What Does It Mean to Design a true “Spirit-of-Tradition” Yacht?

The Spirit-of-Tradition in full effect: “Wild Horses” shows her classic lineage and modern efficiency.

“What is Spirit-of-Tradition design?” When it comes to designing great boats, we’ve been asking ourselves questions like this for 25 years.

Operating in any design idiom, it’s important to recognize a flow of ideas comes from somewhere. A “somewhere” that may be inspired by some historical precedent or a springboard off a unique lineage of elements or forms. Spirit-Of-Tradition design is like any other vernacular: Strong themes and elements merge into a cohesive piece of naval architecture; forming a vernacular where one can identify those integral cues from traditional and classic lineage and recognize how that interpretation is intrinsic within the modern work itself.

Yes, this sounds like an artist’s statement.

But beyond these design challenges, our interests also extend into forming clear and concise classing practices for racing management of Spirit-of-Tradition and classic fleets. In regattas each summer here on the East Coast of the United Sates,  yacht owners experience a variety of methodologies for placing boats in classes, fairly and unfairly.

The building momentum that’s bringing more classic yacht owners to these racing events has caught our watchful eye, as well as the many glaring issues that plague the sustainability of today’s racing events. This has us aiming at clearer definitions for classing race fleets. It’s so important to build a rationale behind these classing decisions. And a quick look through the varied Notices-of-Race found at these events, illustrates the inconsistent themes and often unexpected logic used by various race committees to organize racing classes.

Planning for Better SoT Classing.

Spirit-of-Tradition design, we know it when we see it.

The racing off-season is a great time to consider how Spirit-of-Tradition classes are organized. Let’s take a moment, and feel our way to which design elements distinguish modern-classic designs and how we set out to establish what an Spirit-of-Tradition yacht is. Or, is not.

In 2016, we came up with proposed language for an “Article of Declaration” to Spirit-of-Tradition classes that sought a “continuation of the heritage and advancement in yacht design.  And these designs should work to balance inspiration from “aesthetic and functional elements of historic designs” while “making use of the most current technology and advances in construction methodology

All with the intent to form a Spirit of Tradition Class that preserves a “unique tie to historic sailing craft designs.”

The basic guidelines for appropriate Spirit-of-Tradition classing can be broken out as bullet points:

  •   The yacht design is dated 1975 and later, prior to which any yacht is considered as “Classic” or “Vintage”.
  •   The yacht is built of any material, or combination of materials, in any method, by any builder.
  •   The design must employ some fundamental aesthetic detail and hull shaping that are inspired from classic and vintage yacht, or workboat,  architecture.
  •   There must be an appreciation of the vessel as an evolution of a tangible “Classic” style.
  •   Modern sails, rigging, running rigging and spars are encouraged, but not required.
  •   Modern sailing and deck hardware is encouraged, but not required.
  •   All boats to enter an SoT racing event will be approved by the racing committee, while observing these guidelines.

As with any of our design work in modern or SoT arenas, we try to keep three main goals in view.

  1. Bring stimulating design to sailing.
  2. Create boats that provide exciting sailing experiences.
  3. Promote growing interest in the sport.

And to do that properly, we need tools to gauge how a given design satisfies this Spirit-of-Tradition rubric. So we can bring logic and clarity for parsing yachts into proper classes at racing events.

Defining The Spirit of What?

Christoffel’s Lighthouse is all about melding good looks, with classic design.

There is no denying the fact that, by all measures, boats are judged first by their looks. Is it the balance of color; the materials used in the superstructure, or deck?  Maybe it’s distinctive style cues in the hull or cabin. Or, is it how your heart responds as your eye trails along the sheer and the deck; is it the custom solutions that make the difference?  The more technical of us may first look at the sailing platform — how a boat is rigged and where crew operate controls and trimming functions of sails and foils.  Then, we all quickly turn to critique the hull: the shape in bow or stern; the flare and tumblehome shaping of hull above or below the water; the shape of the entry, or the shape of waterlines and buttocks. How do these details fit the mission of the yacht?

Which of these elements should be intrinsic to an Spirit-of-Tradition design?

There are basically two groups that balance this equation:

  1. Hull and sailing platform
  2. Style and architecture.

If we first strip everything away from any design to look at the foundations of what makes a great sailing vessel, we’d tend to look at the hull shape and sailing platform as primary driving factors.  It’s fundamental that a boat’s hull and sails work together. In simplest terms, this is the big picture, the heart-and-soul of a sailing yacht’s design. In Spirit-of-Tradition design, the hull’s shape should feature solid classic form and proportions that tie back to the long lineage of maritime design traditions. The sailing hull is arguably ground zero in the Spirit-Of-Tradition world. The design of hull that draws from classic or vintage features should be weighted with higher priority than other segments of the entire design. Among the wide range of inspiration from classic yachts and traditional working sailing craft, we must be able to find a solid link to the modern interpretation.

When handled properly, even strictly contemporary ideas like the cutaway transom on this WallyNano, fit into the SoT narrative.

Next, come architectural style and aesthetics. Perhaps these design points are more subjective, yet there is a higher importance to the way a style can be developed and executed that defines the nature of any yacht. This is especially true for the Spirit-Of-Tradition design.  Use of color, and choice in materials that form architectural elements on deck, cockpit and superstructures should pull the design together, based on both classic idioms or more trendy forms. A sense of unique style and proportion is important to the scale and mission of a yacht and should work in concert with the hull and sailing platform.  The entire package must form an integral whole.

How do we assess the entire design?  That’s the crux. If we agree the hull and sailing platform comprises the larger side of a yacht’s design, and that overall style and aesthetic is a remaining piece then we can begin to see how to make comparisons analytically. Any successful design would combine these many elements, like performance goals, hull shape, and style, into a cohesive piece of architectural wonder that directly speaks to the mission of the design.

This, too, is priority for the engineering of any Spirit-Of-Tradition yacht.