March 25, 2012

The most beautiful creation

IT WAS FRANCIS S. KINNEY who said: "Of all man's creations there is nothing more beautiful, I think, than a good-looking sailboat under sail."  Kinney was in a position to know. He was a well-known naval architect and yacht designer, and he revised and updated Norman L. Skene's classic book, Elements of Yacht Design.

In the eight edition of that book, Kinney admits: "Let me say that is it very difficult to design a good-looking boat."  In his opinion, it is the boat's sheerline that "crowns or damns the entire creation."  He discovered that one of the most important tricks to designing a good-looking sheer line was to make its low point tangent to a horizontal line about 80 percent of the waterline length aft.

He said the sheer should start out almost as a straight line at the bow and increase in curvature as it approaches the stern. Theoretically, he added, if the sheerline were projected beyond the stern the curve would continue to increase its curvature into a ram's horn.

And since the sheerline is one of the most beautiful lines on a boat, it should be accentuated. "This can be done by a contrasting color, like a varnished teak toerail above white topsides, or a white bulwark above black topsides. Another good combination — white house, turquoise sheer strake, white topsides, red bottom without any boot top.  To really make it look stunning, have a gilded cove line below the sheer."

Kinney liked to see the toerail tapered, too.  On a 40-foot boat, for example, he would taper it from, say, four inches high at the bow to about 2 1/2 inches high at the stern.  He also liked to make deckhouses less obvious by painting the topsides white to make the hull look bigger and painting the deckhouse light gray or light blue. "You'd be surprised how it makes the house sort of disappear," he said.

Another trick about designing deckhouses is to give them some tumblehome to their sides.  That is, the sides should lean inward at the top. "It is a subtlety of design that takes the curse off a boxlike house."

The camber, or crown, of the deck is important in creating a good looking boat, too. "It has a noticeable effect on appearance," Kinney said. He advocated a camber of 3/8 inch to the foot as a good all-round measure.

There's no doubt that a good yacht designer needs to have something of the artist in his or her makeup, because an artistic touch is need to create a handsome boat. And there are those among us (no names, no pack drill) who believe beauty in boats is probably at least as important as seaworthiness.  Indeed, there have been times when some of us (all right, it was me) have been smitten by a boat's looks to the extent of ignoring all her many vices. And I don't regret one moment of it.

Finally, an interesting observation from Kinney about what constitutes ugliness in lines.  "One of man's ugly creations in my opinion is the Volkswagen Beetle," he says. "Now let's analyze why this is so. Because, it seems to me, almost all of its lines are circles." He goes on to mention that the profile of a clipper bow can be like a VW Beetle if it is an ugly quarter-circle, or, when properly drawn, it can be a line of beauty culminating in a figurehead and flowing trailboard scrolls. "It is one of the most difficult line to get right," he claims. "The late A. Loring Swaysey, a yacht designer of some renown, told me once that he spent a whole day on the design of the clipper bow on a large three-masted schooner he was designing. One entire day for one line!"

Today's Thought
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
— Francis Bacon, Essays: Of Beauty

"I've got an idea Fred is going to be in the hospital a long time."
"Why? Did you see his doctor?"
"No. I saw his nurse."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)  

1 comment:

Kevin H said...

It seems that as in other areas in life, age seems to add to the beauty factor. Modern racing boats can hardly be thought beautiful, they're too aggressive and functional looking.Even a new Beneteau is no beauty. But look at an old Hereshoff or S&S. Both the winners in their day. Just like an E type Jag vs the modern cars that don't have an artistic bone, sorry, piece of sheetmetal, in their bodies. Maybe beauty needs a measure of nostalgia. Why I remember when I was young,even mirrors looked different.!