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.

Comments

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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Meet the Author

John

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.

29 comments… add one
  • Dick Stevenson Mar 27, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Hi John,
    Occasionally with land based friends, differences in behavior patterns get discussed and when I tell them that Ginger and I have washed almost every dish, utensil, pot & pan by hand over the last 15 years, I often see a dropped mouth and an audible “gawp” of dis-belief.
    And while I am at it, let me put in a good word for routine, menial tasks. At worst it is a chance to go on autopilot and just relax. At best, I get great ideas on something that has been percolating in the back of my mind and I also have a chance to check in with myself as to where I am at and how I am: something that is harder to have float to the surface when bombarded with outside stimuli. At this point, we need to choose to “unplug” ourselves from computers, phones, audible books etc. to tune in to what is most important.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Mar 28, 2018, 8:55 am

      Hi Dick,

      I agree completely. The unplug benefit is also one of the many reasons I like being offshore, even for just a single overnight—always puts things back in prospective.

      Some people keep themselves amused with music and reading, or even playing with a device, while on watch. We don’t, and actually value the time to just sit and think, or even just sit and let our minds go blank as we watch the waves—makes for better watch-standers too.

  • Eric Klem Mar 27, 2018, 1:33 pm

    Hi John,

    I think that there is a lot of truth to what you are saying about the difference between good and great designers. This balance you describe is one of the hardest parts of my job and for anyone doing design work, especially when the product has a large safety component which the user may not be fully aware of. While I have spent significant time in the field with our customers, engineering relies heavily on product management to represent the customers’ needs and wants but at the same time we have to account for all sorts of other things that the customer won’t think of. For any complicated product, it is not reasonable to expect the buyer to fully understand the design and its tradeoffs (and to be honest, engineers rarely analyze everything, there is a decent amount of judgement thrown in). The functions of upstream and downstream marketing are the key communication pathway and it is important that they give realistic information which is unfortunately not always the case, especially with sailboats.

    Then there is the topic of knowing someone wants something before they know it. There are some amazing visionary examples (Apple/Jobs) but I hear people use this as justification all the time in my work and it is really just a bad excuse for wanting to do something and not having other justification.

    Eric

    • John Mar 28, 2018, 8:57 am

      Hi Eric,

      I hadn’t thought of extrapolating the thought to all design, but that makes perfect sense, particularly when we think of all the products we use in our daily lives!

  • RDE Mar 27, 2018, 4:22 pm

    Hi John,
    As I grow older and more cynical I increasingly come to the conclusion that most people are sheeple. The one in a thousand or one in a hundred thousand who have the capability of analyzing a problem utilizing “first principles” and creating a solution that grows from that reality are what moves us forward as a society, but they are not common.

    Yacht designers are for the most part just ordinary people, and as such they just follow the herd. Those who are good performers in the bar will likely be successful, whereas those who are too creative will inevitably be driven from the marketplace by the corporate bean counters.

    Take for example something as simple as the design of a marine head compartment in a 40-50′ sailboat. I’ve been aboard perhaps 100 different boats in that category, and the only ones based upon practical logic I’ve ever encountered are the forward head in an Oyster and the head compartments on boats I’ve designed myself. Invariably the Designer glances at the dimensions available and sticks the toilet outboard underneath the side deck because that is a place you can’t stand up in— but mainly because that is how it is done by all the other Famous Designers who never gave a moment’s thought to this simple problem. Result: a head that is a struggle to use on one tack.

    Fact: Sailboats heel when going to weather and bounce up and down when they encounter waves.
    Conclusion: The only proper orientation for a marine toilet is fore & aft with cabinetry or walls on either side so your can brace yourself firmly in place as your perform your daily bodily eliminations.

    The worst head design I’ve ever been subjected too was on a multi-million dollar custom 59 footer from the drawing board of a well respected American Famous Designer. Since he wanted to be successful, when his 6’6″ client said he wanted a “Man Sized Boat” the Designer just blew up the size of the head compartment by about 40%. On port tack in a moderate seaway it was almost impossible to stay on the toilet because there was absolutely no way to brace yourself from sliding across this mini-ballroom.

