Nautical and Marine
by Chuck Merrell
Feedback can always be emailed to:
WANT TO BUILD A BOAT?
WHY NOT DESIGN IT TOO?
Part Two - Introduction
(read Part One)
More than thirty years ago I was going strong as a blood n'
guts racing sailor. As a natural progression of my involvement, around the
same time I began to get curious about the in's and out's of boat design.
I wasn't really so much interested in the process of the job itself and
certainly it wasn't my intent to learn how DO designs. I was more
interested in learning what I needed to know to analyze, judge and
mentally catalog all the boats and designs already existing, or at least
the ones interesting to me. After I got into the study, one idea that did
rear its head in confirmation was: With all the thousands of designs
already in existence, what the world didn't need was yet another small
craft boat architect. Truthfully, I haven't changed my mind all that much
right up to the present time.
What I have come strongly to believe, though, is that as far as
making the decision to become a yacht designer, the best in the business
didn't so much choose to design boats as boat designing chose them--they
had little conscious input in the matter. There was no divide the legal
pad into two columns and do a pro's and con's list for consideration when
their vocational decision was made (as most rational humans do when
choosing a life's work). If that's true, and I think it is, then designing
boats, while hard work, isn't really a job; it's a calling, a monkish
mission, and the only consideration for the individual so engaged IS
drawing boats and getting them built and that's that! Groceries come
So, in light of the above why would I write a column advising
boat aficionados to design and build their own?
The answer to that is not to become a pro per se, but, if
you're really interested, to become educated both in the process, the
details, the history of design, what's possible and desirable, methods of
construction and finally being able to understand, when studying a design,
what the pro had in mind. In doing all that, you'll almost BECOME a boat
designer; I say "almost" because if a pro you are to be, the decision will
be out of your hands and mysteriously made for you--if not, you'll at
least understand the subject as a well informed fellow traveler. It's what
I originally was after, and how I now pretty much define myself, so I
guess my effort was a success.
Within the last few days, I've received a couple e-mail
messages of interest to this subject, both gratifying in their own way.
Message number one was from a "walk before you can crawl" type,
who wrote asking me for clarification on one of my boats at boatdesign.com.
The boat in question was "Clodhopper", which is in fact not really
original with me, but a hard-chined version of Phil Bolger's "Lady
Slipper". I was asked by a friend who liked Phil's design (and knowing
that Phil probably would never get around to it) to convert the idea into
a format that he could build from flat panels. The original was designed
for standard factory fiberglass construction. Peter Duff built several of
the boats on spec because he thought it would be a good idea, but the
concept (see Bolger's book "Different Boats" for the details) and the boat
itself never took off, or became very popular. Peter probably lost a
little money on that one, but the fact remains that Phil's and Peter's
idea of the boat and the thinking behind it was good and valid. In fact, I
personally always thought, the concept was much better suited to a boat
meant for amateur builders.
Anyway, I explained that Clodhopper/Lady Slipper was pretty
much of a "form follows function" (formfunk) design, and not for
everybody, certainly not a yacht tender. What the boat was designed to do
was emulate the feel of a larger keel boat, to help the wife and the kids
learn how to sail the bigger family yacht better--to be a confidence
builder, and when sailed properly, sail like a witch, giving up as little
performance as possible.
Did you ever have some ask the name of your first kid? And when
you told them, the questioner looked at you intently for a minute then
shaking his head, says, " . . . no . . . that's not right.".
Well that's about what happened when the guy wrote back
decrying the idea of "formfunk" and stressing that the best boats are a
"compromise" (like I never heard that before!) and then proceeded to tell
me all the things that could be done in the redesign to make the boat
better and more compromise friendly; things like centerboards, dagger
boards, removable lea boards and what have you to make the boat flexible,
sort of like; if your grandmother were a bicycle, you could ride her to
the store, that kind of compromise, that kind of thought.
Nevertheless, I must commend his interest and tenacity in
writing a couple pages of his design philosophy, even if the effort is a
bit like carrying coals to Newcastle. He's the guy who should undertake
independent design study, and all itís aspects, the subject of this
column, and then he can run with the best of joggers.
The other message was from a first time builder, Dale Austin,
who started building a copy of my Apple Pie
design, an Atkin boat reworked for stitch ní glue (see December 2000
column) and has started a web page to document his progress. He is
building the boat as designed (it only took him two hours to layout, cut
and stitch together) except for one change which I totally approve of
(look at the stern sheet support) and which is more in keeping with the
idea of stitch and glue construction and will provide a place for a
floatation compartment too--intelligent innovation and compromise! By the
looks of his start, I'm sure he's going to do a great job, so check back
once in awhile to see how Dale is coming and for a good stitching tip,
check out how he's tied it all together.
Click here for the page.
Dale, a cabinetmaker, is very tool savvy, and has a bigger
future project in mind, his own copy of Egret.
Bottom line, here we have two enthusiasts. The first guy needs
a bit more formal study into the real business of design and less time in
the lonely pursuit of reinventing the already invented, and the second has
obviously been doing a lot of study and his good progress and approach
Next column I'll get more specific and discuss: THE BOAT DESIGN