4 Simple Questions with Sailboat Designer Bob Johnson

Once again, I'm pleased to bring you another installment of my "4 simple questions with a sailboat designer" mini-interview series. This week, I welcome Bob Johnson from Island Packet Yachts to SailFarLiveFree.com.

Bob Johnson's passion for sailing bloomed at an early age. He was only eight when he bought his own subscription to Yachting magazine, and fourteen when he wrote a term paper on his future career as a naval architect. That same year, he lofted his first sailboat on the living room floor, then sailed it down Lake Worth, with his brother holding a garden umbrella for a spinnaker. He was hooked for life.

Even though he became a mechanical engineer, ending up at McDonnell Douglas designing missiles, his heart was still with sailboats. With a master's degree from MIT in naval architecture, he went to Florida and worked with Irwin Yachts and Endeavor, gradually becoming general manager. But he had a well engineered dream. He started Island Packet modestly in the mid-seventies by borrowing money to buy the molds for a 26 footer with a beam of more than 10 feet - a catboat proportion. He was everything at the company - engineer, purchasing agent, production manager and sales staff. Island Packet grew to a peak of two hundred employees in an immaculate, family-owned facility and has developed over the decades one of the most enthusiastic and loyal followings in cruising boat history.

The Island Packet Estero

As a dedicated observer, Johnson had seen boats go from full-keel, wineglass-shaped hull forms to the Cal 40 type with a fin-keeled, U-shaped underbody. He was struck by the fact that there had been no thoughtful, logical transition from one extreme to another. He felt that something sensible, seaworthy and very manageable was missing. He wanted to utilize the best of both extremes by taking a modern U-shaped hull for performance and create a long keel for seaworthiness, not only by stretching the fin keel and making it shallower, but by making it an air foil shape. Instead of the big baron door rudder hung on the after end of the keel, which generated huge turning radiuses, he maintained the stability and seakeeping quality of a long keel and gained a good shallow draft. Even in case of grounding, his internally ballasted hull would suffer little damage compared to the major repairs necessary for bent keel bolts or turnout bottoms, which some deep finkeelers might endure.

Today, Island Packet has expanded Bob's vision to at least nine models, including the recently launched L24 launch, an open eco-friendly powerboat. I've personally always liked Island Packets and admire Bob's willingness to bring something different to the cruising sailboat market.  Sailboats like the IP Estero with its unique cabin layout and the SP Cruiser motorsailer with its salty looks and innovative forward cockpit show that Island Packet doesn't feel the need to conform.

The L24 - A nifty new launch from Bob Johnson and Island Packet

And so, I'm pleased to present Bob Johnson's answers to my 4 simple questions:

1) Sum up your sailboat design philosophy in a sentence or two.
Any new sailboat design depends on establishing the priorities for a given vessels. The goal then is to create a design that meets most or all of these objectives in a functional and attractive way, balancing design and construction elements that frequently can be in conflict with one another. Given the same input, experienced designers are likely to create very different solutions.

2) What's one of your personal favorite sailboats that you designed and why?
I am probably most identified with the numerous designs for the Island Packet range of yachts that I have created over the last 35 years. Like family members, all have their own personality and individual history making it hard to identify a personal favorite. However, I was among the crew on an IP35 in the 1990 Annapolis-Bermuda race when we took first-in-class and second-overall honors, so that's an extra "gold star" for that particular design.

3) Is there a sailboat design and/or designer that inspired your own work or career?
I have always been a fan of both Phil Rhodes' and Bill Atkin's work.

4) Is it more difficult to design a sailboat that looks good or sails good?
One always strives to create an "attractive" boat, and to a large degree this is a qualitative judgment dependent on the boat's intended use and the eye of the beholder. A boat that "sails well" is a combination of both qualitative and quantitative assessments, further complicated by the skills of the skipper (as demonstrated by observing the broad distribution of boats at the finish line of almost any one-design race).

SP Cruiser and her innovative forward cockpit

Thank you Bob!

Stay tuned for the next feature in this blog series. If you can't wait, feel free to explore our Sailboat Reviews webpage to read previous posts in this series and check out exclusive content from other designers such as Bob Perry, German Frers, Ron Holland and more.

