What a Spirit-of-Tradition Yacht ISN’T!

A 57 ft LOA Classic Express is the ideal Spirit of Tradition power boat aimed to take work out of owning a sailboat and get away from those fiery regattas! Photo credit: SWYD.

One of the things we’ve learned in three-plus decades of designing custom boats, is how unusual each project can become. Custom boats are as individual as the people who own them. Yet, the key to a successful custom boat is all about having the right match to the right design.

Often, what makes the custom boat work is realizing not what it is, but what it isn’t.

For example, take some of those Spirit-of-Tradition designs; the SoT is not a fit for everyone, nor for every set of dreams and desires.

At the heart, an SoT yacht provides state-of-the-art construction, cutting edge technology (on deck and below), and all the current thinking about sail-handling and performance; all this, and the owner can access the aesthetic mindset of decades past.

We’ve learned that going back in time, in proper style, is not without sacrifice. In fact, what a Spirit-of-Tradition yacht isn’t makes a dang handy checklist.

  • Interior Volume.  For a given hull length, sailing vessels of classic appearances tend to have less space inside than modern cruisers of the same overall length. Classic sailboats tended to be narrow, flush-decked, and low-sided– the opposite of modern-day design. And power craft have also evolved  in similar fashion — narrower hulls evolving to wider hull forms that provide higher speed potential and precise handling, for instance. However, with aim to provide modern standards in classic style, history has taught us lessons for the betterment of the work we do today. We figured out years ago how to work within classic proportions — pushing a hull’s envelope for comfortable and ergonomic solutions enshrouded in modern, timeless shape.   Every boat is different, but the magic of design rests in a balance of fitting the human form, providing efficient performance, and drawing classic lines. This is the challenge we have navigating these SoT waters. The big joke in our shop is, if only our clients were all Ellen MacArthur, the roughly five-foot tall champion English sailor, then we could design some seriously special SoT boats!

    Sit on SoT. A 44 ft LOA Sedan-style speedboat tied up to a 44 M Spirit of Tradition sailing monster. Photo credit: SWYD.

  • Themes and Materials. Classic looks can take many directions. Products and materials are carefully crafted or selected to work seamlessly together to provide the style and aesthetic themes of exterior and interior. Many steps can be taken to reduce practical maintenance, but the design themes of classic idioms are represented through this careful planning of color, material and finish. It’s a good test of design to create and project a classic theme without incurring some additional maintenance, compared to a straightforward white gelcoat and metal finish.
  • Rewarding Experiences. Use of these boats come in all equations. The modern SoT picnic boat will blow the doors off the downeast lobster yacht, and will execute style and grace of  those beautiful small fishing vessels of 100 years ago. And provide her owners the modern convenience and comfort for  a wonderfully fashionable cruising experience. Conversely, the SoT regatta circuit provides some of the most enjoyable and fantastic racing we know.  Yacht owners, with their friends and family, report some of the most exhilarating and memorable times racing among the largest classic & SoT fleets where these memories and joys are shared among like-minded sailors. It’s almost like the vessels themselves commune in a commonwealth of similar design languages. BUT–


A word about racing. There are real limits that most SoT boats must race in. If the top item for your dreamboat is to win races then probably the Spirit-of-Tradition genre shouldn’t be your first choice. Mainstream rating rules don’t treat boats with classic lines fairly. Boat-for-boat racing with a serious fleet of modern raceboats is unlikely to be successful. The nominal SoT division at most classic events can be frustrating for the committed racer. Different classic events define the Spirit-of-Tradition differently. The range of boats that qualify could be pretty broad. Conversely, the certainty of your boat qualifying in all events is narrow.

And by the way, all you powerboat lovers out there…you don’t have a worry about those Spirit of Tradition regatta committees.  Holy cow, look at all the beauty in that — it’s almost as if these boats are begging you to design the classic right into them.

If first on your list of priorities is to prove you are the best racing sailor, why not get a late-model Transpac 52 and go play with the big boys. Or better yet, jump into a one-design class for a level playing experience.

The “Is the SoT for Me?” Checklist.  

This relatively contemporary sketch shows how modern an SoT boat can be, if the boundaries of these vessels are embraced. Photo credit: Stephen Davis.

The best reason to own a Spirit-of-Tradition boat is if you are a traditionalist who loves to sail among the classics. Here is how to diagnose if that is you.

  • Do you love looking back at your boat as you leave her on the mooring, just to admire her lines?
  • Do you love the style and craftsmanship of old classics, but are NOT charmed by the clatter of replica wooden hardware or the wear and tear of leather covered gaff-jaws?
  • Do you love feeling a live rudder in your hand at your turn of the helm; do you like sportscar response from steering your powerboat at 35 kts; do you get the giddy feel when you tack, as your boat spins under your feet around that island edge like a ballet-dancer ?
  • Do you see the value and safety in sails that don’t stretch and bag?
  • Do you value hi-tech propulsion and handling?
  • Do you thrill at the possibilities of modern technology in hardware, navigation, creature comforts and boat management tools?


But most of all, do you want to pay homage to the boats your grandfathers sailed? If you answer yes to even a few of these questions, come on over, you might be the right candidate for a craft designed in The Spirit of Tradition.