Rules for Classic Design

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Tad, Mar 26, 2010.

  1. Tad
    Joined: Mar 2002
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    Location: Flattop Islands

    Tad Boat Designer

    The New Classic Sailing Yacht.

    Many designs of recent vintage are purporting to be “Classic”, but are they? I believe that there are some that come close, and some include classic elements, but many are a long way off the mark. How can we look at a design or a boat and say, “she is a classic”. Let’s have a look at some of my principals for classic design and then I’ll go over some recent projects that I believe are classics.

    After almost twenty years of working in the design of new classic yachts I believe that the style is not only worthy of striving towards, but that it also needs to be defended. It seems the term “classic” can be ascribed to almost anything these days. From the

    But why bother with classic design? If you ever saw the fleet of wooden twelve meters under sail in Newport harbour, if you ever saw a Rozinante ketch ghosting along a treed shoreline, if you ever saw Endeavor sail into a crowded harbour. There is something there,

    These boats were at the top of the class technically at the time. This is a key to creating a classic. She is the best of the past combined with the best of the present.

    Why do people continue to build the designs of Francis Herreshoff even though they were outdated in a technical sense many years ago? Because the art in these boats still speaks to us of history, beauty, and grace.

    What would the reasons be to create a new classic yacht? For me first would be
    the opportunity to fully integrate history and art with modern materials, hull and appendage forms, arrangements, and equipment.

    better materials and construction, this would mean a stronger, safer boat that will be easier to maintain. Next would be better performance, a modern rig coupled with modern hull form and appendages will produce a faster, higher pointing sailing yacht. Final reason would be better systems, both above deck and below. Quieter, smoother running engines, hot showers, adequate heat, and on deck powerful winches, smooth turning blocks, and comfortable cockpit seating.

    In this article I am referring to classic design from a very narrow period of time. That of the years from about 1890 up to the 1960’s. In 1891 Nathanial Herreshoff produced Gloriana, a rejection of the deep bodied plank-on-edge type yacht. Gloriana had a tuck in her sections creating a hull with form stability and a distinct keel appendage. This shape was the forerunner of many fine all around yachts that were not extreme in any way. By the 1960’s racing yachts were changing rapidly into extreme speed machines, to the detriment of looks and seaworthiness. At their peril they completely discarded all that had gone before. Fragile rigs, extreme beam, pinched ends, flat sheer lines, chopped off ends, and tiny fin keels and rudders. In combination these elements produce not a classic but an uncontrollable freak that appeals to no one.

    As pertaining to yachts
    A blending of the Best of the past with the best of the present.

    Classic design is not just parroting what has been done in the past but really incorporating history and memory into new designs. This is a delicate undertaking; for instance, a customer wants a classic 70’ sailing yacht that looks like the 1949 S&S design Bolero. But this owner has a couple of sons that are 6’4” tall, he wants 6’7” headroom. This means raising freeboard 3”, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But raising freeboard this much means the overhangs change, if the length stays the same then the transom gets taller and the stem more vertical. This will have the visual effect of making the yacht less refined or graceful and instead chunky looking. This is in evidence all the time in modern classics where waterline and freeboard have been maximized. The topsides look high and flat, and the stern quarters look heavy. So overhang length and transom shape are directly tied to freeboard.

    Designers are making mistakes with this. Taking something from the past that is not “The Best” or altering elements from the past to fit some present requirement and losing what made that element “Best”. Or putting together pieces from an earlier time that don’t fit together, such as an Edwardian deckhouse on a 1940’s era hull.

    My work is informed by constant referral to what has gone before. Searching for the best of the past is very time consuming. Just because some element is old does not mean it’s great. Or that it will work in harmony with the other elements that make up a classic yacht.

    First off any rule or general law I state will defiantly have an exception, that is the beauty and wonder of yacht design. If I state only one type of line is appropriate under certain circumstances, then we will be able to find an example that breaks that rule and gets away with it. For instance my statement that straight lines are a no-no. Yet the W Class sloops have straight cabin sides and they look well. The straight cabin sides (in plan view) on a Tahiti Ketch look ungainly. From this we deduce that it has a lot to do with scale. The deck houses on the W’s are short and narrow in comparison to the hull, while on the Tahiti the cabin covers almost half the boats length and more than half her beam. The house on the W also has low sides and a high camber in the top, this looks much better than the Tahiti with high sides and flat camber. The final arbiter is the question, would the Tahiti look better with lowered and curved cabin sides and a high cambered top? Yes, I believe so, but you could easily carry it too far and lose the strength of character in the original design.

