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.

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