Donald Tofias, owner of the W-Class Yacht Company in Newport, Rhode Island, United States, is somewhat of a purist when it comes to sailboats. In December, his 76’ beauty, Wild Horses, sailed in the New Year’s Eve Regatta in Saint Barth, where the yacht is spending the winter in the Port of Gustavia. In fact, 2008 marks the 10th anniversary for Wild Horses, and its sister yacht, White Wings, which is currently in a boatyard in Newport.
Designed by the late naval architect, boat builder and sailor, Joel White—whose name lends the W to W-Class—these yachts are modern classics built with contemporary materials and technology, yet intended to evoke classic yachts of the eras past. As Tofias says, “They represent the soul of the future and the spirit of the past.” In summing up the design concept, he notes, "The vision that propelled me to develop these inspiring vessels was the ideal to compete in big, identical boats with identical equipment so that at the end of an exciting, close and competitive race, the best sailor wins.”
In terms of identical boats, Wild Horses and White Wings race frequently against each other, allowing the captains to duel skillfully to the finish line. “They have raced against each other at least 400 times in ten years,” says Tofias. Wild Horses (built at Brooklin Boatyard in Maine, which is run by Joel’s son, Steve White) was launched on June 23, 1998 and White Wings (also built in Maine at Rockport Marine) hit the water a few months later on September 23, 1998.
“We have plans for similar yachts at 37-feet, 62-feet, 105-feet, 130-feet, and 160-feet,” says Tofias. In the 46-foot class, he has built three yachts to date: Zebra, with a black and white hull, currently in Seal Harbor, Maine; Mustang, currently in Nantucket; and Equus (which has been sold to the CEO of Google), also in Nantucket. Tofias has sailed in the Newport Bucket, as well as races from Maine to Mallorca.
A true wooden boat aficionado, Tofias recently bought Jim Steele’s Maine Peapod boat company, which makes charming 13.5’ double-ended rowboats—real Maine classics. “I grew up in Newton, MA, and spent summers on Cape Cod,” explains Tofias about his love for sailing. “We always had small motorboats and sailboats, and my interest grew from a hobby to a full-time business.”
With a large W flag flying on the mast of Wild Horses in the trade winds of Saint Barth, Joel White—who passed away at the age of 66 in December 1997, a few months before the first W-Class boat was christened—is fondly remembered.
“He is watching us all the time,” says Tofias. “He is spiritually on the boat every day.”
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux lives in Saint Barthélemy where she is editor-in- chief of Harbour Magazine, and has been a regular contributor to All At Sea since 2000. She also writes regularly about entertainment design and technology for Live Design magazine, and about Caribbean architecture for MACO, a Trinidad-based lifestyle magazine.