Designed to Sail

Shindig sailing in the IonianI have been designing sailboats – both monohulls and multihulls – for over 35 years, with a particular interest in fast offshore cruising yachts, usually intended to fulfill specific requirements. Nearly all of them were custom built, employing a variety of techniques, ranging from various forms of laminated timber to synthetic composites – often a combination of both.

But why custom build when there are so many designs to be had off the shelf? Well, although there are undoubtedly some respectable production boats around, most have been hopelessly compromised to conform with accepted marketing wisdoms A good example is the general perception that sailors are incorrigibly gregarious – a perverse presumption, if ever there was one, that compels boat builders to stuff in as many berths as possible, almost invariably to the detriment of the boat as a working environment and floating home.

My own belief is that exactly the opposite is needed. Most offshore boats are sailed shorthanded – often by couples – and it's unfortunate that more designs don't reflect this reality. Being less greedy with the accommodation means fewer berths and more open, less compartmentalised interiors. Liberating all that unnecessary structure means efficient, comfortable spaces – galleys, chart tables, cockpits – and loads of extra storage. Likewise, the deck layout and sail plan should be optimised for shorthanded sailing. It must be possible for a single person to complete every task on deck. This means having all controls ready to hand and keeping them as simple as possible.

Simplicity is a tremendous virtue at sea. Complicated systems might offer convenience – often of the push-button variety – but they are inherently more prone to failure, whereupon most are found to be impossible to repair with the resources available. The image of a crew stuck in port waiting for spares is no myth, but a common occurrence.

None of my designs were conceived with the home boatbuilder in mind, and their completion demands appropriate core skills. However, since they were all built without expensive moulds or tools, they would certainly be suitable for the ambitious amateur. But first think carefully. It's rash to embark on any project of such magnitude without being utterly confident in ones abilities to complete the task. In my time I've seen hundreds of abandoned dreams – and, believe me, there can be no sadder sight.