Steering Clear of Trouble: Our Search for Cruising Perfection

We are standing at the forward end of the great room aboard FPB 78-1 Cochise. It is eerily quiet as we watch the steam gauge climb from 13 to 20 knots, linger for a moment, before peaking at 22. A fast-rising SE gale has kicked up a steep sea, now confused with a reflected crossing wave pattern as we rapidly close with the Southern entrance to New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. This 60 metric ton motor yacht is surfing under autopilot control. The seas are perfect for Cochise and she rides the better waves for several minutes at a time, at speed length ratios above 1.6. Cochise is the most recent iteration of the perfect yacht, at least for us. Aboard Cochise, and the rest of our yachts, the key design ingredient upon which all else rests is steering control. We are warm, dry, and very comfortable. 

It wasn’t always so.

Linda, my partner in all things, is laughing about how times have changed. We met on a fateful Labor day weekend in 1965, when Linda, then teaching in Salt Lake City, Utah, made a spur of the moment visit to her sister in Malibu, CA.

As it turns out Sonnie and her husband Charles were planning on spending the long weekend at Catalina with our family aboard my folks’ Hu Ka Makani, a 58’ cruising cat. I had sailed my 20’ Shark catamaran over with Charles.

Above: Linda, left, with Sonnie that fateful weekend.

Linda went for a sail with me on Beowulf, and it was obvious that, even though a “mountain girl”, she was a natural. It was Sunday morning when Linda and I took a walk from Cat Harbor to the Isthmus, and then hiked up the trail towards Fourth of July cove. Along the way our hands brushed, and then fingers entwined, and the sparks flew. It has been ever thus. We decided to sail back to Marina del Rey together on my little cat, but fate intervened in the form of her older sister and my step mother, and I was left to bring Beowulf back with Charles.

Linda came down from Salt Lake for Thanksgiving and we entered the Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club Turkey Day Regatta. We rounded the weather mark well ahead in the Cat Portsmouth handicap class, but alas my mind was not totally on the race details, and we took the weather mark to starboard rather than port as called for in the sailing directions. The entire fleet followed us around the wrong way except for the very last boat. That left us with a DSQ and two firsts, and a second place trophy, very embarrassing.

Fast forward to the next summer, Linda has moved to LA, and we are now driving to Charleston, SC for the Shark Catamaran National Championships. The plan had been arrive a week early, check out the local knowledge – the race course is where two rivers come together around the island on which sits Fort Sumter – but business had kept my nose to the grindstone. In those days we built large fiberglass displays for various businesses. Linda, above, is modeling a 12-foot Sinclair dinosaur. This was the only stop we made other than for gas, potty breaks, and one short rest. We barely made the start of the first race.

This is Linda’s first serious regatta. Her crew work is so good that observers comment on how we seem to gain on every tack, jibe, and mark rounding. Halfway through the regatta we are allowed to haul our boats to clean and work on them. We’re last out as we’d been doing a bit of sail testing. There are a few competitors watching and chit chatting prior to the annual class dinner. One of them asks how we’d met and I reply that Linda had been hitchhiking in Texas and as I needed crew I picked her up. Being the olden days, before sin and corruption was widespread, there is somewhat of a scandal – or maybe it was envy – surrounding our sleeping arrangements. Word flies about that we are sharing a room. This was the truth, as being on a budget we needed to conserve. By the time we reach the dinner, the hitchhiking story has spread.

No doubt the discombobulation that follows on the race course behind us is due in no small way to the other sailors’ envy. We win easily, and I quickly recognize that if I don’t marry this talented crew someone will steal her away.

We need to stop here for a moment and give props to a man who directly had a major impact on our life at several critical junctures. Swede Johnson was Saint Cicero’s number one sailmaker at Baxter and Cicero. It was Swede who had made the sails for our second Shark. Since the Shark was overweight, which we did not realize at the time, Swede’s sails were the major reason for our boat speed and victories.

The boats on which we raced in those days were wet, usually cold, and did I mention wet? On a beautiful calm morning we would trudge down the dock wearing full foul weather gear, boots, and trapeze harnesses. Linda did not know any other way existed. We avoided the contamination of comfortable boats.

Here’s a shot of one of our C-class cats, this one Beowulf III. She was a much more “comfortable” boat and quicker too. Notice how the lee bow is fully immersed in spite of our weight being all the way aft. This locked in the bow and made steering response to changes in apparent wind force and angle problematic. But everyone had this issue and we accepted it.

Wing masts were now de rigueur in the C class, and not wanting to deal with the handling negatives we opted for something different for Beowulf IV. She had an 8” diameter light aluminum tube for a mast, with a pair of awning tracks riveted tangentially, to each of which was affixed a mainsail. If this sounds familiar, the 36th America’s Cup is using a twin luff mainsail. Beowulf IV had canted lifting 65 series laminar dagger boards and was very light, just a single skin of six-ounce boat cloth over 1/4″ end grain balsa core for hulls, with chemically milled aluminum cross beams. When everything was in the groove she showed flashes of real pace. We were invited to the Yachting Magazine one of a kind regatta on Lake Michigan, and Linda being seven months pregnant, we decided that I would take another C-Class sailor, Dave Bradley, as crew.

Competitors had begun to arrive the week before the regatta. It was fun eyeing the other class champions and all-star sailors. Between testing, chatting, and checking race course conditions there was a lot going on. First race was Monday following the skippers meeting.

Sunday evening, just before dark, in rolled a massive A scow. The crew quickly stepped the rotating mast, towed out to a mooring, then retired to the bar. If this was meant to intimidate the opposition, it worked with us.

In the first race a wind shift favored the leeward end of the line. We were perfectly placed, reaching down the line for the start except for the 38’ A scow on our hip. This was the machine that was then considered the fastest sailboat on the planet, and we expected them to roll over us after the start. With the leeward end favored we were going to need to tack to port ASAP to cross the fleet and lock in our initial gain when the wind shifted back. If the scow was close enough on our hip to hold us, we would be sucking gas from a large chunk of the fleet.

The slapping sound of that scow close by still rings in my ears when I think back.

We hardened up after the gun working the double sail main carefully as high as we could, trying to pinch off the scow. Dave was adjusting mainsail twist in the oscillating breeze. I was driving, watching the waves, concentrating on the shift we knew was coming.

After a couple of minutes Dave said,  “I don’t hear them.”

“Have they tacked?”

“No. They are four boats back and dropping into our wind shadow.”

We were first to the weather mark with the 32’ D class Wild Wind close behind. Wild Wind did a number on us downwind with her spinnaker and we ended up second. The scow came 4th, with the new Olympic class cat Tornado ahead of them.

The next day a norther was blowing. On the way to the start we broke a daggerboard and decided to try and pick up a spare before the race started. We were running almost square into the Belmont Shores harbor entrance, main fully stalled, when a shift hit us, we accelerated, and the bow depressed. With the steering locked in by the bow and rig powered up in the steep seas reflecting back from the shore, a pitchpole was inevitable. Dave and I were okay as was the boat, but in the ensuing rescue attempt Beowulf IV’s rig went to the bottom along with much of the rest. My main concern was Linda’s reaction. I was afraid she would go into labor.

With a family started, we decided to try something smaller and more easily managed by the two of us. We chartered a an old Tornado cat and went to play in the first World championships held in Melbourne, Florida. Linda and Elyse managed base camp and Steve Harvey crewed. We were nowhere near as good as when Linda was aboard, and managed only a third overall in the tune-up regatta and tenth in the Worlds (I dislike light air).

Neither of us were inclined towards giving up our joint approach to racing, but now with Elyse on the scene we started thinking about the perfect boat for our new station in life.

Enter Beowulf V, our first family cruiser. If you know any C-Class cat sailors you know they have garages full of boat parts. Masts, sails, dagger boards, rudders, even cross beams. We fell into that category, which allowed us to play “Frankenstein” with our new ideas.

A friend in nearby Venice, California, Skip Hawley, was building the new Tornado cats using the tortured ply method. We looked at the system, and decided to do something a little longer. Skip added 12 feet to his deck jig, we called Gordon Plywood in Los Angeles and ordered 12 sheets of unbalanced 3/16” aircraft grade spruce ply, and soon thereafter Beowulf V was winning local regattas and setting records. The main in this photo turned out to be by far our fastest. It was a left over C class sail, just 300 square feet (D class cats could carry 500 square feet).

Check out the wind strength above. The wind sock on the committee boat is hanging. There are no whitecaps. It is blowing eight knots. We are at a true wind angle of about 135 degrees. The apparent wind is so far forward the reacher is being flown to leeward! Notice how the mainsail is sealed to the trampoline, creating an endplate, resulting in a significant boost in performance. These hulls weighed 152 and 154 pounds each. All up Beowulf V tipped the scale at 702 pounds.

Here we are holding the Victor Tchetchet perpetual “World Multihull Championship” trophy. There are five Beowulf plaques attached thereon.

This 32’ D-class “mongrel”, totally created from castoffs except for the hulls, turned out to be a rocket. During a Pacific Multihull speed trial in 1971 Beowulf V was timed over 500 meters, averaging 30.95 mph. She later pushed this to 35.6 mph, good enough for the Guinness book of records and the New York Times yachting column to think she was the fastest of all.

In smooth water and stable wind pressure Beowulf V could bootstrap herself with apparent wind until she ran out of steering control. As the wind pressure increased the lee bow would depress, and Beowulf V would lock in. At this point you better be pointing in the correct direction. The helmsman had to anticipate the puffs and pull the bow downwind or up prior to an increase in wind force.

If you were late, the only avenue for reducing heeling force was easing sheets. When you are sailing at 1.5 times true wind speed the slightest error – and this included easing sheets – would quickly cut speed in half or more.

One more Beowulf V story. We were headed to Ensenada, above, during the annual D-Class cat cruise to Mexico. (That this happened over Cinco de Mayo weekend and coincided with the Ensenada race, then the largest yacht race on the planet, was purely a scheduling coincidence. The catamaran powers-that-be had said we were not safe and we would not be allowed to play.) This particular year, a front came through. It caught us as we were in light airs working the back wind of the beach break, about 40 miles north of the finish. It was pitch black, we had no sea room, the coast to leeward was iron bound, capsize had a terminal connotation, and we were close to finding out what the the term scared shitless meant, for real.

We stayed upright by feathering into the breeze. We could not even see waves, let alone the horizon. We knew when the weather hull was flying because the long tiller would drag in the water to leeward and the driver would know to push, bringing the bow into the wind.

The front passed, we finished the course, and went to sleep. I had sailed down with our friend and sailmaker Ric Taylor. By the time we’d eaten breakfast Ric and I had decided it hadn’t been such a big deal. As the fleet began to straggle in though, we saw numerous damaged sails, spreaders with kelp trailing, and in the Bajia Hotel bar some very haggard faces. Fred Miller’s story from the Orange County Register is scanned above.

A current photo of Beowulf V above, now in its 50th year, and still winning races in the San Francisco Bay area under the careful hand of Alan O’Driscoll.

With Elyse now joined by Sarah, we got to thinking about a family cruiser with more creature comfort. None of our previous boats had been “designed”, rather they had evolved. But what if we could control the hull shape in such a way as to reduce or eliminate the bow depressing as we picked up speed? Then we could steer more easily, which could make a whole new world possible.

Norm Riise, a sailing competitor and often crew, whose day job was designing solar simulators and hypersonic wind tunnels at Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories, had a potential answer. This self-taught engineer, a one-time torpedo bomber pilot in the Pacific during WWII, was working on the very first yacht performance prediction program. Norm ran his code from punch cards on the JPL main frame computer at night, when time was available. We’d helped Norm tune his VPP by giving an opinion on various computed scenarios. Norm felt he was far enough along that we should give it a try.

Norm’s software allowed us to do a detailed parametric analysis of what would become Beowulf VI. We would vary hull prismatic, percentage of displacement, dagger board design, while investigating length, mass, percentage of total mass carried on each hull, and of course various rig permutations.

This was an early concept that we did not use, but the only example we can find…from 45 years ago.

Here is a cutting table for making a foil template.

And one of the construction drawings. The hulls were a simple box, with rounded foam sections glued to the bottom.

XXX One of the ongoing structural problems of this era was the connection of the beams which held the two hulls together to the hulls themselves. With typical cat hulls, those with unbalanced lines that split the displacement between the hulls, once you began to fly a hull, or were driving hard downwind, the bows would depress. The only thing you could do was move the crew weight aft. In order to transmit the righting moment of the crew to the leeward hull the cross beams had to resist twist. Therefor the cross beams had to be rigidly installed. The bending loads combined with the twist created complex stresses which were not easily dissipated. But with full displacement hulls that maintained a constant center of buoyancy as more load came onto them, the tendency to drive the bow under was eliminated. So the cross beams no longer had to transmit aft moments from crew weight to try and hold the bow up.

All of which lead to the method shown above of connecting the beams. The beams are round, and the connection system did not try and hold the hulls firmly in a torsionl mode. Rather, the hulls were free to rotate around the round beams. A very savvy engineer, Gerry Magarian, came up with the concept of using a pin which ran in a slot that kept the beams in place on the hulls, so they could not slide in or out on the beams, but allowed the beams to rotate.

The system worked well, and allowing the hulls to flex had motion benefits. Removing the twisting torque allowed us to reduce the strength and weight of the beams.

XXX The beams were carefully engineered with areas of chemically milled tapering pf wall thickness. One evening after a hard day at the office  was getting ready to drill and tap the holes which would attache the tangs for the dolphin striker stay.Lack of attention lead to a hole being drilled in the wrong spot. Round holes are stress risers, and this one would have reduced the local strength by 500%.The beam was saved by carefully creating this elongated oval around the errant hole. The oval reduced then stress concentration almost entirely.

We quickly learned that there were enormous wetted surface benefits to sailing on a single hull optimized to carry the full mass of the boat. Beyond this the design basically boiled down to build the longest, lightest hull practical, reducing displacement length ratio to where wave drag was negligible at all speed length ratios, after which the goal was minimizing wetted surface.

Beowulf VI ended up with 37’ long hulls that were 19” wide, and had just 21” of freeboard forward. Because she had full displacement hulls that were exceptionally narrow, she was designed to penetrate waves rather than riding over when pressed going to windward or close reaching.

The hull box structure was made up of a deck, a mid-height horizontal shear web, and a flat bottom that represented the waterline. All three were exactly the same shape. Onto this bottom were glued a series of 4” thick semicircular structural foam sections. Mickey Muñoz, one of the world’s preeminent surfboard shapers, spent a weekend smoothing things down, after which we applied two layers of 6-ounce boat cloth. Each hull, with hardware attached, weighed 375 pounds. The entire boat, with full required gear for offshore racing but before crew, was 1,770 pounds hanging from a single point scale. With a crew of four, the displacement length ratio was 18.

Without a great deal of effort on the part of the helmsman she could maintain an easy 1.6 times wind speed–up to 1.95 in perfect conditions–until 26 knots of boat speed, after which the sea state forced us to back off. The key to all of this was steering ability, and the secret to steering was a hull that did not depress its bow. This photo, taken by Mary Edwards during the 1974 Ensenada Race, has Beowulf VI moving at 20+ knots in 16-18 knots of breeze. The ORCA fleet is already hull down on the horizon behind us. Aboard are Norm Riise who you can see in the yellow slicker, John Rousmaniere, then West Coast editor for Yachting Magazine, and Ric Taylor.