    Well, at least we didn’t have to wash dishes in it! LOL

    • John Mar 28, 2018, 8:59 am

      Hi Richard,

      I totally agree that all heads should be oriented as you say. Seems like such a small thing, but after a week at sea, a poorly oriented head becomes a very big issue!

  • Gordo Hanson Mar 28, 2018, 5:36 am

    First time poster, but long time follower of yours and Dick on Alchemy, another Valiant owner.

    The Valiant 40 was another boat designed for blue water cruising without much attention to mass appeal — according to the “group” designers in a bar in Seattle, and Robert Perry’s first success: for a cruising couple, but not so comfortable that guest want to stay too long. 🙂

    To your comments: the original design had a port forward head (a little bouncy in a seaway, and helps to close the through hull on starboard tack) but the Valiant 42 design (same hull) went to an aft starboard head, a reasonable change, which I am sure Dick appreciates.

    Always appreciate your posts.

    Gordo

    • RDE Mar 28, 2018, 10:25 am

      Hi Gordo,
      Actually I think Bob designed the Valiant 40 with an eye closely attuned to the mass appeal of the 70’s. The marketing machine at Westsail had thoroughly tested and developed the dreamer market to the point where one of their biggest problems was cranking enough Wetsnails out the door. Bob simply designed a much better boat to expand upon the fashion of the day.

      He didn’t give it a pointy stern just to show that he could draw a prettier tushie than anyone else, but rather because Westsail had created the illusion that it was a necessary feature if you planned to voyage to where the wahines dance.

      • John Mar 29, 2018, 8:18 am

        Hi Richard,

        Good analysis. I figure the marketing department at Westsail set cruising yacht design back 10 years by feeding into the myth that points at both ends were the only way to be seaworthy…not to speak of the even worse myth: slow=good.

        Good on Perry for figuring out how to conform to the fashion and sell boats, but still build some much needed reserve buoyancy into the design and come up with a much better boat.

  • Rob van Pelt Mar 28, 2018, 6:00 am

    Dear John, For multihulls this video hints at the same issue;
    https://youtu.be/zfpUEz7lPYQ

    It’s all about experience and being clever,
    Rob

  • Lee Mar 28, 2018, 8:34 am

    Egocentrically would put Carl Schumacher and the builder of my Outbound 46 Phil Lambert on that list. Phil will refuse owners suggestions if they don’t make long term sense to him but incorporate good suggestions in subsequent boats if they work out. The boat was designed for ocean cruising by a mom and pop originally and remains true to that mission hence the 20 year production run. BTW built the boat to take a spendide and a microwave. Now 4 years down the road both spaces are put to better use.

    • John Mar 28, 2018, 9:03 am

      Hi Lee,

      That all makes sense…particularly getting rid of the washing machine. Just the sort of add on that the market often demands, but that makes no sense, except on very large boats, because of the space uses, complications, and supporting equipment (generator, water maker etc.) required.

      Good point that well designed boats may not have large production runs, but they often have long ones.

  • Stein Varjord Mar 28, 2018, 9:47 am

    Hi John
    I know I’ve seen a similar statement somewhere, but can’t remember where. Anyway, It’s an interesting statement, because it points out several issues with the processes around product creation and product buying.

    The most basic may be: The designer is an expert, the customer normally not. Of course the designer normally knows better than the customer which are the right solutions. The trouble is to make those differences appear in a way that makes the customer understand it quickly enough to not walk away but rather get enthusiastic and buy.

    I think the core of the ability to design the right way is that the designer has much experience with the intended boat use and that he/she designs something because it’s what she/he really wants her-/himself. When a design is shaped around ones own needs and feelings, the ability to spot flaws and innovate is the best. Motivation is on top and intuition/ subcontious thinking works for you.

