by Chuck Merrill email@example.com
A Dingo Ate Me Baby!
Why is it that some people get married then immediately start trying to change
their new mate? Why is it that some people buy boat plans with the idea of building the
boat and immediately begin changing the design and the intent of the boat in silly and
unnecessary ways? Moreover, why is it people who are the least informed generally want to
make the biggest alterations and ultimately wind up with a total mess?
Now dont get me wrong. Certainly, Ill allow that its
anybodys prerogative to screw up, particularly if said anybody is footing the bill
for said screw up. While not totally convinced, I also have heard that we often learn more
from failures than we do from successes-take the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse for
example. But, why oh why, when the answers are either in the design itself or archived out
there close by, do the Wombats waste the time, energy and money reinventing the wheel?
I know what youre gonna say: Well, if everybody followed the status quo
and took no risks, thered be no progress, particularly in technology, and I agree.
But heres the but: The best innovations and improvements come from inventors and
designers who have a good background in and knowledge of what has gone before, you know;
foundations, building blocks-all those unusual, seldom observed concepts. Even Edison, who
did have the background, made thousands of experiments before he found the answer to a
workable Christmas Tree bulb. Ill even give in to the fact that some of the greatest
discoveries in history have been accidents, but just that, happenstance. Very few good
improvements come from those folks of casual interest (or recent addiction) who dont
know which end of the horse the hay goes into and why hay goes into the horse in the first
Apparently Im not the only person who designs boats (or tries to) who
doesnt understand this ego driven compulsion to add the personal touch or rework a
design thats just fine as it stands.
Phil Bolger has often said something to the effect; "If you like a design,
build it according to the plan. If you dont like it, then find another design that
you do like, and if you cant, then find someone who knows how, and have them draw a
custom boat for you!" Hes also said, "I can design a hull and rig from
concept to finished lines in three days or less, but sometimes it can take me three or
four weeks to get the interior and ergonomics right so that the boat works as a unified
whole in the real world." Hes correct and come to think, I happen to be
involved in something like that right now!
Is this "second-guessing the design person" a game played only by
amateurs and the unwashed? The answer is nope.
There was a manufacturer a few years ago who commissioned one of the most style
conscious and best known designers in the world to draw plans for a 30-ft. heavy
displacement blue-water cruiser. The designer did so and sent the plans to the client.
Later, after the plug and the mold were built, the manufacturer decided to change the
interior layout, which in turn affected mast placement. So, without bothering to ask this
giant in the design field (maybe he thought the question was going to cost him more
money), the client went ahead and made the changes, including moving the stick. Because
the boat was so elegant, shippy looking and businesslike the manufacturer sold quite a few
but it wasnt long before his customers realized that the boats had huge quantities
of weather helm and as it turned out, the problem was fundamentally not correctable (take
my word for it). Of course there were lawsuits when the truth came out, but by then the
manufacturer had closed up shop and declared bankruptcy.
Something quite similar happened to one of the worlds most famous
cruising couples when they had their new dreamboat built by a custom builder/designer. To
date, the problem has never been solved successfully.
One of the biggest mistakes amateur builders make when building from scratch or
finishing a hull, is not watching the weight thats being added in things like
overbuilt hulls and interior joinery, teak deck overlays and oversized tanks to name a
few. Apparently some think that you can load in as much as possible and as long as the
boat doesnt sink, its a job well done.
One guy, who spent ten years in the shop next to mine, finishing a 29-ft. hull
to completion, but wound up by having a boat that sits six-inches lower in the water than
designed. In the case of that boat, the transom drags (a serious problem), and a taller
mast had to be added to give the boat enough power to get out of its own way. Doing all
that together with the extra weight (and teak) added to the deck, topsides and interior
made the boat overly tender so now it wont go to weather even in fairly light
conditions without a reef in the main and a custom built much smaller jib. Most of the
time when under way the boat wallows and more or less drowns in its own goo.
Let me call your attention to these pictures. The photo on the left is the boat
as designed by a well-known architect. The photo on the right is the same hull but with a
structure that a know-nothing builder thought appropriate. In addition, this imbecile
spent quite a bit of money and time creating this miscarriage and getting it to this point
before he slunk into the night (owing much money too, I might add). We often really do
wonder 1) how these types manage to reach adulthood in the first place (without receiving
a Darwin Award*), and 2) how they manage to transport themselves to this boatyard.
* Darwin Awards see below.
Im sure that if the designer (also a long-time friend of mine) were to
see this travesty, being a good Australian, would shake his head sadly and proclaim,
"A Dingo ate me baby!"
Lest you think that Im only recalling rare instances, think again. As I
sit here mentally inventorying the boats around here on the hard and in the water, I can
think of at least ten projects that are nearly as bad as this one. Moreover, while the
mess in the photo has long gone to the landfill, theres another similar THING, only
its twice as large and sitting at the moment in about the same location.
You dont even have to believe me about any of this, come see.
Before you go about making big or small changes or innovations to a design
or to your project boat, it might be a good idea to walk around a couple marinas and
boatyards. If you dont see something at least similar to your bright idea, then
probably your bright idea isnt so bright after all!
*Following the ideas of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards are given, usually posthumously, to the individual(s) who
remove themselves from the gene pool in the most spectacular fashion. However there is an
exception to the requirement to die. If said individual does not die, however does render
him/herself incapable of producing any children - they may be eligible for the dubious
honor of receiving the award while still alive.