Beowulf VI had sufficient buoyancy in each hull to carry the boat’s full mass. Driving hard on one hull was not a problem because the bow did not depress, as you can see in the photo above. These slim, full buoyancy hulls were like knives and would slice right through the chop going to weather. The lee hull could be driven through steeper waves with little sensation of deceleration.

Her little cabin, six and a half feet square, had two bunks, a porta potty, stove, and ice box. All the comforts of home. She would fly a hull in seven knots of breeze – we never cleated anything – and was a great cruising boat according to our ideas on the subject at that point. We would sail to Catalina for a hamburger with our two daughters, then aged two and five. Yes, we were a little crazy, in retrospect.

Elyse, at five, is demonstrating the cozy confines of the forward half of the “great room” aboard Beowulf VI. Note the needlepoint pillow. Fancy interior decor.

During this period, our first paid design gig came about somewhat accidentally. Hobie Alter was a long time friend when he showed up at a 1967 Pacific Multihull Association championship regatta with his Hobie 14. This slow talking surfer dude was one the sharpest minds we have ever known, although for the most part he kept that under wraps. As a surfboard maven Hobie was at the top. But his technical expertise in regard to cat design was lacking, or so we and all the other “experts” on that subject agreed.

But it turns out the H14 had some design features that nobody had thought of before. It was optimized for beach launching as opposed to crane hoists or launching ramps. Hobie’s and our paths crossed from time to time but we had more interaction with Mickey Muñoz and Phil Edwards who were surfer/sailors par excellence. Both were better known for their big wave riding and were, or I should say are, legendary in the surfing world. Phil worked full-time with Hobie in the R&D department at the Hobie cat company, Mickey more occasionally. We often raced against each other in our respective catamarans.

In 1969 Hobie was at the Yachting OOAK regatta where we lost Beowulf IV. Hobie and his little 14-footer and the mighty 32-foot Wild Wind were the only finishers in that windy norther. A double-page photo of Hobie literally airborne appeared in Life magazine with the caption “Hobie – The Cat That Flies” and they were off to the big time.

Art Hendricksen was Hobie’s partner. Smooth talking, a Stanford graduate, Art thought he was business savvy compared to Hobie and didn’t mind letting you know it. As the business grew they hired a day-to-day president. By 1974 Hobie and Art were not speaking. Hobie was focused on projects that were not on Art’s wish list.

I got a call one day and was asked if I could do a new boat for them. I responded in the affirmative, but only if Hobie approved and was involved.

Hobie 18 drawing, above.

We agreed on a fee and I drove down to Dana Point to meet with Hobie, Phil and Bud Platt. We sailed the 16s a bit, in and out of the surf, and up the beach. We chatted, scribbled some sketches, and then drove to the factory to see the boats being built.

A week later I had the design finished, sent it off and within a month they had three sets of hulls floating on which to test rig configurations. Thus was borne the first paid design of our career. That the Hobie 18 was a commercial success was due mainly to the real world practical know-how and configuration testing of Hobie, and his R&D crew.

Back on Beowulf VI, after being allowed to officially enter the Newport to Ensenada race, as an entrant but not a contestant, and breaking the long standing Aikane elapsed time record in the process, Linda and I had a leisurely cruise back up the coast. (Beowulf VI, above, is rafted with Micky and Peggy Muñoz’s Malia at Todos Santos Island off Ensenada). We enjoyed the cruising so much that we started thinking about doing more of it. ORCA’s twisted handling of our entry, the result of trying to keep the prestigious first to finish trophies for the establishment catamarans, had lead to embarrassment when the press – John Rousmaniere among them – had tried to untangle our status. ORCA instructed us we must apologize to the board of directors for this problem, which we politely declined to do. We were thereafter banned from racing in the offshore venues which they controlled. I was depressed, Linda was, well, pissed. Beowulf VI had been built to break records and now we had nowhere to officially play. We weren’t sure what to do next.

And now a little background on how we’d gotten to this point…In the olden days before we were married I had a great little business called International Fiberglass, making giant fiberglass figures.

I had gotten into this almost as an accident. In an effort to smooth out the work flow in my tiny yacht maintenance facility in San Pedro I had “designed” a 14-foot outboard powered ski boat, a compact version of the flat bottomed drag race and ski race inboards popular on the Colorado River. The learning curve had been exceptionally steep. After the careful and expensive creation of a mockup or plug, as it was called, I had hired two fiberglass “experts” to help us make a hull and deck mold. Except that my experts forgot to use mold release, and we ended up removing the plug from the mold with steel wedges and sledge hammers. You might say that the Incomparable Eliminator, as we modestly named this vessel, had been through a difficult birth. (This was the first of several near death business experiences.)

We finally figured out the mold making process, sold a few boats, and moved away from yacht maintenance. One afternoon I got a call from my Dad, who had seen an advertisement in the classified section of the Los Angeles Times he thought might interest me. There was a fellow named Bob Prewitt who built horse trailers, and had a sideline of making fiberglass displays as a fill-in for his laminating crew when they weren’t making parts for his horse trailers. Prewitt was an old cowboy, seriously into the rodeo competition circuit, and wanted time now to concentrate his efforts.

His molding process was centered around the use of Jay Johnson’s fiberglass “chopper” guns. We had used several of Jay’s prototype chopper guns for bonding in plywood reinforcements in our Eliminators. I made a deal with Prewitt and was suddenly in the display business.

We were making a few fiberglass figures, selling a ski boat now and then, and growing slowly but steadily. Then one afternoon the mail brought a new issue of a trade magazine aimed at gas station operators. On the front page was a photograph of our Paul Bunyan, standing in front of an American Oil gas station, with a headline declaring that Larry Smith’s AMOCO station had doubled the gallons of gasoline sold in the week following Mr. Bunyan’s arrival.

Violet Winslow, “Granny Vi” as she was known to our kids, joined our team to promote this giant display business.

Our 20-foot tall Paul Bunyans were best sellers. Derivations of Paul became the center of marketing programs for oil and tire companies like Texaco, Phillips, Standard Oil, Uniroyal, to name a few.

A key part of the success of these programs was the ability of local marketing reps to move the figures between retailers. The sketch above is of our first patent of a tilting trailer that made this possible.

It was the era of the Mustang, Humble Oil Tiger, and the Sinclair dinosaur. This wonderful, fun, and profitable business had resulted from trying to find something to keep my little boat business working in the winter. (For a more detailed look at what we produced in those days check out 

I was traveling constantly, which was fun. But once Linda moved to LA the travel lost its allure. We took our fiberglass “technology” into the construction business looking for a more conventional business model that did not require constant travel. Hubris combined with inexperience is not a good combination in the rough and tumble world of US commercial construction.

Married now, and not knowing how to quit, we persevered. Eventually we dug ourselves out of a very deep hole and we learned quickly. Inexperience did have one big advantage–we did not know what we could not do. That allowed us to see inefficiencies in concrete forming methods others had missed, precisely because we were not blinded by training.

Formal education had been a waste for me. In high school and college I did not have the required discipline to study anything I considered boring. Sailing, surfing, hot rods, and the fairer sex were what held my attention and where my energy flowed. The one thing I had learned in school was how to ask questions, a skill used whenever possible to embarrass whomever it was standing at the head of the room. A pain in the ass student? Definitely.


This impudent behavioral streak combined itself with a disposition that hated to lose. In the construction business it lead to the development of something called the “flying form”. In a normal business cycle in the construction industry these patented labor saving forms would have been a historical footnote. But in the late 1960s, with REITS booming and a tight labor supply, there was a brief opening to penetrate the market. We were moving as much as 1,200 square feet of formwork at a time, often with pan or waffle forms attached, occasionally even with spandrel forms integrated. Give us a tower crane for a couple of days a cycle and we could reduce labor force by 80%, move at a much faster pace, and eventually reduce material weight and cost with proprietary structural designs.

Our background in fiberglass led us to take on some technically difficult contracts. The most challenging of these were the concrete forms used to build the outer columns and waffle slab soffits for the Hirshborn Museum in Washington, DC. (Your authors above five decades later.)

By the time the market began to cool and the major subcontractors came gunning for us we were established with large inventories of our own, superior system.

Growth was rapid, profitability good, and capital requirements significant. But aggressive expansion on my part left us vulnerable. One day I awoke to the realization of just how shaky things were. That this occurred concurrent with an increase in interest rates, an industry wide slowdown, and the gods of Ocean Racing Catamarans banning us, lead to an epiphany. Between having lost our official playground with ORCA, and grown tired of the long hours and constant battle of our little enterprise, a sudden decision came upon us. Let’s sell the business, buy a boat, and go cruising. Timing was not good but Patent Scaffolding wanted our inventory and portfolio of patents. They took us off the hook at the bank, paid enough so that our investors got out okay. We had to stick around for a while, and sign a five year non-compete agreement, but after that we were free! The decision to sell at a low point of the business cycle had not been easy. But we were young, and had ideas of what we wanted to do next. Although our financial return from this foray had not been what we’d hoped, there was one significant asset we did receive. Survival in the construction industry required me to chase the details, be anal about every aspect of whatever I was involved in, and to question everything. (Linda already had the details obsession skill locked in. ) This would serve us well in our future endeavors.

For going cruising, we thought about building a 60’ version of Beowulf VI, but quickly realized we wanted something that would recover from a capsize, i.e a monohull sailboat. We talked to Bill Lee and paid him a small fee to do the preliminary design of a 12′ x 60’ monohull. Fortunately we came to understand that our prior racing experience did not mean we were qualified to make the right decisions, and we stopped in time.

Good fortune lead us to Intermezzo, a Bill Tripp designed racer/cruiser, that had been custom built by Columbia Yachts. This was her original owner’s second C50 and it showed. She had 24 bags of sails, was loaded with electronics, and had a market value of roughly three times our budget. But her current owner had a problem, he had a margin call, needed cash within a couple of days, and was willing to accept our offer. We called two people to see what they thought about Intermezzo. First was Swede Johnson. Swede had helped design the rig for the original owner, and had sailed aboard. He confirmed she had been raced hard. Second was John Rousmaniere. Both Linda and I vividly remember looking at this enormous yacht with John from her dock behind a home on Newport’s Linda Isle, wondering how we’d ever handle such a beast (in those days 35 feet was considered the right size for us). John calmly stated the obvious–we did not have to use all that sail area. We could sail reefed down and still be quick. We arranged for a haul-out at Newport Harbor Shipyard two days hence, surveyed her ourselves, and five days after our initial viewing she was ours.

We were aware that the CCA waterline rule-influenced design was sub optimal, but we could afford her, and she got us away with minimal investment.

Our first trip to exotic Catalina was a big hit, except for a little seasickness. We quickly learned that the 160% overlapping genoa was not going to make the grade, and that we really did not need five spinnakers, three mainsails, and a host of big jibs.

Our comfort, boat speed, and safety were all constrained by the crankiness of the long overhangs and unbalanced hull lines that were part of racing rule formula. In short, it was steering control limitations which set the parameters for everything else.

Mind you we were not complaining. We were out in the South Pacific cruising, living everyone else’s dream.

Even if the engine was located beneath our feet in the salon, or the hull pitched uncomfortably upwind, had almost no ventilation, 24 through-hull penetrations any of which could have sunk us, and no lightning grounding protection, we were cruising. This boat was a leaner, the slightest puff and she’d be on her ear. She pitched badly uphill and had one speed to weather–full on. Her one virtue was light air speed, she was quick then compared to our neighbors. We partook in numerous unofficial “races” and a few real ones. With one exception, our anchor to anchor time was never beaten in any passage.

In those early days we relied on celestial navigation, which was great when you could get sights, but it was often overcast. We quickly learned that high speed reduced navigation risks from current and drift.

Two close calls with reefs taught us another lesson: a comfortable watch-standing position with good sight lines was essential in these waters. The first near miss occurred at the end of a rough passage from Bora Bora to Suvarov Island. We’d been without a celestial fix for several days, relying on advancing single lines of position from sun shots. We were within an hour of giving up on finding this difficult landfall and heading due north for a day to make 100% certain we had cleared the surrounding reefs, when a faint smudge appeared ahead along with a slight change in the color of the cloud bottoms. The pass into this low lying atoll was dead ahead. The working jib was poled out to port, the main to starboard. The pole foreguy and main boom preventer went to the bow docking cleats.

I had been on watch worrying for five hours. Relieved, I started below for a late breakfast. Then, for some reason decided to wait a bit longer. Two minutes later I was staring at the barrier reef between us and the pass. We were well south of where my running sun fixes had indicated. We jibed over, reached along the reef edge to the pass and entered the lagoon. It had been a close call.

In Tonga we rigged the foreguys and main boom preventers so they came aft to the cockpit.

The passage between Tonga and Fiji still not easy today. In those days it was downright dangerous. Midway you had to thread your way through several groups of open ocean reefs and islands. Shortly after departing Vavau an overcast had rolled in, and we’d not had a single celestial observation in the ensuing days. The full moon spread enough light through the clouds that I could see the waves breaking on Horseshoe Reef. We had been set 60 miles north of our assumed position. The combination of a watch on deck to keep an eye forward and the control lines lead aft enabled us to escape. Linda and I vowed from then on we would always have someone standing watch on deck in potentially dangerous waters.

Lest you think we were living in extreme discomfort by the standards of the day, it was just the opposite. Before leaving Southern California we’d hired a local boat builder, Lou Varalay, to help us make some changes. The forward port side pilot berth was removed to create a better lounging area, and a niche forward and outboard for our radio gear.

The kids slept in the starboard pilot berths.

And the parents were forward in a queen-sized bunk that had formerly had been pipe berths and sail storage.

In New Zealand we decked over the big cockpit, a vulnerability we wanted to be rid of, and created a double cabin for the kids.

Nothing else we’d seen since leaving Southern California was sufficiently alluring to get us to quit cruising long enough to get into a boat design and build cycle.

Then one afternoon in Auckland’s Westhaven marina, everything changed. Our neighbor on the adjacent end tie to the east invited us to go for a sail. Bernie Schmidt, like many Kiwis of that era, had designed and built Innismara himself. She was 60′ long overall, gave away little to overhangs, had a ten foot beam and little freeboard. In some ways she reminded us of Beowulf VI. Innismara looked huge compared to our diminutive Intermezzo, but as we charged down the harbor at ten knots, with just the main and boomed staysail, it was apparent that she would not be that hard to handle. Innismara’s balanced lines, the result of her long skinny hull, made her a delight to sail with virtually no weather helm, even though we had the full main up.

We started kicking ideas back and forth. What if we got rid of the trunk cabin and made her flush deck, and then added just a touch of beam? We would have a large interior, we’d be fast, and the kids would each have their own stateroom. Rather than fill up the hull with stuff we could leave the forward quarter open and stow sails and ground tackle there. We could leave the aft quarter empty (the aft engine room idea had not yet come into being), and keep the interior to just the center where it was easy to build and motion was minimized.