    As I’m a multihull guy, and have been for many decades, I observe the multihull market the most, and don’t really think the recent development is going the right way. Most manufacturers go totally for the first part of the initial statement, what the customers WANT, or even worse, what they will be tempted by while on a boat show, or yet worse, what will put the wife, who doesn’t really want a boat, in a good mood, so the husband can convince her to say another ”yes”. There’s a lot of competent cruising cats, but not many that do one little bit of trying to tell the customers something they don’t know. The present day dominance is boats that look awesome from the inside or seen from close by the stern when in a harbour. They are really amazing that way, but if what the customer really wants is a house in a harbour, it might be smarter to buy that. The house will be a reliable investment. The cat will be no such thing…

    Most cat buyers, as with other cruising boats, have a vision of some voyaging. They normally have little or no experience, so they don’t really know anything about how to pick the right tool. Those floating houses with their wild level of luxurious comforts and the thus necessary extremely complex tech, are absolute nightmares on a long journey, unless you bring a crew for running it, which is rarely the wish. This fact is NEVER made clear to the customer. Very often, or maybe close to always, the total price tag has been achieved by loading up with superficial luxury that sell the boat on the show, and paying for it by reducing quality on essential properties affecting the safety or longevity of the boat. I actually think there are plenty of reasons to strongly criticize the majority of boat makers for being cheaters.

    I think most people mean well and most designers are people. 🙂 I think they’re presented by a task from the yard that they have to perform, even if they don’t really think all the parameters are right. I also think that when the design is ready, quite often the marketing people have a look at it and, as mentioned, remove important good things that don’t show well, like a good structure around the rudder or a strong enough support for the keel (monohulls), and add superficial crap. The marketing people are also not evil, but they have a task: Sell those boats. They are also less competent than the designer, so they don’t see the consequences they make. I assume it’s impossible to get rid of these mechanisms, but if enough competent people, like here, name things by their real name, (crap), some positive changes might happen.

  • Brent Cameron Mar 28, 2018, 9:55 am

    A very obvious one you missed that almost fits your vision of what they need vs what they want is Henri Amel. At first glance his boats are quirky French (like Citroen) designs that a lot of people disregard on sight but as you get to know them and sail them, you start to appreciate his true genius in that regard. First off he refused to to make meaningful compromises for his owners. If you wanted a change, you bought another boat. He did this for two reasons. First, he almost always knew better – he’d already thought of it and disregarded it as not practical or safe. Secondly, he was building 26 a year and changes wreck the standardization of a fleet so for his yachts to be in far flung corners of the world he wanted them to be able to share parts, advice, etc and so introduced change only very deliberately and with much consideration.

    His boats are very well tjhought out with hundreds of obvious and non-obvious touches in that regard (centre cockpit with well protected helm position because the only time you are really likely to be at the helm on log passages is when the weather is really nasty and the last place you want to be is in an exposed position at the end of the boat. Electric winches and powered everything decades before they became de rigur – because he knew that the smaller partner had to be (really) able to sail the boat in all conditions too and that leaving the cockpit for any reason in stormy conditions should only be done if absolutely necessary. He design d the boats so that a 50-60 year old woman who could lift a bag of groceries could sail the boat herself in any conditions because he knew his customers were successful retired couples for the most part. Solid stainless steel lifelines at a high enough height to be effective to keep you in the boat if you do go up front. Fully protected cockpit enclosure as standard – having sailed on one in force 8 conditions it was almost a pleasure not to have to wear the full set of fouling in watch.

    When you go below, you find 72 deep and massive storage compartments because he knew that his customers would be living in the boat for years in far away destinations. He added to that little touches like a single line that pulls an internal locking bar into place to lock all of the external hatches on the storage compartments from the inside without those pesky padlocks that snag leaving no way for thieves to access them.

    Heads that are fully functional but much smaller than the customers wanted because he knew you didn’t really need to be thrown around on passage. Handhold everywhere with no sweeping open spaces. Plenty of spots to brace yourself so you can free your hands. His boats came standard with everything you needed to go to the blue water offshore from life rafts to the dishes.

    He built 7 watertight compartments so the boat could be holed and still float. The rig is conservative for the displacement and one of those,, the engine room, is to die for – massive, fully separated from the living quarters with a large ceiling opening that gives los of fresh air, down low and near the centre of the boat (under the centre cockpit just aft of the helm) in the most stable spot in the boat so you can work down there in big seas as comfortably as possible.

