Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics of Offshore Yachts

Jud - s/v Sputnik

Super Anarchist
6,507
1,870
Canada
First of all - what a fucking title :) - always meant to read it, never have.

Who’s read it?  Who has an informed opinion on it?  Did you like it? Hate it?

Browsing various books on sails and rigging, I just read this great reader’s review of “Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics...”, which is quite insightful.  I hadn’t realized the book —a book such as this— could be considered “dated” per se.  I’ve long known it was a John Rousmaniere book, so it must be The Gospel...but it turns out, according to the review anyway, maybe those old boys had their biases and didn’t know it all.  Anyway, seems like a good read on seaworthiness (“the forgotten factor”, ya know :) ).  

Here’s the reader review on Amazon:

”This collection of articles by a Cruising Club of America committee of the surviving gods of 20th-century sailing, especially the venerable Olin Stephens, lays down the dogmas of bluewater sailing design and safety as they were agreed upon by these worthies at the close of the century. Their lament at the undue influence of racing design on consumer cruising boats is commendably progressive, but otherwise the material is a chronicling of their conservative preferences in traditional equipment. The chapter on anchors takes a step backward, recommending as the primary anchor the fisherman, a design not in production even in 1987 (based on the author's experiences in 1962!); 4 of the 5 boats in the chapter on good designs were custom models not affordable to the general public, letting us all know where we (and they) stand in the class structure of sailing. Read this material for its intrinsic value and recover your sense of modernity by having a go at Garry Hoyt's book "Ready about", which is the New Testament and road map to the 21st century future of sailing.”

Ok, now I want to read “Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics” to see what all the fuss is about.  What other books/ideas out there, technical-wise, on sails a rigs has got you fired up? :)

9EF5EF4F-C93F-499A-BD5B-4F95B381B1D6.jpeg

 

TwoLegged

Super Anarchist
5,891
2,254
This collection of articles by a Cruising Club of America committee of the surviving gods of 20th-century sailing, especially the venerable Olin Stephens, lays down the dogmas of bluewater sailing design and safety as they were agreed upon by these worthies at the close of the century.
I haven't read it, but I love the review.  There's another good review on Aamazon: "This book has no real value. It is over 30 years old and has not been updated. If you are looking for Information to help with a blue water purchase, this book will not help with the modern designs."

I think that in nearly any field of human activity, you will find that after a few decades the game has moved on, leaving the old works less relevant.  In some cases, the change isn't huge: e.g. goat-rearing hasn't moved on a lot since the 1970s.  In some fields, the change is humungous: horticulture in Ireland has been transformed in the last few decades by the arrival of the polytunnel.  And a 1950s guide to computing is useful only as a doorstop, unless you are an archaeologist.

Rousmaniere's book should be regarded as another example of a conservative tome from another time.  Definitely worth a read if you are studying the history of design ... but unless you are preparing an essay on the death of the buttoned-down cult of S&S, it's a poor use of time.  Still, "Remembering of the high priests of paleo yacht design" could be a great essay, so long as you are generous with the acid.

 

fufkin

Super Anarchist
It is a great book with some great insights.  The backdrop is the aftermath of the Fastnet, if I recall correctly, and the transition from CCA to IOR and further. 

Many, if not most of the insights in that book are totally relevant today.

The one outlier I always remember from that book is the tank tests they did for capsize. Counterintuitively, a heavier mast on a mid displacement keel boat had an initial inertial force that made for a better righting moment (or should I say resistance to capsize moment) than a lighter aloft boat. You wouldn't think so, but heavier rig provided more initial resistance to short powerful gusts than the light rig did.

I really good follow up to this book would be 'Surviving the Storm' by Steve and Linda Dashew. This book carries the ball up the field a little.

As and afterthought, a whole lot of that book was about vanishing stability for IOR boats, if I'm phrasing that correctly. Its interesting that today's pancake pizza wedges seem to be a little bit of a throwback in that regard. 

