Friday, December 09, 2011

A Friday interview with Rodger Martin...

How electric propulsion creates a new dynamic, a page from the war on common sense, and a sorta/kinda boat friendly garden system...

A while back I heard on the Sharpies anonymous (Hi, I'm Bob and I have a serious sharpie problem) coconut telegraph that there was a new hot sharpie design coming out as a production boat...

A lot of sharpie fanatics were excited but being older, somewhat jaded, and with a deep distrust of the marine industry, I expected that the new much anticipated boat would be a sharpie in name only and, at best, we'd be lucky if just one element of what makes a sharpie a sharpie was part of the mix. Later, when I heard that they planned to call the new boat "Presto" you would have been able hear the sound of my falling expectations from here to Mars. When the marine industry uses a famous boat name it is seldom a pretty picture and as the "Presto" is something of the Holy Grail of Sharpiedom... Well, I'm sure you can understand my feeling of unease.

Then I heard that the designer was someone whose work of the go-fast-race-around-the-world-in-a-hurry sort I admire and knowing that Rodger Martin was part of the mix all of a sudden I dared to hope... and, when the boat left vaporware damned if it was not a real honest to goodness (if somewhat evolved) sharpie...


So, let's talk to Rodger about some boat bits...

Why are you designing boats?

It’s a compulsion. I’ve been doing it since I was three. Also cars and planes; things that have free movement. I have notebooks full of bad sketches with a few refined to represent boats that have been or could be built. Dissatisfaction with boats I have sailed brought out the designer in me to draw them the way I thought they should be. When you do that it is very encouraging to see that the ideas you have thought about work in practice.

It could be said (well I say it all the time) that yacht design is somewhat hamstrung because designers don't really design better boats but design to a few small niche communities (racing, the wealthy, bareboat charter industry, etc) and, as a result, it's hard for new ideas or real innovation to take hold... How do you manage or work around that?

I find it hard to do the same thing twice, although that’s the easy route to ‘success’. I have to be interested in the concept to take on a design. I’m passionate about the boats we design. We have brought two widely different boats to the point of sending them out for bids and for different reasons (not the cost) those clients decided not to build the boats. There’s a period of mourning!

Having said all that, I’m pragmatic and we have to make a living. Perhaps the only useful saying I’ve minted is this: Being ahead of your time is simply bad timing. We are usually responding to a request from a client, and it helps that the clients come to us because they know we’ll give them what they want instead of (the ‘successful’ formula) giving them what we want. You have to have the client in on the experiment if you want to try something new and different. We don’t play around with client’s money.

Your new Sharpie design has become very popular... What's the appeal of the Sharpie and shoal draft... ?

After a while you question keels, especially deep ones, on cruising boats. Sharpies are very seaworthy if well-designed. They allow for adventurous exploring in places where even cats & tris can’t go. If you take a calculated chance at running an inlet in a Sharpie, and hit the bottom, the board bounces. If you do so a keel boat you have a shipwreck! It becomes a safety issue. I feel it’s essential to combine low-centered rigs with the concept as they keep the heeling arm low. Of course we’ve also designed boats drawing 15 feet, though they are ‘Round the World racing boats.

You have a new larger sharpie in the works... Could you tell us about it?

Yes, that’s exciting, it’s a 42 footer. The clients are from a major East Coast boatyard and this is a new direction for them. They’ve seen how badly the East Coast is served by shoal water boats. Much of Chesapeake Bay, the New Jersey coast, Great South Bay (Long Island, NY) and the Florida coasts, for example, are near high population areas but are inaccessible to most sail boats except for sharpies and some multihulls. The SolarWind 42 is a perfect family cruising boat with two double cabins, for long distance or short-term cruising. You can dry her out upright. She draws 18” with appendages up and can motor in 33” of water.

What do you feel is wrong with design today? What do you see as negative trends?

The concept that a cruising boat should have a detuned replica of a race boat’s high aspect sloop rig. This rig is essentially designed for speed upwind. As soon as the wind comes aft it is inefficient without the addition of hard-to-fly sails.

 What trends do you find positive and exciting?

I’m excited that the America’s cup is being raced in fast boats at last! Isn’t that what racing is meant to be? Fast?

What at the moment is your favorite design you've done and why?

A couple: Outward Bound Hurricane Island 30s because they’re giving hundreds of kids a year their first sailing adventure, and it’s not racing. If I’d been forced to race in a racing program as an 8-year-old I’d be doing something else today. Yet I love to go fast and to design racing boats.
Another is our own Presto!, the first Presto 30, in which we have good friends as partners. Presto lets us cruise the way we like and reminds me of happy summers alternatively drifting and tearing around in centreboard dinghies as a boy in South Africa.
         I have a fondness for many of our boats, often in association with their owners.

Which of your designs do you like the least and why?

I’m sorry you’re breaking up!

What boat do you wish someone would ask you to design?

Two boats:

 1. A simple 60 foot Presto-type (round-bottomed) tandem-board sharpie for Caribbean racing and ‘Round-the-World cruising.

2. The successful replacement for the Sunfish so every resort on water would have a fleet!

When did you go sailing last?

Last February, for a couple of months. And a few times this Summer.

Who are your favorite designers?

Nigel Irens; William Garden; Cyrus Hamlin; Ralph Munroe; Alan Gurney; Renato ‘Sonny’ Levi.

Something else that you have a burning need to answer?

How can we teach kids to just mess about in boats and have fun adventuring and experimenting as I was allowed to instead of bringing out their (and their parents) aggro by regimenting them in racing programs? I don’t have the answer but the situation begs for one. We should be training adventurers!

Hopefully some more from Rodger in the not too distant future...

Listening to Johnny Clegg and Savuka

So it goes...