John Atkin

I am not keen about the term "character boat," the original heading for the type of design to be discussed here, because it's been my observation that most any weird creation is likely to be placed in this category. I suspect that people who refer to character boats are often making the distinction between traditional cruising vessels and racing boats.


While we have seen great changes in all forms of endeavor these past 30 years, the transitions throughout the yachting field have been tremendous. Though I don't necessarily like all boats, I have a deep appreciation of virtually all. of them; from the latest so-called "cruiser-racer" (or is it "racer-cruiser"?), developed to beat CCA rules, to the high-speed powerboats of Miami-Nassau fame -- all have admirable ability in fulfilling their intended purpose.


But there are other purposes, those especially of the people for whom I do design work. My observation is that owners of traditional cruising boats are fundamentally genuine, sincere, quiet gentlemen from all walks of life. Their most predominant characteristic would be individuality, a trait that is apparently fading in this great, corporate land in which we live.


These people do not base their existence on efficiency or the need to win races. Their aim appears to be incorporating the best that has been proven in the past -- tradition, in a word -- for use in the present. They aim at creating a yacht, power or sail, which combines comfort and the ability to behave, to take care of herself and her crew with a minimum of effort under all -- or very nearly all -- conditions.


As my friend Dean Stephens writes regarding his Charity (built from the designs of the 33-foot Jonquil, one of MoToR BoatinG's family of able boats): "Sometimes her skipper wasn't too efficient, but she took care of us just the same. There is much to be said for a forgiving vessel when the going gets so rough the crew has exhausted their experience and can't think of what to do next."


Just such a boat is the 34-foot, gaff-rigged cutter Vixen, designed by my father and me several years ago. Built by Joel Johnson at Black Rock, Connecticut, she represents what I consider to be a wholesome, offshore vessel developed for her intended purpose -- in this case, to carry Jim Stark and his wife Jeanne safely and comfortably around the world. The low-aspect gaff rig is, in my opinion, well suited for long passages, and twin staysails provided her with the ability to run with ease and safety.


Herman Hollerith has owned his 32-foot double-ended ketch since 1927, when she was built from designs by my father. That is the kind of man who buys and owns, these past 43 years, a traditional cruising boat. Interestingly enough, on the other hand, many of the people coming to the office are young men, with their views on what constitutes a traditional cruising yacht already established.


The owner of a traditional cruising yacht -- one designed with offshore cruising ability foremost in mind, and without any regard for racing -- may expect dependability, fewer stresses (thus, less gear failure), seaworthiness, security, greater sea-kindliness (ease of motion), and overall ease of handling, including the boat's ability to sail herself. In return, the traditional cruiser may perhaps have to give up the ability to ghost along in light airs, or possibly the ability to work to windward (which in most instances means winning races). Efficiency, as it concerns racing, a mantel of silver cups, and the prestige of winning are foregone.


The cruising man with a traditional yacht will also "give up" the tremendous cost of competition: the huge sail inventory, the keel trimtabs, the retractable rudders, the coffee-grinder winches, and all the super-refinements incorporated into contemporary racing boats. He will, as well, give up the need for a low rating in his effort to obtain comfort. Nothing, in my opinion, conflicts more directly with sea-keeping ability than the continued striving for low ratings -- and this has always been so.


Turning to traditional powerboats, the wholesome, displacement cruising boat will be considerably less expensive to operate. Quite obviously, a vessel built with a modest power plant (and proceeding, to be sure, at a slower speed) will not begin to gulp the fuel of her higher-horsepowered sisters. The traditional, displacement cruiser will be a far better sea boat, far more comfortable in a seaway, than the higher-speed power boat. While the modern powerboat is an outstanding development in all respects, the search for a combination of high speed and true sea-keeping ability, while retaining comfort and safe operation, has (in my opinion), a long way to go. There is little doubt that electric toilets, hot pressure water, air conditioning, elaborate electronic gear, and technological developments improve our standard of living, afloat and ashore; but all these refinements tend to create additional problems.


To my way of thinking, simplicity afloat makes life aboard more rewarding and considerably less expensive. I like the traditional boat's simplicity, her ease of handling, comfort, sea-keeping ability, performance and her grace as well. Our popular little Martha Green may serve as a case in point. Her arrangement plan provides a pair of built-in berths in the fore part of the hull, with good sitting headroom at their aft portions. There is an ample galley to starboard, with a bureau at its forward end, facing a large, shelf-top hanging locker. The enclosed toilet room, aft of the hanging locker, is some 3 1/2 feet long, and there is 5'11" headroom beneath the house top beams.


