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The Genesis of A Design Philosophy

Copyright 1990 - 2011 Michael Kasten

The Naval Architecture of cruising vessels, it seems, has yet to be given its due. On our bookshelves we have thousands of pages written on the subject of racing yacht design. Although there have surely been as many pages written about cruising, those writings have mostly been created by voyagers. In other words, very much the opposite of the situation with racing craft, a true formal analysis of blue-water cruising boats has not been met head-on.

Before Naval Architecture really became a formal scientific undertaking, ocean sailing was done mostly for fishing, trade, defense, or piracy. Those days have passed... and we now go out on the briny deep for "pleasure."

Since the days of 'working sail' have been left behind, nearly all sailing vessel research has been focused in the direction of competitive racing. All too often, it is the result of those 'racing yacht' design efforts that makes its way into the market place. We are left with the popular notion we must "win races" at all costs.

For voyaging however, perhaps we should re-consider our definition of winning... Aboard a cruising vessel, "winning" means that you arrive at your destination safely and in good time; you are rested; the ship is in good order; you have enjoyed life; you've eaten well; and the expedition has been a success. What more can one ask...?

Further, during the last several decades it is very apparent that boat design has become seriously distracted from the elusive element of "style." This is not to say that "style" implies financial wealth or luxury. Nor do we mean that 'style' refers to a passing fad.

What seems to have faded from many popular boat designs are the elements of classic styling, safety, and comfort. Not only is seaworthiness often ignored, it seems "seakindliness" has been all but forgotten. For example among racing yachts, even though we may have made use of highly developed analytic methods in order to squeeze another tenth of a knot out of our windward sailing leg, we often find in the process that the crew has been forced into squalor.

Measuring Performance

For our cruising vessels, I think we must look beyond the mere achievement of speed, to the achievement of grace.

If we are to sail on the oceans of the world for the simple pleasure of doing so, we must attend to the science of making those voyages as comfortable as possible. This does not at all imply that a vessel must be slow. It does however very certainly shift the meaning of "performance".

A voyager's definition of 'performance' must necessarily include the concepts of ease, comfort, safety, and grace. By this, we do not mean to imply inactivity or laziness. Rather, we simply wish to view our renewed quest for seakindliness as being in contrast to the relatively unsafe, ultra-light, fin-keeled, spinnaker-driven sleds we have somehow come to accept as the "norm."

One point to be thoroughly understood is that the ultra light racing sailboat definitely has its place, as does the super-fast planing powerboat. That place however is in the hands of a dedicated and experienced racing skipper and his crew, rather than those of a misguided voyager or family cruiser.

I view a cruising vessel as one's habitat, rather than strictly as a machine. A voyaging craft is one's home on the water - a home in which one should feel at ease, and which should always invoke good feelings. This notion is described in greater detail in my article on Nomadic Watercraft.

Although the Naval Architecture of cruising vessels can certainly benefit from the myriad performance advantages that have been developed by the racing community, the design of ocean voyaging craft will necessarily also heed the thousands of years of ocean experience gleaned by those who have made a living under sail. In other words, we should not be too quick to discard the wisdom that we have been given for free by that heritage.

The 'boating public' is after all a relatively new concept in light of the long ages of seafaring. That 'boating public' has been to a great extent led by the bleating of marketing agents, and has been bombarded with low quality, mass produced, often unsafe and in many cases downright uncomfortable boats, which over time we have come to accept as the norm... In the end, strangely, we have even come to the point of aspiring to the mediocrity handed to us on credit by those who measure performance and efficiency with a profit margin!

In fact, this has gone so far that the brilliant C.A. Marchaj has been compelled to write an entire book entitled, "Seaworthiness, the Forgotten Factor.

Perhaps this point need not be beaten any further.

But now what?

In my view, it is precisely the historic perspective that is so often found missing - behaviorally, aesthetically, structurally, or what have you. It falls to us then to mold this historic wisdom into a new realization of its potential. Although we can be aesthetically and functionally inspired by vessels of the past, we now have an unprecedented chance to make use of what has been more recently learned about new materials and the science of Naval Architecture. And, unlike the working vessels of the past, we can indeed introduce the creature comforts that bring us pleasure.

Our goal...?

It is simple: we aspire to achieve a greater degree of grace on the water.

'Modern Classic' Yacht Design

What are the characteristics we seek? We should specifically ask:

Style, grace, safety, comfort, speed... these are all predictable qualities.

The working water craft of the past have proven themselves suited to their purpose, and they have plenty to offer to the design of modern blue water craft. This is certainly so in terms of aesthetics, but also and in terms of form and function.

In addition to that, during the last century modern hydrostatics has given us a technical foundation for analysis, with which we can much more effectively improve the safety and performance of our boats. Since approximately the mid 1980's, with the ready availability of highly capable software, our hydrostatic and hydrodynamic analyses have advanced dramatically. Additionally, modern materials have given us a terrific edge over historic craft, allowing us to provide far greater strength with much less weight, and thus improve performance.

Within our definition of 'function' and 'performance' however, we must not forget that a cruising vessel will become our habitat - our home on the water.

Our aim will be to blend art with science... The tools of the trade must therefore include an understanding of what makes a good boat; the ability to predict stability and seaworthiness; an eye for aesthetics; and must also include good 'boat sense.' Armed with these tools we will be able to design vessels that are well suited to cruising - not only in terms of their appearance, but also in terms of structure and function. By this means, we will be able to exercise good judgment in the design of our blue water craft, whether they be motor yachts or sailing yachts.

Our overall goal will thus be to blend the modern with the classic.

Michael Kasten
Port Townsend 1995

Metal Boat Quarterly #3 - Summer 1995 Editorial - Updated 2003, 2007, 2011


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