But sometimes we have to just keep repeating that to ourselves. Like a mantra. Because sometimes our dear clients can drive us … nuts.
It’s a strange business, designing boats. Customers have to be a little bit “unusual” to commission a custom-boat. It means you’re so picky that of all the thousands of designs, you couldn’t find what you wanted among the common offerings. And you’ve also spent a long time thinking through each itty-bitty corner of your unique boat. You’ve got a lot of preconceived notions. But not the exact expertise to make them all work. So when we get to distilling your desires into a new design, it’s a sure thing everything you thought you wanted, won’t work out the way you thought it would. That’s boats. Things that float are a compromise.
Our job is to bring you the bad news with grace. And explain how that thing you thought was so clever, simply is not a thing at all.
Case in point, a few years ago we designed a great boat for, let’s say, a “particularly unusual” client. We’re reminded of this guy because — he’s back! For another boat, maybe. And we are all kind of bracing ourselves for his passionate, yet magically impossible ideas. We love him. But our relationship with him includes lots of tough love. There is yelling, back and forth. That’s what happens when deep opinions of a client meet the deep design skill and technical knowledge of us.
Things can get lively.
We laugh about this now, but the biggest “difference of opinion” on this guy’s first project was the bridgedeck, that’s the couple-of-feet-wide strip of deck that runs across the boat between the cockpit and the cabin trunk. (A bridgedeck might also be the big issue on boat he wants now. So it’s worth taking a look at.)
Our customer is a fabulous, old-school sailor with mid-twentieth-century opinions on best-practices in boats. He believes, strongly, that a real bridgedeck is essential to holding the boat together. That idea was true, before modern materials. The full-width deck beams really did tie the boat together and prevent the hull from spreading. But now there are many ways to handle those loads without a clunky bridge deck.
And getting rid of that dumb deck makes the boat’s layout a lot more user-friendly.
Cut to the punchline: We gave him his bridgedeck on that first boat. But during the build, we heard grumbling that we didn’t make it massive enough for his satisfaction. Apparently, the deck should have had lots of hanging knees and lodging knees ( Look’em up in a traditional boatbuilding book—but they’ve been out of widespread use for a century and half.). Heated comments travelled back and forth; which somehow led to a formal letter. We had to get on paper that, dammit, we know how to engineer a strong boat. And if he didn’t want us to do the job, well … You get the idea.
As we said, we built that first boat. She’s sailed for a decade. And the cockpit hasn’t blown out of the boat yet. Better yet, we’ve maintained a ten-year relationship. And we look forward to his next idea: An 80-foot ketch that he has actually done a lot of excellent thinking on.
We love you. And we are ready.
Three Times and You’re On
It all boils down to this: The SWYD Client Rule: If you ask for something we think is dumb, we tell you that. If you persist, we’ll tell you that a second time. And then a third time. But after three times, it’s not like baseball. Each strike does not mean you’re out. If you insist, and what you want won’t kill you or somebody else, We’ll give it to you. After all, it’s your boat. We want you to be happy.
What makes us laugh though, is when we hear about dumb ideas for the fourth and fifth time. We really do get regular calls from clients about issues in their boats that we gave in on even after warning them three times. We can hear this as we write:
“You should have MADE me see the flaws in my ideas.”
We do love what we do. We really do. It is never dull.