Beauty and The Beast

12 Meter Gleam, 1937


JHHG3-1000274 JHHG3-1000270

Diamond For Ever, 1987

JHHG3-1000282 JHHG3-1000278JHHG3-1000277

Aesthetics in sailboat design and our reactions to them are interesting. We find Gleam heartbreakingly beautiful and Diamond For Ever almost offensively ugly.

But I guess someone liked the lines of the latter enough to spend a huge amount of money building her and then refitting and lengthening her. Or was she one of those dreadful instances when a design looks fine on paper but terrible in real life (although that would not explain the refit)?

By the way, a boat does not have to be old, traditional and covered with varnish to look good. For example, I think these are great looking boats.

If you disagree with our tastes, you can buy Diamond For Ever for the bargain basement price of eight million euros. As far as I know Gleam is not for sale.

What do you think about boat aesthetics? Which boats do you find beautiful? Please leave a comment.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

35 comments… add one
  • Jerry Levy May 16, 2012, 8:29 am

    ‘Gleam’ is beautiful and was fast for her day, but what else? Too many sailors put too much emphasis on aesthetics, imo. For instance, the brightwork looks pretty but it’s not really practical for most people and involves a lot of maintenance – all of which doesn’t make a vessel any more seaworthy. Personally, I prefer the more rugged aesthetics of workboats rather than ‘yachts’. A trip through ‘Mystic Seaport’ (especially in the small watercraft section) will show many of these rugged beauties which were built for the sea and could stand up to the weather. Actually, I like the look of chines. The rounded-bilge form has become favored mostly because of fiberglass constrction. I guess some people see beauty in mass-produced plastic boats – and some are pretty – but they are designed for a particular kind of customer (the weekend sailor). Not my cuppa.

    • John May 16, 2012, 10:35 am

      Hi Jerry,

      I totally agree. When we bought “Morgan’s Cloud” she had teak decks and a lot of varnished wood, as was the custom of the day. Over the years we have removed the teak decks (replaced with Treadmaster) and most of the wood. The wood we could not replace, we have pained white. But here is the thing. I think that each of these changes has made her more beautiful, not less.

      Now she is no longer a yacht, but an expedition sailboat, and I find that very compelling.

      Of course the fundamentals of her beauty lie with Jim McCurdy’s timeless lines and perfect sheer line.

  • René Bornmann May 16, 2012, 8:32 am

    Dear John,

    Can’t agree more on the ”these” link.
    I have visited the warf early this year and now I only need to sell my 41footer Hutting (Koopmans design).

    Thanks for the great and very active site!



    • Tom T May 16, 2012, 12:25 pm

      I was googling Koopmans just yesterday. There is a gorgeous 52 foot one-off Koopmans, robin’s egg blue hull, in the transient slip across from mine. BLUEFIN, from Hindeloopen.

  • RDE May 16, 2012, 12:13 pm

    I recently surveyed a 45′ S & S built in the 1960s. So beautiful she makes Gleam look like an ugly duckling. Reached down in the bilges and felt the completely rusted out iron floors, and suddenly she became ugly. Beauty is as beauty does!

    • Jerry Levy May 16, 2012, 3:23 pm


    • John May 17, 2012, 11:08 am

      Hi Richard,

      A very good point. “Gleam” was completely rebuilt at huge expense in time and money. Falling in love with beauty can be a dangerous thing.

  • Nicolas May 16, 2012, 2:13 pm

    Gream & Diamond look pretty much the same, you ask me.

    • John May 17, 2012, 11:07 am

      Hi Nicolas,

      Interesting. Each to their own view. Just shows how subjective this subject is.

  • Erik Snel May 16, 2012, 5:05 pm


    I too find Gleam beautiful and the other one very ugly. My boat is a Victoire 34, also a Koopmans design. Before I even knew that Koopmans was the designer, I already fell for their designs (my current boat is the second of their hand). And the boat I would like to have, a Breehorn 37 is also Koopmans. And also, I fell for her lines before I knew the designer…
    I still don’t know what it is that attracts me to them, but it there, definitely.
    If I look from a wider perspective, I find my taste to be a little old fashioned, I usually fancy the designs that were deemed ‘modern’ in the late 70’s and early ’80’s.

    Looking forward to the lines of the Adventure 40, too!



    • John May 17, 2012, 10:23 am

      Hi Erik,

      Another good designer who combines good looks with great function. We spent a month looking after the Koopmans design “Polaris” in Greenland a couple of years ago and came away very impressed.

  • John Rushworth May 16, 2012, 6:00 pm


    The Victoire is lovely. I visited aboard one in the NE of Scotland when I had a motor boat a few years ago. A dream boat yours, but out of my league. My Victoria 800 is a double ender long keel, cutter rigged. A Chuck Paine design based on a Scottish fishing boat hull he saw and he sketched out the Frances design from that, in the 70s. I can’t find much I like about modern mass produced boats.

