of Blue Water yacht design & construction

By Dick Beaumont

‘Five years ago or so, Dick Durham, then Editor-at-Large with Yachting Monthly magazine and a correspondent for Classic Boat magazine called me. He told me he was considering writing an article on what design features are necessary for a blue water yacht and asked if he could interview me on the subject.’ We had a very interesting meeting and I listed the factors I considered mandatory and explained why. Although I hadn’t realised it, at the end of our discussion, Dick said:

“That’s interesting, you have listed ten specific design features, I’m going to entitle the article ‘The Ten Commandments’.” 

Trying to get this article published in its entirety proved difficult however, since most magazines derive a large part of their advertising revenue from yachts that don’t have these essential features, on the contrary, many go against the very philosophy of said commandments.

The difficulty of getting this, and other important messages, published directly lead to the launch of Ocean Sailor magazine. Now Dick Durham is the Editor of the one magazine that will publish this, and other, controversial articles effecting blue water sailing, since we are not held hostage by any advertisers revenue, here it is in full.

The essential 10 basic design features that a true blue water cruising yacht must have are:

1. Long integral keel

Integral, because if keel bolts break, which they do, and the keel comes off, a tragedy is inevitable hundreds or even thousands of miles from land. 

Long, because you need her to hold a steady course without needing constant helm corrections. Short cord length keels produce a twitchy, sensitive helm, that is tiresome to keep on course over a long voyage and also requires the autopilot to work hard to keep a steady course, using up valuable power resources.

2. Fully skeg protected rudder

There’s a lot of logs, old mooring lines, containers and worse floating around out on the ocean, the propensity to hit a whale has also increased and the risk of running aground is ever present, especially in poorly or uncharted waters. Everyone that has sailed over several years runs aground sometime, or they will soon enough.  Colliding with a whale or even being attacked by them, is becoming commonplace (see Orca attack in the last issue). A blade hung, unprotected rudder, is far too vulnerable: two are simply double trouble.

3. Heavy duty hull construction

There is no substitute for a well laid up heavy-duty hull. There are any number of logs, pallets, containers, and other debris floating around our oceans, so on a 50ft yacht anything thinner than 10-12mm GRP will not be robust enough. Typical ‘production yachts’ will be 5-6mm.

4. Steady no-slam motion

This speaks for itself; the constant slamming that modern production yacht sailors have come to expect causes stress to the crew and the structure of the vessel. If the V-shape of the bow is continued further down, from the forefoot of the stem until it runs into the keel, slamming can be completely eradicated. Most yachts used to be designed like this, but in a bid to improve ‘performance’ and to reduce build costs, most yachts designs feature a rounded flat bottom section here, which exacerbates, rather than reduces, slamming. 

The difference between the two photos below may not be so obvious, but the V shape of the hull and the increased dead rise of the hull forward of the keel, as shown in the photo on the left, virtually eliminates slamming.

5. Raked bow

The advent of the plumb bow, used in nearly all yachts today, even those purporting to be blue water cruisers, totally baffles me. It may stretch the waterline-deck measurement sure, but so what? It loses two very important characteristics by comparison to a raked bow, which are: 1) Greater buoyancy, allowing the boat to ride over waves, not plough through them, so the foredeck stays dry. 2) Easier anchor recovery
and deployment. Damage from a swinging anchor is greatly reduced. Plumb bows suffer a lot of gelcoat damage when the anchor swings into the stem, on recovery in particular.

6. Deep protected cockpit

You often see wide open, twin-wheeled cockpits these days. They are great for dockside parties, but dangerous for crew and helmsmen at sea. Blue water sailors should not be exposed to the full brunt of wind, spray and rain. It’s fine and fun for a few hours, but not sustainable over an extended passage.

7. Robust, easily reefed rig

When short handed, all sails must be able to be reefed and furled by one person, so that the off-watch crew get uninterrupted rest. 

The rigging must be very robust to stop the stresses transferring to the mast. It has to be able to take a good pounding, in heavy weather.

8. Reverse sheer transom

Recovering a man overboard is immeasurably easier if crew can drag a person from the water up a reverse sheer transom and it will enable you to catch and land fish more easily.

If scuba diving is part of the adventure a reverse sheer transom is a must.

9. Dedicated engine / machinery room

It’s essential that you have direct and fast access to all vital equipment and systems without the need to remove panels or berths. Simply put, the owner of a blue water cruising yacht must give up some living space to accommodate an engine/machinery room. Modern cruising yachts have a lot of equipment onboard that provides the comforts sailors expect. Air conditioning, water-maker, refrigeration, water and sewage supply systems, as well as sophisticated electronics mean that maintaining good power supply is vital, so a good quality marine generator is required too. Once one understands that you are running the same services as are provided by municipal city utilities, it becomes obvious that to try to maintain all of this equipment without an area that is dedicated to it’s housing and servicing is unrealistic. 

10. Full and secure nav station with chart table

It’s not acceptable to have to pull out a desk or sit on the end of a bunk to serve for the vital task of navigating the vessel. 

The navigator must be able to secure themselves at the nav desk in heavy weather.

These ten critical features are not a wish list, once you have them all covered you can then go on to build the perfect cruising yacht. If you don’t have all of them, the vulnerability of the yacht will soon be exposed by the sea and the elements, in turn, increasing the risk to the crew.

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