Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Boat Themes

Certain designers of boats seem to develop a theme with variations, but undeniably they leave their stamp on their designs - Harrison Butler and Herreshoff are two such giants. Modern designers of small boats such as Paul Fisher or John Welsford leave their trademarks by repeating themes. They lengthen, widen or deepen a design; add a cabin, a keel or centreboard, but their basic proven formula remains. Sail plans may vary; although even here, preferences abound.

Take the designs of Matt Newland, of Swallow Boats, (; you’ll note a family likeness between variations of the Storm Petrel, Osprey, Sandpiper and Kittiwake. They are based on the pointed, double-ended concept; all have a distinctive gunwale strake and every one has a sweeping upward turn of the sheer at her bow; each boat except the Kittiwake has a push-pull tiller.

We tend to acquire our own preferences for the ‘type’ of boat we like, whether she’s narrow and deep, beamy and shallow, very pointed at the bow with a wide transom, or bluff at the bow and with a small transom. There are so many permutations for our satisfaction. What sail plan fires our imagination? Is it the schooner, the cat ketch, the gaff sloop, a junk or a lug? Perhaps none of these, but we will have our likes and dislikes.

Now and again designers like Phil Bolger ( or Jim Michalak ( will come up with such an unusual design it will challenge our tastes or prejudices. Then there’s the designer of ‘Paradox’, Matt Layden ( who also works according to a theme. I believe I’m right in saying he developed the controversial single-handed micro-sailboat over a period of eleven years. Instead of a traditional keel, she has chine runners (lateral leeboards attached to the single chines).

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