Musto Orson Drift Deck Shoe Review

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” –Dr. Seuss
You may have heard of Musto. They’re an England based company that focuses on technical clothing and their offshore sailing brand. But do you know Musto’s backstory?
Keith Musto arrived in Tokyo as an unlikely choice for the British Olympic sailing squad of 1964. He was too light and short for the heavyweight Flying Dutchman boat he was competing in. Keith and his crew, Tony Morgan, quickly realized that their only chance of winning gold was to be fitter than their opponents. So they did the unthinkable. Every day, Christmas included, they did fitness training. Fellow competitors derided their training as unsporting, but a new breed of sailors was emerging. They were athletes.
Keith recalls, "We sailed in Guernsey sweaters and old flannel trousers for years. You got wet and you accepted it. But, as we progressed up the ladder in terms of competition, we realized that this was a problem that needed to be solved.” So, after taking the sailing world by storm and winning silver in Tokyo (missing out on gold by ‘nanoseconds’), he set about producing technical sailing apparel.

The Musto Orson Drift deck shoe

An old WWII prisoner of war hut in Essex served as the beginning of everything. Keith started out making sails with Edward Hyde under Musto & Hyde Sails. But Keith soon shifted his focus to constructing technical sailing clothing. He quickly taught himself all the basics of manufacturing clothes, paying his wife with a Mars bar a day to machine and do all of the typing. Money was tight.
Then in 1980, Keith split from Musto & Hyde. His team quickly became the technical manufacturer and wholesaler of the best sailing kit available. It was specialist clothing worn and endorsed by the world’s most celebrated sailors. The red silhouette of Keith’s Olympic Flying Dutchman boat was emblazoned on the sailing apparel. MUSTO was born.
That’s a story and a dream I can appreciate. I love companies that are built on their owner’s true passions. That sounds like a no-brainer, but then just think about all of today’s products that are simply put to market to fill a niche and make a buck, rather than born of someone’s hard earned experiences.
I’ve been vaguely familiar with Musto as a brand for a number of years now, but my first experience with any of their products is their Orson Drift deck shoes. While these shoes are indeed a Musto product, Clarks (also from England) is a collaborator that brings their reputation for superior fit and comfort in footwear to Musto’s sailing apparel acumen. For what it’s worth, I can tell you the combo is a success.

These shoes have an insanely comfortable insole, thanks to two components; a sheepskin lining and a footbed with small, round plastic/rubber nodes. The initial feeling is that of a subtle foot massage. As you wear the shoe for more than a couple of minutes, your foot begins to ignore the nodes and their massaging, but the fit is still pleasant and support. I’m guessing this type of footbed is spawned from Clarks influence. I've also found a slight heal irritation on my left foot. I'm hoping this disappears as I continue to wear them. 
So what about Musto? Did they give the Orson Drift any characteristics of a really good deck shoe? Well, I’m told the leather (which is very soft compared to my Sperry Billfish shoes) is salt water resistant, though I’ve only splashed mine with freshwater thus far. This is good since Keith Musto reminds us that in sailing we’re going to get wet and we need to accept it. The eyelets for the laces are rust resistant and the rubber sole is siped to resist slipping. Those features check most of the “must-have” boxes for sailing. There’s also drainage (Musto calls it “aquaDX Technology”) near the midfoot area on both the inside and outside edges.
I won’t pretend to tell you what style you should look for in a sailing shoe, but I will say that the Orson Drift deck shoes are subdued. The overall shape says “classic boat shoe” to my eye, but there are hints at something sportier with a bit of rubberized accents on the heel and around the drainage areas. Musto provides both leather and fabric laces in the box, so you can chose between the two. If you still want to add some flair to these shoes, try them navy or dark gray.

Are they worth the $160 retail price? Quality leather and sheepskin linings don’t often come cheap. I haven’t had them long enough to comment on overall durability, but I can say they have the feel and build (stitching, seams, etc.) of a high end shoe. They’re also much less ubiquitous than Sperry’s and Sebago’s, at least on this side of the Atlantic.  

Can't get enough of sailing shoe reviews? Try the others we've written:

Stand Firm - Sailing Shoe Reviews

A Sailor's Sole - The Original Reviews 

Astral Porter Sailing Shoe Review

Deck Shoes or Dive Boots - Zhik ZK Boatshoe Review

4 Simple Questions with Sailboat Designer German Frers

"I have to say that I don't believe sailboats with rakish and slippery superstructures that look like they are out of aerodynamic superfast vehicles enjoy mixing the company of spars, rigging, cloth sails and large angles of heel and pitching in heavy chop." -German Frers

This week I'm welcoming German Frers to the helm of SailFarLiveFree.com.  Below is my mini-interview with German that continues the blog series asking four questions to prominent cruising sailboat designers.

If the name German Frers doesn't ring any bells for you, you're still almost certainly familiar with some of his designs. He has been the exclusive designer for Nautor's Swan in Finland, much of the Hallberg-Rassy range and several Hylas sailboats. In fact, Frers firm, Frers Naval Architecture & Engineering, is responsible for many high end racers, cruisers, superyachts, day sailers, multihulls and even some motor yachts. Far too many to list here!