    • John May 17, 2012, 10:20 am

      Hi John,

      I’m with you on the Chuck Paine designs. They are pretty much all good to look at and the his early ones are some of the sweetest sailboats ever drawn in the 30-35 range.

  • Svein Lamark May 16, 2012, 6:16 pm

    Hei, John
    You know a lot about boats, but there is a lot you do not know aboat boats. Alu boats are weak. After 20 years of age an alu fishing boat has little value because the hull is not so strong any more. A wooden boat can last a lot longer. Last year I restored the familys wooden fishing boat; The Woolf. It had been trawling mostly in ice for 60 years (one day of this work would kill an alu boat). All oak construction timber and 90% of the oak planks were ok, but 50% of the steel were gone and almost all of the alu were gone. To day The Woolf is sailing again and looking good. Most of the beutiful boats are wooden boats because they last so long. The builder will because of the long life of the ship also think of the beuty of the ship. Steel ships are buildt for certain purposes, not to be nice. They last maybee 30 years. Alu boats last around 20 years, after that corrosion is taking over and you can not thrust them any more. The estetic problem is all the plastic boats, they seem to last for ever, and they are ugly often ment to last 10-20 years. We do not get ridd of them so easily.

    • Jerry Levy May 17, 2012, 7:55 am

      I’m sure that John would agree with you that there is a lot that he doesn’t know about boats. There is a lot that ALL of us don’t know about boats. The age of all vessels will depend on how well built and maintained they are. There is no reason to think that an aluminum boat can’t last a lot longer than 20 years if well cared for. I don’t think one can legitimately extrapolate from the experiences of commercial fishing boats to the experience of cruising sailboats in relation to building materials.

      • John May 17, 2012, 10:28 am

        Thanks, Jerry. Well said.

    • John May 17, 2012, 10:17 am

      Hi Svein,

      I’m sorry, but you crossed the line on this one. You simply don’t know what you are talking about on the life of aluminum boats.

      Our own “Morgan’s Cloud” is just as stiff and strong as she was 26 years ago when she was launched. She has no significant corrosion. And I know of many other aluminum sailboats that are even older that are still going strong. “Paquet”, sister ship to our boat, is nearly 40 years old and still in good shape, even though her care, particularly electrically, has not always been the best. I could easily list another 20 boats in with this kind of life span.

      The other benefit of aluminum is that we can clearly see if we have a problem, unlike wood, steel, and glass fiber.

      Yes, there are commercial aluminum boats that are dead of corrosion after 20 years. But that is the result of poor construction in the first place, or lack of attention to proper electrical and dissimilar metals isolation in the second.

      There are also wooded boats that die after 20 years, and steel, and composite, all for a variety of reasons that usually involve poor construction or maintenance.

      We value your insights here at AAC, but let’s have no more of these sweeping generalizations based on flawed suppositions.

  • Paul Mills May 17, 2012, 4:01 am

    Hi John,

    This is a very individual topic.

    For my part I like functional beauty, and still feel all wobbly when I see pictures of The Brixham Trawler – Provident, on which I was mate some twenty years ago. Mind you, I was happy to be paid (all be it not very much…) to scrape, paint, varnish and polish, but the prospect of owning such a high maintenance boat… .

    That said, I agree with Swein above about long lasting oak boats, heavily built and their durabilty; sadlyProvi was not such quality and in her 3 year refit a large amount of the wooden structure was replaced, and the decay and nail rot in places was nothing short of scary.

    Today, boats ‘like these’ as you link to above are my desire, especially if the paint issue can be lessened – on my 2.5 year old Ovni the ammount of small paint bubbles around awkward bits and fittings – despite careful application of yellow goop is becoming very depressing…. and certainly not beautiful! Recently i was chatting to an owner of a maybe 7 year old 435 who is going to Holland for a repaint – where he has observed things seem to last a lot better.


    • John May 17, 2012, 10:39 am

      Hi Paul,

      On the paint issue. After 20 years of living with a painted aluminum boat I have learned that you can get the paint to stick, if you do it right. But that doing it right, while not difficult, requires an attention to detail that is simply beyond most boat yards or builders.

      I had our aluminum boom painted 20 years ago and it shows no indication of corrosion or bubbling today. But I stood over the painter every step of the way and made him do it right.

      On the other hand, our hull and deck, painted nine years ago, has quite a bit of bubbling. In this case I was traveling at the time the job was done and did not supervise.

      The good news is that paint failure on an aluminum boat is purely a cosmetic issue.

      In the end analysis, if I was ever doing a new aluminum boat, I would have no paint anywhere.

