Boatbuilding is an alluring kind of democracy: Design a specific yacht for a specific person, and that single soul is king and sovereign. Create the same boat for two people, maybe a married couple, and there’s voting, and committees, and deals cut in smoke-filled boat yards.
Take our 66-foot Anna, currently under construction at Lyman Morse Boatbuilding, in Thomaston, ME. The sloop is our client-couple’s chance to breathe life into their long-held dream of melding a classic yacht a la turn-of-the-century genius William Fife III above the waterline, with sleek, modern shapes below and 21st-century luxury within.
To accommodate the interior scale and sweep, Anna is, shall we say, a bit more Ruben-esque than most Fife boats. Though she’s still svelte compared with contemporary yachts, Anna is beamier and carries more freeboard above the waterline. Our client-couple divided the aesthetic responsibilities evenly: He spearheaded the exterior; she shaped the spaces below. Mostly, this bicameral form of design government proceeded well: Rigs got tuned. Finishes evolved. Fittings found their rightful place in the growing society of a newly built yacht.
However, issues popped up that pulled Anna into committee: When the stern went from paper and computer to real wooden frames on a shop floor, a floor debate broke out: The woman in our husband-and-wife design team had misgivings about the end of the boat: Was the stern perhaps a bit too broad?
Oh boy. Here we go: Designing might seem all about form, and engineering. But what really happens is people come to us with their dreams, some they have spent a lifetime thinking about. Their ideas are complex and come with responsibility: How do we sort out those cherished strands of notions and engineer them into the complex liturgy of yacht design? One advantage of the custom, cold-molded wood construction we are doing with Anna, is the lack of expensive and inflexible tooling. She’s made of wood, not fiberglass or carbon, so we can cut and nail in new stuff if we need to. But changing a near-complete deck, transom and counter is no trivial matter, even in old-school planks and boards. Modern 3D modeling tools help clients sense the shape and function of an emerging design so changes are not needed. But what we learned was that our 3D models were not fool-proof. The fools, in this case, were us. We had not found a way to give our client-couple the tools they needed to appreciate the hull shape and its nuanced curves.
We absolutely saw our client’s concerns about a too-broad stern. We were aware that we were beefing up Anna for modern service. But we had worked hard to get a shape that both was husky enough and matched the classic idiom. So when we were asked to extend the stern overhang by a foot, narrow the transom by several inches and fine-up the counter stern, we were concerned that we would lose the balance we had worked so hard for.
And so began several charged days of boat design compromise: We had discussions, we made pencil sketches on blueprints, we did quick 3D doodles of a roughly extended stern. We toyed with extending the transom, but other volumes got wonky. All the while, we knew that any changes would be slow, depressing, and so much more expensive than anybody realized. Progress was slow.
Then, finally, we grabbed an ancient design tool: Why not carve a model? Lyman Morse dropped our 3D design file into its four-axis CAD/CAM milling machine and out popped a three-foot long miniature Anna. Just like clipper ships of old, we could hold our ideas in our hands, not just spin a virtual hull with a mouse. And this real thing seemed to make the real shape and heft of this boat that much more tangible. It was easier to get a sense for what it would be like to row or swim around Anna. Reality is interesting.
With the evidence freshly in their hands, our husband-and-wife team agreed. We’d gotten it right: Anna was a well-balanced, shapely girl. Lyman Morse went back to work. We were relieved. But were we actually right? Would the stern have been better longer? We shall see when she’s launched, loaded and under full sail.
But for dreams this important, a well-crafted democracy is a beautiful thing.