let it be

Earlier this week we ran a very interesting article about what Stephens Waring Yacht Design would do to modernize the Cal 40, entitled Cal 4040. We present another view on that for you to think about…
I agree, StephensWaring are talented yacht designers with some beautiful work (which I admire) to their credit. My point is that their “spirit of tradition” designs, while beautiful, are also compromises in that they are not (in my view) as beautiful as the boats that inspired them (boats designed in a different era to fulfill a different set requirements) and, while they incorporate some “modern” features, they cannot offer the level of performance of a similarly sized modern design.
Let me start by saying I really couldn’t care less what other people think of the Cal 40 and feel no need to defend or promote it, as I have had more fun and enjoyment sailing this boat in its original configuration than any other boat I have sailed (maybe it’s just me, which I can accept!). I would not argue that the Cal 40 is the best sailboat ever designed, but it is certainly one of the greats of its era and it is a total blast to own and sail.
My interest in the discussion is in a larger context.
As a former yacht design professional it is just really strange and interesting to me that anyone would select the Cal 40 as a candidate to “makeover” into a modern performance yacht. No yacht designer I know, knowing what we know now about modern yacht design and technology, would ever think of designing a Cal 40 today, nor would they ever chose the Cal 40 as a candidate for “turbo’ing” into a modern performance boat. They aren’t even particularly well built. It just makes no sense. As the Ed knows well from personal experience, once a 5ksb always a 5ksb (or 6ksb in this case!), no matter what you do. 😉
By the same token, if I was selecting a boat strictly to win races I would (OBVIOUSLY) certainly not consider a Cal 40, or even a Turbo Cal 40 (whatever that may be). It just makes no sense. Like Dorade, Ganbare, the Farr 727, Imp, Inca, Love and War, and many other great old race boats too numerous to name, a Cal 40 is a boat to be restored, sailed, enjoyed and valued in its original configuration, shortcomings and all.
The Cal 40, like many older designs, is very good in some areas (even today), and poor (in terms of performance at least) in others. The interesting thing to me however is that Cal 40 owners would tell you that a number of the design features and characteristics that StephensWaring propose to change (read “improve”) in order to “save” the boat are some of the very characteristics that work the best, make the boat so enjoyable to sail, and have enabled the longevity that it has enjoyed and continues to enjoy even now. Many of these design characteristics, rather than making the boat difficult or “dangerous” to sail actually make it possible to be raced shorthanded successfully, and cruised comfortably and enjoyably, by middle-aged “weekend warriors” such as myself and Rowena. Probably the best feature of all is the short (by modern standards), tiller steering (wheel was not original) and cockpit!
The last thing that people like us (and we are a big and growing demographic that will soon include the Ed, if it doesn’t already!) want or need is big powered up (expensive) machines with tall rigs, big sails and powered winches, and I think that the ever shrinking yachting industry would do well to pay attention to this particularly as costs continue to spiral and due to the the ever increasing arms race associated with “improving” performance. While I stand in awe of the generally younger sailors and pros racing today’s state-of-the-art performance boats (and I constantly look at the boats in search of details and ideas that I can “trickle down” to my boat), these sailors’ priorities will also change over time and, while as sailors they will always want boats that sail well, they will also begin to value other things besides performance.
As a design professional interested in design as a process of applied research and problem solving it is embarrassingly clear to me that the authors have not spent any significant amount of time sailing, studying, or analyzing the Cal 40, or talking with Cal 40 owners (there are experienced Cal 40 owners out there who have already experimented with some of the changes that the authors suggest), before proposing a solution. This is a big oversight as a designer trying to improve an existing design and/or develop innovative design solutions.
I’m no “purist,” and while some Cal 40 owners enjoy restoring their boats to original factory condition, I love incorporating new technology, modern sails, rigging, improved rudder design, and interior improvements and custom modifications onboard NOZOMI (yes, that’s the boat in the photo blasting upwind in 16-18TWS outside the Golden Gate…look closely and note the big grins on the faces of the “uncomfortable” crew). We have just installed an exquisite new rig built by Buzz Ballenger to replace the 50 year old original aluminum spar and, yes, it is also aluminum and all the rig dimensions are the original standard Cal 40. Sure, Nozomi would probably be a better boat (sail faster) with a taller carbon spar, but what’s the point?
The lasting “relevance” of the Cal 40 is in having a fleet of similar boats that are fun to sail, perform similarly and reasonably well over a wide range of conditions (in some better than others), are suitable and comfortable for cruising, still wins races when conditions are right (check last weekend’s San Francisco Bay race results), have historical significance, and provide a common basis for many great friendships and shared experiences amongst a diverse group of owners. Some marginal (or even significant) increase in performance will not enhance the value or “relevance” (it will more likely have the opposite effect).
For anyone interested in picking up an older race boat and modernizing/updating it for improved performance (an enjoyable project in my book), I can think of a number of great, old, well built race boats from the IOR era that could be picked up for nearly nothing and would be really fun and rewarding (and would make sense) to restore, re-configure and update by incorporating modern yacht design knowledge and technology. If I wasn’t so busy having fun working on and sailing my Cal 40 I probably would!!
–Anarchist Robb