Design Philosophy

Years ago, like many enthusiastic people heavily involved in a subject, I was a zealot about design.I had VERY specific opinions, and would turn up my nose at things that did not meet my very narrow definition about ‘proper’.

No more.

As you have before and will again read me say, I finally understood that the whole point of boats, is, FUN!. That means that whatever you want to do is OK! The problem appears when people start thinking that there is one typeof boat that will do all things. There isn’t, you see.

Having fun with the first Pogo!

For instance, look at a typical modern production sailboat. They’re very comfortable inside, are fast and lively to sail, and many people even take them ocean cruising. But while they are fine vacation boats, if you go off-shore you’ll likely be miserable. The motion is too lively, the rig isn’t all that efficient for off-wind (the majority of cruising),the whole boat and rig is usually a bit fragile and systems failures are common. They weren’t really meant for short handed (a couple)long trim cruising. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them at all. Just use them for what they were meant to be used for; vacation cruising.

The same is true of the typical ‘trawler’ yacht. Many are wonderful vacation homes, but if you want to do open water cruising most aren’t suitable. They’re so high and fat that they’ll beat you to death in a seaway, be difficult to dock in any wind, and have systems aboard that require skilled technicians to keep operational.

If I could handle the bugs and humidity of the Caribbean I might consider a multi-hull. I like the shoal draft, I like the big deck, I like the speed they can go in calm water. But because they have to be light weight to work, they need to be carefully engineered and built which makes them very expensive for what you get. Because they’re so light weight, they don’t have the displacement to carry all the stuff I like around me, and, they simply aren’t robust enough to hit a log at night. And they’re more stable upside down than tight side up, which would worry me if I wanted to make a passage.So I wouldn’t own one, although I can’t help but get a kick out of James Wharam’s big plywood cats!

In a perfect world I could afford to have several totally different boats, left at various ports around the world. But, that’s not possible for me. If you also must compromise down to one larger boat, then you must decide just what the majority of your use will be, and then, pick a design meant to do that use.

Of course like everything else about boats there’s exceptions to what I just said, and the biggest, is fantasy. The boat is for fun, remember! There used to be an old boy who floated around Seattle’s Lake Union in a 14′ sailing ship; 3 masts, square sails, long sprit with a bunch of jibs; the whole bit. I’m sure many of the folks in modern performance sailboats, as they sailed circles around him, thought he was ridiculous. I also think he gave ‘diddly squat’ what they thought. He liked it and it suited what he wanted to do with a boat.

On the opposite end, I once knew a guy who lived and breathed ocean voyaging. He dressed the part, he talked the part. He owned a sailboat that was so shippy and rugged and well outfitted that it reeked of salt and tar andTimes Gone By. But, the guy was terrified of being off shore and the boat only day sailed. That’s OK too, because the boat was his fantasy.

So while I accept, admire, can design and can even get enthusiastic about practically any kind of boat, in my design business I have orientated myself along certain guide lines. That doesn’t mean I can’t do something different.It just means I have specific interests about boats, and ideas about how to achieve these ideas.

My design practice seems to have orientated around cruising boats, power and sail, with an emphasis towards simplicity, reliability, and affordability. But please, before I get into this, if you want a 192′ ‘mega’ yacht,I’d love to talk with you because I have some ideas….. I think it’s a shame that practically all the Big Yachts; the 100 footers and up, all look almost identical.

Anyway. The reason I got involved in design was because I couldn’t find plans for a cruising sailboat that was within my ability to both build and afford to build.So, I timidly designed my own, built it, and cruised it around a few years. It worked so well that I designed and built another, a 36′ cutter that I lived on 4 years. Well, a few guys saw it and liked it but wanted bigger and smaller versions, and I found myself designing full time.

Be it music, painting, OR yacht design, the tendency for a new person is to study the ‘old masters’ and copy them. Why not? They’re great! When I was involved with music I used to listen and listen to Julian Adderly’s solos with Miles Davis and do my best to play them. And Chet Baker? His stuff is incredible! But in yacht design, I somehow avoided that. After all, Herreshoff’s ‘TICONDEROGA’, Atkin’s ‘INGRID’, and so on are perfect; why draw another one? It appeared to me the ‘niche’ I could pursue was one taking the looks and feel and hopefully as much of the performance of the type of the type of boats I liked, but ‘interpret’ things so that is was feasible for a ‘normal’ person to own one. This means keeping the profile look of the types I like, but changing the hull form to make them simpler, which means less expensive, to build. I’ve been called a ‘minimalist’,but I’m not sure I like that because the implication is of something lacking, and I feel very strongly about my designs; I like them.And I still think my approach was correct. Yes, I can easily design any reverse curved sectioned, hollow garboard, full ended hull, requiring the very highest skills to build. If that’s what you want, I’d enjoy working with you. But I’ve actually found it more challenging and interesting to base most of my designs on the concept of simplicity, because that makes them feasible, because of their ‘build ability” by small shops or in many even cases home builders, for most people to actually be able to have one.

This subject is discussed in far more detail in my books; BUEHLER’S BACKYARD BOATBUILDING (International Marine Publishing), and, The TROLLER YACHT Book (NORTON Publishing). These books are discussed elsewhere in this site and are available from any good bookstore, or of course they can be ordered through this site. Briefly, they both explain how it isn’t size that makes a boat expensive, it’s complexity; complexity of hull shape determines how much time and materials are required to assemble it. Complexity of outfitting determines how much money you’ll pour into it, and of course, how much time and money you’ll have in maintaining it.

I’ll always love sailboats and will always offer sailing designs, but in recent years I’ve become very interested in cruising under power. If you accept the old sailors standard (and dream) of a steady 4 knots over 24 hours, then cruising at 7 knots with a diesel running at a fast idle, burning around a gallon an hour, seems incredible. And by the way, a 100 mile a day run is considered a good average, regardless of what the magazines say. If you hear somebody claim he made a passage and averaged more than 100 miles a day, ask him how much time he spent under power!

I started thinking about fuel efficient cruising power boats soon after I ordered sails fora 50′ schooner I was building. The 3K the imported sails cost would have bought enough fuel to power the boat almost 23,000 miles…… That means a cruising powerboat can actually be less expensive to have built than a sailboat; no elaborate rig. And you can run it for years before the operational costs start making the costs balance. In practice, if you look at the amount of time you run the average sailboat under power, it’s possible the costs will NEVER balance out! But for more on that, read my The TROLLER YACHT Book‘!