New Design, With a Spirit of the Past: SOPHIA

3-D modeling and text by Brendan Riordan for Rockport Marine

It’s been a while since I posted about the goings on in the design office here a Rockport. If you’ve been keeping tabs on us in other ways—Facebook, newsletters, or out on the water—you already know it has been a busy summer here at Rockport Marine and I hope you’ll forgive us for the radio silence from the design office. Every project is an all hands on deck effort as completion dates approach, and ADVENTURESS has proved no exception. We had a spectacular turnout at the launch, engine trials and sailing trials went smoothly, and we got to show her off at the Fife Symposium in Castine alongside a few of her cousins. Perhaps most memorably we had a fantastic few days of casual racing in the Castine Classic Yacht Race, the Camden Classic Feeder Race, and the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. In fact, if there was a downside to that whole week it was that from the foredeck I never got to see how good she looked going about her business. It would be fair to say she was well received. In fact I think ADVENTURESS is the first of our projects to draw enough traffic to the website to crash the server. She did it twice.

She certainly looks finished in that shot. While it’s hard to argue that we’re not too far from finished, most of the crew is still feverishly working to tick items off “THE LIST” before she heads to the Newport International Boat Show and destinations south for the winter. The concept of finished hasn’t entered the collective psyche here yet.

In spite of the radio silence, here in the design office we have begun asking ourselves what life beyond ADVENTURESS might look like. My colleague, Sam Chamberlin, put pencil to paper so to speak, and came up with something pretty fantastic. Take a look at SOPHIA. I hope there is an avid cruiser and sometimes racer amongst you looking for the right 50’ LWL sloop, because I hope that life after ADVENTURESS might look like this. Yes, without a client in hand that’s boat a reverie of a fairly high order. But then “make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.”

Bruce Johnson, our new colleague and former president of Sparkman & Stephens, has said the best modern yacht designs must have a sense of place and a sense of history. I submit that careful study of SOPHIA brings to mind the best of CCA era cruiser racers: BARUNA, BOLERO, PTARMIGAN, and AVANTI. These were large, ocean-capable yachts that combined power and grace, elegant lines with robust construction. I won’t go into the historical development of rating rules in part because there are others much more qualified than myself who have already undertaken the task. Sufficient to say that SOPHIA is inspired by designs of a specific lineage. Any effort to fully appreciate her forbears deserves a close look at the development of the Cruising Club of America (CCA) Rule. Chamberlin clearly favors a little more beam and a little less draft than the old CCA ocean racers for a modern cruiser. If you are of a mind to seek out an introduction to the CCA rule you could do worse than Olin Stephens’ autobiography ALL THIS AND SAILING, TOO.

Olin Stephens listed these designs amongst his favorites for their success in combining racing ability and the comforts associated with cruising. If it seems hubris to aspire to such company, so be it. Here in the design office at Rockport Marine we are surrounded by a level of boatbuilding talent such that we have a responsibility to aspire to greatness on the design end. (The following images are courtesy the blog at Sparkman & Stephens.)

There’s an interesting subtext throughout Olin Stephens’ autobiography, but particularly in his few pages of conclusion about the concept of balance. He writes of striving for balance in his designs, yes, but also in life outside his profession. He describes himself as a man consumed by his profession, by a desire to create boats that were successful, but also as someone who derived a great deal of joy in music, architecture, and relationships with friends and family wholly outside his professional circle. I think his words carry lessons for all of us about the wisdom of avoiding extreme positions. I was particularly struck by a story he recounts of racing six meters in the Solent in 1932. He wrote of how hard the team worked to prepare and how easily they won. It raised for him a question about the role of the professional in sailboat racing, and of the “fair limits to serious preparation.”

“If the contestants have similar views of the importance of the sport and of winning, and if they are matched in the degree of effort they are ready to expend, then the match is fair and good. It’s fun to participate. When the competitors have great differences in approach, any contest is less than satisfactory. Or should I say unfair.”

I have long thought of day racing dissimilar sailboats a peculiar activity. It’s not about the speed. A marathon runner is often faster on foot over the same distance. But the truth is, as Olin Stephens knew as well as anyone, it can be an awful lot of fun. But you need to keep it fun. Olin has written that he designed boats because of the joy he experienced in sailing. It is, I think, significant that a man who enjoyed such unprecedented success designing racing sailboats inquired of his readers “Is there not something incongruous in any sport pursued for money? Is it not the fun that defines it as a sport?” If commissioning the design of a sailing yacht and then taking that creation around a race course or around the world is about anything, it should be about pleasure. It has always seemed to me that you keep it fun on the racecourse either by racing small and responsive one design classes with as many boats on the starting line as possible, or racing something large and exceptionally comfortable over long distances. SOPHIA is fun of the latter type.

SOPHIA was envisioned as an ideal cruiser and a sometimes racer. Her arrangement reflects a yacht that will carry an owner and experienced small crew, with or without a professional captain in both safety and comfort for the duration of voyage around the race course or around the world. She is a true double stateroom sloop with raised deckhouse amidships, ample galley and a comfortable salon below. The owner’s party enjoys excellent privacy in the aft stateroom. Above decks the cockpit and sail plan have been arranged for comfort and manageability throughout.

Working in close collaboration with mechanics and system technicians, you learn the importance of providing ample space for the installation and service of mechanical equipment. The most experienced cruising sailors insist on careful study of the layout of these components because they know firsthand that they may well be the one changing a belt or clearing air in the fuel line. Not surprisingly, the most experienced cruising owners and captains also seem to be the ones insisting on simplicity of mechanical systems. It’s not that experienced cruising sailors are in some way immune to the pleasures of air conditioning in the tropics, it’s that they appreciate that some of the space allocated to the now larger generator used to permit access to inspect the bellows on the dripless shaft seal.

SOPHIA shows a healthy space for an auxiliary engine in a cruiser of her type. We’ll work closely with the client to fill out the remainder of the systems specification. And in the process we’ll witness time and time again what Olin alludes to learning in physics classes in high school and his career afterward: There’s no such thing as a free lunch, two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time, and good boats result from rational thinking.

In the conclusion of his autobiography Olin writes, “The boats, of course, have changed for the faster but, as sea boats, the poorer.” His tone is wistful, as if he almost wished his legacy were otherwise. “That negative has to do mainly with comfort and sailing pleasure. It is disappointing that so little of our greatly increased new knowledge has been applied to all ‘round improvement…Comfort at sea is a worthy objective.”

If we can’t alter the trend of faster at the expense of comfort and pleasure at least we can cast our lot with Mr. Stephens and offer an alternative. If one of you is of a mind to undertake it with I submit there’s an awful lot of fun to be had in proving his point.