    First off, what is classic design? It is Balanced, Formal, and Austere.

    By balanced I mean there are no extremes or features that cry out, look at me! Every line is related to and balanced by the others. The visual weight of the bow overhang is balanced by that of the aft overhang. The cabin top edge is a faint echo of the sheer. Cabins and coamings look like they grew out of the deck instead of being stuck on as an after thought. And this balance must extend to every point of view, that is the boats lines must appear in proportion from all angles. This is another difficult point, but should be alleviated somewhat by the use of 3D computer models.

    This balance must also include a yacht’s rig, modern classics often look unfinished without a mizzen mast. Think about how unfinished and boring Stormy Weather would look without her mizzen. Or when maxi racing became an inshore sport and several big ketches pulled their mizzens. They remained competitive, for a short time, but looked silly. This presents a problem because we are told that a sloop/cutter is the most efficient, also it is the least expensive. The fine lined meter boats with their tall, narrow rigs are good looking because the headstay is pulled back from the stem. So the forward overhang balances that aft.

    A design’ s formality is partly in every line being balanced, but also has to do with symmetry, which is very important. Asymmetrical spaces or arrangements make me uncomfortable. To sit in a main salon settee and be looking at a longitudinal bulkhead walling off a stateroom strikes me as inelegant, to say the least. Primary living spaces in the boat should extend across the full beam, and fore and aft bulkheads should be in one plane. So the formality of a classic design includes a symmetrical deck layout and cockpit, but it also extends below.

    Austere just refers to simplicity; let the lines of the boat speak for themselves. There is no need to lay on the gingerbread. If there are final embellishments they should be understated. Like a simple gold embossed cove line with perfectly proportioned scrolls at each end. This is something you would not even notice from across the bay, but fits perfectly and adds interest and grace up close.

    Fair Lines – What is a fair line? To me a fair line is such that you cannot pick any definite point where curvature begins or ends. The dictionary states smooth and even, or pleasant and beautiful. A line that has straight portions which are connected with obvious curved sections does not fit my definition of a fair line. This often turns up in a body plan, there will be straight topside and bottom sections connected with a sharply curved bilge.

    Curves are softer and more interesting than straight lines, but a radius is also predictable and boring, spirals and reverse curves are the most interesting. Straight lines are boring and rigid, long lines are more graceful than short ones. If a line needs to be long and straight, give it some subtle curvature

    What might these elements be?
    This is a list of the most important visual elements that make up any design.

    Sheer – Most important, the most obvious line on any boat. But often the sheer’s curvature is wrong for the type. In profile the sheer will always appear flatter in real life than it does in the drawing. This is because of perspective, the middle of the boat is closer to your eye than the ends, and they start to diminish in the distance. So I always draw the boat with just a little more sheer than it should have. This can cause problems with owners who object to a slightly cartoonish sheer line. Plan & Profile are equally important. In profile the sheer must be a spiral, tightening as it travels aft. Most often what is presented as a classic sheer line runs fairly straight downhill from the stem to a low point around station 7-8. This is fine so far. But then all the curvature is bunched at the low point and the sheer is run uphill in a fairly straight line to the transom. This is a mistake. The modern “classic” sheer sometimes follows this scenario. The sheer line that runs straight down to about station 3 then bends in a tight bunch and runs almost straight aft to the transom.

    Waist & Cove Lines – Are an echo of the sheer, serve to accentuate and magnify the sheer, sometimes but not always follow parallel to the sheer. Usually they taper in relation to the sheer, the waist will be narrower aft and larger forward. The cove may taper, being widest midships and tapering at each end. The most important function is to break up the bulk of the topsides.

    Overhangs - Bow and stern heights must have the proper relationship. I believe this is related to visual weight, the bow is heavier and bulkier than the stern, (because it always has more freeboard) therefore the bow overhang is shorter than the stern. And they balance visually. On the other hand it is easy to overdo the overhangs, a stern that’s drawn out too much and is too fine looks affected. This rules the boat out of contention for classic status.

    Transom Shape – a strong element in establishing a vessels character. A long fine stern overhang with a tiny transom is balanced by a long fine bow overhang, a la Fife. A shorter steeper overhang with a taller and heavier transom is balanced by a shorter, more upright bow, a la S&S. Francis Herreshoff balanced the short clipper bow on Tioga with a short overhang aft and a tall shapely transom. At Bruce King Yacht Design we used this look in a couple of boats, but then we started pulling the aft overhang out to a smaller, finer transom. (This was originally done to get a standing backstay on the mizzen mast!) We could then pull the clipper bow out a little to balance and in the process created a new, more graceful and elegant form.

