From the Drawing Board
Occasional ramblings from
a Small Craft Designer

I've been given cause to think. I was asked to lecture a group of marine design students on some aspects of design by a local varsity and one of the choices of subject matter that is included in my course brief is the need to adequately research the design brief.

Now a lot of designers, often the less experienced ones, will, when asked to draw up a 16 ft. whatever, go off and design the sort of 16ft whatever that they have previously done a slightly bigger (or smaller) version of. That approach can work if the client has a knowledge of that earlier work and want just that. Another approach will be to have our intrepid scribe draw the kind of boat that they themselves would like, and thats ok if the tastes and circumstances coincide.

But if the client and the designer have different perceptions of what is expected then there is a fair chance that the result will not be a happy one.
So what will I be teaching to these doyens of tomorrows design studios?

I've been burbling on in earlier "From the Drawing Boards" about a design project I've been playing with, the one called "Bocks". By taking this opportunity to show you how I have worked through a brief that I myself have developed from a market research base rather than an individual client, I can show you what the thrust of my lecture will cover. (I need some ideas here, I've 2 ½ hours per lecture to burn up)

Now in the case of "Bocks" I have a hypothetical client, one that has been put together from many sources but which will ring a bell for a lot of you.

Our client is unexpectedly single, I would say about 55 or 60, driving a desk most of his life has left him active but not very fit. His working days are close to over and he has realised that his career is not going to give him the same rewards that Bill Gates' did. He has about enough invested to ensure his meals and a watertight roof during his retirement but not a lot more, he has a few tools, little used, which is a valid comment about his skills with those same tools and has some minor health problems which have brought home a feeling of mortality and an awareness of time running out fast.

He has, on his bookshelf a collection of cruising books that covers all the classics from Hiscock and Pardey to Rousmanier and Tabarley. His kids spent their weekends on the beach, wreaking havoc while father walked the sands with his mind away over the horizon. The family hound had gained the impression over the years that Marinas were specifically built for walking dogs.

But time caught up, the divorce hurt both heart and pocket, the kids are away making their own lives, the dream is in danger of just fading away and my hypothetical client has come to me for the salvation of his dream.

This man has a view of a cruising boat that is a composite of all the books he has ever read. His opinions are those of the writers of his favourite books, his ambitions are those of his favourite stories. While he has not had enough experience to confirm or modify this position, he is aware that there is a big difference between cold reality and the romantic and rosy view one gets while sitting before the fire and reading of storms at sea while the winds howl in the eaves outside his safe and land bound home. I can build on that awareness, and perhaps we can negotiate to produce a boat which is nearer his real needs, without losing sight of the fact the fulfillment of the dream is a need as well.

An aside here, it doesn't pay to believe without question everything you read in books. I used to but then after writing a couple realised that they are all written by people no more prone to telling the truth than I am, cured me it did!

So our man is likely to make decisions that could be a very long way removed from his reality. Those choices are based upon opinions which have little to do with his real experience or his achievable resources. And it is up to his designer to engineer a design that will satisfy his real (rather than perceived) needs but still satisfy the core elements of his dream.

I have taken the view that our customer has had sufficient of a wake up call to make him receptive to alternatives. He knows that he will never be able to afford a custom built world cruiser, he knows that he is unlikely to set a new single handed around the world record, and he knows that he would in realty prefer to stay within range of Kids homes, his doctor, his friends.

A quiet backwater, with trees overhanging, birds singing and the wind whistling in the tops far above his masthead is much preferred to fighting Hurricanes while 600 miles off the coast of a foreign shore, and for the most part the longest voyage is likely to be achieved in one day jumps between sheltered anchorages.

We need though for the boat to be capable of staying at sea in whatever weather comes along in the summer, capable of spending two or three days at a time under way to migrate south with the birds when winter comes. It should sail nicely without requiring extra crew, it has to motor reliably as the groceries may have to come from a place some distance from his favourite (free of fees and government types) anchorage and needs to be an easy care as well as easily handled craft.

An ability to be trailered would not go amiss. Our client will not own a rig big enough to tow this but the cost of an occasional hitch on a semi trailer a thousand miles along the coast could look an attractive alternative to risking say, the Oregon and North California coast in late autumn. The thought occurs to our client that from his home base in Puget Sound a once in a lifetime trip to Baja Mexico could be possible!

As well we have to look at how this craft will come to be. Our man cannot afford to walk into a boatyard and start waving his chequebook in the air, so he has to build it himself. He has permission to use an empty warehouse for six months which is ideal but means that our tyro boatbuilder has to be able to get her close to complete in around 600 hours, that consideration alone rules out most conventional and a lot of unconventional choices of material and boat type.

We can assume that although he can use basic hand and power tools without putting his fingers at risk, and can read well enough to follow instructions, anything requiring specialist equipment, skills or resources is out as there is simply not time to obtain and learn how to use these things. In other words, skills and time are a part of the budget considerations.

Plywood over solid wood frames and stringers are at least familiar and forgiving materials for most people, modern adhesives are amazingly good at covering for errors and gaps (Welsfords law on boatbuilding goes: "The mistake that cannot be cured with liberal application of epoxy and fiberglass cloth hasn't been born yet") and we can design to avoid structures that are outside normal handyman skills.

