What’s not to like about sitting atop a workbench with Beetle Cats in various stages of construction spread out in a row, and listening to iconic cruising boat designer Chuck Paine tell stories and show pictures of 40 years’ worth of his drop-dead gorgeous designs.
Chuck was in Newport, Rhode Island, on a foggy April night as part of the International Yacht Restoration School’s monthly lecture series, which this spring has focused on marine-related books and authors. Many of his stories and most of the photos we saw can be found in My Yacht Designs and the Lessons they Taught Me, available from the author at his website, www.chuckpaine.com. It’s a fun book. Not a sit-down-and-read-it-cover-to-cover tome, but rather one you’ll want to pickup and return to whenever you have a need for a good tale, humorous anecdote, or dazzling eye candy of the nautical sort.
Chuck’s presentation included his childhood in Jamestown, Rhode Island, where though his family was not from the yachtie set, he was surrounded by views of Narragansett Bay chock-full of sailboats on summer afternoons. He himself was hooked on boats early on, and there’s a photo of his brother, Art, and him with their garage-built Blue Jay in the driveway. Art would join him later, after Chuck’s early design years with Dick Carter, and illustrate the line drawings that began to attract a loyal following of buyers. Those illustrations, said Chuck, “helped snag customers. If you snag a customer, you’re a professional.”
Chuck’s earliest success was the 26-foot Frances. After a boat shop fire destroyed his first attempt at building the double-ender, he pushed on to craft a second, which caught the eye of Tom Morris, founder of Morris Yachts. For the next four decades the two men would find their careers intertwined as Tom and his craftsmen brought to life the designs drawn by Chuck and his draftsmen.
Chuck’s largest design: The 125-foot aluminum sloop launched as Mandalay.
His personal best: he considers it to be the 50-foot Wings of Grace. It would be hard to argue with him on that one. The boat was profiled, by the way, in the April 2008 issue of _Cruising World_.
Two more take-aways from his talk in Newport: Of all his design series—the Morris Oceans, the Bermudas, the performance cruisers, and motor boats, his favorite projects have been the Spirit of Tradition sailboats, which call for historical research, respect for the original designers, and present the challenge of how to make improvements on those earlier efforts. The second thing you’ll want to know is that Chuck’s own favorite boat is the Herreshoff 12½, from the legendary Captain Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, which he considers to be the gold standard of ergonomic design.
Asked why he likes the boat so much—he’s owned one for 30 years or better—he said you step aboard and sit down and you put your hand down on a beautifully shaped elliptical bulb on the tiller. The seat backs are angled just right when you lean back, and then when you stretch out your legs, the seat opposite provides a perfect foot rest.
That’s big praise coming from the guy a lot of us would say set the bar for our own favorite boats.