      • George Woodward May 17, 2012, 2:26 pm

        Hi John
        ” if I was ever doing a new aluminum boat, I would have no paint anywhere.”
        If an aluminium yacht need a new paint job should she be taken back to the metal above the waterline and spend the painting money on plenty of Treadmaster? Much will depend on personal aesthetics guess -.gleaming paint or workmanlike grey
        And maybe the Practical Sailor May article on using Dimecote 21-5 with its zinc base is an attractive option below the waterline, claiming to create “the entire hull surface into one giant sacrificial anode”
        What do you and Colin think?

        • John May 17, 2012, 3:32 pm

          Hi George,

          Yes, I would seriously consider blasting all the paint off and using Treadmaster. MC was built before computerized cutting and bending and therefore needs epoxy putty to smooth out the imperfections. But if I had say an Ovni that was blowing paint, I would just soda blast it all off. Of course this is a very personal choice, I’m not suggesting that this is what anyone else should do.

          I have not looked at Dimecote, but will.

  • Sixbears May 17, 2012, 8:36 am

    Put me firmly in the small is beautiful school -not that there aren’t some ugly small boats.

  • Richard May 17, 2012, 8:43 am

    This is a Cole 43 from Australia, fibreglass and not a day sailer, first built 1970.
    Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder ?
    Perhaps nowadays we expect “yahmansions” with their bedroom suites,full restaurant size galleys/dining areas and standing headroom everywhere including the aft locker plus huge cockpits for at anchor entertaining.
    I certainly think a working vessel can be functional and pleasing to look at i.e.The schooner, Bluenose built to fish and also her dories are good looking.
    Well anyway as I said,my opinion only.

  • Chris May 17, 2012, 10:15 am

    “The Eye of the Beholder.”

    Beauty is a more than bit like “quality.” It can be more emotional than qualitative. A 2×4 makes an ugly, low quality baseball bat. A baseball bat makes an ugly, low quality building stud.

    Boats can be more than a bit like life partners, we may not see what he/she saw in him/her, but our seeing isn’t what matters, it is the partners’.

    Objective standards for beauty remind me of a famous judge who said, “I may not be able to define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”

    As sailors, we have also developed a visual vocabulary for beauty and like the judge, we know ugly when we see it. But it isn’t an objective measure, it is an emotional one. We have friends who could look at both of these boats and not be able to differentiate their “beauty.” They don’t possess the vocabulary.

    Since we are habituated to beauty is a matter of form more than substance, and form follows function, it could be that against these metrics, Diamond For Ever is actually the more…


    • John May 17, 2012, 11:13 am

      Hi Chris,

      A really good set of points, as usual, about function over form. Having said that, I can’t make the final step either!

  • David Head May 17, 2012, 10:52 am

    This article has exposed so much about individuals and the choices they make. But surely that’s the point. A boat I feel I would take anywhere another would deride as not suitable. I no longer ‘buy into’ the beauty thing. I am far more concerned with capability and practically. The Victoria 800 mention in replies would once have been a day boat, but now we have seen the durability and simplicity of such designs. My Saga 40 is so called bullet proof, but I yearn for the fortitude of a metal hull, say a Tahitian 32 or maybe one of the Wylo designs. Now they really will go anywhere.

  • Will Taylor May 17, 2012, 10:56 am

    I’m afraid my impression after reading through these comments would be that most sailors are snobs….

    • John May 17, 2012, 11:11 am

      Hi Will,

      Funny, in reading the comments, I was struck by the diversity of thoughts on the subject and the openness of the writers.

      Reading comments can be subjective too!

  • Matt Marsh May 18, 2012, 9:20 am

    Aesthetics, of course, are subjective…. but there are many well-established and well-understood rules of proportion and balance that, while not set in stone, certainly should not be ignored by the designer.

    I would argue that, in the case of boats, an additional rule of aesthetic design is that the boat should look well-suited to her role. A harbour tug, for example, can be quite a good-looking vessel if her lines convey a sense of strength, purpose and practicality, but she’ll look quite strange if she’s low-slung and slender. A voyaging sailboat should look modest but sturdy, and should convey a sense of “this boat can take care of us in a bind”. A water-ski boat should look athletic, fun and sporty. An ocean racer’s lines should be long and sleek, conveying power, adventure and speed.

    To my eye, impractical features are ugly. The 1995-to-present powerboat style that I call “melted jelly bean” is usually impractical, with impossible-to-walk-on foredecks and sharply raked windows that create glare and waste space. Therefore, boats done in this style are usually ugly to my eye- even though some of the individual lines may be quite correct. Some modern catamarans are far too heavy to sail well, and despite their designers’ efforts to disguise their bloated bulk, their impractical proportions make them ugly.

