Let the genius shine

Boat ownership, contends the author, demands respect for those who draw and build our boats — and the elegance of designs they hold dear. Photo by Chris Birch

Midwinter 2017

By Christopher Birch

The best advice I ever gave my children was to drink their coffee black and their whiskey neat. I rest easy knowing how much time I have saved them from rustling around looking for things like cream and sugar and ice.

If other parents had the good sense to share the same wisdom with their children, perhaps the other boats in this mooring field where I now sit wouldn’t be accessorized with so much junk. I see solar panels, swings, radar poles, wind generators, dinghy davits, lazyjacks, kayaks, bicycles and BBQ grills stapled onto my neighboring yachts as if they were Christmas trees in need of decoration.

I worry sometimes that the poor soul that designed or built the boat on the mooring next to mine might drop by some fine day and take in the reality of what has happened to the fine lines that he had created. I imagine the pinched wince of his face and slow shake of his head as he is forced to comprehend the corruption of his work. Let’s take a look at three of the worst offenders:

Solar panels: Once-respectable harbors are starting to look like NASA training programs. “Pluto or Bust” must be my neighbor’s motto. Well, Houston, we have a problem. Those things are hideous. Why the solar-panel craze? From what I can tell it all comes down to refrigeration.

The brief motoring accomplished in the gloaming that bookends any good day of sailing is plenty to keep batteries up for all reasonable shipboard needs. Air-conditioning and electric heat are beyond the capabilities of even the worst expanse of sharp-edged solar wings. A marathon of 24/7 refrigeration is the one thing that, in theory, solar could make possible on your overloaded sailing vessel, Everything That’s Wrong With America.
It’s not worth it Cap. Let me recommend an alternative: Leave the solar panel on the shelf in the store and drink your whiskey neat. Or, for those with a more delicate palate, embrace the BT Rum Tango. That’s Boat Temp Rum & Tang. Delicious.

Wind generators: These are every bit as bad as the person talking next to you in the movie theater. It’s noise just where and when you don’t want it. It’s not just any noise either: The wind-machine noise is the squeal of impending disaster. It’s the sound of the moment before a violent end. It’s the opposite of tranquility. Skip the mayhem: A BT Rum Tango will get you where you’re going, trust me.

I am not a seal-clubbing, climate-change-denying Texas oil man. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I simply point out that, instead of finding ways to make more electricity onboard, it would be wiser to lessen the demand for electricity onboard. This is conservation in the truest sense of the word.

The BBQ grill: They call it a backyard grill for a reason. It belongs in backyards and not on boats. Nothing can snag a spinnaker sheet quite as well as a cockpit-mounted grill. Then, while you are broaching, be sure to watch your footing. Last night’s pair of cheeseburgers will leave in your cockpit what appears to be a larger grease slick than Deep Water Horizon unleashed.

These fleece-grabbing, propane-leaking, child-burning UFOs should be left at home. Don’t fret. You won’t go hungry. There are plenty of appropriate stovetop meals to consider, like soup or stew.

One of the central tenets of yacht style is elegance. Whether it’s elegance of balance, elegance of function, or elegance of line, the common denominator is simplicity. Yacht designers and yacht builders understand this. They never would have entered their chosen profession without a fundamental appreciation for elegant design. Boat ownership comes with its share of responsibilities. One of which is to be respectful of those who drew and built our boats – and the elegance of design that they held so dear.
Just a little something to think on as you percolate your next cup of black coffee.

Chris Birch is the proprietor of Birch Marine Inc., on Long Wharf in Boston where he has been building, restoring and maintaining boats for the past 33 years.