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Why Yacht Designs Need to be More than Art

Michael Peters

Sightlines - June 2015

Buzzwords and Hyperbole

After the high-tech sales pitch is done,
all that’s left is hull and water.

Fresnel Hydrofoil Trimaran

A major boating magazine recently devoted an entire page to a futuristic design that looks so light and elegant as to appear unreal. The Fresnel Hydrofoil Trimaran is stunningly beautiful and boasts unimagined technologies capable of virtual perpetual motion. The talent behind this magnificent proposal is the London-based architect, Margot Krasojevic, and this is her very first yacht project. With claims of 40-knot speeds powered by sun and wind, it represents quite an ambitious undertaking for a first yacht design. The 115-foot trimaran has reportedly been commissioned by the owners of a South African winery, with a launch date anticipated in 2016. After reading the article, I thought perhaps the clients should stop drinking their own product.

I googled the Web site of the designer and saw a familiar thread running through a broad base of futuristic projects, all based on unrealized technologies. The work was quite beautiful and off the charts with creativity, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the work of the famous visual futurist Syd Mead. Mead is responsible for the designs behind the movies Star Trek, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Elysium. I have known Syd for more than 30 years, and he knows better than to actually try to build one of his anti-gravity cars. 

I don’t see the trimaran coming to us anytime soon, but I do see an incredible capacity for gullibility among boat lovers. It seems that any bit of techno-sounding jargon is just eaten up by people who dream about boats. Take any boat and wrap it with enough buzzwords and bullshit, and you have what sounds like a boat that is the result of some advanced research project from DARPA. You wish.

Since the invention of Kevlar in the ’70s, our industry has been blowing smoke up your butt. Kevlar boats were never bulletproof, any more than a piece of wood would stop a bullet if it was thick enough. But the hype sold a lot of boats. Carbon-fiber-reinforced construction can mean there is as little as 5 pounds of carbon in a 20,000-pound boat, but builders spread the hype, feeding your ego that you can have the stuff of race cars and fighter jets. Vacuum-bagging usually means that only the core material was bagged but not the primary laminate; resin infusion often includes only hatches and small parts. The buzzwords are trolled in front of you, hoping you’ll take the bait. 

Hull design is often described as computer-designed, tank-tested, or CFD-analyzed, all of which sounds scientific. Most modern hulls are designed on a computer, but it’s no smarter than a hammer on its own, so you still have to know what to hit with it. Of more than 400 designs done by my office, we’ve only tank-tested a few times, because it is unnecessary for the majority of hullforms. Even so, we have had manufacturers tank-test a hull after the boat was built just so they could include it in their brochures to make you believe it was scientifically developed. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is a computer-based analytical tool seldom used to its potential, but its computer-generated pictures will impress yachtsmen.

When I read advertisements about the technology utilized to design some boats, I am stunned by the level of runaway hyperbole. Take an ordinary boat and describe it as “perfected with the use of proprietary semi-empirical, steady-state modeling...further processed by a Computational Fluid Dynamics model, previously utilized only by NASA and the United States Navy...” Well sign me up, I want one of those! But it’s nothing more than bullshit disguised as technology. After all, how good does it sound if you simply admit that your boat was simply tested over and over until it ran satisfactorily and the process employed no real scientific method or analysis?

So when you run across boats that make claims of advanced composite construction or bear high-tech-sounding names like Fas Trac, “Z” Series, NuV3, or Duo-Delta-Conic, dig a little and ask them to explain the technology. If they come back with a bunch of jargon you don’t understand, I’ll bet they don’t know what they are talking about. My father always said that if you really understand something you should be able to explain it to your sister. And that’s no BS.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.