 

TwoLegged

Super Anarchist
5,891
2,254
As and afterthought, a whole lot of that book was about vanishing stability for IOR boats, if I'm phrasing that correctly. Its interesting that today's pancake pizza wedges seem to be a little bit of a throwback in that regard. 
I think that you are mistaken there, @fufkin.  The problem in 1979 was that the IOR penalised stability, so boats were built with as little of it as possible.  For example, when Denis Doyle's magnificent Frers 50-ft Moonduster  was launched in 1981, they were frantically bolting lad to the ceiling to try to reduce her rating.

That doesn't apply to contemporary designs.  The rating rules are less stupid, so new boats are not built with the keel style which Doug Peterson popularised in the 1970s.  That form concentrated weight high up, but contemporary boats keep the weight low, usually in a bulb.  So they have way more stability than the old IORs boats, and most rating rules now actively measure and enforce minimum stability requirements.

The irony of all this is is that it was the old dinosaurs like Olin Stephens who had created a rating rule which bred unsafe boats.  It was the younger designers from the margins of sailing who developed boats that that are significantly lighter, faster and safer than both the museum pieces which Stephens drew for the blazer-wearers of the NYYC and the diamond planform monsters spawned by his rule.

 

MFH125

Member
164
166
I've read it, although it's probably been a decade since I picked it up.

The book was published in 1987 and spends a lot of time making specific recommendations about boat design and outfitting.  It's by definition dated. 

Some of it is hopelessly dated.  No one should be following Rod Stephen's recommendations for halyard materials or Thomas Young's suggestions for navigational equipment from the mid 80s.  The technology has just changed too much.  The sections are still worth reading, for people interested in the topics.  You can still learn a lot from their general approach and philosophy, but specific recommendations are often out of date.

Other areas just feel passe.  Bill Lapworth's recommendations about cockpit design aren't wrong.  He favors a small cockpit that will drain quickly if it floods.  But in an era of open cockpits that drain very quickly through the transom, his thoughts are... just old fashioned.  Similarly, skeg-hung rudders still have their virtues, but decades of experience has generated a consensus that spade rudders are best for most boats.  The conversation has just moved on.  A lot of the book feels this way.  The discussion of stability is really focused on the particular stability concerns of IOR-style boats.  It's not wrong, it's not irrelevant, but today it's feels myopic.

There are, of course, areas that will still be totally relevant today.  Even in the sections that are most outdated, you will find interesting points and good recommendations. My guess is that the areas on the cabin are probably still very worth reading.  Hell, many modern boats would benefit from their builders reading the section on ventilation. 

If you find yourself curious about the book, it's well worth the read.  But yeah, it reflects the yachting world of 35 years ago.

 

accnick

Super Anarchist
3,507
2,504
As a reminder, a lot of people on this forum either own 40-year-old designs, or are looking to buy them. Not everyone can afford the latest and greatest design. In that regard, a lot of the info in the book is relevant.

The Swan 44 and Bermuda 40 (and others from that era) that inspired a multi-page spirited discussion here recently? Both of those designs were decades old when this book was published.

It may seem quaint to say it, but while the equipment may change, the ocean doesn't change, nor do the elements of seamanship.

I had the great good fortune to know and sail with many of those who provided input to this book. Their collective wisdom trumps the sniping from the peanut gallery here over how old-fashioned and outdated the book seems today.

If you don't understand where we came from, you are clueless about where we are going.

 

SemiSalt

Super Anarchist
7,815
294
WLIS
Rousmaniere was the editor, not one of the authors, but based on a short, long ago,  conversation with John, it was more of a rewriting than an edit. But the idears are the authors'.

I think the real value of the book now is to educate the reader on what the important things are, especially the ones no one talks about much like ventilation. 

 
Last edited by a moderator:

Blue Crab

benthivore
16,495
2,709
Outer Banks
... Their collective wisdom trumps the sniping from the peanut gallery here over how old-fashioned and outdated the book seems today.

If you don't understand where we came from, you are clueless about where we are going.
This sounds like black letter law but I don't think it really is.

