He started at ZAR with dogged determination, and still designs new models for them. Numerous small boats followed and now he’s putting himself to the test in designing larger models. The aim is still the same – to find innovative solutions
by Niccolò Volpati – photo by Andrea Muscatello
ONLY MEDIOCRE PEOPLE FEAR TALENT. Those who aren’t mediocre aren’t afraid to be surrounded by quality collaborators, even if they’re young. This is a conclusion that many of us have probably reached in our lifetime, and it’s also what came to mind listening to Carlos Vidal’s story, and how he started working as a designer.
«My Father was a ZAR dealer and knew Piero Formenti, so he knew they were working on a new inflatable boat model. I was only 21 years old and had just enrolled at university. I decided to design the hull, I knew the size of that model, then I bravely put my proposal forward. Everyone was telling me I was wasting my time, and that Formenti would never consider a design by someone in their twenties, especially when he hadn’t even commissioned it. That wasn’t the case though. Piero looked at my design and said I had a month to deliver the final version. Piero Formenti is one of the best people I could have met. It’s thanks to him and my Father that I don’t work in car design anymore, and design boats and inflatables instead, as I’d always hoped to do».
Ten years have passed since that first job and Carlos Vidal continues to produce designs for ZAR. «The most difficult may have been the ZAR Mini design because, at the beginning especially, there was concern about fitting everything the boatyard wanted into a tender of just 3.5 meters. It was a design that required a lot of effort, but I think the result was very gratifying».
«One of the most recent designs that I developed is the 43-foot model for Canelli Yachts. As with Formenti, they also have a lot of faith in young designers, and it’s a pleasure to design for such people».
As we know, small boats are the hardest to make for the very reason that millimeters and not centimeters, never mind meters, are what’s involved. Carlos learned the ropes thoroughly on these sizes, but recently the dimensions have been getting bigger. «I’m still learning, but I enjoy designing larger boats because there’s more room for creativity. Space and how you use it will always be important, but everything isn’t so tight. The designer’s task isn’t just to make a beautiful item that functions well, it is to create an experience. The experience is on-board living because a boat is essentially this. It has to be a place where you feel completely at ease».
«When I compare myself to car designer friends I envy their numbers – they can afford to create molds and experiments that we can only dream about. Though I think if there were as many boats in the sea as there are cars on the road we wouldn’t like it, because nobody wants to navigate through traffic».
It, therefore, has to sail, operate well, and be comfortable, and when the dimensions and volumes let you express your creativity, it’s as if the designer were a sort of tourist guide, a cicerone guiding the owner onboard the boat. This doesn’t mean the work of the designer is a matter of ‘take it or leave it’, and Carlos Vidal is well aware of this. «Clients want the boat to feel like it’s theirs, and that’s how it should be. As designers, we have to meet this requirement and know how to adapt».
Vidal reaffirms for us that the designer’s work has to pass through mediation. Maybe it is the main characteristic a naval architect needs to have. Designers have to arbitrate between their ideas and those of the owners, and between their design and the requirements of other professionals working on the construction of a boat.
«In a hypothetical football match between architects and engineers, I’d always side with the architects», he says with a smile. It is the creative aspect that appeals to him, though he also understands the technical aspects because he studied them. His degree in naval architecture from Southampton was his second, however, his first degree is in Technical Engineering & Industrial Design from Barcelona. Furthermore, he has always sailed since he was a youngster, and as a result, understands the main function of a boat only too well. And of course, appreciating the perspective of anyone working on the other side of the fence is essential for reaching a compromise.
«We must never forget that first and foremost a boat is for sailing, and it must be able to do this without any difficulty. What owner wants to make their own life complicated?». Truer words were never spoken, and it’s always good to reiterate them.
«Doing something new means taking a risk, and that applies to designers as well as the boatyards».
«I’ll often look at new features introduced by colleagues. Sometimes I’m convinced by them, and sometimes I wonder if they’ll end up causing issues. Wear and tear, a saline environment and maintenance are all aspects that have to be considered, as soon as you sit down at the computer and start creating the design. The most fascinating part of my job is finding space where it seems there isn’t any. I like designing the deck because a boat is made for enjoying the relationship with the sea. I grew up sailing in the Mediterranean, so I love open boats. When I was producing my initial designs at Southampton my professors would say yes, well done, now enclose everything! But sailing the seas is synonymous with freedom and wide, open spaces. If you have to be shut inside you might as well stay at home».
(Carlos Vidal, que viva Vidal – Barchemagazine.com – January 2021)