The aesthetics of boats and other things

August 2003

By Dodge Morgan

I see some really ugly boats, more of them these days than in the past, and I wonder if the reason is that my aesthetic sense has simply gone out of style. Style keeps changing and leaves some of us at least temporarily behind the curve. Or maybe ahead. Could the elements of beauty be forever ephemeral? No absolute standards that prevail over time? I see a television report of a women’s-wear fashion show and the runway models look to me like walking sticks that move as though their limbs were not properly connected. I would expect to see such bodies lined up at a medical clinic. Back to boats.

A reverse sheer looks to me like an upside down smile, a frown, a very unhappy occasion underway. To use a reasonable analogy, a reverse shear looks like a woman who has trouble standing up straight. A flat sheer looks to me like the designer was either watching a fashion show video or a cereal box while drawing. I think the only elements of a boat that yield to the curse of a ruler are the masts in a sailboat and the flagstaff in a powerboat.

A hull with no overhangs looks to me like a floating carton. It is as if the designer just ran out of time. The analogy here is a woman with no buttocks. A couple of slightly non-politically correct images come to mind here. One comes from Murray Peterson, who is known for yacht designs with powerful eye-appeal and practical performance. Murray quoted a lobsterman friend of his for me one time: “I am not moved by a woman who is less than one axe handle wide at the fanny.” I don’t have the political courage to offer you the other image that has something to do with the significantly attractive rear-end form-factor of many native African women. (Jimmy the Greek was fired from his TV sports commentator job for noting this very kind of physical wisdom and I treasure my Points East relationship.)

In a tragic contradiction in terms here, I find wide transoms — talking about boats now — to be offensive. They look to me as though the builder began at the bow and moved aft and then ran out of material before the job was finished. This is one boat aesthetic that does not yield to my bias in female anatomical metaphor.

Boats that look top heavy displease me. This does not mean that a boat with massive superstructure is ugly, only that the mass better rest on an adequate foundation. A boat, and a woman for that matter, that looks as though she is about to tip over makes me feel nervous and causes me to look the other way.

Okay, so you know what I don’t appreciate in boats, what I do appreciate in females, and that boats are properly and universally referred to as “she.” This is the case no matter the gender, the social status, or the sexual preference (oops, sexual orientation!) of the observer. You will not even find a transvestite refer to a boat as a “he.”

So the boat that thrills me just by looking at her has a sheer like a smile, fine ends, a low profile, and a confluence of curves. One description that fits with me was offered by a fellow who surveyed my little schooner, Eagle. He wrote, “She has a fine entry, a firm futtocks, a soft exit and compelling curvature all over.” As Murray Peterson once said to me, “I want a boat that is fast and durable, but much more important is that she is one I enjoy rowing up to.”

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine.