Messing about in boats since 1975.  Online Since 1997.

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Emerging From The Dark Ages

Copyright 1997 - 2011 Michael Kasten

How did we get started building boats?

The real question I mean to ask is, "What tools might we have first used for boat building?"

I don't mean for your boat or my boat, I mean for boats as-built by mankind.

Perhaps we floated on the nearest object such as a log, and perhaps then we may have used the skin of some critter, having primarily made use of a rock and a sharp stick...

Yes, then we learned something about boat building. With our new found knowledge we began to use a stick and a sharp rock..! Thus the stone age hatchet or adz.

Eventually, we began to use metal tools to get the critters and to build our skin or our wooden boats and to cut the fibers for lashing them together. After a time, we began to use some of that metal to make actual boat parts.

In the not too distant past, we moved farther onward and we began using metal for the whole boat..! In our present day we can even choose from several different metals with which to build vessels for travel on the salt sea.

The technology of boat building has developed considerably from the days when we employed rude and brutish tools guided perhaps by a sketch in the sand. Today, we have geometry, and through the use of it we have lofting and actual boat designs from which to build boats. These have become the essential tools we use as we take a boat design from idea to paper to loft floor to the boat itself. In so doing we are able to accurately reproduce a given design, and we have the assurance that we will end up with a vessel having predictable characteristics according to the intent of the design.

Lest we start to feel complacent and begin to imagine that we've reached a plateau of technical wizardry in our 'modern' age, we have only to peek a little farther down the road, to embrace the next boat building tool... I am referring to a new type of measuring tool combined with a new kind of cutting tool which, while it has been with us for some decades now, has only just begun to find some measure of acceptance among boat builders.

"Scheisse...!" you might say. "What...?" you might exclaim! "Why Not...!" someone will ask...

Here is the deal: This new tool is not only capable of extremely accurate measurement and therefore extremely accurate cutting, but once it is correctly set up it can also do this automatically and can therefore save a boat builder quite a substantial amount of time.

What in all of creation would keep a boat builder from wanting to save time?? After all, have we not learned as a result of modern economics that labor has value... that time is money? For some reason, possibly due to the age-old ultra-conservatism of sea faring types, the concept of simultaneously saving both time and money has not penetrated our boat building countenance.

Odd, really.

Just what the hell am I talking about..???

Computer Aided Boat Building!!

This is not a new concept, to be sure. What is relatively new however is that 3D computer modeling software has been improved sufficiently over the last few decades that we can now benefit from our relatively recently acquired tool - the computer - for creating hull geometry, for lofting, and for boat building. These technologies have matured to the point of being not only highly capable, accurate, and time-saving, but they have also become affordable for use by mere boat designers and by boat building shops. By this means, one can create a design for any type of vessel via computer modeling, whilst having an incredible wealth of calculating power readily to hand, and one can then leverage the effort expended in creating the 3D computer model in order to actually make boat parts!

When faced with the chance to make use of a big and scary new tool, what will be our response? If we are wise enough to see the potential being offered, and bold enough to want to take advantage of such devices, typically we'll still want to see real-world results that prove all of these claims. This after all is only reasonable.

I had been a skeptic of this approach myself, until my " prove it" mentality was finally satisfied. What made me a skeptic at first?

Two things really:

First, just as with any other endeavor, the results are only as good as the effort expended to achieve those results. I had simply seen poor results from projects done by incompetent people. Garbage in... garbage out...

Having spent time as the loftsman in a yacht yard, my second reason for skepticism was much less tangible... If a boat yard simply has a truck pull up and off-load a bunch of boat parts, I could see the day when the skill required to actually create a boat would no longer reside among boat builders. There could be a real loss.

In truth, rather than there being a loss of skills, there will be a shift of those skills from the loft floor to the design office. However, in order for the person sitting at the computer to be capable of making accurate boat parts, that person will necessarily require no small amount of hard-earned highly-developed boat building skills in addition to their computer, CAD, and design skills.

Having come full circle by having actually designed boats via computer modeling and having then created boat parts by computer cutting, I've proven at (least to myself) that any ordinary person (i.e. me) can do this - provided of course that they have the requisite experience, skills, patience, and perseverance...

The result..? I am now an evangelist for these new boatbuilding tools!

Does this mean we have now reached the pinnacle of automated boatbuilding? No..! Not by a long shot!! Although the CAD tools we now employ are highly accurate, and although there is no doubt whatever that one can save an enormous amount of time and money via computer aided design and computer aided cutting, it is quite apparent that the whole process can still be vastly improved.

The first front for those improvements...? Quite a lot can be done to improve the CAD tools available in order to make them more intuitive; to improve the available 3-D modeling tools; and to automate routine tasks such as nesting. But that's a subject for another story... "When CAD Grows Up!"

In another few decades we will look back on the computer tools of today and view all this stuff as having been highly useful and effective at the time, but really somewhat rude and brutish after all...

For an introduction to how I use CAD to maximum advantage, please see my Design Stream article.

Michael Kasten

Metal Boat Quarterly #18 - Spring 1999 Editorial - Updated 2009


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