Our friends from the cruising fleet, Jim and Cheryl Schmidt, were enthusiastic as they joined in on our dream sessions. My dad became enamored too, and before long we were hard at work on the first of the Deerfoot Series–not that we ever thought there would be more than three boats.

Now a psychological digression. We cruised uninsured–almost everybody did in those days. Intermezzo represented our house capital. There had been 24 through hull fittings. She had no watertight bulkheads, huge cockpit locker hatches opening to the interior, and no lightning bonding system. In those days, one out of ten yachts crossing the South Pacific ended up on a reef. We had several very close calls. On the other hand, Jim and Cheryl were cruising on a steel plated yacht with five watertight bulkheads. You can see where this is going. The combination of these experiences formed our design and construction philosophy.

The 68′ Deerfoot was the first afloat. She was 14′ wide, drew eight feet, and had a somewhat larger trunk cabin than Innismara. A mistake in the early design calculations by Doug Petersen, who drew the lines, had Deerfoot with her longitudinal center of gravity too far forward for the hull already constructed.

Although we did not recognize it at first, the solution turned out to be moving the engine all the way aft from the traditional position under the salon floor. The benefits of this approach were so great that almost all of our yachts have been done this way since.

Jim and Cheryl’s Wakaroa was next. With her flush deck configuration she was closer to our ideal, offered more usable interior volume, and a somewhat higher, dryer deck, that had benefits in terms of the inverted stability curve.

Wakaroa would average an easy 9.5-10 knots when reaching and would do even better with the kites up.

These photos don’t begin to do the interior justice.

At sea, if necessary, you could live between galley and adjacent dinette, and nav station…

…with its highly functional layout…

and a pair of aft cabins, with your body constrained from falling. After that, a couple of steps and you were in the cockpit.

Back in time to New Zealand, and we and the Schmidts tarried a bit that fall before departing for New Caledonia. The beautiful Indian summer held us captive. The warmth and quiet, not to mention the delicious steamer clams nearby, made us linger a couple of extra days. When we both left Whangaroa harbor it was into a light breeze and calm sea. The Schmidts powered over the horizon in their 70′ WinSon while we waited for the breeze. The next day, the center of high pressure that had given us such a glorious few days had been replaced by the back side of the high with a cold front compressing in. It was blowing hard, on the nose, and we had one of the worst passages imaginable. Everything was wet.

Formalities having been completed with the Gendarmes in Noumea, and after consuming the requisite fresh baguettes, cheese, and of course ice cream, we set about to dry the boat out, rinse bedding, and try and remove salt water from bunk cushions.

Med moored alongside was a flush deck 50′ steel cutter, with a final leg across the Tasman left to complete their circumnavigation. Commenting on our laundry hanging around on deck I made an innocuous statement to the extent that all boats leak at sea. “Not if they are metal and you don’t drill holes in them,” came the response.

We don’t seem to have any Noumea photos around but the shot above is Sarah working while we were anchored near Havana Pass.

Havana Pass took us to the Loyalty Islands just north of New Caledonia.

And then on to the New Hebrides…

…Solomon Islands, and New Guinea.

In those days this was a fascinating area, still amazingly remote, and the locals were as curious about us as we were about them.

While on passage to Santo in what is now called Vanuatu, we were sailing downwind in broad daylight, keeping watch forward, reading a new book by Henry Kissinger, when the water color suddenly changed from blue to green to white in less than a minute. By the time we had grabbed control of the steering from the wind vane, we were amongst the stag coral. Intermezzo still had momentum, and we turned onto a close reach so that she would reduce her draft by heeling over. Linda came racing up on deck, took the helm, and I climbed to the lower spreaders to try to find a way clear. There was simply no path out that did not involve breaking through coral. We maintained sufficient speed to force our way through. Finally free, we stopped for a moment to catch our breath, check the boat, and detour around this area of shallow water.

When we finally reached Santo, we learned that the ocean floor had lifted in this area a few years earlier, the result of a major earthquake. Aside from our shaken psyche, Intermezzo was basically okay.

During our stay in Melanesia, the ferro-cement ketch Heart of Edna made a mistake in the Louisiade Island group off eastern New Guinea and found herself permanently stuck on a barrier reef. Friends on the steel Australian ketch Makaretu headed off to help with the salvage operation. Sadly, the hull was a total write-off but they were able to remove the rig, hardware, and engine, and along with John and Jan Nichols brought the lot back to Australia.

We were getting periodic updates via ham radio from Makaretu and when it was all over I asked our friend Brian what lessons he’d taken from the situation. “Have a metal boat,” was his reply.

From New Guinea you traverse the Torres Straights to Australia’s Darwin, with its 20’+ tides. Big tides make using grids for maintenance a possibility, which offers all sorts of advantages to serious cruisers. So “gridability” was added to the desired hull characteristics list.

A month-long stop in Bali, Indonesia, and we were ready for the ocean once again.

Crossing the Indian Ocean, particularly in the southern trade winds, is not for the faint of heart. The trades are typically boisterous–30 to 35 knots from the SE with a crossing SW swell.

The hops are long, Christmas Island is the first stop with an open roadstead. Next comes the atoll Cocos Keeling.

The anchorage in the lee of Direction Island is a welcome respite, if surprisingly crowded.

The social scene on the beach is busy. It is not easy to leave an anchorage like this when you know it is going to be rough on the next leg, but the hurricane season in the western region of the Indian Ocean is not to be trifled with, so we were forced to move on quickly.

On long passages Linda maintained the school routine, allowing the kids to have more free time when we were at anchor.

School was in session in spite of the sea state.

It was a good thing too as Rodrigues, the next stop, was a fascinating little island, with caves to explore, and interesting folks ashore with whom to mingle.

The harbor was tiny. The entrance pass, blasted out of solid reef limestone, was not much wider than our 12-foot beam.

At sea again after a short stay, school was back in session. And our tradition of reading stories aloud continued.

Long term cruising revolves around a floating, ever changing social scene. Seasonal weather patterns herd you into groups that tend to migrate together. You might go different ways for half the year, but eventually boats in your group tend to end up in certain locations. Mauritius is one of those. When children enter the equation the groupings tend to be even tighter. This eight-foot dinghy is carrying a cargo of Elyse and Sarah, Tara and Eric Naranjo, Veronica Hast, and young Vinaka with his dad John Wishnovick at the helm.

In Mauritius we met Yves Betuel, a local sailor who ran the Taylor Smith Shipyard. We needed to do some welding on our spreader brackets, and as Yves took us across the boat yard to his welding shop I noticed they were constructing a tug and some barges. That immediately got us thinking and we asked Yves if they might be interested in quoting on a steel version of our dream boat. The idea was to get the basic hull finished, rig it, and sail back to New Zealand for the interior.

Yves gave us an attractive quotation and then told us that as the steel had to come from South Africa we would get a better overall price there.

The 1,500 nautical mile passage between Mauritius and Durban, South Africa is one of the roughest in any circumnavigation. You are heading west into a collission with the prevailing weather systems that move east, there are the shoals that influence the sea state as much as 200 miles south of Madagascar, and then the infamous Agulhas current waiting at the end. Our trip was typical, with four gales and then a final black southwester into the current with continuously breaking seas. One yacht in our neighborhood was rolled over, and a second was severely knocked down. We had no problems other than our usual leaks.

In Durban, we became friends with a local accountant and asked him for advice about doing business in South Africa. When he heard our goals he suggested we apply to the Reserve bank for what was then known as Financial Rand, a discounted currency, used as an incentive for those starting export-oriented businesses.

Our application was approved and eventually we found a builder in Cape Town to do the metalwork. We also met a talented naval architect, Angelo Lavaranos, who did the basic design work for us on what became Intermezzo II.

The three dimensional rendering of Intermezzo II above first appeared in Sail Magazine. It was created by the late Steve Davis, a good friend, talented artist, and over the years an important sounding board for our ideas. Steve helped us to develop our ideas, and he also did the artwork for almost all of our books.

Our concept of the perfect cruising yacht had evolved further. Nirvana now lay in metal, with aluminum preferred over steel. Shallow draft, no more than 5.5′ was next. This was not only to expand our potential cruising area, but to reduce the risk of unexpected groundings. Aft engine room, separate forepeak, with isolating watertight bulkheads were all non-negotiable.

Discussing the hull lines with Angelo we both wanted to do away with overhangs. However, re-sale considerations at that point dictated that we have at least short overhangs. Even so, the hull shape was considered radical when launched.

In order for us to pay for a new boat we needed to sell Intermezzo. We had just enough set aside to get the metal work started, and although we had other assets, these were in the form of real estate and we did not want to touch those investments. We advised the hull builders that they might have to stop work if we were delayed in finding a buyer. We were within a week of making that call when a new owner for Intermezzo came along.

It’s funny how some people keep cropping up at important points in our lives. Once again here was John Rousmaniere. John had asked us to write our very first article in 1975 for Yachting. He’d encouraged us to continue writing while cruising. While we were living in Fort Lauderdale waiting for Intermezzo to sell John had introduced us to Eric Swensen at W.W. Norton, John’s own publisher. This resulted in us writing our first book, Circumnavigators’ Handbook.

When we had begun our cruising life, although I had grown up afloat, and by the time we bought Intermezzo we were both competent sailors, as mentioned earlier we did not have a clue about the real world of long distance cruising. The same would be said for 99% of the “experts” with whom we’d had dialogue. The learning curve was steep. Just a few examples: our boot stripe was too low, we did not have a single fan aboard and it took multiple hours a day on our little diesel engine to keep the tiny fridge and freezer cool. But by the time we’d arrived in Fort Lauderdale we did know something on this subject. Circumnavigators’ Handbook was our attempt at passing what we had learned to others at the beginning of their own learning curve. The book was a success in the marine context. We received a small advance, which covered the cost of the second typewriter we needed to purchase, along with a stack of photography expenses. When the Dolphin Book of the Month Club subsidiary picked our book up as a monthly selection we received a few hundred dollars more.

In those days our cost of life afloat was modest. Living on a yacht sounds expensive but if you mainly anchor out, stay ahead of maintenance issues, and do most of your own work aboard this is a very frugal lifestyle. Our real estate investments were not yet cash flowing, so working as freelancers, writing about sailing, provided us with most of our cruising kitty.

We worked with several talented editors at various sailing magazines. The one who taught us the most was Patience Wales at Sail. A story Linda had written for Patience about cruising with children turned a light on for us. When the story appeared in print, it was somehow different, stronger, more descriptive. We could not figure out what had been done. Patience kindly allowed us to see her edit. We were surprised by what we found, to say the least.

By moving just a few words around, changing tenses, and making a few minor edits she’d made a huge difference. Showing us how’d she done it was a wonderful writing lesson for us.

Returning now to Cape Town, we made arrangements with a local boat yard to rent their facility and hire their crew directly. This allowed us complete control. These local workers had good work habits and a reasonable degree of skill, and in the end this project turned out to be the most efficient we’ve ever done.

The social and political situation in South Africa was rapidly changing while we were there, and we were able to have our traditional launching party for the boat builders and their families at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, a first for everyone in the area.

Both Deerfoot and Intermezzo II were fitted out with short swim steps.

The primary purpose of these was to make it possible to climb back on to the boat if somebody fell overboard, otherwise impossible due to high freeboard. Once we began to use swim steps it quickly became apparent that they had many other benefits and their size began to increase.

The halyards and reefing lines were led to the cockpit, and the mainsail trim angle, until the true wind was almost abeam, was controlled with a full width traveler. We had a single primary winch aft of the helm, and two secondaries at the end of the cockpit coamings reachable from the wheel. The mainsail had a full length upper batten, and we had hank-on headsails.

Intermezzo II was the first of our boats to have hull windows.

The mast was well forward for a cutter rig and the boom purposely did not overhang the cockpit. This allowed us to have a lower boom which had numerous advantages: easier to attach the halyard, remove the sail cover, furl the sail, a lower center of gravity and more sail area with a lower center of effort. The negative is that if you are in the way of a jibe you are going to get punched in the gut. But would you rather be hit in the head with a higher boom?

Four large deck hatches gave us lots of light and ventilation in the great room.

The flush deck layout gave us 13′ of interior beam and 14′ of length into which we could fit galley, office, and salon, the great room. Wakaroa used the same great room approach. It worked so well that it became the standard for most of our projects.

We decided to fit twin headstays so we could fly two jibs at one time. What we failed to understand until it was too late is that twin stays split the headstay tension, so each has significantly more sag then if a single headstay was used. We never did this again.

Our shakedown cruise was a 6,000 nautical mile 30-day passage to Antigua in the West Indies (with a short stop at St. Helena). We had done the same trip the previous year in little Intermezzo with no stops in 37 days. This passage had been normal for us in that it was unpleasant, or at least wasn’t great fun, it was just something that had to be done to get where we’re going. In contrast, the second passage was extremely comfortable in similar conditions.

The free-wheeling charging prop was a technical success. Coupled with a low rpm-optimized alternator, under sail it generated more power than we could use.

Intermezzo II performed beautifully, she was easily steered, tracked well, and when the autopilot failed with 1,000 miles to go little Sarah could take a turn at the helm and keep her on course without difficulty. Overall she was much easier to sail than had been the case with our previous boat.

We decided to take a year and see if we could make a business out of this. At the Annapolis boat show there were long lines waiting to see the boat, and we were the focus of feature stories in all the major magazines. But our radical-looking flush deck configuration, coupled with no exterior teak and a very light and open interior, was a bit too much for the marketplace at the time.

After the show Linda flew back to Fort Lauderdale, where Elyse and Sarah were being looked after by my Mom, who had come in to allow us some time to work the show. Some old friends from our days in the Malibu Yacht Club had come by at the show and offered to crew. Sean and Lorraine Holland were about to get the ride of their lives. Shortly after departure from Norfolk at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, our favorable northeast breeze turned into a true nor’easter, literally a survival storm which took two yachts to their graves. You can read about this in detail in Surviving the Storm, or by clicking here.

Sean snapped the above photo after we’d rounded Cape Hatteras and things had calmed down.

What saved us was the fact that, once heeled past 35 degrees, the keel and rudder would begin to lose their grip and Intermezzo II would slip to leeward. The more she heeled the faster she slipped. When we got knocked down by a breaking sea it was this slip factor that allowed us to dissipate the wave energy before we flattened or worse. The effect is similar to what happens when you raise the centerboard of a dinghy in boisterous weather, or lift the leeward board in a catamaran. Wherever possible thereafter skid factor became a bottom-line criteria.

During this period, a sistership was built in Cape Town, and although we were ecstatic with Intermezzo II, 62-2 had six pages of fine-tuning notes incorporated in her build. Which brings us to an observational process comment. If you are a multi-project type personality, already thinking about the next while the current is not yet fulfilled, the time to make your notes about what you would change in the future is at the beginning of your relationship at sea with the new boat. Details you don’t like, mistakes, fine-tuning, issues which are now apparent but were hidden earlier, should all be noted. As you grow accustomed to your new ride, many of these next-boat refinements will fade from consciousness and be lost.

