|Not Just a Sketch on a Napkin|
| The role of a custom boat designer is greater than you might think.
By Tim Clark — May 2002
A few months ago naval architect and PMY contributing editor Tom Fexas wrote a pair of typically irascible columns describing more than 25 signs to be wary of when selecting a custom boatbuilder. In addition to showcasing Fexas' trademark comic crustiness, the columns illustrated his considerable knowledge of boatbuilding beyond the drafting table. Designers don't come by such wisdom incidentally. It builds up systematically because of the broad role they play in the realization of the yachts they design.
To learn the extent of that role, I talked to Fexas, head of Tom Fexas Yacht Design, and to naval architect, author, and lecturer Dave Gerr, of New York-based Gerr Marine. While their practices--like the practices of all designers--vary to some degree, both are well-established and well-respected and boast portfolios that include scores of yachts of wide-ranging size and character.
In the earliest phase of a project, the designer's duty is to chat and listen. These are the discussions with the prospective client that gradually define the boat, and they can continue for weeks, months, or even longer. Says Gerr, "If it sounds like an interesting project for both of us I'll ask them to make up a list of what they want, send clippings of boats they like certain aspects of, and even give me some sketches--they can be chicken scratch or works of art; it doesn't matter." Fexas agrees, "Long wish lists, boat clippings--anything that can guide us." Most often, individuals who commission custom yachts are experienced boaters (see "Conceiving of Camilla," this issue), and although they may be deliberative, their ideas are specific and informed.
Eventually the yacht can be envisioned in some detail. At this stage the designer will produce a set of preliminary drawings. At Gerr Marine these consist of an exterior profile, a deck plan (an overhead view of the arrangement), and an inboard profile (a "cutaway" side view of the interior). "These are nice, polished drawings that give the client the most concrete idea so far of what he's getting," says Gerr. "At the same time, by now I know how it all goes together. I've resolved a lot of the major problems, including power, speed, and preliminary stability."
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.