Of Dishwashers and Yacht Designers

This evening I was washing the dishes at Base Camp, our somewhat primitive (at least by modern North American standards) shore base, and musing on various metaphysical issues, as I tend to do when performing routine tasks…often to the detriment of the results, like dish cleanliness.

Anyway, after cogitating for a while on how two people with a very nice 56-foot sailboat could possibly be the same two people with no dishwasher at their shore base, my mind turned to loftier things.

And I was struck by a great truth about yacht design, probably inspired by having just read Voyages, the annual journal of the Cruising Club of America.

Good yacht designers create the boat their customers want.

Great yacht designers create the boat their customers need.

I have no idea whether this is an original thought, although I suspect that I must have heard or read it, or something like it, at some time in the past.

No matter, the point being that remembering this when we are searching for a boat will contribute hugely to good outcomes.

Or, to put it another way, the really great boats out there are designed (and built) by the few, the very few, who stick to a vision without being pulled this way and that by every potential customer with a large cheque book or by the marketing types who profess to know what said owners want.

Four great designers who come to mind are Steve Dashew, Jean-François Delvoye of Borèal, Olin Stephens (ably assisted by his brother Rod), and Jim McCurdy, designer of Morgan’s Cloud and Carina (line drawing above).

It’s not that these boats are perfect manifestations of their creator’s vision. Each designer has made some concessions to make their boats saleable—McCurdy probably the least, which accounts for why his boats never sold in very large numbers…and why they are among the best offshore boats ever drawn—but none of them allowed the market to pervert their boats to the point that their fundamental purpose, going to sea in comfort and safety, has been materially compromised.


I’m sure there are more designers with this level of intestinal fortitude. If you can think of other worthy additions to the list, and why they qualify, please leave a comment.

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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.

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