 

TwoLegged

Super Anarchist
5,891
2,254
There are, of course, areas that will still be totally relevant today.  Even in the sections that are most outdated, you will find interesting points and good recommendations. My guess is that the areas on the cabin are probably still very worth reading.  Hell, many modern boats would benefit from their builders reading the section on ventilation. 
Shifts in the market mean that the cabin accounts for a higher proportion of the cost of a production boat than was the case 50 years ago, not least because wider beam carried well aft means that there is a lot more cabin.

It's easy to list the failings of contemporary cabin design: wide open spaces to fall across, few handholds, fewer hip holds, horribly sharp edges to furniture, and damn all sea berths.  But I doubt that the old guys are much help, because they designed cabins for a purpose which has largely passed: a gang of men on a passage race. 

A modern performance 40-footer will mostly be used as a family or couple's holiday home.  It will accommodate fewer people, demand more privacy for guests, and be inhabited mostly at anchor.  The usage has changed a lot, and the design needs to change too.

 
Last edited by a moderator:

TwoLegged

Super Anarchist
5,891
2,254
I had the great good fortune to know and sail with many of those who provided input to this book. Their collective wisdom trumps the sniping from the peanut gallery here over how old-fashioned and outdated the book seems today.

If you don't understand where we came from, you are clueless about where we are going.
That sort of commentary is inflammatory, and I will try to respond without fire.

One of the issues here is that we shared knowledge doesn't lead to the same understandings.  We have here some fans of CCA, ROC and IOR eras of yacht design.  We have others who know the boats of that era and have a much lower regard for them.  Both sides have their reasons, but denouncing those who fail to worship at the feet of those old-timers is just a path to flame wars.

It may seem quaint to say it, but while the equipment may change, the ocean doesn't change, nor do the elements of seamanship.
Actually, a lot of elements of seamanship have changed radically.  Reliable instant position-fixing via GPS combines with effective small radar systems to radically change the options for handling coasts.  VHF for all has also had a big impact, as has GRIB files

Storm tactics have changed radically:  series drogues have replaced sea anchors, and heaving too is really not an option any more.  Rig designs and sail handling techniques have significantly changed the way boats are sailed, while high-quality self-steering provides a lot more backup for crew.

 

accnick

Super Anarchist
3,507
2,504
A modern performance 40-footer will mostly be used as a family or couple's holiday home.  It will accommodate fewer people, demand more privacy for guests, and be inhabited mostly at anchor.  The usage has changed a lot, and the design needs to change too.
That's a fair comment. Remember that the book under discussion relates to characteristics of offshore yachts, not floating  weekend homes that spend most of their lives tied to docks plugged in rather than sailing.

If a boat "lives" really comfortably sitting bolt upright in a millpond, it may well be uninhabitable offshore, whether you are racing or cruising.

Buy the boat that fits how you are actually going to use it, not how you wish you could use it. 

 

Elegua

Generalissimo
Perhaps one should try reading it before commenting?

The book essentially argues for a strong and moderate boat that is comfortable for its crew. Some of the writers raced with their families.  The featured boat as an ideal design is sailed and owned by a woman who sailed it growing up and is near the top of the sport. 

The specifics of good seamanship have changed, but not the principles. It’s also amazing what new technologies and materials can do to improve older designs. 

image.jpeg

 
Last edited by a moderator:

TwoLegged

Super Anarchist
5,891
2,254
A modern performance 40-footer will mostly be used as a family or couple's holiday home.  It will accommodate fewer people, demand more privacy for guests, and be inhabited mostly at anchor.  The usage has changed a lot, and the design needs to change too.
That's a fair comment. Remember that the book under discussion relates to characteristics of offshore yachts, not floating  weekend homes that spend most of their lives tied to docks plugged in rather than sailing.

If a boat "lives" really comfortably sitting bolt upright in a millpond, it may well be uninhabitable offshore, whether you are racing or cruising.
There are two possible extremes here: the boat whose berths only ever used by a racing crew, and the boat which is just a floating cottage without anyone sleeping on passage.  A boat optimised for either extreme will be horrible for the other.  

But in between those extremes there are some choices which make for versatility.  For example, straight settees make good sea berths, but curved settees and armchairs don't.  A double berth with a lee cloth or board to divide it becomes a dual-purpose bunk, switchable from a bonkbed to a pair of sea berths.

 

accnick

Super Anarchist
3,507
2,504
That sort of commentary is inflammatory, and I will try to respond without fire.

One of the issues here is that we shared knowledge doesn't lead to the same understandings.  We have here some fans of CCA, ROC and IOR eras of yacht design.  We have others who know the boats of that era and have a much lower regard for them.  Both sides have their reasons, but denouncing those who fail to worship at the feet of those old-timers is just a path to flame wars.

Actually, a lot of elements of seamanship have changed radically.  Reliable instant position-fixing via GPS combines with effective small radar systems to radically change the options for handling coasts.  VHF for all has also had a big impact, as has GRIB files

Storm tactics have changed radically:  series drogues have replaced sea anchors, and heaving too is really not an option any more.  Rig designs and sail handling techniques have significantly changed the way boats are sailed, while high-quality self-steering provides a lot more backup for crew.
I'm not saying you worship at anyone's feet. I'm just saying there are things to be learned from them that are still valid lessons.

All of the nav aids you cite are great, but what do you do when you have a lightning strike or an electrical system melt-down? What do you fall back on offshore when (not if) the shit hits the fan?

As an example, I once raced to Bermuda on a boat that lost all electrical and charging capabilities as a result of a storm. No means of contact, no navigation or performance electronics. What I did have was a sextant, an accurate timepiece, and a self-contained hand-held radio direction finder.

Today, of course, you would at least have a back-up self powered GPS, preferable]y one that you kept in a Faraday cage against the possibility of a disabling lightning strike.

Perhaps one should try reading it before commenting?

The book essentially argues for a strong and moderate boat that is comfortable for its crew. Some of the writers raced with their families.  The featured boat as an ideal design is sailed and owned by a woman who sailed it growing up and is near the top of the sport. 

The specifics of good seamanship have changed, but not the principles. It’s also amazing what new technologies and materials can do to improve older designs. 

View attachment 438612
Now that's a wonderful boat, designed by Jim McCurdy, and built by Concordia. Probably one of the most seaworthy 38-footers ever taken out of sight of land, and not slow by any rational standard..

I was fortunate enough to race to Bermuda on that boat with the designer skippering, decades ago. Still a great design.

It is a classic example of a traditional dual-purpose offshore boat. She will get you there safely, and bring you back again, no matter what.

 

kimbottles

Super Anarchist
8,055
784
PNW
I have that book and read it years ago. Just another interesting boating book to read with some good if dated information.

It has been a very long time since I read it. I doubt I would want to revisit it as yacht design has progressed since (unless I was looking for historical perspective.)

 

TwoLegged

Super Anarchist
5,891
2,254
It is a classic example of a traditional dual-purpose offshore boat. She will get you there safely, and bring you back again, no matter what.
Hmm. Selkie is one of the best of her type, but hardly "traditional".  She is a mid-1980s take on the vry-early-1970s style of cruiser-racer, a dual-purpose type which had a life of about 25 years between 1965 and 1990.   She's a consciously retro tribute to the era when uncored GRP hull, alloy spars, polyester sails, and deck-sweeping genoas still spelt boat that can pull home trophies. 

The cruiser-racer era was short, and the fact that it overlapped with the youth of many anarchists doesn't make it traditional any more than miniskirts or leggings.

That sort of boat is easy to critique:

  • shallowish keel with no bulb, so needs rail meat
  • ends too fine for offwind work
  • far too much rocker and too narrow a stern to surf safely 
  • skeg-hung rudder is less effective and more highly loaded than a balanced spade
  • shallow rudder lack control on a spinnaker reach
  • abominable deck-sweeping monster genoa keeps sailmaker happy, but makes too much work for crew
  • unlike say a Pogo, the boat is sinkable 
  • Cockpit too small all the crew needed to sail her
  • Neither heads aft nor hanging locker aft, so on-watch crew drag wet gear through the saloon past the sleeping off-watch crew
  • Cramped interior

And so on.  Pretty boat of grandpa's era, optimised for slogging to windward offshore, but in nearly every respect significantly inferior to a modern design

 




Top