Over the years several experiences have lead us to Eureka moments. One of these occurred on the last leg of our circumnavigation when we stopped in Cabo San Lucas to break up the trip and top off the fuel tanks. Diesel was 13 cents per gallon. The combination of a quiet, reliable engine and an aft engine room made powering much more pleasant than what we were used to. Add in the cheap fuel and it was apparent that the trip ahead of us would be more comfortable, faster, and much less costly burning diesel than exposing rig and sails to the upwind passage.

This visit to Cabo coincided with the aftermath of a weather system that had pushed numerous yachts onto the shore of the exposed anchorage.

While several mistakes were made that lead to this mass calamity, it underscored that bad things will occur, and folks do commit operator error (ourselves included). This reinforced our ideas about building in extra factors of safety for inevitable screw-ups. As the years have passed, we have grown even more conservative in concert with how much we’ve seen and experienced.

On the way up the coast the two of us discussed what we’d seen at Cabo. We just could not get the image of those stranded yachts out of our minds. By the time we’d reached the US/Mexico border we had a new book outlined. This would become Bluewater Handbook.

We completed our circumnavigation, crossing our outward bound track off Southern California, and stopped in San Diego to clear Customs. The plan was to sell the boat, buy a house, and get into the business of turning around sick companies.

It was during this timeframe that the single-handed around-the-world race changed to a 60-foot length overall rule and did away with handicaps. Suddenly, there were lots of yachts in the magazines that looked somewhat like us, and the telephone started to ring.

The day after clearing in, a former heavy weather crew from the Beowulf V days called about his dream boat. We had nothing yet lined up so agreed to do a big surfboard. The owner’s comment was that he did not care about cruising the boat to weather – the crew would do that – he just wanted to surf, fast.

There is a trade-off in design characteristics required for upwind as opposed to downwind sailing. Upwind you want a narrow entry to get through the waves. Downwind the optimum is flatter, more easily steered. Locura was really flat, and could be helmed with two fingers at speed with two big kites set. But you paid a comfort penalty uphill.

Her interior layout was similar to Wakaroa and Intermezzo II. At last count Locura had made two circumnavigations with over 62,000 nm in her wake, so the concept must have had some merit. This was the only time we’ve sold a design package. Aside from a few early consulting jobs we realized that we prefer to control the end product.

For the past year we had been writing a monthly column for Motor Boating & Sailing, which was owned by the Hearst Publishing Group. Hearst has a marine book division and we discussed our outline for the new book. This time around we were going to try self-publishing, and eventually Hearst agreed to represent us to the bookstore trade.

John Rousmaniere stepped in once again and introduced us to Spencer Smith and Nancy Donaldson, who ran the Dolphin Book Club. They liked what we’d put together and made it their monthly selection. We knew nothing of printing and binding, and asked Spencer if he had some suggestions. Normally Dolphin Book Club paid a small fee to the publisher and then piggybacked the publisher’s run. In this case they did the first run, showing us how it was done, and we piggybacked them.

The Deerfoot 2-62s were our first series build, four of which were built in Finland by Scandi Yachts. Moonshadow, the 2-62-1, is shown above during the initial ARC race 35 years ago (in which she was first to finish).

After almost 15,000 miles with Intermezzo II, the 2-62 represented what we thought was our next perfect yacht. Her lines had a shorter overhang and were a touch flatter forward and aft, while the volume in the ends was increased compared to the first 62s. We thought we could get better surfing and upwind performance this way, steer more easily, and not pay a comfort penalty. Part of this hull shape evolution was a narrower forward entry angle that was also a touch deeper. The negative was a little extra wetted surface.

The deck layout was totally different and featured a large center cockpit for watch standing…

…with the sailing cockpit aft. This forced the crew to traverse the bridge deck going aft, which we did not like, but provided the basis for a different interior layout and the revised hull shape.

The engine room was under the center cockpit with a long galley adjacent.

There are points in favor and against this approach. One of the biggest benefits was a long galley with excellent storage, and furniture that constrains your body at sea. But the key for us was in the aft end. Eliminating direct access to the aft cockpit got rid of a two-foot wide hallway between the aft cabins. This beam could be used to add volume to the cabins or reduce hull width. The latter made for a more balanced hull shape and better steering.

With the Cabo incident fresh in our minds, the hull laminate was specified with an extra 1/2″ thickness of 24-ounce woven roving to protect the turn of the bilge from puncture, the grinding zone when aground. The keel support structure was heavily reinforced, there were added laminates in the bow for collisions, and of course forward and aft watertight bulkheads.

Moonshadow tested these features twice (that we know of). The first time was by t-boning a reef in the Tuamotus, spending a week ashore before being towed off. The second was by intimate contact with a coral head (which dented the keel).

Moonshadow has seen over 100,000 nm flow beneath her hull over the years.

To get to Nykarleby, Finland we had to pass through Copenhagen, Denmark. During this period Ulf Rogeberg was working for us, doing both design work and acting as interface with Scandi Yachts between our visits. Ulf introduced us to Paul and Sven Øeland, who had a shop doing nice metalwork. Then we met the Walsted family in Svenborg. This was during the Reagan strong dollar era, and seemed like a winning combination.

Which lead to a series of  three 72′ (+)  motorsailors.

Motorsailors typically don’t power or sail very well. But we thought we had the answer to this. Use a long, modest beam (okay skinny) hull shape, and fit an oversized feathering Maxi prop. Deerfoot II and Interlude were 14.5′ wide while Maya had another foot of beam.

The swim step was extended.

And the aft cockpit (Sarah above, driving Deerfoot II) and the midships galley arrangement of the 2-62s was maintained.

Now a word on beam. There are many forces driving yacht design, among the strongest of which is the desire for interior space. In this regard, more important to the actual beam of the vessel is what is left over – physically and visually – after structure and interior cabinets are deducted from the gross hull volume.

This Deerfoot Series of “MotorSailors” will give you an idea of what is possible. The next photos are of a 30-year-old yacht.

“Chairs” like these look nice, and work well for entertaining. But when combined with the cool-looking circular settee and table opposite, leaves nowhere to sleep in the main salon.

Another driver of this design was the desire for an enclosed pilot house.

Maya’s, above.

And Interlude.

A small but important detail are these dropdown panels into the galley.

A night shot of Maya’s salon. The round item in the bulkhead is an etched crystal edge lit object d’art. The door panels are high tech soji screens.

Our typical galleys were always narrow to hold you in place at sea. The preferred hip width was 24″/600mm. When there is a conflict between what works best at sea and in port, sea-going always wins.

XXXA cool,looking nav station with the main electrical panel overhead. Except there were a couple of problems. First, panel mounting electronics as is shown here for everything means you have a major problem any time you want to change gear. If you are going to panel mount, it is best to use a material that does not fde, and to make extra panels for future use at the same time you are making the first one.

The overhead electrical panel looks good, and is standard in aircraft, but on a yacht it is impossible to reach without standing, and it is not ready to read the labels. We never used this approach again

The interiors of most of the Deerfoot and Sundeer series were the work of Anne and Phil Harrill.

From the preceding you might think that these boats need crew, and in some situations that would be ideal. But with experience and conservative seamanship, they can be sailed by a couple. As an example we offer Interlude. She now has over 160,000 nm behind her and two circumnavigations, more than half of this with her present owners on their own.

Interlude and Moonshadow anchored in Graciosa Bay in the Canary Islands. These two yachts account for over a quarter of a million sea miles between them, almost all of which has been done doubled handed.

Our business model for these projects was a little different than the norm. We supplied our builders with almost all material except for metals, wood, and paint products. Shipments of anything other than batteries and engines came to our house in Ojai, where the garage was both warehouse and staging area. One of the bedrooms was my design office, and another was Linda’s where she did the accounting, research, kept the project notebooks, and followed up with vendors. The telex machine, eventually fax, and big plotter resided in the den. I tried to be in each boatyard every sixty days. It was a compact highly efficient business. Looking back I am not sure how we managed to make this happen.

In 1983 we had become aware that George Hazen had put together a suite of software called FastYacht. This included a performance prediction module, keel, rudder, and rig design, and B-spline based 3D hull modeling. This ran on a HP 9816 work station. We had been using George’s analysis services for several years and the ability to use this package for in-house parametric analysis was too much temptation to resist.

In the olden days Linda and I would come up with an initial layout, we’d do a specification and a weight budget, and then have someone do a couple of very preliminary sets of lines. We would eyeball these, think about the various coefficients we thought we wanted, and then went back to the lines drafter to give them a final set of parameters. With 250 or so hours now invested in a hull shape and offset table, everything was thereafter made to fit. The final lead center of gravity wasn’t done until well into the build cycle. Any trimming lead was added after launching.

The Deerfoot 61, two of which we built in New Zealand, was our first project with this new software system. We now had the tools to study all sorts of combinations of rig, hull shape, fins, and stability. Those very simple performance predictions would each take several hours to run. Lines drawing and producing offsets was much faster and we could bring this in house, but overall the time we spent on overall design went up threefold. We would do a preliminary base hull, and then try and come up with something that tested better on the computer. The raw data had to be checked carefully to try and avoid anomalies that might have skewed the outcome. And we had to visualize how the shape would handle at sea.

Sidebar: A little history on the development of Performance predictions programs and CAD marine design tools.

Steve Davis introduced us to George Hazen’s work. After a brief chat with George and Bruce Hays we recognized that the FastYacht suite of tools had the power to significantly help in our quest for the perfect yacht. The $20,000 investment in their software and hardware was substantial, but we thought the benefits made it worthwhile.

Thirty plus years have passed since we began working with George and Bruce. They are still at it. The latest versions of Orca 3D software include some incredibly cool capabilities, things we could not even dream about years ago. It’s almost enough to tempt us back into designing a new boat for ourselves.

As we were writing the comments above we decided to check a few details with George and Bruce about the olden days. If you are into yachting history, there is some interesting information here.

From Bruce Hays:

“The FastYacht hull design software eventually became FastShip. Later we developed the RhinoMarine plug-in for Rhino, based on FastShip. After leaving that company, we developed Orca3D, which George, Larry, and I now own, and which traces its roots directly back to Fast Yacht on the HP 9816 (with the Motorola 68000 processor). In some senses we have come full circle.

Steve Davis was an important customer for the digitizing and viewing software (some of which found its way into the hull design software).”

From Nick Danese:

“Bruce Farr was the first FastYacht customer.  I was hired in October 1983 mostly to operate the HP 9816 7” monochrome green screen on which we ran the VPP and to help with appendage hydros and composite structures. We did not use the FY hull modeler because we could not overlay existing body plans (other curves would have been meaningless due to the size of the screen).

We used a digitizing pad, the 9816 ran off a 256k floppy disc (no hard disc) that we had to swap out to load the OS, then the software, then the data, etc. in various sequences depending on what we were doing. A few months later we acquired a double floppy drive, and a few months after that floppies grew to 512 k and double-sided.  There was no mouse but the keyboard had a wheel that allowed you to scroll along the line. There was no manual and I was on the phone to George often during the first two weeks or so.

A VPP took 45 minutes or so to run, sometimes longer if the solution would not converge in a well-behaved manner.

The Whitbread Round the World Race trio of USB Switzerland, Atlantic Privateer and Lion New Zealand Enterprise were the first yachts designed using the FastYacht VPP and a home-made RTW normalized statistical course based on Ceramco New Zealand’s log (by Geoff Stagg, by now the Farr office’s racing rep and sales person) and Admiralty Charts, developed by yours truly.

Every subsequent Farr yacht, including America’s Cup ones, were grown through the Fast Yacht VPP.

Some 35 years later i am still working with Bruce, George and, now, Larry  :-).

Bruce Hays:

I think you are close on the price, but it depended on whether you included things like the E-size pen plotter (which I recall added $8k-$10k to the price).”“I think Nick’s recollection of the time to run a VPP is pretty close; when I was moonlighting for George, I would go straight to his office from work, get instructions on what needed to be run before he left, and then do the setup and digitizing to get the run started. Then I’d go home and eat dinner, before coming back to do all of the output (polar plots, stability curve, tables of data, and cover sheet).”

George Hazen:

“What a rush to read everyone’s recollections of those early days after I moved my business in town to 222 Severn Avenue, not far from Bruce Farr’s design office in 1981. To be clear, the VPP pre-dated the hull design software by about five years–I originally offered it as a consulting service. This was my principle source of income after leaving C&C in 1979 to 1983 when we first released FastYacht to the public during that year’s Annapolis Boat Show. As you noted, that first release included not only the VPP (I believe we called it a PPP, or Performance Prediction Program), but also modules to help with the design of keels, rudders, spar and rigging sizing, and of course, hull design and fairing. During the nine months or so prior to that first release of the software to the public, Steve Killing was working full-time for me, and among other things was responsible for the name FastYacht and our logo with the sailboat emerging from the stylized HP9816’s computer screen. We had been colleagues at C&C and had recently co-authored a paper for the CSYS on the use of computers in yacht design.

Your recollections about the origin of the VPP were pretty close. It was indeed the subject of my Master’s Thesis at MIT, though I did the work for Jake Kerwin, and not Jerry Milgram. (At the time I was getting my Master’s Jerry was on sabbatical at Harvard studying the fluid dynamics of blood flow I believe.) I paid for my studies at MIT by being an RA on the project that lead to the creation of the IMS Handicapping Rule. Originally, the sponsor was NAYRU (later USYRU), and eventually it was named after H. Irving Pratt, who was a driving political force behind the scenes.

The theoretical underpinnings of the B-Spline-based hull design program goes back to those days as I read all I could about 3D surface modeling in the MIT engineering library. The nine month programming effort that culminated in that first release of FastYacht was perhaps the most productive and creative period in my life, as nearly seven years of research on surface modeling (including three years at a drafting table at C&C) was manifest as computer code. It was a perfect convergence of enabling/affordable computer power, underlying mathematics, and pent up desire. Remarkably, two other individuals on different continents were simultaneously pursuing their versions of similar hull design software packages: Andy Mason in Australia and Marc Pommelet (sp?) in France; MacSurf and Circe3D respectively. Not sure which one of us was first to market, but we all referred to work done by Prof. Dave Rogers at the US Naval Academy. I first learned of their efforts after we released our software in the fall of 1983 when Dave came to our open house.

As to who was the first FastYacht customer, I honestly don’t recall (sad isn’t it), but I do know that you were among the very first to purchase the suite. Bruce Farr had originally used me to run his VPP simulations, but had acquired just the VPP code with its pre- and post-processing components prior to that first release of FastYacht in the fall of 1983. BTW, both Bruce and I moved our businesses to Eastport at nearly the same time. He bought the rest of the FastYacht suite sometime later and we continued to collaborate over the years prior to his retirement. I do recall that despite all of my work with sailboats over the years leading up to the creation of FastYacht, the first hull to be faired with the tool was done as a consulting job for a former C&C colleague, Bruce Kelly, on a large powerboat he was developing. Go figure… It turned out that powerboat hulls and chines were equally well modeled as all of the sailboat hulls I had created. Indeed, you may recall that the original software had (what we would not call) a design wizard – with a very few clicks the user could create an IOR style sailboat that bore a passing resemblance to the then very hot Ron Holland racer, Imp. I have often wondered how many boats were built from that wizard.