    Deckhouse Shape – Most often wrong, too straight, too curved, wrong tumblehome, wrong camber in top, lack of detailing, too low or too high.

    Deckhouse Size – Wrong proportions, in wrong location. In many recent designs the deckhouse has been pushed aft, partly because of layout and partly because you run out of sole down below. This is sometimes okay with a fairly strong sheer and high bow, also with a ketch rig. But designers are trying to cut down on windage and a flatter sheer is more modern. (Trying to combine classic and modern again!) So the flush deck cutter with a boxy deckhouse aft looks out of balance. Push that same deckhouse forward only a few feet and the profile comes back into balance.

    Balance of overhangs – closely coupled with sheer, almost always greater aft than forward. Interesting shapes to stem and stern.

    Windows, Ports – Wrong size, shape, style. Ports are a connection between the inside and outside of the boat. From the outside they remind us that the inside is there. And from the inside they connect us to the outside world.

    Cockpit Coaming – usually they are too high and straight in profile. In a smaller boat a long trunk cabin is balanced by a substantial cockpit coaming.

    Details – hatches, moldings, cap rail, waterways, hardware & fittings. I recall being shocked looking at Jessica’s deck and seeing stock metal hatches mounted on teak bases.

    Interior - Commodity, Firmness, Delight
    The prerequisite for the interior is that it be functional, seats must be the right height, tables must be useful, counters must be workable, headroom is required in certain spaces. It must also be structurally sound, bulkheads must be solid, seats must not wobble, tables must be strong enough that someone could fall against them.

    Interior spaces must also have a focal point, and it’s best if this is something functional. The focal point is the central element or theme in a space around and out of which all other elements in a space can radiate. The table in a smaller boat is a popular choice. Another good focal point is a stove, heater, or fireplace. This is an interesting detail to a room which draws you in and at the same time produces a feeling of warmth and comfort.

    The bonus comes when an interior is also beautiful. The creation of a beautiful cabin is dependent on a number of elements. The proportions of spaces, scale of furniture, proportions of trim pieces, colors, and light, all add up to creating a comfortable space. For that is what delights us, that a space is comfortable. That a boats cabin is comfortable requires there be numerous reminders of where we are all around us. If a yachts cabin feels like it’s been uprooted from the nearest condo block, it will cease to be comfortable with inundations of water, the boat heeling under sail, or simple jostling in a passing wake.
    1 person likes this.
  2. alan white
    Joined: Mar 2007
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    Location: maine

    alan white Senior Member

    I agree with a lot of what you're saying. I have owned a few fiberglass boats and each time I was presented with a challenge to improve aesthetics. it seems the very worst of design is found in production FG boats. So bad are their aesthetics that I am actually amazed that anyone who intends to sell a boat could make that boat look so incredibly ugly.
    My business is to take ugly ducklings with glass hulls and "woodify" them. My current gaffer could hide in a fleet of wooden boats and none would be the wiser. Wood mast, sprit, coamings of white oak, mahogany tiller, and so forth.
    Each new detail is carefully designed to fit an overall theme. No fancy eye-grabbing flourishes, but instead, an organic whole---- organic such as nature has made living things. Living things, whether animal or plant, carry thoughout a theme of connectedness of geometric patterning, also the basis of art as we know it.
    In the end, it is mathematics of a more holistic nature that is felt and not measured. We know what we like, and some of us know how to design based on a rational understanding of design---- this helps to speed the design process.
    I've noticed that up here in rural Maine, the very notion of organic design is a rare thing in home design. Being a builder, it is very disturbing at times to be working "against" the owner by attempting to create something that is close to a balanced and organic design, while all along the owner is bound to create a disturbing looking building.
    The industrial age is responsible, I think, where shape and design tend more towards function and price---- not that function is lost when the design is good--- simply, I mean that generations have grown up and passed who have had less and less exposure to beautiful design and so they are, at this point in history, absolutely untrained with respect to sensing what it is or how to create it.
    There are a few of us, however, with a sensitiveness to that "felt geometry", and I can see you are one of them.
    Thanks for reminding us we're not alone.
    1 person likes this.
  3. CarlC
    Joined: Aug 2009
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    Location: Maine

    CarlC Junior Member

    Wonderful Comments, Tad

    We miss you here in Maine.....

    My best wishes to you, Carl

  4. peter radclyffe
    Joined: Mar 2009
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    Location: europe

    peter radclyffe Senior Member

    well written Tad, for me its before the war
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