So we have already a fair picture of what we have to consider in the design process. Some romance, a lot of pragmatic logic, an indication of materials and skills required, as a single man with the possibility of a friend on board we have an idea of the stores capacity and accommodation required, the beam is set by the need to make her fit the highway limits, the length by the internal layout and the hydrodynamics. All have to be consistent with the budget and timeframe.

I got on with the job and drew up a plywood skinned boat, using a flat bottom and double chined sides, I'd been experimenting with shapes developed in a series of towing test models that had gradually developed to be quite similar to full sized freighters and found that the requirements suited the shape so used that research as a base and drew up a proposal to see if the requirements would fit the needs of our hypothetical client.

So, what I presented to the client was, a sheet ply over wooden stringers, nailed screwed and glued boat of simple shape that suited his skills and resources. Its full ended shape with almost parallel sides and flat bottom has a huge interior for its size, allowing me to achieve a really comfortable interior inside a boat that is small enough to fit the budget and the building timeframe.

She has twin bilge keels, and with a hull of this shape there is little performance difference from a fin keel (the towing tests proved this, its a function of the parallel waterflow lines in the area around the keel bases) and she can be parked on a beach for scrubbing, or sat in a boatyard without having to pay for a cradle, or even lived aboard on shore if necessary. Trailering her is easy too, just put her on one of those rental trailers that are used for transporting dead cars and hook a friend's SUV on the front.

Her rig is simple, I gave the client a choice of a cat yawl rig with a big balanced lug main and a triangular mizzen, or a single Chinese junk sail on a free standing mast amidships. Either way there is no standing rigging, he can build his own masts and spars, even make his own sails if his sister can be persuaded to give up her sewing machine for a few days. Either rig is easily handled and will give a good enough performance to make sailing enjoyable.

Inside she has a huge double bed forward, big enough to be really comfortable with two ( the possibility of finding that "special" woman is very real, I myself know of half a dozen single men who have moved aboard their boat and within a fairly short time have "taken on a crew")
She has enough space in the midships seating to invite the next door boat over for a card game on a cold night, the little wood stove keeping them warm while the snow flurries build white patches on the beach. The galley is small but functional and the meal that is handed out is a credit to our client's newly awakened interest in cooking.
Opposite the galley is an enclosed heads big enough to double as a shower. Some would think it a luxury in such a small craft but the four of them get through a fair amount of coffee (and water diluted with other liquids) during the evenings card games and the women at least are very happy to not have to go out into the cockpit.

Aft again there is a big empty space under the forward end of the cockpit. I have managed to get a single bunk in here, while the space is well enclosed the crosswise bunk has plenty of width, length and enough headroom to not feel too claustrophobic, especially with the two small portholes and the window that opens into the cockpit.
Aft of that again are a series of storage bins, some easily reached and some requiring others to be moved for access. In fact this boat, intended for long stays aboard, has so much storage that I tested the model at a displacement that would allow for over a ton of personal effects and consumables!

The outside of the boat will work well for the client too, a cockpit big enough to lie down in, deep enough to be comfortable and a self draining floor that although he kids himself is to drain the cockpit in stormy weather is really for dumping the rain back overboard while she is unattended on a mooring. (Far more small craft sink at their moorings than are lost at sea!)

There is an outboard hung in a secure mounting half inboard of the transom, it doesn't have the same credibility as an inboard diesel but the vintage Barge Model British Seagull pushes her at 4 ½ knots and has always started on demand.

The dinghy goes up on deck with ease, there is plenty of space for it with either rig, and either rig is eminently suited to singlehanding as there are no jib sheets to hand and winch when tacking, the praam bow, well up above the sharp cutwater makes for a very wide and capacious anchor well which has two anchors complete with chain and warps made off on giant wooden cleats on the sides. Its also a great place for grandkids to stand, the well sides are up to waist height on them and they are very secure.

So there we are, we have discussed things with the client, and over a period come to appreciate matters which have an effect on the design that may not have been evident at first glance. We have managed to combine all of the needs, perhaps having to accept that the dream of South Pacific Atolls and coconut trees in the tradewinds might have to be dropped, but the thought of booming down I 5 in the passenger seat enjoying the sun while poring over charts of Cabo San Lucas and wondering how much they'll charge for the travelift is a good substitute.

The boat is not conventional. But then, a conventional boat would have been outside the skills, or the budget, or the timeframe. It would have been too big, too expensive, too deep in the draft, cost too much to run and building her would need skills that were just not there.
Our unconventional design fits, she will do everything that will be asked of her, she is achievable in budget, skills, and resources and will in time, as she becomes associated with good memories and happy times become beautiful in her owners eyes.

She fits the brief! Not a conventional solution, and my students are going to buck and mumble. To a bunch of freshmen college students who are, like we all once were, out to set the world on fire and full of their own ideas she is an anachronism. But what I will be putting to my group of design students is this, "Consider your brief, and the clients reality, and off you go, your assignment is to do better than this. Due next week!"

Heh heh heh! Reality sometimes tastes different to what you thought it would.

John Welsford