The Hallberg Rassy 342

As you'll read in his responses below, German spent time at Sparkman & Stephens in the 1960's and has carried on the design work from his father, German Frers Sr.

As always, a sincere THANK YOU to German for taking the time to answer my questions. And now, here are his responses:

1) Sum up your sailboat design philosophy in a few sentences.
I am not sure I can call it a philosophy, but what I try to achieve when designing any kind of boat is to do something which is fast and good looking. That is to say, the whole thing is well proportioned and has grace regardless of the size and type. A boat that is responsive, gracious and has character. A boat that meets the owner's specifications and/or is commercially successful is the goal I follow.

2) What's one of your personal favorite sailboat that you designed and why?
I can name a few. Mirage, a 10-meter yawl, was my first design built back in 1958 when I was 17. She had a flush deck with a very small dog house and well rounded deck edges to gain headroom and reduce windage. It won a lot of races under the CCA rule. Scaramouche, a 53' Palmer Johnson sloop, was the winner of the 1974 Bermuda Race. Recluta II, which I sailed in the 1973 Admirals Cup, was another flush deck boat which also won her class in the 1974 Bermuda Race. The 1981 Swan 46, the third design I did for the Finish builder of more than 30 models and counting. The Beneteau First 42. The 143' spirit of tradition ketch Rebecca. The 51' Acadia. The Maxis - Boomerang and Moro di Venezia. Stealth, the 98' sloop built for Fiat boss G. Agnelli. Unfurled, the RHS 112. All of them succeeded in meeting their owner's expectations and I was deeply involved in one way or another.

3) Is there a sailboat design and/or designer that inspires your own work or career?
Obviously my father, with whom I started learning the trade and did a lot of sailing, racing and cruising with. And Olin Stephens for whom I worked for a few years in New York and learned to make a living. They were different in character, but both were very talented, curious and always in search of innovations and improvements.

Father was much older, charming, a bit of a rebel and somewhat eccentric. He started designing a boat for himself in 1925, a Colin Archer type double ender by the name of Fjord. It was the first of a long list. He was very prolific and successful here in Argentina and worked hard until the early 70's and never stopped sailing until he died in '86.

He designed all types of boats at different stages. Initially, thanks to unexpected events, his Fjord became famous and the local sailing community aware of its sea kindliness and the inherent safety of the Colin Archer type flooded him with orders for similar designs.

For a few years, he became a builder in partnership with his cousin Ernesto Guevara (father of the famous "Che"), employing more than 100 marine immigrant workers from Europe coming to the new world from Italy and Spain creating a new industry in the process, which is alive and reasonably well in spite of governments of every color. Upon his return from a long trip to Europe, which included sailing the 1936 Olympics, he found conditions not to his liking and closed the shop.

In the late thirties and forties, father's designs became very refined and classics. Numerous fleets of yachts ranging from 30' to 60' were built. Fjord was one of them and it won the 1950 BA to Rio race. In parallel, he began to do a few small hard chine light displacement fast sloops. The first sketches of these light boats were started while flying to Germany on the Graff Zeppelin blimp where he was detained by the German crew who thought he was spying.

The Swan 66 S. She's a new design from the Nautor shipyard and German Frers.

In the early fifties, the light displacement hard chine wide transom offended many traditional sailors, but were all the rage in Argentina. The CCA rule which was locally adopted at his recommendation, killed the light boats, but they were fast and surfed downwind and people enjoyed them. He built Fjord IV (40'), Trucha II, a sistership sailing in class C that was second overall in the 1954 Bermuda race in spite of the rating penalty. (Fjord III won class B. Joanne was a sistership that was second and beat Rod Stephen on his own Mustang.) Later on, the designs became a bit more rule oriented and Fjord V turned out to be a successful medium displacement yawl following the American fashion at the time.

I started racing offshore on Fjord IV with my brother Pepe. The subject of conversation at home was mostly yacht design. Father did not care too much about money or its administration. He did not think it was possible to make money out of yacht design. When he needed to build a new boat, he just sold a piece of property to pay for it to the point where by the time I was in my early twenties there was little left and I had to start thinking seriously about making a living. I wanted to be a yacht designer.

Then there was a stroke of luck! In 1965 a letter arrived from Rod Stephens (of Sparkman & Stephens yacht design) asking me to join him at their Madison Ave office. I could not believe it. A couple of months later I found myself in New York, living on my own, free of my earlier protected environment and making $110 a week to pay for rent and food with pencil in hand trying to remember all the years of English lessons.

