal, vibration and noise insulation the material has great non-slip properties and recovers well from any deformation.
“If you have a stone in your shoe, the cork springs back into shape where teak wouldn’t, and it is great at repelling water,” said Deimann. “It is also a more sustainable decking material as cork trees do not have to be felled during harvesting. Instead, they are peeled every nine to 12 years.”
In his boat building career so far, Deimann has worked with both traditional and modern materials. “I started out building wooden boats before moving into building tenders for superyachts,” he explained.
“I was really impressed with what was possible with modern composites but I had real problems with being itchy when I was using the resins, which were also really smelly. So I started to do some research to find better resins that might be comparable to the normal composite construction methods.
“We have spent the best part of ten years researching and building natural fibre composites (NFCs) where the fibres, cores and adhesives are derived from renewable and sustainable sources.
“Our goal has been to prove that boats of all shapes and forms can be built of NFC without sacrificing performance or durability, but we have also been able to prove that the whole construction process has been more environmentally friendly.
“The fact is that you need around five times more energy to produce glassfibre products than you do to create the flax fibres and it takes 20 times more energy to create carbon fibre, so there are some very big savings to be made. Plus we save on CO2 emissions as well.”
The boat itself is an elegant daysailer from the Judel/Vrolijk design office. She’s a simple configuration with a modern, high aspect ratio fractional rig, a 105% overlapping furling jib and a furling Code 0, both of which are flown off recessed furlers in the bow.
Sleek, clean and thoroughly modern, she’d make it onto plenty of wishlists irrespective of how she’s built. Add in green build values and the sustainable nature of a product that can also be recycled and there’s much going for this 27-footer, which can hold her own in any beauty parade.
So, where’s the catch? At this stage the only real stumbling block is cost. As with so many green-based developments there is currently a premium to pay.
“At this stage the materials are around 20-30% more expensive,” concedes Deimann. “But when you take this as a proportion of the overall build costs the increase isn’t so great.”
Given that no change in build procedure or specialist equipment is required, the future for such an eco-friendly composite construction system would seem to be very bright indeed.
Deimann’s work has already attracted the attention of others in different industries and markets. Greenboats has built a range of products using the same system, varying from an autonomous deep-sea Hybrid-ROV capable of plunging to 6,000m, to municipal furniture and nacelles for offshore wind turbines. Yet the company is still committed to taking boat building onto yet another level.
“At present we have achieved a boat that is currently 80% built from renewable or recycled materials. In two years I think we will have a resin system that is 100% bio based.”
It is an exciting prospect and, in a world where green progress often means key compromises, the Flax 27 almost seems too good to be true.
LOA: 8.20m (27ft 0in)
Beam: 2.25m (7ft 5in)
Draught: 1.40m (4ft 7in)
Displacement (light): 1,350kg (2,976lb)
Mainsail area: 19.00m2 (204ft2)
Headsail area (105%): 11.50m2 (124ft2)
Code 0 area: 35.00m2 (377ft2)
Price ex VAT: €149,500
First published in the August 2020 edition of Yachting World.