The President of Wally, Luca Bassani, talks about nautical design reflecting on what happened and, above all, on what has not happened in the last ten years. The real change, for the future, seems to come from below …
by Luca Bassani
Some iconic designs are taken as a purely aesthetic exercise and not the result of seeking performance, defined not just as speed but also energy savings in seagoing behaviour, seen as added convenience. A type of cultural dispersion therefore transpires, where these new ideas are applied to any type of vessel without any real functional or aesthetic reason, with the single aim of being ‘trendy’. The results are so crude as to make those responsible for original designs feel guilty, while the original, essential functional aspect is ignorantly suppressed.
Look at the vertical bow for example, heavily criticised by the experts when Wally put it back on the market in 2001, and then used on many types of boat of different sizes, even when incompatible with the rest. Or the sharp edges of superstructures, which were applied to boats with lines that didn’t match this stylistic detail.
Then there was the use of teak on sailing boat superstructures designed to maintain the clean line of a flush deck, and then also applied to superstructures with nothing to do with flush decks.
Sailing boats, small and large, become simple copies of the original model.
Small motor boats are uncoordinated collages of original ideas.
Large motor yachts capture some sort of aesthetics, a unique functional idea, but they’re still the same as before, just bigger, without any additional performance feature.
Retro taste and pointless futurism
In terms of pure aesthetics, apart from a few random cases, old concepts and shapes of boats are being promoted on the market, but offer nothing other than being ‘different’.
Difference is given winning importance and the market has been flooded by old-fashioned boat designs with the same mistakes that had led to them becoming obsolete and forgotten. Another possibility is to ride the success of the ‘new’ wave with total incompatibility between function and design, producing unattractive objects that are scarcely functional.
Boats or series of boats are being launched that recapture the style of the small lobster boats of Maine, but given that they’re not used as such and are basically pleasure boats, they can only offer that pleasant retro vibe, with the disadvantage of all the discomfort and lack of functionality typical of boats designed for a certain type of fishing 60 years ago.
Similarly, forward-looking deviations are being attempted, with futuristic designs that forget the seagoing environment completely and the comfort and convenience required. Types of torpedo with the bow entering the first waves they meet.
Not to mention the really pathetic attempts to combine two style icons such as the Acquarama and Wallytender into one unique design, resulting in the creation of a two-headed monster with seven legs, with no logic or taste.
Dilemma of convenience against beauty
The world of cabin cruisers, defined as motor boats from 15 to 50 metres, is flooded with ‘functional’ ideas which, to be really functional, would mean annihilating any aesthetic ambitions and good taste.
An example is extensive glazing to, rightly so, bring a good view of the outdoors inside. There are now window and porthole patchworks available of all shapes and sizes combined purely in terms of quantity, which make boats grotesque when they were already so ugly it’s hard to imagine them being any worse – yet somehow they manage it.
Another example is the new beach club that’s essential on yachts over a certain size. In reality they’re just the old tender garages turned into lounge areas – hot, humid holes without natural ventilation.
It’s the same ‘cultural movement’ of 20 years ago, when the boats at the boat shows were compared on the basis of ‘half a bed more’, trying to sell boats on the back of false additional performance features.
There has been less imagination with cruise sail boats, partly because the market is much smaller than that of motor boats, but there has been lazy, shameless copying of the ‘original’ icon in relation to deck layouts and interiors, deckhouse shape, deck detail and teak finish, as well as deck equipment.
Only pure racing boats have seen designs that have introduced new lines and very innovative solutions, involving hull lines, deck layouts with increasingly larger cockpits, and more efficient, manageable sail plans. This confirms that the really new aesthetics transpire from the functionality and not the simple desire to trace out a different line on the paper.
A technical digression on keels that increasingly try to make boats fly on the water wouldn’t go amiss, but there’s no doubt that the canting keel and lifting keel have represented an enormous step forward for racing boats and cruise boats.
In large sailing boats however the desire was often to conceal old technologies with modern lines and accessories, such as large windows or the stern equipped for a cruising lifestyle. And in this case I’m not criticising the aesthetic result but the ‘misrepresentation’ i.e. passing an old idea off as a modern boat.
New latent quality research
Aside from these atrocities, that are only useful for selling more and more and not for improving the product, there is consolation in the increase in fairly scientific research carried out by individual enthusiasts, who see the chance to improve the now immense world of boats.
These brilliant inventors with a lack of finances are offering boat builders numerous technical solutions that could influence the future generation of boats significantly, if they are considered by the large operators (boatyards, architects and engineers).
Whereas this background activity didn’t exist 20-30 years ago, there is now a great flurry, and this will lead to phenomenal results. We’ve seen some really innovative, functional hulls that could definitely improve future boats, intelligent layout solutions which, linked to external proportions that differ from the classic arrangement, will make boats more seagoing and comfortable.
Additionally there are propulsion systems, energy generation systems and other systems which, while not belonging to the world of design, could really change sailing in the future.
To conclude my personal critique of boat design in the last 10 years, I’d say that copying is the first step of innovation and must therefore be accepted, but copying has to be done well, in particular by seeking to improve the original model and develop it. Copying without ideals, except those that are purely commercial, and without talent must be criticised, hidden and not promoted, buyers must be persuaded that the original is always better.
Evolution and innovation represent useful and profitable dynamics, whereas merely copying leads to sterile and destructive inertia.
(Luca Bassani: the yacht design today? More shape, less performance – Barchemagazine.com – Ottobre 2018)