As for the Steve Davis connection, that started with an introduction from a printer here in town, George Shenk, who was familiar with Steve’s work. Initially, I would digitize and render 3D wire frame perspective lines and interiors for Steve, but after he left Annapolis and moved out west to Port Townsend, he eventually bought my old 9816 and a digitizing tablet with the software I used for doing the computer renderings. The code that I provided was never offered to anyone else as a standalone tool. The digitizing routines and rendering algorithms had previously found their way into FastYacht, Steve was a real artist, and over the years he used the wire frame perspectives that my software generated to make some truly gorgeous renderings of sailing and motor yachts, and even a few trucks!

By the late 1980s I had stopped personally doing the VPPs as a service, but Peter Schwenn who had joined Bruce and me at Design Systems and Services continued that service well into the 1990s, even after I sold DSS in 1994 to create Proteus Engineering. I recently was cleaning out many of my old job files from those early days and was struck by how many designers worldwide used our VPP: Bruce Farr, Bill Cook, German Frers, Doug Peterson, Bob Perry, Tony Castro, Ron Holland to name just a few. Even the USYRU VPP was derived from one at DSS after I shared the source code written in so-called Rocky Mountain Basic with USYRU. (They translated the code into FORTRAN). The America’s Cup and the US Navy played a big role in the evolution of the software. The name was changed to FastShip in large part because the Navy thought FastYacht was not suitable for the design of naval ships. 🙂 The Navy funded the eventual rewrite of the code into C and its port to multiple operating systems. From that point forward we no longer had to sell the HP hardware that was required to run the earlier versions of the code. The version of FastShip was used by both sides of the competition between the so-called “Big Boat,” designed by Bruce Farr, and Dennis Connor’s Stars and Stripes catamaran. The software was even installed at the sailing venue in San Diego so that visitors could try their hands at yacht design.

I could, of course, go on for some time, because as the lyrics say ‘what a long strange trip it has been’, but those reflections are not really germane to your article.

So in closing, Steve, like you have done in so many other things in your career, I’d say you were ahead of the curve when you saw the promise of our newly released design suite in 1983. It has been a pleasure to work with you over the years and to follow your many interesting marine endeavors.”

A lovely set of fair lines emerged from this process. We still like this Deerfoot 61 after all these years.

The second DF61 had an extended swim step and eight-foot draft.

As cruisers go, she was easily driven by a small crew and very quick.

Shortly after sea trials the owner made a New Zealand-Peru direct trip, 4,000 nm in 20 days.

The extended swim step, free waterline when immersed, provided an excellent base for diving, getting in and out of dinghies. Add folding chairs….you can see there are lots of options.

This is a good point to chat about trade-offs of transom design. In a day sailor and most racing boats, you do not want an immersed transom at rest. The transom will usually depress with speed and heel. And in light airs this makes you slow. Racing-wise, an incorrectly shaped or trimmed transom could cost you three to five percent. You might as well stay home. In an engineless cruising yacht you need the light air capability. But our approach is a little different. At higher speeds and under power a slightly depressed stern is going to be faster and more stable. The mileage added with a five percent bonus at nine knots is a lot more than the same percentage in light airs at five knots.

Since modern yachts have engines, and it is normally much less costly to run the engine on a long passage in light stuff than the wear and tear on the rig and sails from slatting, why not drop the lines aft and pick up the performance?

There’s another major benefit at anchor. Annoying transom slap in busy harbors that occurs with most aft overhangs is eliminated. From the Deerfoot 61 on, all our sailing designs had immersed transoms.

For the interior we went back to the Intermezzo II layout.

The nav station/office shown here was typical of all our designs in those days.

We’d never intended to get this involved in the yachting business, and grew tired of the constant travel. So we told our European friends to begin looking for other work and announced retirement. It was time to go to work on our own boat.

The 68-foot Sundeer was next for us. She represented the culmination of what we had learned to date. Our goal was similar comfort and boat speed to the 72-footers, in a smaller package. And we wanted no more than six feet of draft. Sundeer‘s waterline beam was narrower in scale than the other boats, with a touch more topside flare, even shorter overhangs, and what others thought of as a very small keel, welded in place.And she carried more of her rig load on her rudder than any of our previous monohull designs.

The issue of cruising yacht keels, draft, weatherliness, windward helm, and rudders is obviously complex. Most “experts” agree that you need a certain percentage of the sail area in lateral surface below the waterline to offset the rig forces above. The real answer is more nuanced, and illustrates something we have learned over and over about fooling around with boats: careful analysis of the components of a given design conundrum will often yield superior results to only examining the whole. For example, even a cursory look at foil data will show you that in terms of favorable lift to drag relationships, adding surface area  to a foil by virtue of extending the chord length adds drag equal to or greater than any additional lift that is generated for a net loss overall. In other words, long, shallow keels are counterproductive.

Where shallow draft is a requirement there are many things that can be done to improve the upwind performance without resorting to movable appendages, which we prefer to avoid for maintenance reasons. Making the rig more efficient with higher effective aspect ratio is one of the biggest gainers. Flattening the midships hull section, so that you have a longer keel span for a given draft is another option. Careful detailing of the keel to hull intersection is yet another area where performance can be helped. Lowering the vertical center of gravity has a powerful impact on all of this. And sail shape, with adjustable draft, correct twist for the current wind shear, and sail-to-sail interaction have a major impact on all of this.

And then there is the rudder. Looking at the rudder and keel profiles of Sundeer will quickly illustrate that, in terms of efficiency, on a draft limited cruising yacht the rudder is a far better creator of lift than the keel. If your hull lines are balanced so that there is little change in trim (the position of the longitudinal center of buoyancy of the hull remains constant with heel) then the rudder only needs to provide steering thrust to change direction (and not waste its energy working to offset excess weather helm).

In which case, why not make the rudder a little bigger, set the keel a touch further forward, and have the rudder share some of the sailing load generated by the rig? This in turn allows for a smaller keel, or at least reduces the load on the keel. This is not a particularly new or revolutionary idea. The Wildcat catamaran that faced off with Rodney MacAlpineDowny’s Hellcat in the first Little America’s cup had the load split 60/40 between daggerboards and rudders. Beowulf IV,V, and VI also loaded their rudders. In a cruising context, this gave the added benefit of leaving you with a much larger rudder for maneuvering under sail or power in tight quarters.

Using the keel as a primary source of liquid storage, as we did with Wakaroa and the 62-footers built in Capetown and Finland, in addition to ballast, considerably changes this concept.

Sundeer was also the first bare aluminum hull we’d launched. After failing to convince previous clients to skip the topside and deck paint, once they saw Sundeer that was it. There were no subsequent aluminum builds with painted topsides.

Sundeer was launched in late 1987 and our first passage was New Zealand to Tahiti, with cyclone Bola sharing the ocean with us. Two days east of Auckland, in 25-knot trades, we had a steering system failure. We’d installed dual hydraulic autopilots connected to a single hydraulic ram. When the steering quit we were power reaching, Sundeer rounded up and proceeded to lay ahull and was rolling quite a bit in protest. We fitted the emergency tiller to the exposed rudder stock on the aft deck, secured the relieving tackles, and began to bear off when the emergency tiller collapsed at the inboard end. No steering, and a cyclone headed our direction from 500 miles away…

When we were storing tools and supplies prior to departure Jared Eaton, a longtime catamaran racing friend who was helping bring Sundeer back, showed me a messy looking plastic tub full of old plumbing parts. Mild steel, galvanized, bronze, stainless, and plastic were a confused mess. We were reluctant to bring this into our pristine engine room, but in the usual chaos before a first passage, it did not get tossed.

In the engine room now there was hydraulic fluid all over the bilge, a smelly, slippery mess. The wild motion, coupled with the smell, combined with Bola’s proximity had me fighting to avoid adding my semi-digested lunch to the mess in the bilge. It took half an hour before discovering that a plastic plug in the valve block had blown. A simple fix if we had the parts. Well we did not have the plug, but we did have a 1/4″ rusty mild steel nipple from Intermezzo and bronze valve from Intermezzo II in that messy tub of old parts.

Sundeer was the last boat we ever did with a single hydraulic system. Thereafter all our boats had twin independent pilots and hydraulic cylinders.

Whereas our design work prior to Sundeer was considered semi-radical by the establishment, it was really very conservative. Sundeer was radical, although you would not know it by outward appearances. Her hull ratios were totally different. Although built with our normally robust scantlings, the longer waterline dropped the displacement length ratios into ULDB territory. We thought we could get away with rounder hull sections to reduce wetted surface, drop the prismatic somewhat, fine up the ends, and still get a respectable turn of speed.

We would have used this design approach earlier, but we had a policy against experimenting on a client’s yacht, even if they urged us to push the boundaries. This was a form of self-preservation. If something went wrong and it was our own boat, nobody would be blamed and we’d have a chance to modify if required.

In fresh trades she would do 240-250 nm per day. And she was handy in light airs.

The insurance companies wanted what we felt was an exorbitant fee to cover us for the trip home. Rather than pay them, we took the insurance budget and bought ourselves a Furuno weather fax and Magnavox satellite navigator. Although this was early on in what became a compulsion to really understand weather, and long before the advent of weather routing software, we quickly found that the combination of Sundeer’s speed and the weather fax allowed us to make much better use of the weather patterns around us.

Towards the end of the passage back to California a winter storm showed up on the long range forecast. The breeze was light, so we put our motorsailing capability to work, pressing hard to get in before the blow arrived. This used fuel at a prodigious rate and the last four hours fuel was so low that we were using a sauce pan to bail out the last remnants from the aft diesel tank. This was transferred to a plastic fuel container and then dumped into the day tank.

We were almost within sight of Ventura Harbor when the last of the diesel gave out. Dave Wyman, a friend living in the Ventura Keys, offered to come out and tow us in or bring us some diesel, but there were catspaws sufficient for us to make our way under sail. Our dock was an end tie, with a downwind approach. We sailed downwind with main and mizzen, then smartly rounded up in the narrow channel (that oversized rudder carrying some of our sailing loads was wonderful in tight places), and dropped an aluminum kedge anchor. Sundeer drifted back, we tossed a stern line to Dave and Linda, and we warped ourselves onto the dock.

Elyse and Sarah were happily enmeshed in school and we did not want to disrupt their routine with a cruise. As a result Linda stayed at our Ojai, California land base and I was left to bring Sundeer back with Jared and a friend of his. The resulting interpersonal dynamics with the three of us was not positive, and I vowed never again to sail with other crew. Linda had hopelessly spoiled me to where there simply was no substitute for having her aboard at sea.

With balanced lines she would self-steer herself beating or reaching, under sail.

And she was sufficiently quick to sail circles around the much larger Deerfoot II, which gave us enormous pleasure.

Sundeer was the first of our yachts to have a traction battery bank in the bilge as part of the ballast system. She also was fitted with eight ARCO M55 solar panels. This allowed us to sit for a week or more without charging the batteries.

This huge battery bank was something new to our alternator suppliers, Electrodyne Company of Scarborough, Massachusetts. When the bank was discharged the alternators could not cope with the internal heat they generated. We burned up the first alternator on the dock at Salthouse in New Zealand. The second went while we were getting ready to drop the hook in Papeete, Tahiti. Two more were toasted by the time we arrived at Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands, where fortunately there were spares waiting for our arrival.

Back in the states I was discussing the problems with Bob Sampson, who owned Electrodyne. Bob could not understand how we continued to burn up his alternators. They had these units in hundreds of emergency vehicles scattered all over the states.

That’s when I realized that he did not understand our huge traction battery banks. Bob’s alternators used pulse width modulation to cycle the alternator field current on and off. There was so much capacity with these enormous battery banks that rather than cycling on/off, the regulators went to full field, the field windings got hot, their insulation burned and then shorted out.

It took nine different prototypes before they found a combination of remote diodes, fans and heat sink that stood up. Thirty years later we are still using these same designs from Electrodyne.

Sundeer was also the first time we became shipmates with Will Hamm’s WH Autopilots. In those days he was the gold standard for autopilots for the commercial fishing fleet in the Pacific Northwest of the US. Will created an autopilot remote for us that also included the windlass and power winch controls. Most of his customers were commercial fishermen, with a few motor yachts thrown in on the side. As we got to know Will, and his pilots, we started educating him about our needs, which were considerably different from his demographic. When the breeze was fresh to strong, particularly downwind, Sundeer loved to be pressed, but you had to steer with alacrity when the waves got rolling. And the response rate of the pilot as it was, was too slow.

Will’s pilots used a magnetic compass with a magnetometer below it. This was much faster than the newly available fluxgate that others were using, but still too slow for us. We explained what was going on and he said “Give me a month. I have an idea.” That idea was to incorporate a rate sensing gyro into the system. These were available for multi-thousands of dollars for use in some form of missiles or other military devices. He managed to find a couple surplus. We could now press harder and as the conditions grew more boisterous we would increase pilot gain to have more rudder involved. This was limited by the autopilot’s ability to have sufficiently precise control to avoid S curving, which lead to another concept, “dynamic braking”. Will figured out a way to have his motor controllers reverse pulse the helm pump(s) at the end of a command to dynamically brake the rudder motion, thereby eliminating the normal hysteresis and allowing even better helming in strong conditions.

The last of Will’s inventions was something we dubbed storm control. If you were carving waves, having fun surfing downwind at high speed and steering by hand, there was a pattern to the waves and how you helmed to keep the boat surfing as long and fast as possible. You could emulate this technique with the autopilot by picking the proper course, and then adjusting the pilot gain back and forth. More gain as the boat started to accelerate, and then reduce as the bow began charging down the wave. Except it was hard to keep an eye on the boat and correctly adjust the gain.

Will’s simple solution was a “gain multiplier” button. Push the button and gain jumped by a preset amount. Release the button and gain went back to normal. For surfing and heavy weather this was a really big deal.

Will’s gear was so good that the steering wheel became an anachronism. We used the pilot for docking, sailing up and downwind, and even when carving waves with the remote control.

By the late 1980s W.W. Norton had sold out the last of their inventory of Circumnavigators’ Handbook and had elected not to reprint. As a result the rights to the title reverted to us. We decided to update, which in the fashion of all things related to boats became a much, much bigger project than originally intended. This was in the era before electronic publishing and we went through a traditional process of ordering type and then, using a waxer, laid out the pasteup in type and and half tones of black and white photos. The resulting new book was called Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia.

Once again Book of the Month Club made one of our books the monthly selection. However, retail sales were flat. It was looking like we’d have a garage full of inventory for a long time when suddenly a few envelopes with checks enclosed began to arrive. And then the orders started coming in. Some weeks there would be checks for 75-100 books. Linda, with the help of Elyse and Sarah, somehow managed to process all the orders, package the books, and get them into the mail.

In 1989 John Conser made a new Kevlar mainsail for Deerfoot II. An unfathomable mistake lead to a sail with way too much roach, several feet past the backstay. There was really nothing that could be done but we decided to go for a sail and see how it felt. The plan was to lower the sail each time we tacked or jibed. On the wind and close reaching this larger roached main, with that extra sail area up high in the stronger winds aloft, was not only faster but heeled less and reduced weather helm. Even better, we found that with six knots of breeze the main would blow past the backstay.

