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Slogging To Windward
by Chuck Merrill cmerrell@uswest.net

November 2000
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 don’t get me wrong. Certainly, I’ll allow that it’s anybody’s 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 you’re gonna say: Well, if everybody followed the status quo and took no risks, there’d be no progress, particularly in technology, and I agree. But here’s 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. I’ll 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 don’t know which end of the horse the hay goes into and why hay goes into the horse in the first place.

Apparently I’m not the only person who designs boats (or tries to) who doesn’t understand this ego driven compulsion to add the personal touch or rework a design that’s 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 don’t like it, then find another design that you do like, and if you can’t, then find someone who knows how, and have them draw a custom boat for you!" He’s 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." He’s 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 wasn’t 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 world’s 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 that’s 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 doesn’t sink, it’s 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 won’t 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.

I’m 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 I’m 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, there’s another similar THING, only it’s twice as large and sitting at the moment in about the same location.

You don’t 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 don’t see something at least similar to your bright idea, then probably your bright idea isn’t 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.




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