Ergonomics is the science of optimizing efficiency and safety between people and the spaces and implements they employ. On cruising boats, safety and performance are mostly determined by major criteria like hull design, materials, and rig and deck layout. But it is the daily litany of little things that ultimately determines the overall success and utility of a cruising boat. When done wrong, these things are constant irritants, like burrs in a blanket; when addressed correctly, they’re like a fragrant field of wildflowers.
The fleet of entrants in this year’s Boat of the Year contest (see “A Foreign Legion,” January 2016), for which I was a judge, showcased numerous small but clever innovations for everyday tasks aboard the contemporary cruising boat.
Upon waking, the first task of an average day aboard is exiting your berth. To do so without doing a flip over your mate is a small but significant exercise. Increasingly trendy island queen berths, seen on the new Hallberg-Rassy 43, provide side access to the berth for easy entry and exit, and ease the chore of getting to all the corners when making up the berth.
Next on the schedule is personal hygiene. By nature, boat heads are compact, and anyone approaching 6 feet tall usually has to do a deep knee bend to see his mug in the mirror. The Italia 13.98 solves this problem by mounting the mirror on a simple tilting mechanism that accommodates sailors of all sizes.
We then stumble forward toward the galley for the day’s first cup of coffee. A single-level sole makes this a smooth and safe journey, provided that handholds are strategically placed. But a sole split into many levels with tiny footwells requires total concentration, especially in a boisterous seaway. Bulkhead doorways cut flush to the sole, as seen on the Oyster 475, enhance the ease of movement, whereas even a 3-inch floor sill can turn the passage into a steeplechase.
The largest of galleys is still only miniature compared to land-based counterparts. Efficient use of space is critical. The stove-top cutting board on the Dehler 46 doubles the counter space and catches those pesky croissant crumbs. For those that inevitably escape, a removable dustpan well recessed into the galley sole, as on the Dufour 382, makes for a quick sweep-up — as does a countertop lid that opens directly into the trash bin. If that bin is on a slider beneath the galley sinks, and separates trash and recyclables, cleanup is that much easier.
Twin sinks are efficient and versatile. The modern addition of a small slot sink with a built-in dish-drying rack opens up counter space and secures dishes and cutlery until they are dry.
On the topic of sinks, the ever-so-chic birdbath sinks strike me as a triumph of style over substance; their very shape ensures that they will not hold water in the slightest of seaways. Decorative splash screens between the galley and saloon contain the accidental spray and keep upholstery dry. Perhaps the subtlest yet savviest galley innovation I found during BOTY tests was a cutlery drawer located just above sole level on the Hunter 31. At first, one might question the wisdom of bending down to pull out the knives and forks — that is, until you endure a night in a rolling anchorage, driven to near-madness by the incessant cacophony of clanging cutlery.
The Italia 13.98 took this noise reduction a step further with sophisticated door latches that eliminate all rattle, as well as padded spacers on all floorboard edges.
Rest and Relaxation
Rested and fed, we hit the decks for an active day. Being on, in and under the water is a major part of tropical recreation. Until recently, stowing water toys such as surfboards, paddleboards and kayaks has involved a tenuous jury rig of lashings to the lifelines. The Ipanema 58 catamaran from Fountaine Pajot sports a well-designed stowage rack on top of the davit structure, keeping the toys safely secured. The Bavaria Open 40 uses a swing-out kayak rack that cradles the crafts when on board and swings flush to the stanchions when not in use, opening up the deck forward.
Coming out of the ocean, we find that the fresh-water shower located on the aft swim platform (hot and cold, no less) is a modern luxury unknown to sailors of yore (hence the moniker “crusty old salt”).
Being able to spread out and find personal areas is essential for any ship’s harmony. Seats incorporated into the pushpit and especially the pulpit (for dolphin watching), as seen on the Leopard 40 and Passport 545, create popular spaces from stem to stern. The Jeanneau 54 takes this concept further with a designated lounging platform on the forward deck, complete with its own mini bimini. Cockpit bench cushions prop up into chaise longues or daybeds to make for perfect reading spots. Add in their built-in drink holders, and you may never return to work.
As the sun sets, the cockpit becomes a yacht’s social centerpiece. Most modern cruising boats relegate substantial space to console-style drop-leaf tables, with some incorporating refrigeration in the table itself. The Dehler 46 has a pop-up table light that illuminates the dining area without blanking out the beautiful night sky.
When the night chill sets in, all but the hardiest retreat below. On many of the newer models, this is into cushy captain’s chairs rather than traditional bench settees. Aboard the Hallberg-Rassy 43 MK III, for example, a fiddled cocktail table separates the two chairs for drinks and snacks.
There is no worry of the vessel running dry with a built-in liquor and wine locker, as found on the Dufour 382, nor of settling for plastic glassware, because several 2016 models offer a wine-glass rack designed to protect the crystal in the roughest of seas.
On most cruising boats, a good day ends with a good book. Designated reading lights that brightly illuminate your book but don’t disturb your sleeping mate are a must. In fact, reading in bed is an activity in which BOTY judge Tim Murphy specializes. During dockside tests, Murphy reclines in every berth to judge its suitability and comfort when cracking a book.
A prudent captain usually does a deck tour in the middle of the night to ensure the wind has not shifted, his neighbors have not dragged anchor, and all is well with the watery world. They need no longer wake the entire ship, as floor-level courtesy lighting leads the way to the companionway, much as track lighting in airline aisles signals the path to the exit doors.
Back in their berths, sailors can settle in for a good night’s sleep, with much attention paid to the cushions, now more appropriately called mattresses, since many new boats have incorporated inner-spring or sophisticated layered-foam systems.
Admittedly, one or even many of these small features does not a sound cruising boat make. However, once the basics of design, size and structure have been achieved, these thoughtful little touches, in aggregate, ease the frustrations of limited space and provide plenty of shoreside amenities for the liveaboard lifestyle.
Two-time circumnavigator Alvah Simon served on the judging panel for the 2016 Boat of the Year contest.