Tacking and jibing was enhanced by sewing on a thin layer of UHMW plastic over the battens and slipping a PVC pipe over the backstay. A tripping reef was added so the leech would clear when motorsailing.

The bad news was that Deerfoot II was now faster than Sundeer.

Sundeer with her original main and mizzen looked cool, but no longer had the required pace to maintain our standing within the family.

This was an unacceptable state of affairs and we were forced to follow suit with Sundeer. The new main and mizzen were faster, Sundeer was stiffer, and steering control was even better than it had been. Oh, and we were back to thumbing our nose at Deerfoot II.

One of the challenges that had been holding back the use of these powerful sails was the batten hardware. Capture at the outer end, attachment at the inboard end, adjustment, and slides moving easily up and down the mast were all issues. In spite of both John Conser’s and my long experience with fully battened sails neither of us had an idea of how to solve these problems in an offshore context. At John’s suggestion we called Russ Foster, an engineer in the San Francisco Bay area. We explained what we thought was needed to Russ. A few weeks later a prototype arrived, with a very simple clever solution to all the issues. Batten tension could be adjusted easily, and a variety of tracks and traveler cars could be used on the mast. In those days the best solution was Harken. Russ’s Battcar became widely used and he eventually sold the business. His hardware, and John’s roach error, formed the basis of our future sailing yacht designs.

Integrating the big fully battened mainsails from the start of a design had an impact on hull shape, comfort, boat speed, and draft.

The kids were now getting older and we were limited to local cruising in the summers. Hawaii one year…

…Sundeer anchored in Hanalei Bay above…

When Sarah, our youngest, went off to college, we rented the house out and went cruising for a year.

The summer of 1991, after Sarah’s freshman year at Wesleyan University, found us coasting along the inside passage in British Columbia in company with Deerfoot IIWe were anchored together about forty miles north of Campbell River when, just before bedtime, we received a frantic yell from my stepmom Rita. My dad had begun to hemorrhage and we needed to get him to medical help ASAP. Sundeer being faster than Deerfoot II under power and more familiar to us, we decided to transfer my dad to our boat.

The waterways of British Columbia are littered with debris from natural causes and logging detritus. Logs damaging yachts are common, and pleasure boats simply do not run at night. To make matters more interesting, there is a bit of commercial traffic in the dark hours, and the navigation is far from simple.

Over the years Linda and I had developed a team-based approach to running our boats when on soundings. Linda did the navigation while I trimmed the sails and kept my eye out ahead. But now, in this very challenging environment, Linda was helping to take care of my dad and I was left to run radar and depth finder, watch for debris and traffic, and navigate. Canadian Coast Guard met us 12 miles north of Campbell River and we transferred my dad to their much faster vessel. They got him to the hospital, where the situation stabilized. He recovered fully and went on for another 22 years, although with his diet now restricting nut and seed intake. We pulled into Campbell River at 0200 and rafted up. Deerfoot II came in the next day.

From this vivid experience we realized that if the two of us were going to continue cruising in a prudent fashion in areas with intense watch keeping challenges, we were going to need to develop a method of single-handing, in case one of us was taken out of service at an awkward time. That one intense incident forced us to put more effort into the use of modern navigation tools. 

In September of 1991 we were heading south from Puget Sound in a boisterous 30-knot norther–surfing continuously with a jib poled out and mizzen spinnaker set, WH autopilot steering per usual. A few miles north of California’s Crescent City somebody abruptly switched off the wind. A big sea was running and we took a couple of smacks over the swim step, burying the exhaust in the process. We were not concerned as we had a really high loop on the exhaust in the engine room. Until we went to start the engine and there was a sickening thump. Water in the engine.

Normally a bit of a mess, but not the end of the world, pull the injectors, expel the water, change the oil three times, and off you go again. Except the injectors were stuck and would not come out. Unless we wanted a frozen engine we needed help, which lay a few miles away, through a reef fronting the aforementioned Crescent City. With the breeze varying from light to calm, a big sea, local tidal currents, and did I mention reefs, it took half a day to make our way into the harbor. Even though Sundeer’s fins were considered undersized, she was very nimble, handling what could have been an impossible situation with relative ease.

Sundeer was the first and only time we dropped the headstay into a well and used horizontal roller furling. This reduced weight and windage aloft and left us with a clean foredeck. And it was easy to hank a smaller jib over the furled and stowed sail.

After a time, a series of factors led us to place an ad in Yachting magazine offering Sundeer for sale. We were pleasantly surprised when, within days of the ad appearing, there were three separate individuals wanting her right away. This happened to be during the Clinton presidency luxury tax era, and the marine industry was on its heels. We were suddenly wishing we had more than just the one Sundeer to sell.
Now here is a depressing sight that yielded extremely valuable data. Heading towards the Yucatan Peninsula after departing Panama, Sundeer’s new owners got tangled up with a ship that made a couple of unusual maneuvers. They collided, and Sundeer slid down the ship’s topsides. Her rigging snagged in several places and as a result they pulled down both masts. She was structurally sound, un-holed, and her owners powered on to the Cayman Islands. They brought the damaged rig back with them, and when we examined it we could not have been more pleased.
The welded in-deck level chainplates were not stretched. Her welded mast tanks and/or hard spots on the masts were okay. Where aluminum load was distributed into the spar the failure was always in the area removed from the chainplates and spreader bases.
When we put together the facts above with the knowledge that several of the Dyeform wire stays had failed in tension, we knew our spars were overly strong. From this point onward we adjusted both mast criteria and that of our rigging.

About a month after the sale on Sundeer closed, we were still thinking about our wish for multiple Sundeers…We had a call from Jim Gray, the advertising manager for Cruising World magazine. I relayed our tale of woe to Jim and he said, “Why don’t you call Everett Pearson?”

Everett‘s company, TPI, built J Boats and a host of others. By the time we talked, many thousands of yachts had come out of his factories. Everett was used to controlling his outlet channels and the way the boats were built. This was not going to happen with us, but where he normally would not have been interested in doing things our way, the slow marketplace had him all ears. We put together a preliminary set of drawings and specs for Everett and his team to review. The sketches above and below are from the early package and pretty close to the final outcome.

A few weeks later TPI came back with a proposal. The pricing looked promising, but they wanted to see deposits on seven boats, so we started work on more detailed design and contract specifications.

When we’d been in the construction business before we went cruising, we’d let things get too busy, to where it was more of a grind than fun. Linda and I had made a pact that, whatever we did when we came back to land, the business would never be more than the two of us could handle. We had a feeling that if the Sundeer Series, as the boats became known, was successful, it would mean hiring people. We didn’t want to get into the personnel business, and we did not want be working 16 hours a day seven days a week. Phil and Anne Harrill were friends from when we first brought Intermezzo II back to the States. They’d helped us with our interior design work. Phil had been one of the early managers of American Marine when they had started decades before. The Harrills were savvy, reliable, scrupulously honest, and knew the business. We had a chat, they were intrigued, and we soon had partners. They handled the day-to-day interface with clients and the yard, which freed us up to concentrate on design and working with the engineering staff at TPI, headed by Clyde Dent. The goal for all of us was to enjoy the process, and maybe make a little money.

Shortly thereafter with a firm price from TPI we set out to find a few orders. It took nine weeks to secure 10 deposits.

While Sundeer had been a very successful cruising yacht for us, we felt that we had pushed her design too far towards comfort at sea, leaving some performance on the table as a result. After 20,000 miles of watching her go through the water, we had a strong sense of how we could improve the design package. Towards this goal the Sundeer 64 had a higher prismatic and was lighter than the original Sundeer.

One of the incentives for us to take on this project was the desire to base a design on the sail plan that had evolved from John Conser’s mainsail mistake. The very “roachy” boomed sails were far more efficient than traditional triangular mainsails. Air and water foils have various drags associated with them. The most important of these is called induced drag, which is a byproduct of the lifting efficiency of the foil in question. Induced drag is proportional to aspect ratio squared. The Sundeer 64 cutter rig profile is shown above.

There is a lot of misunderstanding with how aspect ratio is defined. Most think this is a relationship of height of the sail (or keel/rudder) in relation to the width (chord section). The actual way aspect ratio works is based on the shape of the foil, and how much pressure bleeding there is at the ends of the foil. If the foil has an “end plate”, if the sail is sealed at the deck or the keel rudder to the hull, the effective aspect ratio is doubled. At the other end, the shape, and how pressure bleeds around the edges, is the determining factor. A triangular configuration, like most mainsails were in those days, is the worst possible shape. This is where that big roach gets its efficiency – it has significantly less bleed than triangular sails.

From the lift and drag forces working on the foils, you get a resultant force vector and drag angle. Going to weather and close-reaching, the further forward the drag angle and force vectors point, the more efficient you are. That’s why Deerfoot II and Sundeer both went faster, pointed higher, heeled less, and had reduced weather helm, in spite of the fact that the sails were larger with a higher geometric center of area.

Adapting this concept to a new design package allowed us to have shallow draft and reasonable upwind performance. The hull shape could be a little narrower on the waterline, which helped motion and helm balance. We also changed rig proportions to significantly reduce headsail size and increase that of the mains and mizzens.

We stayed with the same systems, based on a large bank of traction batteries that lived on top of the keel ballast, that we had developed with Sundeer.

When we asked TPI about molding in freshwater tanks down the hullsides, they said no problem. So we put in hullside tanks with sufficient capacity to carry 100% of the specified volume on each side. We did the same with the diesel tanks in the engine room. This allowed the new Sundeers to carry their liquids to weather, another speed and comfort plus.

These boats were sold without options, fully equipped, ready to go. Part of the deal was that as we developed additions to the basic spec everybody had to buy in. The result was a very well equipped, efficiently priced yacht. Any variations desired took place after delivery.

We put 24-degree aft swept spreaders on the mizzen which eliminated the need for a standing backstay and allowed a very big roach profile. The main had a standing backstay. We worked with Dan Neri and Kenny Reed at their Sobstad loft (long since bought by North Sails – Dan is now CEO of North) on the rig and sail design, and Dan came up with a main profile almost the same as the mizzen. The forward triangle was quite small and there was enough area in the two boomed sails that the ketches could be sailed bare-headed.

Dave Vacanti helped us to create the keel and rudder foils on the Sundeers. Our goal was to increase the volume and delay the onset of high load stalling (separation of flow) compared to the way a standard NACA four digit series behaved. We needed the volume in the keel for a lower VCG on the lead, and for the massive traction battery bank that we wanted to fit.

The rudder required extra thickness so we could achieve our 2x ABS structural goal for the rudder shaft. We did not consider laminar flow type designs, as these require a very precise surface profile or they end up worse than non-laminar series, and we did not feel this was practical in a cruising context.

We had no really accurate means of calculating just how well these very different shapes worked out. But what we can tell you is that for a 65-foot yacht that draws less than six feet, the Sundeer series give a very good account of themselves upwind and close reaching.

How we approached the Sundeer engine room access is an example not just about being clear on priorities and understanding the consequences of certain decisions, but an illustration on how every single thing on a boat affects everything else. We had used deck level access to the engine rooms on WakaroaIntermezzo II, the Deerfoot 58 and 61s. There was an argument by some in favor of inside access, but a host of negatives made the on-deck decision easy. Consider the following:

  • Inside access required a watertight door. These are heavy, are not as well sealed as an unbroken bulkhead, and will allow more engine room noise in the interior as a result.
  • The door needs to swing somewhere, either into the interior or engine room.
  • Space on each side of the door is restricted. This impacts engine room layout and that of the interior areas through which you must traverse.
  • With single engines the door is going to be substantially off center.
  • Checking the engine room at sea means walking through a cabin, and disturbing the occupants thereof.

Exterior access sounds like a pain in some conditions, but compared to the list of negatives the answer is easy, or at least it seemed that way to us.

Correctly installed yacht systems with good access require volume, and of course there are competing interests for this space. In most design build scenarios the systems get short-changed as their rightful volume is appropriated for the interior. A big mistake. We can assure you after a lifetime of playing this game that the single most important aspect of successful yacht ownership and cruising is access to your systems. Good access also means the boat is simpler to build. It makes inspection easier so you will be more inclined to periodically check the gear in question. Periodic inspection allows you to catch small problems before they become large. And when you do have to work on something, it is going to be a much faster process.

Achieving this goal requires discipline. The plans and specifications need to be thorough. Sufficient time (which sometimes costs more up front) has to be allocated during the pre-build cycle to thoroughly vet where systems go and how access is going to be achieved. Once this is tied down, the plan needs to be adhered to, unless a better, simpler option is found.

In terms of build costs, performance, and the overall ownership expenses if there is not sufficient space for systems and interior, simply make the boat a little longer. It will cost less to build and maintain.

This is probably a good spot to add a word of advice on creating an environment conducive to projects being completed close to schedule without extra charges. Do not add systems after the project is started, and do not make changes. The disruption factor is huge. Maintaining a check on the tendency to add a small item here and there will pay dividends in the form of lower price and faster delivery. Over the years we’ve learned to add a clause to our contracts that say that changes after the specified date will be billed at 5 times the actual hours incurred. This may sound outrageous on the surface, but we can assure you that when the ripple effects and disruption factors of changes are considered, this becomes at best a break even scenario for the builder. The custom yacht landscape is littered with the carcasses of builders who went broke by under-charging on extras.

When it came to engineering the structure of the TPI-built Sundeers, we set a specification and then let them come up with the best way to achieve this. Our goal was to have a degree of protection against operator error. We used the American Bureau of Shipping yacht construction standards as a reference and then required higher factors of safety than the rule contemplated. Our instructions to TPI were as follows:

  • Basic laminate at twice the ABS required panel strength.
  • Keel support structure and keel bolts at four times ABS.
  • Rudder structure at twice ABS. This included blade, shaft, bearings and bearing carriers.
  • Rudder bottom third to be frangible, i.e. to wear off or break off under impact load before damaging the upper shaft.
  • In the grinding area in the turn of the bilge, where damage was most likely to occur if stranded on a reef, an elliptical patch equal to the bottom laminate was applied.
  • The impact zone from the stem aft to the forward watertight bulkhead received substantial extra reinforcements to spread load in case of a collision.

Of course, there comes a point where even the above will not suffice, but we have not yet seen this ourselves. What we do know is that Sundeer 64 Theta Volantis went through a true survival storm on her maiden voyage across the North Atlantic in winter. (For more on this see details starting on page 124 in Surviving the Storm). And the Sundeers have survived numerous groundings over the years.

We are biased, but we think the Sundeer 64 turned out well. However, when she was new and we were getting started with the Sundeer program the Sundeer 64 was not looked on kindly by the establishment. For one thing, at that time we were the only folks selling large yachts in the US market due to the luxury tax. Reviewers did not understand our systems approach–the big traction battery banks in the keel sump, minimized through hulls, etc. And our lack of overhangs, that was total blasphemy. It was said that the reserve buoyancy forward was lacking, and that in heavy downwind going the bow would be driven under. The opposite was actually the case. We had significantly more volume forward relative to our displacement by far than “traditional” hulls with overhangs. And when the buoyancy higher up did come into play the volume built up more slowly, easing the hull into the wave with minimum disruption. This was nothing new to us – recall that our last cat, Beowulf VI, had true wave penetrating hulls and no reserve buoyancy.

