Photos: Juan K design, Nautor’s Swan, Studio Borlenghi
Since his early childhood, the life and career of one of the world’s leading naval architects have been shaped by sailing and the sea. The Argentinian brilliant mind has designed not only yachts that have won Olympic gold medals and Volvo Ocean Races but also the innovative ClubSwan yachts
Juan Kouyoumdjian, or Juan K, turned his passion for sailing into his profession. After graduating from the University of Southampton, England, he began working on numerous sailing projects, founding his own design studio in 1997.
Today, he is one of the world’s leading naval architects, whose yachts have won two Olympic gold medals and three legendary races, such as the Volvo Ocean Race, have participated in six America’s Cup campaigns and have broken many offshore sailing records. Rambler 88, ABN Amro I, Ericsson 4, Groupama 4 are just some of the projects that made the name for this genius from Argentina. At the same time, Juan Kouyoumdjian is also the designer of the ClubSwan yachts: the ClubSwan 36, on which the first ClubSwan race in Croatia – the ClubSwan 36 ACI Cup – was sailed, the ClubSwan 50, the ClubSwan 80 and the almost 43-metre-long ‘monster’, the ClubSwan 125.
From early childhood, the life and career of Juan Kouyoumdjian were shaped by sailing and the sea, as by a skilful sculptor. His growing up in Buenos Aires was marked by numerous offshore races, in which he sailed with his father.
‘Sailing is my passion, and being a naval architect has always been a job I wanted to do. I have never considered anything else because sailing is one of the last domains that allow us to be free on this planet. Designing boats, being on the sea and the very experience of sailing allow us to preserve this context of freedom that is being lost more and more each day, and to stay connected as much as possible with the world of freedom,’ Juan Kouyoumdjian begins his passionate account of sailing as a way of life.
At the age of 17, after completing his first semester at the Argentinian Institute of Technology, Juan set sail to England, to the prestigious University of Southampton, where he earned an engineering degree a few years later. As he did his student practice with the legendary Philippe Briand, he was given the opportunity to work on the French challenger for the 29th edition of the America’s Cup. He then participated five more times in projects related to the most important sailing trophy in the world.
The America’s Cup is the pinnacle of yachting. A special kind of energy, dedication, creativity and sacrifice is required to make the whole team successful. At the beginning of my career, I had three goals. To win the Olympics, which I have managed twice, to win the race around the world, which I have done three times, and to celebrate victory at the America’s Cup. This last one I’m still waiting for…
How would you describe your approach to designing yachts?
Yacht design is a dance between science and art because a boat is subject to aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. The key is to strike a balance between them and transform them into energy so that the yacht can sail well. Finding that balance is an art in boat design. Unlike so-called mass-produced boats where marketing is, in many cases, more important than creativity and performance, competitive projects are the ones in which we can express ourselves the most, taking into account the rules of a class. We have great freedom of expression because, in many ways, what we are talking here are unique yacht specimens. In design, a great open-mindedness is needed, in which you try to change the rules of the game and come up with something new and radical. Computers can help here with some simulations, but the human factor remains crucial.
You have designed boats for the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, Vendée Globe. If you had to choose just one project that best describes you, which would it be?
‘ABN Amro I, the 2005/2006 Volvo Ocean Race winner by a wide margin. Before the start of the race there was some mistrust because that boat was very different from the Bruce Farr yachts that had dominated the scene until then. It had, for example, twin rudders. Besides, I had a very close relationship with the team and it’s a project I’m very fond of. I must also mention the ClubSwan 125, called Scorpio, which took us four years to develop.