The ancient and honourable history of boats is, of course, measured in millennia and yet the efficiency of ancient craft is often underrated and frequently forgotten.
The Vikings, for instance, worked up their hull forms to a peak of speed and seaworthiness twelve hundred years ago and two and a half thousand years ago the Phoenicians voyaged from the eastern Mediterranean to the west of England to trade in tin and copper. The Vikings developed dovetail sectioned keels, now used on nearly every one of my own boats. They were well aware of friction reduction as their oaken strakes generated streams of bubbles for the ship to ride on. Indeed, such was their “primitive” technology that hard driven replicas have reached astonishing speeds – 20+ knots. In my own lifetime sailing boats have evolved to achieve speeds of over 50 knots but it’s taken millions of dollars and hundreds of expensive yachts to achieve this.
As a designer I have deliberately chosen to blend elements of ancient technology with modern in a way that exploits the best that seafarer man has achieved. Like all designers and builders before me I study the ways of the sea and how the ship performs – the thrust of her sails and the centre point of opposing lateral resistance, the entry and exit points of the wake in a short steep chop and in a long loping offshore roller. Form stability, ballast ratios, “runs,” beam to length – the complexity is endless yet any designer worth his salt has developed a simple intuitive “feel” for a good ship shape and a good ship is rarely ugly.
The next steps involve the construction, accommodation, controls, safety aspects, and durability but for me and my boats it all starts with a good versatile hull form complemented by an efficient, easy to handle rig. I “see” each boat in different conditions, I feel the lines and my pencil expresses their forms – computers only come in later. I draw freehand first then the lines firm up and begin to take on the shape of the completed craft. I rarely use a calculator, only measure when I have to but my constant offsider is an old, battered and chipped scale rule. Once the hull and rig are pretty much OK I look at the myriad aspects of small scale production and in doing so strive for innovative and practical solutions to the scores of structural and ergonomic challenges.
The designer’s briefs are an outline of my exacting goals for each model and while the brief remains the same, work continues on the designs over the years, fine-tuning and fettling for improvements to the build systems, for extra comfort, for more performance – the quest for the perfect boat never ends.
Illustrated on right from top:
1. My first boat of around 1970, based on an early 19th Century Essex smack – maximum beam well forward.
2. An early sketch for a 14-foot lute-sterned mini lugger.
3. Ideas for a 5-berth version of the Secret 28.
4. A half model of the yet to be built Secret 37 – maximum beam well aft.