The fact that the critics said the same thing about Donald McKay’s extreme clipper ships in the middle of the 19th century tickles us no end. There were nine Sundeer 64s built, seven ketches, one of which had a tall rig. Seventeen of the Sundeer 56/60s were built. We have mileage records for six of the Sundeer 64s and they have accumulated an average of 42,000 nm per boat and four circumnavigations. We think this proves our point.

When Sailing Magazine ran a feature about the best yacht on which to circumnavigate they declared the Sundeer 64 the one, and said:

“The requirements for a boat capable of circumnavigating are fairly specific. You want a boat that is capable of dealing with whatever the world’s oceans can dish up; one that is roomy enough to manage the number of people who will be on board with all their stuff; one that is capable of making quick passages but still be able to be sailed easily with a shorthanded crew. And while there are a handful of boats that fit the bill, Steve Dashew’s Sundeer 64 is purpose-made for circumnavigating and it shows.”

The Sundeer 56/60 is one of our favorite designs. It put together all the things we’d learned to this point into a size and layout that is hard to beat for a couple cruising. The canoe body was 60′ long, with a very substantial engine room, aft storage area, and a huge forepeak. For those customers that had dock length issues we offered a 56-footer the profile of which is shown above, identical in all respects except for a shorter lazarette.

Taking into account what we’d learned from previous designs, the rig featured a large main with a small jib, really more like a staysail or solent jib. There was a masthead halyard for free flying roller-furled reachers, code zeros or asymmetric kites, all of which were tacked to the end of the anchoring sprit.

Three of the Sundeer 60s are shown anchored above (I think this is Fiji).

Not everyone agrees with Sailing‘s feelings about the Sundeer 64 being the best. Charles Doane, the cruising editor of Sail says,

“I helped deliver the last [Sundeer 60] built from Rhode Island to Florida through two February gales (including one right off Cape Hatteras) and to this day I remember it as perhaps the most impressive blue water cruiser I’ve ever sailed…The Sundeer is filled with thoughtful little touches…all of them designed to make a blue water cruiser’s life simpler and safer. Very few blue water boats are so carefully conceived.”

Of the 12 Sundeer 56/60s for which we have travel data, there are over 707,000 nm of blue water behind them, with five of the boats having been around the world twice.

A nice shot of the main and working jib proportions above.

Rodger Marten designed this swim step extension on a Sundeer 56. There is an argument to be made that this is a superior layout to the original 60. Note the back-staysail riding sail.

A few photos of the Sundeer 56/60 interior details follow.

To develop the type of average speeds that were our goal for all the boats, keep draft to a minimum, and achieve this within an easily handled package required design and builder discipline, and avoidance of post-design ad hoc changes. Few of the builders or owners we worked with were used to this form of discipline. With our background in performance cats, where we’d spend a weekend working to shave a few ounces, and a detail-oriented character, it came naturally to us. But we had to learn to allow for a bit of latitude with others who were not so oriented – or it would drive us, and them, crazy.

The Sundeer business was much more successful than either we or the Harrills had imagined, which meant more work involved. We had assumed that once TPI had built a few boats they would know what we wanted and close supervision would not be required. When we realized however, that we were going to need someone to continue representing us, we had the ideal person ready to go, but we could not secure a work permit for this talented Kiwi boat builder. The U.S. Department of Labor said we had not tried hard enough to find a US employee. There were over 100 Rhode Island workers on the Sundeer program; even so the bureaucrats resisted what we needed.

There came a point where we and the Harrills said enough. We both had other things we wanted to do.

And now we come to Beowulf, our all-time favorite, the only monohull design we felt worthy of that name.

Getting a cruising yacht right, near to perfection, is almost impossible. There are so many competing variables that hitting all the correct notes rarely happens. Shooting for the apex often leads to a sub-optimal outcome. The interrelationship of design and systems with people and chaotic weather is too complex to get exactly right. At least that’s our opinion.

We have learned that the best outcome will be achieved by making sure that the various decisions made fit harmoniously together, refining details proven successful in the real world of long term cruising. The urge to chase theoretically promising outliers that do not match with the other design elements should be resisted.

Although we’ve been early adopters and enthusiastic users of computer-based performance analysis, our experience is that these tools need to be used with a degree of skepticism. Predictions that look too good to be true usually are. The best results will come when comparing variables with which you have prior experience. In this manner the results can be quantified and risks reduced. Your absolute predictions may be off but the delta between the data sets will have a better chance of being believable.

The above notwithstanding, this writer is forced to admit to a total obsession with not missing details, while at the same time investigating all of the outliers in the big picture. Although this involves tremendous effort in front on our part, the frustration accompanying missed targets or blown opportunities makes the pre-construction work worth it to us in the end.

Beowulf is very much a Darwinian evolutionary entity. Her design and systems represented what we felt were the best attributes from all the trade-offs we’d made. On the surface she looked like the dream boat we had imagined from the very beginning. I periodically asked myself, what took so long? But I also knew that we never would have arrived here without the myriad of small details we’d learned over the years.

Beowulf‘s ratios, rig and indeed, boat speed, were much more akin to a performance multihull than a traditional lead mine.

Beowulf’s displacement length ratio was lower than any cruising cat, she had very high structural factors of safety, an exquisite interior, huge battery bank over the keel, washer/dryer, and all the usual cruising gear. We paid the drag penalty (an easy 5% of total drag) for a clunky but effective Hundested controllable pitch prop. Wet, in full cruising trim, we were right at 60,000 pounds. We added 24-degree aft spreaders to the main mast and did away with the standing backstay, so both mizzen and main could have optimized sail profiles.

Beowulf was an apparent wind machine (one of the pages from her VPP is above). In light-to-moderate conditions she could bootstrap herself to average boat speeds above true wind speed if the sea state allowed. She was fast enough that she pulled the apparent wind quickly forward and we did not need to bother with spinnaker poles downwind. Her articulating bowsprit gave the code zeros and kites sufficient distance to weather. Mid-boom sheeting and full width travelers, coupled with the way in which she pulled the apparent wind forward, meant we rarely had the boomed sails eased more than to the end of the travelers. Angle of attack adjustments were made quickly via electric winches that tended each boomed sail traveler. Main sheets were used to adjust sail twist.

We carried up to three tons of salt water ballast on each side of the hull. This was good for six degrees of heel reduction so that normal powered up sailing was rarely at more than 14 degrees heel angle.

And she was the most difficult build project of our career. We knew early on we’d made a mistake with the yard we’d chosen, and should have canceled the project soon after starting. We persevered because one of us felt if we did not see this through we’d revert to the norm for the next boat, and never discover what was really possible in terms of what we could handle as a couple. From start of build to launch of the hull with a temporary interior, the stress and hardship imposed on the family was unfair, for which this writer apologizes.

Sarah was just out of college, and with good boatbuilding skills offered to help out. We think this was an extreme sacrifice when you consider the environment.

Take the house we rented at the last minute, overlooking Donner Lake on a ridge at 9000′ elevation in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Considering what happened with the Donner party this should have been a warning. Sarah’s “bedroom” was a nook in in the living room, adjacent to a lovely boulder around which the house was built. She slept on the floor to the sounds of cute little mice scurrying hither and yon.

The shop was unheated, winter temperature near zero most days…And then there was the Saturday blizzard. Sarah and I had taken Linda to Reno to fly back to Arizona and stopped at the shop “for a few minutes” to check a couple of things. It was starting to blizzard and Sarah reminded me several times we needed to get going. We were driving a four wheel drive diesel powered Suburban, with studded snow tires and high ground clearance. We had extra cold weather gear with us, snow shovels, the usual for the high Sierras in winter.

When we finally left the yard and began to climb the road to our cliff house things were fine. But the last 1/4 mile, downwind of the ridge, the snow was blowing much harder, and a lot deeper. About 300 feet/90 meters from the house we high centered.

With the car now immobile we had no choice but to walk the short distance. The Suburban we would deal with later. The snow was so deep Sarah could not penetrate and I took the lead. By the time we reached our house we were both exhausted. I reached into my pocket for the garage door opener and had a sickening realization.

It had been a month since we’d used the front door, now covered with snow to the roofline. Traffic was via the garage. If the garage did not open I had just killed our youngest.

The door thankfully did open, though it then remained frozen shut for the next three days. When we finally dug the Suburban out it had three feet of snow over its roof.

By late April 1995 we had the boat to a point where we could sail to New Zealand. We arranged transport, and Beowulf’s hull arrived on a Sunday afternoon in Marina del Rey. Within the week we’d welded on the keel, taken the bare spars, coils of rope and wire and some hardware and fashioned them into a rig.

The following Saturday saw us afloat, with a dead beat out of a narrow channel facing the new boat. Our friend Dave Wyman looked inquiringly at us and asked, “Engine?”

“Shove the bow off and let’s see if she sails,” was the answer. And she did.

The photo above was taken during Beowulf’s first sail on exotic Santa Monica Bay. We are both relieved and ecstatic with the results. Dead uphill and then back onto the downwind dock without touching the engine. That could wait for another day.

A month later we were on our way to the Marquesas Islands. That 2,800 nm was not easy–ten days with unusual headwinds south of the equator.

Across the tropical South Pacific Beowulf averaged 300 nm per day, anchor to anchor. Fiji to New Zealand was four days. After fitting the interior in Auckland, the 2,200 nm trip to Raivavai in the Australs took us eight days. Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas back to San Diego, typically against the trades, 12 days three hours.

And these were passages made by us in laid-back mode.

Although we were not shy about using the engine in light airs–this being much easier on sails and rig than slatting–we maintained our habit of sailing on and off the anchor. With the jib stowed, we’d ease the main and mizzen down their travelers and Beowulf would tack without us touching a sheet. She would also sail in reverse, in which case we’d steer her with the mizzen, pulling it to port or starboard with the end-boom headsail sheets. Beowulf was sufficiently nimble that we could sail to the top of the racing fleet anchored in Portsmouth for Antigua Race week, and then back down to where we wanted to drop the hook.

Of all the pilothouse designs we’d done this was our favorite layout. That’s Hanavave Bay on Fatu Hiva outside–in our opinion the most beautiful tropical island in the world.

The pilothouse sole was the top of the freezer below. The open sides gave the great room a wonderful feeling of spaciousness and light. There was a cathedral-like feeling created by the opening into the pilothouse.

This will give you a sense of the great room expanse. Visually open, yet confined sufficiently to keep your body in check when working in the galley or office underway.

A proper sea-going galley with excellent ergonomics and visual openness. The pilothouse sole is above the freezer box on the right.

Owners suite above.


When Dan Neri designed the first main and mizzen for Beowulf they were considered extremely aggressive even for cats, and Beowulf was off the charts in terms of single hull yachts.

A few years later and the Volvo Around the World Race had removed their mainsail mid-girth measurement restriction. This pushed a generation of development in big roach sails into a very short period. Dan, now with North, figured out how to create flatter sails with a nice twist aloft and even bigger roaches. Compare the shape of the 2000 main/mizzen below, with the 1995 design in the previous photo.

While Beowulf’s rig was short–it looked like we forgot the upper third of the spars–it was very efficient. The nearly elliptical profile reduced induced drag. Both mainsail and mizzen had deck seals, themselves good for 5% VMG when heading uphill. The leech and the foot of the jib had battens sewn in that were parallel to the headstay. These rolled up fine and gave us additional sail area and a more efficient profile. With large separation between main and mizzen we carried two mizzen spinnakers, a mizzen reacher, a medium and blade mizzen jib

In this same time frame, marine instrument-makers Brookes & Gatehouse were perfecting their instrumentation so that we could use it while cruising to see how well we were doing compared to the theoretical performance polars. This was the norm on the hotter race boats, but typically not seen on cruising yachts. The problem was that to get usable data you had to start with true wind speed, and this was not easily calculated. It varied with height above the water (wind shear), temperature, and the type of air mass, and with upwash off the rig. We never did get what we felt were decent true wind speeds from the B&G system on Sundeer. You just had to look at the water to realize that. But by the time Beowulf was afloat B&G had gotten better at this, and coupled with a long carbon fiber extension to lift the wind sensing instrument high above the masthead, we had data that was usable.

The race boats by now were feeding their helmsmen target wind angles downwind and target boat speeds to weather. This helped keep the boat in the fastest groove. We got to thinking and asked Will Hamm if he could come up with a way to steer Beowulf to targets like this. He asked some arcane technical details, which I could not answer, so I called Jake Marantze, then sales manager for B&G. Jake could feed us true wind data, but not create a way to tell the pilot which way to steer.

Then I called the one sailor I was certain could figure this out, Stan Honey (Stan is also the world’s best ocean-racing navigator, as well as having been a part of every major ocean crossing, racing, and around the world record). I explained our desire to sail to targets and about Will Hamm’s willingness to build something special. Stan was planning a two-handed TransPac with his wife, Sally, aboard their Cal 40, so we might kill two birds with one stone. About a month later a small black box arrived, with a couple of cables. There were instructions on how to create a polar table that the black box used. A couple of weeks later and Beowulf was sailing upwind to target boat speed and down to target wind angles. When we were running at VMG angles, in some conditions the WH/Honey combo was good for 15-20 miles a day compared to the plain vanilla compass drive.


XXX  Beowulf’s articulating bowsprit was a study in synergism. Her ability to pull the apparent wind forward made it possible to eliminate spinnaker poles. The use of the articulating sprit also gave us a longer luff compared to what would have been the case with spinnaker poles. All of this made Beowulf easier for the two of us to sail efficiently.

How fast was Beowulf? Our best three hour watch put 61 nm on the GPS log. The top speed we ever saw on the GPS was 32 knots – running down our easting at 39 degrees South in a 55-knot compression storm. Best 24 hour run was 340 nm.

XXX Our grandaughter, Emma, at a very young age exhibited an affinity for the WH remote control. The four green buttons control our two traveler/sheet winches for the main and mizzen along with the two primary headsail winches. The toggle switches at the upper left corner are the anchor windlass up/down control. The yellow button is the momentary gain booster for the autopilot. The steering knob is beneath Emma’s fingers. Below this are the auto pilot controls.

In the 2001 Caribbean 1500, the two of us sailing to Tortola in the British Virgins, from Hampton, Virginia we set a record of five days three hours – which as far as we know still stands. And our favorite…the Guadaloupe to Antigua race, prior to Antigua Race week, wherein we did the 42 nm passage in three hours and five minutes, breaking the 140′ ketch Mari Cha III’s record in the process.

XXX The following year we went head to head with Mari Cha lll. The breeze was northeast, a head reach, and just 14 knots. Mari Cha put her tall rig and long waterline to work and beat us by 30 minutes. But she owed us and hour on handicap so Beowulf won overall on handicap for the second year in a row.

Beowulf was easily quick enough to really make the weather work for us. Her consistently fast passages were the result of being able to pick a weather system and then use it to our advantage. On the passage from Auckland to the Australs for example, we’d waited for three weeks for the right alignment, a high pressure with the center north of us, and then ridden that same high for the entire trip.

