SHADOW, A Spirit Of Tradition Powerboat

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

Late last week I went to an event at 10 High Street, an art gallery here in Camden, Maine.

I was there to support a friend whose paintings are featured there this month. At one point during the evening, I found myself on the receiving end of an inquiry about Spirit of Tradition yachts. You might expect, as my conversation partner did, that given what I do for a living and where I am permitted to do it, that I would be able to define that term. No sooner had I stammered something about performance underbodies coupled to long overhangs and modern sails, rigging, and mechanical systems, that several exceptions to my supposed rule sprang into my mind. As I prepared to extract myself from the conversation and further embarrassment, my interlocutor followed up with “Are there Spirit of Tradition powerboats?”

At this point Jessica Stammen, my friend whose work I had come to admire, came to my rescue and I was permitted to talk art instead of boats for a few minutes. Now I know considerably less about art, but the difference is that I am not expected to be able to speak intelligently on the subject and this was much more to my liking. By the way Jessica’s work is exceptional and I encourage you to stop by Ten High Street if you happen to be in the area. If you’re not in the area you can check out her work here

Still, the episode got me thinking about this term Spirit of Tradition. I read up a little to see if one of my compatriots had a more concise definition, with fewer exceptions than the one I had come up with. I came across several other versions just about as useless as my own. I was about to pat myself on the back because even if my definition was inept, I was apparently no more inept than a great many other designers at explaining the term. But then I stumbled across this in a Wooden Boat article written by Nic Compton. It’s a quote from Dutch designer Andre Hoek. “The idea of designing a Spirit of Tradition boat is to create something which is timeless, good looking, performs well, and requires low maintenance—a boat which is great for the eye and will still look great in 20 years’ time.” So there it is, clear, concise, leaving no room for exceptions. Except why do we need a term for that… isn’t that just a description of good design? I guess we need one because of the unfortunate preponderance of boats do not come anywhere near the “performs well, timeless, good looking, low maintenance,” designation.

It’s not about pre-1960 boats as some would have it. That happens to be around the time fiberglass boats started appearing but many of the early boats built to the designs of Ted Hood, Bill Luders and others are more Spirit of Tradition than some of the boats we see today. It’s not about the acreage of gloss varnish applied to teak. It’s not about long overall lengths and short waterline lengths. If it’s about anything it’s about defining “high performance” more broadly than has become the norm, giving a nod to technological advances where appropriate, and insisting that aesthetics matter. Timeless? Well it’s certainly something to strive for, but like “epic” and “legendary”, best left in the hands of others. You’re going to sound more than a little foolish tacking these onto your own work.

So why not power boats? What would a Spirit of Tradition power boat look like? Ocean acidification aside the watery part of this place we live hasn’t changed much in the last couple of hundred years and neither has the way displacement boats move through it. With apologies to Mr. Johnny Depp and his gorgeous VAJOLIROJA– and then of course someone needs to revisit JP Morgan’s CORSAIRs as well- I’m going to stick with planing boats for now.

If we’re starting a new genre here I think we’re looking for some hint of modernity, even if it’s only in the form of a good turn of speed, low structural weight and comparatively fuel efficient, high horsepower engines. I think common rail diesels are a good place to start, and find the Volvo Marine IPS drives particularly compelling so long as Stonington, Maine, isn’t on your itinerary.

There must be more navigational obstructions in the form of pot buoys in that stretch of water than anywhere else in the world. Best of luck.

Like her wind powered brethren I think our Spirit of Tradition power boat should define performance broadly. Fast certainly, but also efficient, as quiet as possible (yes, in this case I am talking about twin bigs) and with great emphasis placed on aesthetics. There’s probably a multi-hull solution to this challenge though I have yet to draw or see one drawn that looks the part. Given the list of attributes it sure feels like the classic commuter yacht is a good place to start. And of course, like most things worth doing in the field of yacht design, Bruce King got there first. Bruce King, Gerard Dijkstra, Andre Hoek and a few others created the first and many of the most compelling Spirit of Tradition designs in sail. Here’s Mr. King’s LIBERTY launched in 1996 by Hodgdon Yachts, just down road from here.

What does it say that at 75 years old Purdy Boat Company’s APHRODITE sits squarely in my Spirit of Tradition Category for powerboats?

And what is it with wealthy predominantly white American males naming yachts named after vanquished Native Americans? It’s always struck me as just a little bit off color… but aside from the name, Van Dam Custom boats nailed it with GERONIMO.

And though the genre was invented here, we’re evidently not the only ones who can carry it off. Latitude 46 yachts acquitted themselves nicely with the Andreyale 15.

Then there’s Doug Zurn’s VENDETTA, which if I’m not mistaken is the second timeless power boat design he produced for pianist, singer/songwriter, and yacht aficionado Billy Joel. Credit to Mr. Joel for recognizing talent when he saw it. As far as Doug’s work goes his sailboats are gorgeous but you won’t find a better eye for powerboat design anywhere.

Here is a second look at the S&S Classic PHOENIX.

And finally here is Sidney Herreshoff’s SHEERNESS. One definition of timeless might be that your design is breathtaking even in an enlarged grainy scan of a black and white photo with screwy grayscale contrast.

So as far as I am concerned that’s the bar. Still I think there are a few things we can do to inch it upward. To that end here is our 80’ LOA Spirit of Tradition commuter SHADOW. Let’s plan on Volvo Marine’s steerable, forward facing duoprop innovation IPS drives for improved low speed maneuverability, considerable installation and operational simplicity, and dramatic efficiency improvements, compared to the standard marine drive train.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but good looks alone aren’t going to bring this thing to pass. As gorgeous as APHRODITE and LIBERTY are, let’s remember that Andre Hoek’s definition mentioned low maintenance. Look, it’s still an 80’ powerboat that at full throttle consumes more fuel per person than a Boeing 777, I’m just saying that if we can look the part without entire square miles of varnish I think that could be compelling to a potential owner. Also, I have a hard time picturing the client for these boats entirely happy with a 9’ lapstrake tender as the only way to and from shore. Yes, I know, a boat like this lives at its own dock, but that’s just because owners aren’t taking these things far enough afield. I think there’s room in this concept to accommodate a pretty serious rigid bottom inflatable which makes real cruising much more palatable for a wider audience. I designed around a Zodiac but choose your favorite and I bet we can make it fit…and yes, that’s a jet ski on the aft cabin top. The crowd monitoring the Wooden Boat Forum crucified me for incorporating a Stidd chair on my LAYLA, so I can’t wait to hear the reaction to the Zodiac and the jetski. My reasoning? Granted you’re not going to make any friends up here in Pulpit Harbor when your kids launch that thing and start zipping around…but there are lots of other places in the world where you can do it without raising eyebrows… and besides when you receive an invitation to serve as the committee boat for the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta the mast and boom will work just as well launching and retrieving a varnished Lawley tender.