Messing about in boats since 1975.  Online Since 1997.

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What Tradition Has to Offer

Copyright 1995 - 2011 Michael Kasten

There are those who choose to ignore our roots, are not interested in them, have forgotten them, or who perhaps have never been exposed to classic boats in the first place. Well, regarding our seeming focus in the direction of traditional boats I have been pleased to discover that many people are receptive to classic style.


We have made use of tradition simply as a springboard, as outlined in my article on Nomadic Watercraft. Naturally there is a place for all types - well nearly all types. Although an element of beauty can be found in nearly any boat, given the openness to see it, the blatantly ugly should be extinguished.

Who is to say though what's ugly?

It was said by Salvatori, the great architect, "Any structure should have the qualities of Function, Strength, Aesthetics, and Economy. The element of Aesthetics, is equal partner to the other requirements. Aesthetics will ask that a balance be struck between the engineering on the one hand, and the art or design of a structure on the other. In other words, perfect engineering does not automatically imply good design."

Although he was referring to buildings, we can apply the same statements to boats...!

In their book Sailing Yacht Design, Henry and Miller say, "These principles are not easily described, but may be summed up in one word: balance... This is an artistic or implied symmetry of balanced masses, rather than a geometric symmetry."

I feel it is largely a lack of exposure to tradition that drives peoples' interest in what we sometimes refer to as cutting edge stuff, i.e. the trend toward the go-fast, the ultra-light, the extreme. It is not always so much an informed preference as perhaps an unfamiliarity with the heritage from which our boats have come to us...

A common misconception with boats is that "traditional equals slow." Not so!

My schooner Emerald has been viewed as a traditional old crab crusher by some - a dowdy old single-chine gaffer. How is it then that her fine lines have carried us to victories against much larger boats in various local races? Sister ships of this excellent design by Tom Colvin have won several other local races in and around Port Townsend, Washington and have carried me nicely across oceans. Hmm... a highly capable "old gaffer" then...?

My own reluctance to immediately embrace new boating fads or fanatical boat types comes from a natural caution - a conservative approach. Of course if we did not progress, we would be just simply old fashioned. We should remain open to various extremes, but caution is also good, as is evidenced by the BOC racer built out of recycled aluminum with a 17' deep fin keel on which the keel promptly fell off and scuttled their mission before it even got started...!

It often seems that as soon as someone does something crazy with a boat, immediately everyone else wants one in order to attempt the same. Unfortunately, many boaters are led into desiring this stuff by all the hype and the glitter, rather than necessarily with good boat-sense. This trend is extended via the all too common production boat mentality: a mind set established by bean-counters and sales people, rather than by a sensible approach to boating.

As in Hollywood, there is a point where a boat will simply become all fluff and no substance. Unlike Hollywood however, many of the resulting production boats are just downright ugly...!

I feel boaters deserve better.

Many production boats are poorly made as well. One only need recall the thousands of GRP runabout power boats built with the absolute minimum of structure. In terms of safety, this is very much in need of improvement!

In part, this is why we like metal boats. With each new vessel imagined, on the design side we have the opportunity to create something with an eye toward Modern Classic aesthetics. We also have the benefit of being able to take advantage of inherently strong materials.

Robust and safe, yet fast and graceful... The sweet spot of good design.

Michael Kasten

Metal Boat Quarterly #2 - Spring 1995 Editorial - Updated 2003 & 2006


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