Working at Sparkman & Stephens (S&S) was fantastic with lots going on. The S&S designs were some of the best: America's Cup Twelve's, RORC Admiral's cuppers, CCA racers, large production cruising boat designs, etc. I learned the importance of designing to a rule and finding loopholes, the importance of delivering the work on time and assisting builders worldwide. Olin's designs and Rod's methodic attention to detail during construction formed an unbeatable team, assisted by a number of engineers and draftsmen. I think we were about 40 or more persons at Madison Ave.

I thought Olin was going to tell me what to do. Instead, I found he was always willing to listen and curious as to whatever idea or experience anyone may have. However, he was very strict in some parameters and hydrostatic coefficients, to which he paid very close attention.

The design method was by evolution and we were to maintain similar proportions of various well defined planes of the favorite designs. Designs had to be very good and attaining the best results in races was the primary goal. Before computers, all calculations were made with simple calculators or sliding rules and finding the right place for a comma was a fundamental feat for me.

At S&S, I learned to work and how to deal with clients successfully. It was thanks to my apprenticeship at S&S and the experiences gained while living in the US that I was able to set up a successful yacht design career including making a good living in spite of my father's skepticism. Enough so, in fact, to grow a large family and survive a couple of divorces.

4) Is it more difficult to design a sailboat that looks good or sails good?
Father always said, "Between the face of San Martine (our national "liberator") and that of Sophia Loren, there are only a few millimeters difference, but the effect is very noticeable." I have never found a real conflict between form and function. Anyway, taste and aesthetics change with time and perhaps one can say that form adapts itself to function. I have observed that on cars where models that came out in the 60's until the 80's or 90's looked terrific at their time, but today look a bit ridiculous. Perhaps one can say that the appearance matches the technological advances and new materials.

Earlier classic cars as well as classic boats purposely built always look very good, which leads me to think that it is better to avoid designing after a fashion. Having mentioned cars I have to say that I don't believe sailboats with rakish and slippery superstructures that look like they are out of aerodynamic superfast vehicles enjoy mixing the company of spars, rigging, cloth sails and large angles of heel and pitching in heavy chop. The problem is completely different on motor boats where wind resistance is a consideration.

Traditional values meet modern technology in Frers' 138-foot Rebecca

Thanks again German!

If you're interested in more design perspectives, visit SailFarLiveFree's Sailboat Reviews page. There you'll find content written for SFLF by other designers such as Bob Perry, Ron Holland, Chuck Paine and others.

Stay tuned as this series will continue with more mini-interviews with sailboat designers!

4 Simple Questions with Sailboat Designer Ron Holland

"I believe designing a fast, good looking sailboat does not require any design compromise." -Ron Holland

Here's number 4 in my series of mini-interviews with prominent sailboat designers. Today I'm welcoming Ron Holland, the premier large yacht designer. 

Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Ron's love for sailing began at an early age. Ron's father, wanting the best for him, bought Ron a sailing dinghy for his 7th birthday. Ron recalls feeling upset because he really wanted a rowing dinghy, not a sailing dinghy. He was afraid the dinghy would tip over and sure enough, it capsized on their first trip out on the water.

By the age of 15, Ron was a well-known crew member of several successful yachts. One of which was the 36-foot ketch Aloha on which he sailed from Auckland to Sydney, a journey of over 1,000 miles. His experiences lead to an apprenticeship with boat builder Keith Atkinson through the Auckland Technical Institute. While there, two teachers recognized a budding designer in his drawing abilities. With their support, Ron's focus shifted from boat building to boat designing. 

Ron in New Zealand with Thalia in the background

Ron was only 18 when he received his first commission to design a 26-foot yacht for a fellow student. The success of the first yacht led to additional commissions. In 1968, Ron had an opportunity to go to San Francisco where he soon found employment as a Trainee Naval Architect with celebrated American yacht designer Gary Mull. Through Mull, he was introduced to some of the top sailors in California and began crewing with some of the best yachters of that time.

Ron's innovative designs have repeatedly shaken up the world of sailing. Today, Ron Holland is one of the world's leading yacht designers and creator of a new generation of 100ft plus performance super yachts. 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of Ron Holland Yacht Design. Ron's studio is currently based in Vancouver, Canada. As you'll see in the questions below, Ron is dedicated to working closely with both clients and builders. 

His design portfolio includes the 247-foot Mirabella V, the largest single-mast sailboat ever built. The 210-foot Felicita West is one of the largest aluminum sailing yachts in the world and was a collaboration between Ron and Perini Navi Group. Ron Holland Design is also responsible for the Discovery 55, 57/58, and 67. And then there's Ron's personal cruiser from 10 years ago, Golden Opus (pictured below).