The open cockpit, with its partial standing top, is a delightful place to spend an afternoon in the company of shipmates. Under the flush deck is a smallish gasoline engine driving through a 2:1 reduction gear, urging Martha Green along at 8 mph cruising and 10 mph going all out. Gasoline consumption is somewhat under a gallon per hour.


Beauty being a personal matter, I realize that the grace of the true cruising boat is a matter of opinion; but rowing ashore, looking over the stern of the dink, it's very pleasing to see an able, capable vessel with a springy sheer, of handsome proportions all in keeping with the sea. The deep bulwark rails, wide decks, stout standing rigging, strong deckhouses, and heavy proportions of the traditional cruising boat have great appeal for me. The security, the ableness, the ability to stand up to the elements -- all have great appeal for me. And the balanced nature of a traditional rig, to be handled by one man when necessary, seems to me a great advantage.


I haven't designed my favorite boat yet -- perhaps I never will. It is fun to dream ... fun to contemplate. At the moment, I have in mind a 26-foot day powerboat, rather like the 16-foot Tanja in MoToR BoatinG's design family. She has a round bilge form, small cuddy forward, large cockpit, and lobsterman's steadying sail. She is relatively narrow, a true displacement hull powered by a slow-turning gasoline engine. A fun boat: I don't know how many people do things for fun any more. but my clients and I are among them.

I like virtually all yachts and boats. I greatly admire the creative thinking that is involved in producing a winning sailing yacht after the nature of German Frer's outstanding Bumblebee. I also admire the thought and the development of a handsome Bertram power yacht. These are, in my view, fine contributions to the art and science of yacht design. Anyone who unkindly refers to an air-conditioned Bertram or Hatteras, for example, with all of its conveniences -- and complications! -- as a "gin palace" is mistaken. They are, in fact, examples of a combination of fine yacht design and contemporary engineering. And while I must admit to having a strong aversion to yacht designs influenced by the IOR rule, there is no denying that a Bumblebee represents a particularly strong, able and handsome -- as well as fast -- racing yacht. Who cannot help but admire such yachts?


Understand, my thinking does not indicate that I have any desire to own such a yacht, or yachts. I have a far greater appreciation for wholesome small boats I can identify with. A lovely 26' displacement power launch, a well conceived 39' cruising auxiliary, a handsome little catboat, a nicely proportioned pulling boat -- and boats of the nature of James Samuel whose design is shown in these pages.


I have always made every effort to encourage our clients to maintain simplicity in the designs we have prepared these past many years. It is apparent, however, that there is a great fascination in "going fast" -- both in sailing and power boats.


The sea is to be respected. The behavior of the sea and the basic intelligence of people remain. It is my purpose to incorporate a proper proportion of what I feel finds popular acceptance in today's market with the basic fundamentals of wholesome design principals.


When you've expressed confidence in the design you have chosen to build, there is little or no need to accept the doubtful advice of often well intentioned though misinformed "experts." Nor are you doing the designer justice in undertaking changes in his work. Be assured that he has spent a considerable number of hours -- running into days -- in his efforts to produce a forthright and practical design. All of the ramifications have been carefully considered.


Do not misunderstand me. It is perfectly natural that the placement of interior joinerwork and perhaps the general arrangement may want to be laid out to best suit personal wishes. But the overall form, the fundamental dimensions and the placing of tanks, machinery and other primary weights must be maintained as shown in the working drawings if any degree of success is expected. And it must be brought to attention that any alterations to the design are purely the responsibility of the builder.


There is a story that our friend Frank Toop, in Lyncroft, New Jersey tells. Frank was in the process of building a boat in his shop when a stranger came in and watched Frank for a time. The stranger mentioned that there was no need to incorporate such a lot of shape on the particular plank and that it would go on far easier in a fashion he described. Frank stopped his work and listened patiently. "Have you ever built a boat. Stranger?" he asked. "No," said the man. "Have you ever owned a boat?" asked Frank. Again, "No" was the answer. "Have you ever been out in a boat?" Frank queried. "Well, as a matter of fact no, but..." began the visitor. at which point our friend Frank pointed to the open doorway, saying, "Well then get the hell out of here." The gist of this tale has strong merits.