Messing about in boats since 1975.  Online Since 1997.

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Quality vs. Quantity

Copyright 1997 - 2011 Michael Kasten

In these pages you will find that I have no problem with the far-out, the new, the old. Among these diverse types of boats, my typical focus is toward "classic" vessels that are practical and well suited to voyaging.

In other words I prefer to avoid designs that are unwholesome, poorly conceived, overly complicated, or just downright ugly. These judgments are not really such a tough call to make! But like everyone - I do have opinions so it is nearly impossible to be completely objective...

When looking at the variety of boat designs on the market, we observe that quite a few of those designs are mass marketed. Among them we will find that there are often quite a few boats built to a given design. It should be recognized though that this is not a statement of quality - only of quantity... After all, there are also a lot of Twinkies, Cheese Whiz and cheap bottles of Gallo sold, rather than good crepes, camembert, and cabernet...

This analogy is not entirely silly...! This kind of choice comes down to experience. In other words, learning how to recognize the difference.

For example, we observe many distinctly unwholesome boat designs that are heavily marketed, a number of which are pandered as being well suited to ocean travel. In fact there often seems to be an inverse relationship between the quality offered, and the effort that is expended in advertising, i.e. on pandering quantity.

As is unfortunately the case with many mass marketed boat designs, one's relationship with the designer will often be minimal and the plans will probably not cost much.

An inexpensive set of plans is commonly regarded as a "good deal." In the end however, building a cruising boat of any kind will cost quite a lot of money - possibly even one's life savings - and it will consume a large amount of one's personal time. If one's choice of design does not in the end turn out to be suitable for the intended purpose, then even if the design were "free" one could hardly refer to it as having been a "bargain"..!

When stock boat designs become just another off-the-shelf commodity there is often little qualitative criteria applied to differentiate among them, except possibly to take note of how many of those boats may have been built before. Quantity again...!

As an example, we might well ask, "Is Slocum's 'Spray' the best boat for offshore voyaging...?" Hardly.

How many of those have been built...? A LOT of them!

Why is the Spray unsuitable...? The Spray is equally stable upside down as it is upright! And the range of positive stability is not so large to begin with. For a detailed review please see my article on the Spray design and how it might be improved.

If it turns out that a cheaply obtained design is not suited to the owner or owner-builder's intended use, it may very well turn out to be the most expensive "investment" mistake that person ever makes.

At the other extreme is custom yacht design. Here, a designer works with someone who knows more or less what they want but may be unable to find it in the market place, or someone who may not know what they want and would like some guidance, or perhaps someone who simply wants a newly designed vessel that is exactly tailored to their specific requirements. Although not widely realized this need not be a costly process. One of the primary goals during the custom design process is to avoid the various pitfalls in the realm of boat building and boat ownership. This alone has the potential to save quite a lot in the long run.

Other benefits of creating a new boat design are numerous. For example, a newly developed design is able to take advantage of the most up to date technology in terms of design and analysis via software, and in terms of materials and manufacturing.

One often overlooked example of this strategy is that if the new design has been computer generated, there is the opportunity to take the digital model to the next logical step and make use of the efficiencies offered by computerized metal cutting. By this process one can realize a substantial savings of time and effort during fabrication, as well as vastly improved accuracy.

If the boat will be professionally built, this translates into a labor savings which then becomes a cost savings to the owner. If the boat will be amateur built, the amount of fabricating time saved will usually be dramatically greater. This is so because all of the myriad decisions that must be made during construction have already been made..! Even if an amateur builder's labor costs are expressed only in terms of rent and groceries - there will still be an overall cost savings...!

'Lest we diverge from the topic at hand...

Between the two extremes expressed above, one will naturally find many excellent stock boat designs available that may indeed be well suited to the purpose at hand. With any such stock design, unless the designer is deceased, there should be ample design documentation and the designer should be available for hire to provide ongoing support during the building of the vessel. For example, a designer should always be willing to provide quick answers to simple construction questions.

In some cases, a builder or an owner will want to hire the designer for various construction related support tasks. Some owners or builders may wish to have quite a lot of help, or may even request on-site inspections of the vessel under construction, and for that the designer will bill the owner or builder for the time expended.

It is with these thoughts in mind that we offer a variety of well-planned boat designs among these pages. We wish mainly to encourage good judgment and "boat-sense" when choosing a design, rather than to blindly assume that the quantity of boats built to a given design has anything at all to do with the inherent quality of its design.

It is often that which is the most difficult to find that proves to be the most rewarding...

Michael Kasten

Metal Boat Quarterly #11 - Summer 1997 Editorial - Updated 2003 & 2006


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