As always, I want to give a very big THANK YOU to Ron for participating! And now on to my questions and Ron's responses:

 1) Sum up your sailboat design philosophy in a few sentences.
Work like hell (with the client and the builder) to give the client a design he will love! I believe my design portfolio spans a wide variety of design concepts because of this philosophy. The one constant MUST - they have to sail fast and handle well.

 2) What's one of your personal favorite sailboats that you designed and why?
Racing yachts: Imp. She was designed for a great client that let me free to do my best work. Imp also had a great crew who drove her to win many races.

Big yachts: Mirabella V. The biggest at 247 feet, most challenging design effort. Very big. Composite. Tallest (by miles at the time) carbon mast. Biggest sails. 150T on lift keel and so much more. I've been aboard close reaching at 18.9 knots!

Mirabella V

3) Is there a sailboat design and/or designer that inspired your own work or career?
I've been inspired by so many designers. Olin, L Francis, Bill Garden, Arthur Rob, and Kiwis John Spencer and Bob Stewart (both light displacement designers).

4) Is it more difficult to design a sailboat that looks good or sails good?
I believe designing a fast, good looking sailboat does not require any design compromise. Designing to a handicap rule challenges this. Also, fashion challenges this, especially on aesthetics (i.e. the present vertical ends, straight sheer line profiles). The big compromise relates to designing a yacht that can sail well (win races) in all conditions. That's difficult! 

Golden Opus, Ron's personal 73' cruiser (10 years ago)

Thanks again Ron!

If you're interested in more design perspectives, visit SailFarLiveFree's Sailboat Reviews page. There you'll find articles written for SFLF by other designers such as Bob Perry, Ted Brewer and more.

Lastly, stayed tuned for the next interview in this series!

4 Simple Questions with Sailboat Designer Bob Perry

"No matter how hard I work on the aesthetics, I never arrive at a place where I feel the boat is "perfect". It may look perfect on Monday, but by Tuesday I will know I can improve it." -Bob Perry

This is the third entry in a series of my mini-interviews with prominent sailboat designers. My guest this time is SailFarLiveFree guest blog veteran and one of my personal favorite designers - Bob Perry. You probably already know many of Bob's designs, but some of my personal favorites are the Babas (30, 35, 40), the Nordic/Valiant Esprit 37, and the Lafitte 44. It's hard to sum up Bob's sailboat design work in just a paragraph, so instead of trying I'll just give you a few more examples of his production designs: Islander Freeport 36/38, Norseman 447, several Passports (456, 470, 485, 515), Tashiba 31/36/40, Tayana 37, and many Valiants (32, 40, 42, 47, 50). And did you know Bob also designed the Westsail 38, the big CTs (48-72), and the very unique Duffy 22 electric boat, Far Harbour 39 "Container Yacht" and  the Pacific Seacraft South Sea 61?

A Baba 40 reaching along nicely.

That's really just scratching the surface because I didn't include several other production designs or any of Bob's custom designs and powerboats. If you're interested in more of his work, check out his website or read his book, Yacht Design According to Perry.

As always, I want to give a very big THANK YOU to Bob for participating! And now on to my questions and Bob's responses:

1) Sum up your sailboat design philosophy in a few sentences.
My design philosophy is to deliver to the client a pleasant looking boat that will perform very well and make both him and me happy for a long time.

 2) What's one of your personal favorite sailboats that you designed and why?
This answer changes as time goes along. But right now, I'd say FRANCIS LEE is my favorite on account of it making the client and his wife very happy and performing beyond our expectations. It's also two years old so it has an age advantage. It's "fresh".

One of 4 custom carbon fiber 43s Bob is currently working on for one client.

3) Is there a sailboat design and/or designer that inspired your own work or career?
Yes. I have always been inspired by the work of Bill Garden. I met Bill when I was 15 years old and I crewed on OCEANUS with him. Aesthetically, he was a genius.

4) Is it more difficult to design a sailboat that looks good or sails good?
No differences for me. The two go hand in hand. But performance elements are easily defined and controlled while aesthetic issues are more nebulous and may take more effort. No matter how hard I work on the aesthetics, I never arrive at a place where I feel the boat is "perfect". It may look perfect on Monday, but by Tuesday I will know I can improve it.

Thanks again Bob!

If you're interested in more design perspectives, visit SailFarLiveFree's Sailboat Reviews page. There you'll find more articles written for SFLF by Bob Perry as well as Ted Brewer, Bill Dixon, Chuck Paine and others.

Lastly, stayed tuned for the next interview in this series!