    His boats aren’t fast, sleek or particularly beautiful (they are all off white because he beleiveed it was the best way to cut down glare) but you’ll find more them in remote locations actually cruising than just about any other very few of them haven’t been around the world at least once – those that don’t have generally gone back and forth across the Atlantic alternating between the Caribbean and the Med. While they don’t appear fast,!they are safe and comfortable so keep the sails up longer and wrack up good numbers on average and so usually complete short passages with their smaller crews in great condition at the end. I recenrly did a passage (in five days) from Bermuda to Antigua where the first three days were challenging enough conditions (14 bad squalls one one day in one) where one 46’ boat was dismasted and the last two had next to no winds on the nose. We came through it all with no issues or lack of comfort and the only time we had to leave the cockpit at sea was when we wanted to use the fresh water hose to spray the salt crystals off the windscreen and handrails/lifelines. The ride was such that we had hot meals every night and could easily fall asleep when we weren’t on watch. Listening to the stories of the other boats (who except for one 75’ boat arrived after us) you’d think they sailed a different ocean even though we sailed pretty much the same track. The boats just eat up the miles and we didn’t hesitate to leave all the sails up until we wanted to reef because we knew we didn’t have to go on deck and fight with them. There are lots of catamarans and flat bottomwed wide assed monohulls out there that can sail at twice the speed can entertain 20 people at anchor but they get reefed way early because of the danger and it’s just not comfortable going 15-20 knots in those conditions. Great at a mooring or in a marina, less so in open water.

    Henri was a cantankerous one eyed nearly blind old guy (French resistance fighter) who became loved by his owners because he never let himself be pressured into building something his customers wanted but really needed none of. Even today the advice Amel owners give new buyers is change nothing for 12 months because you will most likely come to realize it’s best the way it is. I think Henri would have agreed with John wholeheartedly.

    • John Mar 29, 2018, 8:14 am

      I agree, Amel was one of the greats. And very successful at keeping things on track because he controlled both the design and the production.

      That said, I did see a new Amel a couple of years ago and she looked rather complicated and less rugged. I wonder what Henri would have thought?

  • David B. Zaharik Mar 28, 2018, 3:25 pm

    John, you didn’t go deep enough metaphysically. Had you, you would have realized that Phyllis HAS as dishwasher! LOL

    On the note of design, I couldn’t agree more. Over the past 40 years sailing and owning a Hobie, 16, Thunderbird 26, C&C 27, Beneteau 361, Wauquiez Centurion 40s, the nicest sailing was the Wauquiez but I didn’t think it met off-shore criteria. So after five years of searching for an “off-shore” yacht we chose the Boreal 47. In the running (or at least having looked at or sailed) were the Cherubini 44, Morris Pilot House 48 and 52, various Hinkley’s, various Hallberg Rassy’s, Amel 50, Garcia 52 & 45… and finally, the Boreal 47.

    The criteria for me was firstly safety, inside and out. Further I wanted a boat that would be pleasurable to be in while anchored in both good and poor weather, hence a raised pilot saloon. Sailing off of the British Columbia coast I have hit enough death heads (floating logs) to know that I wanted a strong aluminum hull, preferably with a swing keel so I could get into better anchorages and even some marinas a low tide. Lastly I needed to find a safe off-shore boat that wouldn’t prove to be a sea slug once the off-shore adventure had ended and I spend my days cruising the San Juans or Gulf Islands. Hence the Boreal 47.

    Both Jean-François Delvoye and Eeman have thought out “needs” through having sailed to the ends of the earth themselves. Nothing on their boats is specific to aesthetics yet their yachts have beautiful lines and sail incredibly well. Working with Colin Speedie, an independent consultant, during the initial stages of construction, helps tremendously with the selection of gear. Again, Colin also helps sort wants from needs. Once the option list was completed, I sat for a day with Jean-François Eeman reviewing Colin’s recommendations with me and once again adding or subtracting things to ensure I got what I needed not necessarily wanted. We installed plumbing or foundational mechanics of items I may want at a later date (or a prospective buyer may want to install) i.e. generator or water maker. But the philosophy remained to keep things as uncomplicated as possible. In fact, speaking of “washing”, I recently purchased a foot operated washing machine to wash small clothing items such as under garments… http://www.yirego.com I haven’t received it yet but looks like it will be a good complement to the boat without increasing the complexity.

    Purchasing this yacht was not like buying a new cell phone which, as you know, automatically comes with hundreds of features that you don’t need or even want but someone somewhere thinks you might and of course they market it to make you believe its a good idea. Boreal has focused on what is important… no fluff.

