Editorial March 2005 Issue

Trend or Just Trendy?

In 1962, when Thomas Kuhn wrote about paradigm shifts in his opus The Structure of Scientific Revolution, he described scientific advancement not as evolutionary, but rather as a "series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions," and in those revolutions, wrote Kuhn, "one conceptual world view is replaced by another." Though such abrupt change is rare in the sailing industry, we may well be in the presence of a minor "shift."

Yacht Designer Jim Taylor—one of five who participated in our Designers' Conference (see story this issue)—identifies an emerging subgenre of boats in that piece, which seems to have sprung up out the proverbial blue: "There's a growing niche for sexy profiles and self-tacking jibs," said Taylor, "for sailors who will spend three to four hours a week on their boat." Though he refrained from naming specific boats or manufacturers, his remarks closely outline the new breed of high-style, high-performance, and high-dollar daysailers. Among these are the Morris 36, the Hinckley DS 42, the Friendship 40, and to some extent J/Boats new J/100.

The lines of each of these designs are undeniably pleasing to the eye. Hinckley's marketing verbiage waxes rhapsodically about "old world elegance" married to "state-of-the-art technology," and that combination appears to be the unifying theme of these craft. Certainly the simple sail plans on these vessels seem appropriate to the task of easy, day-time sailing. And the commodious, well-appointed cockpits underscore that as the main emphasis of this breed. Yet it's hard to get beyond the price tags hung on these beauties.

The J/100 is a 32-foot sailboat without standing headroom, nor a head, that lists for slightly upward of $120,000. At 42' 3" LOA, the Hinckley DS 42 offers a comfortable but basic interior with plenty of glitzy highlights for somewhere in the low $700,000 range. And the Morris 36 will get you around the harbor in elegant style for $289,000, but don't expect much once you go below. (Company literature is certainly honest, describing this vessel's house as a "modest cabin." Yes, there's an enclosed head and a main saloon, but we felt positively Gulliverian crawling around down below.)

It's encouraging that performance hasn't been extricated from the formula for this new breed. Hinckley's DS 42 offers a carbon mast and boom as standard equipment (both have been faux-finished to resemble wood). The sail area to displacement ratio on the J/100 is 22, and that of the Morris 36 is 24.6. And the Friendship 40, the Hinckley, and the Morris all have sail controls led to a point near the helm station, which we applaud.

Admittedly, we havent' sailed these boats, but there appears to be more elegance than efficiency at work here. You can pull all the strings from the helm aboard the Friendship 40, but you'll have to step out of the cockpit to move the sheet lead cars. Same with the Hinckley. That's decidedly not state-of-the-art, and certainly not as safe as it would be if these boats had lifelines.

We like that boatbuilders do occasionally seek to push the envelope and alter the status quo when it becomes stagnant. In our industry, they can be formidable agents of change. But these particular offerings—expensive daysailers that serve up more form than function—don't appear to achieve much in the way of advancing our pastime. With proven boats like the Alerion Express 28 and several elegant Joel White designs still in production, it's appropriate to wonder 'who needs these new pricey toys?' Things may be shifting, but we're pretty sure that this revolution has yet to catch fire.

-Dan Dickison

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