John Welsford

John Welsfords Small Craft design

by Guest Columnist JohnWelsford

From the Designers point of view

Matching dreams with reality is hard, hard for the person making a choice as to what boat is going to fit , and harder for the designer who does not have direct access to the vision, or indeed the actual use and operating environment that the vessel will have to perform in.

Now designing a ferry or other commercial craft is fine, the operators will tell the designer how many people, the speed, the route and perhaps the preferred styling and let him get on with the match, but someone who has “always wanted a boat” and “ I saw a boat in a magazine” or “I read a book on --------“ This latter is usually something totally unconnected with the end use such as a guy who lives inland near a small sheltered lake who has had Slocum's “Voyaging alone around the World” under his pillow since age 12.

How do we match the dream with realty? Not easily, but unless we do the boat is not going to satisfy the dreamer, as although the looks might fit the vision, the boat will not perform within its environment, so I at least try being very blunt and dishing up large doses of reality, then send the guy or guyess away with an instruction to come back with a whole lot of information on boats they like, and the area in which they hope to do their boating. It sometimes works! 

But still we have mismatches, mostly based upon misconceptions of the boats performance and what the area is really like. This is not helped by people who write magazine articles about how a Such and Such 16 is a wonderful boat, and why everyone should have one ( the writer probably has shares in the company). When we look hard, the writer might be a very fit 30year old as to my clients deskbound and overweight 60, used to sleeping strapped to a mountainside in sub zero conditions while my client and his wife may consider anything less than a 5 star hotel to be “camping” .

On the sailing environment, the above article could be written about cruising in say, Chesapeak Bay in high summer where light sea and land breezes prevail, and the sailing is in an area completely enclosed and isolated from the dynamics of the open ocean, and my client may be living on Australias west coast , on the lee side of the “roaring 40s” with the whole weight of the Indian Ocean piling up on the shore. I kid not, I’ve had this one happen.

Be kind to your designer, think about what you are really trying to achieve with your boat, not all of us are going to ride the tradewinds to the South Pacific or try to win the next single handed race around the world. Research the area where you are going to sail, a boat for sailing afternoons in the upper harbour and estuaries will be quite different from one for thrashing along an open coastline. Be flexible in your perception of what is a suitable boat, and give him credit to know when a boat will fit your needs and your environment.

You could end up with far more fun than you ever thought possible.

John Welsford.


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