At some point during these mid-1990s, computer power and publishing software had been making great strides and in a temporary fit of insanity, we decided to publish an updated version of Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia. Like many boat projects, this started small. We needed to do a reprint and figured–let’s do an update. Elyse had some time available and was willing to help. She was in charge of production and stumbled onto an early edition of Adobe Framemaker. This software was supposed to enable production of large books, with auto table of contents, indexing, and cross referencing. We’d been wanting to get everything we’d learned about design and construction into a single book and this made a more thorough project possible. Little did we know at the start how hard we’d push the software.

OCE grew like Jack’s magic beanstalk and before we knew it, a year had passed and we were at 1,232 pages with 2,500 photos. Elyse massaged the software wrinkles and layout, taking care of the interface with Adobe who had never contemplated anything this massive. Elyse and Sarah handled the copy editing. Finally it was done, and off to the printers it went. Once again Dolphin made it their main selection. Orders were brisk, and we were quickly almost overwhelmed with order processing. Elyse stepped into the breach and developed a computerized system of order processing and communication with the folks who did the packing and shipping. Elyse would periodically catch us in moments of weakness, and she eventually extricated three more titles from usPractical Seamanship, Surviving the Storm, and Mariner’s Weather Handbook, along with Dave and JaJa Martin’s Into the Light, and Dan Neri’s Sail Care & Repair. During this same period Elyse was growing, establishing an early email system for cruisers, and raising a family.

By 2000 PC-based charting was making its way into the world, and we’d been asked to test and comment on a couple of systems. We did so, were not impressed, and continued with paper. As we were in the middle of writing a book on seamanship we felt obligated to be as thorough on this subject as possible. One of the companies we’d contacted was MaxSea, but they had not responded. Fast forward four months and we were anchored at Nantucket, having recently made our way over and up from Panama. We had a call from Brice Pryzo, the chief everything of MaxSea. He was not pleased that his US office had not responded. We said thanks, but the book’s about to go to the printers. When he said he’d take the ferry and demo his software onboard we said okay. And we were impressed. This was the first program we’d seen that looked like it was worth learning. Of particular interest was his weather routing module, then unique in the world. As we chatted it became apparent that MaxSea was losing money on its US operation, and had no presence in the cruising world. One thing lead to another, and we began to talk about a SetSail version of MaxSea. In due course, but taking longer than expected, as it appears is always the case with software, the SetSail edition turned up with about 75% of our wish list.

When we combined these capabilities with the WH autopilot, Stan Honey’s little target box, and Beowulf’s speed, we really started to have fun.

Elyse sold several thousand copies of the software, making it one of the most successful nav programs in that era, successful enough that Furuno came along and made a deal to buy half the company and take over our US exclusive marketing arrangement. This of course lead to a bit of…dialogue. But that’s another story.

What we loved most about Beowulf was how she allowed the two of us to cross oceans on our own. It did take care and prudence, a certain level of physical and mental fitness was required, and we remained aware at all times that Beowulf was ultimately in charge. We had to work together as a team, there was little room for error, and if one of us had ever gone overboard with the boat at speed the chances of recovery were slim (which is why we always used our safety harnesses). There was a certain level of stress involved as well, although we were not really aware of it at the time.

In many ways this water ballasted, 78-foot ketch, designed for the two of us, represented as close as we were ever likely to come to our own, very personal definition of perfection. Although she was significantly different than the designs from which she evolved, the philosophical foundation on which she was built was similar to all our previous projects.

Over the years we have had the benefit of dialogue, debate, and friendly counsel from many sailors and business associates. We’ve learned even when there was disagreement, as the ebb and flow of the discourse forced us to sharpen our thinking.

We would like to recap what we feel are the most important factors in chasing the perfect cruising yacht:

  1. Avoid setting arbitrary length restrictions. Instead, define the volume required for engines, drive line, and systems first. We insure in 3D analysis that there is at least 25% volume more than is thought necessary. This space is then off limits to the transgressions of anyone concerned with the project. The forepeak must have sufficient room for a collision bulkhead, a proper stacking chain bin, and a myriad of other bits and pieces. If there is a lazarette, that’s dropped into the equation. The interior is next, and then add up these lengths to get your LOA. The boat will always be longer this way, but the costs of trying to fit too much stuff into too small a container far outweigh the costs of the extra hull required to provide sufficient space.
  2. Space budgeting or planning has to be done holistically. Everything that is expected to fit into or onto the boat must be determined up front. Only when this specification has been firmed up, space allocation associated therewith completed, does the project construction begin.
  3. There are inevitable conflicts between comfort/safety in port and at sea. If the vessel is intended to go places, always give precedence to seagoing security and comfort.
  4. Design dinghy storage space and configure optimum handling of this gear early in the cycle.
  5. Make sure that all systems are accessible for inspection and maintenance without tearing the boat apart. If you cannot abide by this rule, eliminate stuff or build a longer boat.
  6. Keep it simple. Avoid complicated electronics. Minimize electronic integration in favor of separate systems. If you cannot understand how something works, get rid of it.
  7. Keep in mind that there is a negative correlation with complexity and lack of space. Small changes snowball quickly into huge consequences.
  8. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Never take for granted or act on what somebody says without first verifying the data.
  9. Take care with weight analysis in terms of mass and centers of gravity. Almost all weight projections turn out wrong unless there is a very high fudge factor to cover incidentals. Weight safety factors should be allocated by category of material.
  10. Look for unintended consequences, the occurrence of which might have you wishing things had been done differently.
  11. Many decisions are not clear cut. When this is the case, often making the choice of the approach that has the lowest overall risk will work out best.
  12. If you are going to push the edge of the envelope, do it in an incremental basis, moving from a known to the unknown in quantifiable steps. Swinging for the fences, design-wise, rarely works out.
  13. Avoid the influence of what everybody else is doing or selling. The herd is rarely correct.
  14. Base decisions on first principles where possible.
  15. Chase the details, as they are what often trip you up.
  16. Periodically challenge your design and systems habits. The familiar is comfortable, and often the best approach. But habits sometimes mask choices that could result in a superior result. If you don’t try you will never know what treasures might be just around the corner.

A key ingredient with our approach to design was the interplay between Linda and myself. Virtually every aspect was the subject of discussion. Linda has a knack for asking perceptive questions that force me to defend and often rethink ideas. Although our goals were ostensibly the same, what we were willing to tolerate in the way of trade-offs were not. “Feminine touch” is not what you might ordinarily associate with Beowulf. Yet that is exactly what Beowulf represented. She was designed so that Linda could steer, trim, hoist and reef when we were on passage. Beowulf was fitted with a bathtub, which Linda used daily, and the most efficient galley we’d ever done. All of this, from the choice of driveline to the layout of doors and drawers was discussed and fleshed out between the two of us.

In 2002 we decided to bring Beowulf back to the west coast of the US, after which we went into Land Mode for a few months. Having been gone for a large part of the year, we had to deal with the usual catch up. Also…we had begun to think about a next boat. Nothing serious at first mind you but we, or more accurately I, have been guilty of this sin in the past.

There were several things we were after, the first of which was making it easier to come and go from the boat.

Putting Beowulf to bed was a three or four day process of stowing sails, folding awnings, removing running rigging from sun exposure, dealing with fridges, etc. This was all in preparation for hauling out, as our preference has always been to dry store our boats when we are not aboard for extended periods. The same three days of labor was required to reverse the process on relaunching.

Next, our usable high speed range on Beowulf was limited by sea state. Generally speaking, through 14-16 knots of breeze we would keep pressing, but beyond this the sea would grow to a point where we’d back off for comfort.

A configuration that allowed us to optimize boats speed in a sightly lower wind range would make a significant difference in our average runs. We had worked through such a design package. Same length, but simpler and lighter systems, and most important a retractable fin keel. Richard Downs-Honey at High Modulus Engineering did a preliminary structural system in epoxy, kevlar and carbon. 

Our VPPs indicated this new configuration would be as quick with a pair of code zero headsails set as Beowulf was with two big spinnakers.

Idle speculation turned serious when we were made an offer for Beowulf we simply could not turn down during a moment of weakness. But when we started to think about the time frame involved in the design and construction of a new boat, and then the year or two it would take to fine-tune it, we started to question the soundness of building another large sailboat. We would be in our mid-sixties by the time we were ready for serious cruising.

We began to contemplate heresy. Not seriously of course at first, but we started to discuss what a yacht that had no rig, but otherwise familiar lines, an “un-sailboat”, might look like.

It was on our last trip up from Panama when we had an experience that started us thinking harder. We’ve written previously about our little dance with an un-forecast hurricane off Central Mexico, so we won’t bore you with repeating the details here. (To read that post from 2002 on SetSail directly, click here.) Suffice it to say Beowulf was a very efficient powerboat. Much faster, more comfortable, and longer ranged under power than trawlers. Lose the rig, cut off the keel, get rid of some stability, this might be interesting to try.

If you are wondering how we could go from Beowulf to an FPB, a key ingredient will be found in the photo above. That is Charlie Xray, a 20 meter/65′ wingspan self-launching glider that has few adrenaline-inducing parallels. How far can you go in a glider like this? Try a 1,000 km triangle or 860 km point to point. Or, 24,000 feet up (with air traffic control permission of course). This is three-dimensional sailing. There is nothing remotely similar.

Take the perfect day at sea: quartering waves, high speed surfs, the kind of conditions you only see a couple of times a year. An average day in CX was more of a rush, way more.

The DG800B is a self launcher.

In standard conditions it has a climb rate of 900 feet per minute. But once the engine is stowed you fly a ship like this the same as an unpowered glider.

The instrument panel was very compact, easy to reach and operate. The vertical speed indicator (middle right instrument) indicates we are climbing at 500 feet per minute while circling in a thermal. On a good day the thermal climb rates could reach 1200 feet per minute. In cloud “streets” with lines of lift, a glider like this could maintain 135 miles an hour while flying level. Many years later the experience of using this panel would find its way into our design decisions

I was flying several hundred hours a year, chasing records in the spring, moving from Arizona to Utah and Nevada as conditions dictated. The record chasing season ran April through July. Flight planning took place in the winter. In between we were cruising aboard Beowulf. In our free time we wrote a couple of books.

But a powerboat? That sounded like a recipe for boredom. No sails to play, just point it and go. Yuck.

It was the knowledge we’d have more time on land that had a theoretical attraction. Linda to pursue some non-boating interests and for me, more time to chase records in Charlie Xray.

To be continued…

Posted by Steve Dashew  (September 10, 2019)

19 Responses to “Steering Clear of Trouble: Our Search for Cruising Perfection”

  1. Bob N Says:

    Stumped. Stumped is what I am. For lengthy comment. So I won’t try. Sufficient to say soooo interesting. And valuable.

  2. Marcus N Says:

    Thanks for this wonderful and interesting read about the history and design decisions that have made the two of you some of my favorite yacht designers. I look forward to reading the continuation of the story.

  3. Steve Dashew Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Marcus:
    Part two, bringing us to the present, is in the works.

  4. Max Shaw Says:

    Thank you Steve and Linda for telling us so much more of the story. We are so glad we could hear some of it first hand from you in Fiji when you were so generous with your time with the kids and us (and for the trip in Cochise for me !).

    We had dipped back into the Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia recently to read up on heaters and ice as part of our preparations for heading north and commented at the time how much we enjoyed our brief overlap in Musket Cove.

    We had a relatively uneventful 3700nm passage from the Marshall Islands to Dutch Harbor and then a great summer in the Aleutians and Prince William Sound. We have recently gotten as far south as Glacier Bay and will be “delivery mode” to get Fluenta and her crew to Victoria by November once we leave Juneau in October. I have taken so many pictures of bears, whales and glaciers I do not know how I will ever update the blog !

    Safe travels,

    Max and Elizabeth
    SV Fluenta

  5. Steve Dashew Says:

    Hello Fluentians:
    So nice to hear from you and get and get an update.And particularly pleased to hear of an uneventful passage to Dutch! Prince William Sound and the outside of Baranof Island are what wetted our appetite for the higher latitudes.
    I’ll bet you are looking forward to a bit of a change in Victoria.
    Safe Travels.

  6. Joachim Roesler (JoR) Says:

    One of the most interesting and well founded sailing, sailors and their boats histories I’ve ever read. Thank you Steve and Linda for sharing. I’m looking forward to the second part. And welcome to the flying community. JoR USHPA #54961

  7. Steve Dashew Says:

    Thanks Joachim:
    I wish I was still pulling G’s doing aerobatics and flying my cross county glider, but I found that my reaction times were slipping and backing off on the performance level was not appealing, so those days are behind me now.

  8. QBF Says:

    Thank you very much for posting this piece.

    I’ve been following your accomplishments and adventures since I first read articles from your Beowulf D-Class catamaran days.

    Always the best to both of you!



  9. Ben Hines Says:

    Thank you for parting the curtain in such a storified fashion so we may share in your enthralling journey. Forever indebted.

  10. Steve Dashew Says:

    Thanks Ben:
    Although I am not sure abut the enthralling part. This started out as some recollections for a question one of the grandkids asked, and took on a life of its own.

  11. Rick Bridges Says:

    Mr. Dashew:

    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story. As a sail rat from an early age, I’ve always been attracted to unique boats. Growing up a few docks down from Paul Luke’s yard in E. Boothbay, Maine may have started it. Your designs have always stood out, in a good way! I read some pieces of the above story to my son, age 6, as he too has a solid interest in boats. I ended my narration of the story with the adage, ‘Do what you love and love what you do’ as it seems your family has found a way to do just that.

    Fair winds,


  12. Steve Dashew Says:

    Thanks, Rick:
    That is excellent advice.

  13. Scotto Says:

    very interesting read.
    loved it, all of it!


  14. Steve Dashew Says:

    Thanks Scotto:

  15. Chris Critchett Says:

    Very interesting article. Thanks for sharing, and congrats on a fascinating life well lived thus far.

    Never expected I’d be able to afford a Dashew boat, and now I realize I already have one: a recently acquired H18. Whose idea were the ‘magnum’ wings?

  16. Steve Dashew Says:

    Hi Chris:
    I would not want anyone to get the impression that I “designed” the Hobie 18. I did do the hulls, and a preliminary rig, but the final product was very much the result of Hobie Alter’s R and D crew. They were early adopters of what would later become known as parametric analysis with computer modeling. In Hobie’s case, they did the modeling in the real world, build it, go sailing, make changes, until the knew at the gut level the . boat was right. The genius of this approach was that Hobie and Phil Edwards, along with part time consultant Mickey Munoz, were all first class seamen, with an understanding of handling boats in the surf that allowed them to make the correct design decisions on a collaborative basis.
    As to the wings, I think these were added later.

  17. Justus Morschauser Says:

    Thank you for this helpful article! I’ve been doing a design project based on your muffler men at my art college the past several months, I’ve also been working with Joel from American Giants. If you wouldn’t mind I would love to have an email correspondence with you!

  18. Steve Rodli Says:

    I was wondering why there had been no posts since May; now I see why. Worth the wait. REALLY worth the wait, wonderful stuff! I’m on tenterhooks anticipating the next chapter.

  19. Steve Dashew Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Steve:
    Part two is in its final period of gestation. Should wrap it up in the next couple of weeks.