    • David B. Zaharik Mar 28, 2018, 3:51 pm

      dead heads not death heads 🙂

      • RDE Mar 28, 2018, 6:13 pm

        Hi David
        Both! Deadheads can be Death Heads!
        Congratulations upon choosing my #1 favorite design. And upon choosing Colin to help sort out the “needs” vs “wants” quandary.

    • John Mar 29, 2018, 8:07 am

      Hi David,

      Good on you for keeping the boat relatively simple. And hiring Colin was a smart call too. I’m always surprised that more people don’t hire Colin, or someone like him, to provide cool and unbiased advice.

      • RDE Mar 29, 2018, 8:32 pm

        Hi John.
        I guess you were a sailmaker and Applehead, but never a boat broker. In my experience as one of the latter, the absolute last thing buyers wanted was cool and unbiased advice. If they had that most prospective buyers would invest in additions to their wine cellar instead.

  • Dan McClary Mar 28, 2018, 11:25 pm

    Hi John and all.
    Perhaps add Ted Brewer to the list of designers. While many of his designs had wide appeal there is one for me that stands out -the design brief being something along the lines of ‘a capable ocean cruiser that can be handled by a husband and wife team’ (I am paraphrasing)…. – He came up in the late 70s with a one-off design he called the Oceanic46, a ‘full bodied’ (~18,000kg loaded) GRP cutter with a second helm inside a pilothouse for those occasional miserable days and nights. It went into limited production and was sold under a variety of names as the PanOceanic46/ PO46/ MaoTa 46/ SeaStar46 or simply ‘Brewer46’ in the 80’s. I won’t go into the details of her design, but she has a broad rounded stern and the encapsulated keel has a cutaway forefoot and a ‘bite’ taken out just ahead of the rudder that helps with maneuverability and though she does not like going backwards, handles big, confused seas _really_ well. Ted has referred to the Oceanic46 as a ‘hefty cruiser’ and one of his favourite designs. See the owners group site at panoceanic.net if interested.
    Disclaimer: My wife and I have lived aboard our 1982 PO46 ‘Camelot’ since April 2010 and are readying to leave NZ for parts unknown in about a year.
    PS -we don’t have an automatic dishwasher either…!

    • John Mar 29, 2018, 8:22 am

      Hi Dan,

      Yes, there are few people that have done more to get people our cruising in safe and wholesome boats than Brewer. He has also done a huge service to the cruising community over the years by putting a lot of time and effort into explaining desirable and undesirable design criteria, as did the Stephens brothers, and McCurdy in a book by that name—highly recommended.

  • Stedem Wood Mar 29, 2018, 3:33 am

    At least one of the design decisions on my boat would make the want vs. the need list on my boat—Steve Dashew’s FPB 64.

    The dishwasher is the biggest drawer in the galley.

    For all my four years on the boat I’ve used the dishwasher to store liquor.

    • John Mar 29, 2018, 7:53 am

      Hi Stedem,

      When we met, I immediately recognized you as a smart practical guy.

  • Stedem Wood Mar 29, 2018, 2:57 pm

    ………whew!

    Much better than being thought of as a guy who owns a boat with a dishwasher.

    Wishing you and Phyllis well,

    Stedem

  • Michael Gallin Mar 30, 2018, 11:56 am

    Some edits to your mantra that you might consider…
    Good designers create what their customers want.
    Great designers create what their customers need.
    Successful great designers do both.
    But, the truly inspirational designers create what their customers’ children will still want when the customers are gone.

  • RDE Mar 30, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Hi Michael
    True, but it is only half the picture.
    Successful marketers sell what the public wants
    Successful manufacturers build what the public wants cheaper and sell it for more.
    Great marketers create new needs that the public didn’t realize they needed. EXAMPLE: the I-Phone & Alexa
    Exceptional marketers create addictions: EXAMPLE; Facebook and the Sinola Cartel.

  • Steve Broom Apr 1, 2018, 10:14 am

    John,
    I am humbly still of the camp that the best offshore boat has yet to be built – but it was close. A40.
    Steve

    • John Apr 2, 2018, 7:53 am

      Hi Steve,

      Me too, and still disappointed that no one picked the batten and ran with it. That said, there’s no reason that an energetic entrepreneur should not take it over now.

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