Classic yachts have become very popular. In addition to original classics being restored and new yacht being built to existing designs of the Old Masters like N. G. and L. F. Herreshoff, Fife III, Starling Burgess, or Olin Stephens, there have been a number of new "classic" designs drawn and some have been built. It is not a bad thing that new "classic" designs are being drawn, only that many of these new designs lose important elements of classic yacht aesthetics and details. Instead of being classic yachts, many are instead "repli-classics." Instead of works of respect for the old proportions and details, many are more caricatures of the works of the Old Masters. Some designers and yacht owners who would create classics don't quite get it.
One argument for repli-classics is that with classic looks above the waterline, and modern underbodies and modern, light, rigid construction, they are the best of both worlds. And, some come out very nicely. Yet, modern design does not always surpass the works of the Old Masters. Recently a spiffy new modern cold molded, carbon spared, Mylar sailed, repli-classic class participated in several races with one of Olin Stephen's NYYC 32's built by Nevins in 1937. In fact the repli-classic in question was slightly longer than the 45 ' LOD NYYC 32. The report is that the 63-year-old NYYC 32 won all of the several encounters. Quod erat demonstrondum. Furthermore, for some reason we are unable to understand, the NYYC 32 was forced to give time to the modern yacht under the handicap rules.
Two contemporary designers who really do get it when it comes to designing a new classic are David Ryder-Turner of Dunbartonshire, Scotland and Swiss designer Daniel Skira of West Rockport, Maine. Both are exceedingly nice gentlemen who have in common cultured backgrounds and easy going, but courtly manners that make it a pleasure to work with them.
David Ryder-Turner's 54' YawlDavid Ryder-Turner likes to point out that he is old fashioned, in fact positively pre-Raphael like. He does not own a television, a video machine, does not own a computer, is not connected to the internet, does not use e-mail (We are working on him.), and does not use C.A.D. in his design process. What David does have is a vast and intimate knowledge of the designs of the Fifes, especially William III, a thorough knowledge of yacht design and superb drafting skills. David has dedicated his life to drawing new designs that are what William III would have drawn if he had been given such commissions. Not only are the lines of David's designs exactly what one would expect from the Fife board, but also his details and construction specifications are also uncannily similar.
While not usually as fast as their Herreshoff rivals (so sayeth this chauvinistic, and biased Yankee), the aesthetics and construction quality of the Fife yachts were never surpassed. In the world of yachts William Fife III was the Praxiteles and the Michelangelo, if N. G. Herreshoff was the Leonardo. Perhaps only N. G. Herreshoff's son, L. F. Herreshoff, as able to combine the cold-hearted engineering and science of his father with William Fife III's reverence for proportion and construction quality.
There are only so many Fifes left. Still, if one wants a Fife, is not adverse to new construction, one might have a Fife in every way but name by having David Ryder Turner design a new "Fife." An excellent example is the 54' yawl illustrated here. This lovely craft was designed by David Ryder-Turner for Llewellyn Howland, yachting historian, fine book dealer, arbiter of good taste, and nephew of Waldo Howland. She is meant to be what Fife might have drawn as a smaller reminiscence of Louie's great-great-grandfather William Dilwyn Howland's Fife yawl FLYING CLOUD, later called ALBACORE. Louie describes this 54' yawl as a sweet hull with proportionally less wetted surface than the original, designed to cruise into remote harbors and to turn heads anywhere. With her exquisite lines and details she certainly would turn heads, but what Louie did not say is that she would surely be exceptionally fast as well.
Daniel Skira's 55' Gaff YawlDaniel Skira learned the yacht building trade with some of Switzerland's fine racing yacht builders, almost all of them long gone now. He has personal experience of yacht building in Italy, Spain and the United States. In Spain he designed and built fishing draggers using traditional wooden construction methods. As a designer Daniel has a wonderful feeling for the aesthetic proportions and details of many styles of classic yachts, both power and sail. With so much practical experience in construction, he is also a master of construction detail and proportion.
Some designers have a knack for fitting a big interior into a small boat. Aage Nielsen was known for this. Daniel, too, has this talent. He has a wonderful way of fitting it all in, and coming up with innovative, yet traditionally styled solutions. It helps that his knowledge of the details of yachts built drawn by the Old Masters is encyclopedic.
Our experience with Daniel has shown him to be creative and skillful in designing systems that can be subtlety and unobtrusively integrated into the aesthetic style of a classic yacht. Systems in a classic style yacht are an extra challenge because they must not only work efficiently, but must also be hidden from sight.
Although Daniel Skira's 55' Gaff Yawl is a new design, she has the genuine feeling of 1920's design, with well proportioned overhangs, rig and classic details. Her displacement is 20 tons on a fairly narrow hull. She is has somewhat the feeling of a Charles Nicholson design for a cruising yacht of the 1920's, but would be as equally at home in Newport or Cowes in the Golden Era as she would be today among the fleet of classics at St-Tropez's Nioulargue Regatta.