    Practical, seamanlike design features can also contribute to an aesthetically pleasing boat, even if the basic style seems weird. Take Steve Dashew’s FPBs, for example. With a nearly flat sheer, angular deck house and bare aluminum finish, they should look rough and industrial. But every line on those boats has a seamanlike purpose, rooted in the natural laws of hydrodynamics and in many miles of ocean experience. The net effect is that of a strong, sturdy, dependable passagemaker that is the clear centre of attention in any crowd.

    • John May 18, 2012, 6:47 pm

      Hi Matt,

      All good points, as always. I particularly like the “melted jelly bean” tag—just a perfect description. It always amazes me when a whole genre of boat, or anything else for that matter, develops that is just plain impractical, just because they it fits some passing “style” ideal. Short, fat trawler motor boats are another example.

      I too think that Steve’s boats look great. Perhaps not “beautiful” but certainly “handsome”.

  • Petter May 18, 2012, 1:17 pm

    There has been some mentioning of a yacht designer close to my heart, so I will offer my five cents worth in the debate;

    First to Svein, which I assume to be a fellow countryman: it would be interesting to know who welded the aluminium fishing vessels that became soft after 2o years of usage. I have previously never heard about something similar. It might be worth bearing in mind that a professional fishing vessel most likely in the course of 20 years receives a lot more use and abuse that a pleasure yacht in its normal lifetime.

    That said, then to all: If you are considering a go-anywhere cruiser of beauty, I would surely look towards the designs of Dick Koopmans Sr. and Jr. That is a least what I did before acquiring mine. The father and son, Koopmans, constructs vessel with ocean crossing – and live aboard – qualities being prime considerations. The vessel ends up being semi-custom design and built in aluminium, steel and woodcore/epoxy.
    Their site is here

    Yacht construction in the Netherlands is still much of a skill and takes place one hull at the time, i.e. not by an assembly line. If the vessel is built by one of the Dutch reputable yards – and maintained – in my mind these vessels should last a lifetime, rather than a mere 20 years. Here are some yards that appear to have a solid reputation:

    When these fellows wanted a vessel, they relied on Koopmans to design one. They have by the way made and interesting journey.

    If you would prefer the vessel fully finished to perfection, then check out

    Apart from Koopmans, I must confess that I really appreciate the both beautiful and sensible designs of Chuck Paine. However, in the EU market they are hard to find.

    So this was my 5 cents. Hope it offered some value.

    • John May 19, 2012, 8:37 am

      Hi Petter,

      First off, sorry for the delay in posting your comment. It got caught by our spam filter and we only found it this morning. The filter is amazingly accurate, but occasionally it makes an error.

      All very good points and some great resources. I agree, it really does seem that the Dutch are at the pinnacle of metal boat construction. And Koopmens at the top of the design game.

  • John May 19, 2012, 12:57 am

    Good looking airplanes almost always fly better then ugly ones too.

    Funny how that works.

  • Svein Lamark Aug 6, 2012, 3:49 pm

    Hi John,
    I have been at sea 65 days in a little sailboat and have not read your page until now. I am very sorry that you think I have crossed your editorial line. I will try not to do that again and become better. It happend so that we had a small sail-off party in May when I wrote the note, probably not a wise thing to do. I am not thinking on your aluboat Morgan’s Cloud, which I do not know. My “flawed suppositions” are based on measurement of alu-plate thickness on ships around the shaft, under engines and under tanks over periods of several years. The plates get thinner, usually after 20 years at sea (on steel this often seems to begin after 17 years). The speed of the process seems to increase when first started. Two years ago I changed 100 full alu-plates on a ship because of reduced thickness. It was costly and building a new maybe better (I do assume you have done such measurements once a year and know that nothing has happend to the plates of Morgan’s Cloud).
    Welding can also be a problem, if seeng something looking like salt in gel over the welding; it could be a problem which can lead to a leak. A good pump is wise in any ship (I have pumped several boats across oceans). I do believe that with your meticulous maitains of Morgan’s Cloud you have no such problems as I have had.
    On this 65 days voyage I navigated according to Norwegian Crusing Guide Vol.2. It is very good and I recommand the book to all sailors of this waters.

    • John Aug 8, 2012, 11:05 am

      Hi Svein,

      Good to have you back. I owe you an apology too, for being a bit quick on the trigger and maybe taking your comment the wrong way.

      You are of course right that you can get plate thinning in the places you mention. However, I think this can usually be traced to poor maintenance or construction practices and is not intrinsic to aluminum construction. See this post for an aluminum boat that is over 40 years old and has had no plate replacement at all.

      Also, thanks for the kind comments on the Norwegian Cruising Guide. We are busy working on the seventh edition, which will be even better and also optimized for tablet computers.

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