A SHORT HISTORY ON YACHT DESIGN

There are two yacht designers that formed two different schools of thought and approaches to yacht design. One was Francis Herreshoff and the other Norman Skene.

Hereshoff employed practical knowledge, common sense and intuition in designing boats. There are many contributions to yacht design and much original thinking that went into many of his designs. His famous book, Common Sense of Yacht Designs is mostly a non-technical discussion touching only lightly upon mathematics. It's a wonderful book but of a completely different character from Skene's Elements of Yacht Design.

Skene was a man of science. He obtained his engineering degree from MIT and later used his training to apply science and mathematics to yacht design. He wrote a book in 1904 called Elements of Yacht Design which is based on the application of science and mathematics to the design of yachts. Elements of Yacht Design has become the foundation of Technical Yacht Design and has been published for one century. This book brings the field of naval architecture into small boat design.

The lives of these two great men was during the same era and they actually worked together for a number of years and they knew each other well. But their approach to designing boats was a bit different. Herreshoff was more of a seat-of-the-pants designer while Skene was a theoretician and a mathematician.

In my studies at The Westlawn Institute of Yacht Design, the focus was on Skene's methods and the application of mathematics, engineering and science to designing yachts. It is indeed a beautiful thing when ideas and concepts of yacht design can be expressed in mathematical formulas and the nature of boats can be explained scientifically.

To truly understand boats and what they do, from complicated theoretical analysis of friction to an elementary notion of why boats float, it is I think important to study the scientific and mathematical systems that seek to understand the nature of boats.

Yacht design consists of inventing, planning, analyzing, modifying, adapting, coordinating and communicating what is necessay to develop an idea into a finished boat. Yacht design is all of these interrelated professional activities; starting out with prelimenary discussions and ending with sea trials and final acceptance of the finished vessel by the client.

A yacht designer must be a knowledgeable boatman... or become one. You must have plenty of first hand boat experience and the ability to realize things that work well and to exclude things that do not. Also necessary is a thorough knowledge of how the various gear and equipment aboard works in order to enable the designer to make intelligent choices for new designs and alterations to existing boats.

The following may come as a shock but the boating public needs to know who is designing the boats they buy and use. There are a suprising number of boat manufacturers today that do not employ a yacht designer to design their boats. Instead, there might be someone in the company, usually the owner, who will draw up plans based on their experience with boats and knowledge of other existing designs.

This kind of seat-of-the-pants designing often works out OK but there are many examples (too many) out there of surprises when the final product was built and even produced in large numbers. And some of these surprises are not noticed until a boat sinks or someone gets hurt or worse yet, dies.

So before bying a boat, ask quesitions... who designed it, how long has this particular model been in production and are there any problems with that design.

Hopefully, the marine surveyor you chose for your pre-purchase inspection is knowledgable in boat design and has the training and experience required to know of any serious problems the boat may have.

---Charles Avalos, AMS

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