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Does Yacht Design Matter?

photo courtesy of Riva Yacht           

To answer this blog’s titular question in short: Of course it does. The real question, masked by that rhetorical one, is “How much does yacht design matter?” It matters to boaters, and to those who are thoughtful enough to understand the importance of boat design in the greater context of how it represents and reminds us of our collective past, and how its halo affects other kinds of design.

Which brings me to Marc Newson (with whom I became reacquainted through a profile in The New York Times Magazine a couple of Sundays ago—read it here). The Australian-born designer apparently works in all manner of media and has ideas about the look and texture of anything you could imagine: from peppermills to shoes to minijets. The article begins with an anecdotal account of his process involving a rotomolded bunkbed, and talks about his development, including time in school and his absentee father and stepfather.

Now to the point. I only know who Newson is because a couple of years ago he designed an Aquariva (shown). It’s beautiful (as all Rivas are to me) and edgy. When I saw it at Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2010, I was able to speak to Newson and see up close his signature use of materials, specifically micarta, which is a resin-infused linen that was a precursor to fiberglass and that changes color as it’s exposed to sunlight. All very cool, but apparently not cool enough to be mentioned in the piece beyond an oblique reference to the micarta that “decked a speed boat [sic].” In the article, writer Chip Brown recounts discussions involving Newson’s design of a shotgun for Beretta, rather than the boat. Brown even admits that Newson’s impact on a gun design would be minimal: “Suffice to say that designing a shotgun is akin to staging a ballet in a phone booth, and most of what Newson could do entailed making subtle changes on the surface of a mechanical apparatus that has been essentially unchanged for at least a hundred years,” Brown writes.

The print article had a photo of the Aquariva in a timeline of Newson’s designs. But I’ll leave you with one thought: For an article trying to figure out what makes a guy tick, all but ignoring his boat design struck me, particularly when Brown wrote this: “‘I’ve never even seen a picture of the guy,’ Newson told me one afternoon, making it sound as if not having a father around was no more trouble than coping in a kitchen without a garlic press. ‘The one memory I have is of him coming back to see me and taking me sailing on this tiny boat in Sydney Harbor and the boom hitting him in the head.’” Maybe that boat design meant more to him than a shotgun.

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