Spectator — January 2003
By Tom Fexas
Rocks on the Cover, Venus de Milo Inside
Part 2: If a boatbuilder produces a boring boat, the article will be boring.
Depressurizing the Magazines
Boating Writers International, a nonprofit association made up of more than 300 boating writers, editors, and PR and advertising flacks, led by president Michael Verdon, wants to reinforce the credibility of boating magazines with a writers' code of ethics that will insulate publications from being pressurized by manufacturers' ad bucks. At the last Miami International Boat Show, he arranged a discussion panel consisting of luminaries in the boat business, including George Buckley, president and CEO of Brunswick Corporation, and Irwin Jacobs, chairman of Genmar Holdings. Buckley seemed to set the tone, stating, "When you create a set of magazines that are the journalistic equivalent of semolina, people do not know what to believe. You [boating magazines] should be an independent body." Jacobs stated, "Quite frankly, you are doing very little, and with all due respect, it is kind of boring to read your stuff."
With all due respect, Mr. Jacobs, it's the other way around. Advertisers somehow expect boring, bland boats to garner excitement in articles. If a boatbuilder produces a boring boat, the article will be boring. Another panel member, Jeff Hammond, president of Boattest.com and founder of this magazine, had a different take. He said boat companies, unlike car companies, put out hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands of units per year. A devastating article about one of their projects, he claimed, could mean curtains for that company. He said that if a boat is unsafe or a turkey, he won't cover it.
In the early 1980's a magazine tested a big, fast, production sportfisherman that we had designed. The writer pointed out the loud exhaust system, mentioned the hull chine walked slightly at high speeds, and said that the refrigerator came adrift in high seas. I must say that the boatbuilder and I deserved this. The boat was not ready for primetime, and yet had been submitted to the magazine for testing. With all this, however, the magazine also mentioned the boat's high points. We took the spears, corrected the shortcomings, and sold a decent number of boats.
I have seen only a couple of magazines pan new designs in their design review section (none of mine, thankfully, but I am sure my time is coming). Constructive criticism makes interesting reading and builds confidence amongst readers that the magazine is not whitewashing everything.
Overall, I see precious little criticism in today's boating publications. A recent test by another magazine on a production motoryacht showed an excessively high running angle of six degrees, but while the writer pointed this out, he glossed over it by stating that it was okay because the electrically adjustable helm seat elevated high enough to provide decent sightlines over the bow! Another magazine featured a large production motoryacht on the cover that produced a horrendous bow wave underway. The boat looked like she was plowing snow. This was never mentioned in the article, although intentionally or not, the magazine titled the piece something along the lines of "Tsunami Craft Makes Waves." I got the joke, but I am not sure many others did.
Tom Fexas is a marine engineer and designer of powerboats. His Web site is www.tomfexas.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.