Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shaped by Wind and Wave

Dudley Dix's New Book!

Boats and boat-design have fascinated me for quite some time. There simply is no more interesting mix of art and science in existence. Nothing more likely to generate a good discussion about form and function, all mixed up with adventure, adrenalin, tradition and good living! I was therefore very happy to receive a copy of Dudley Dix's new book - in which he explains his personal perspectives on design priorities, and how they have been formed through his own experiences of living, sailing, and boat building in the "Cape of Good Hope", a.k.a. Cape of Storms!
As with any noble pursuit - sport, fine wine, oil painting, or the design of a classic yacht - the enjoyment of the product is enabled by an appreciation of the approach used, what the designer/maker was trying so hard to achieve, and how he/she got there. In the case of a yacht - it is a fascinating experience just to see the design - before the boat is even built or sailed - to see the how the designer has creatively tackled the multitude of challenges inherent in every boat design. Every case is a complex mix of priorities including considerations for cost, seaworthiness, comfort, manageability, type of build, performance, looks and many others. Just the shape of the hull underbody is an adventure story on its own! (Ch. 5)

Isn't it all done by computer these days? Err- no. When a yacht designer finishes at Westlawn or University or similar, they can tell how it float, balance and eprform, and not break hopefully, (plus a good few examples of good practise), but the philosophy and style of their designs is very much a product of personal creativity and personal values . . .

This is what Dudley's book is essentially about - what his values and priorities on yachts and boats are, and the sensible design techniques for meeting them. All this is underpinned from the perspective of an ordinary man working on a budget, maybe home-building. Much of it is related to his personal experience of growing up and sailing in the very challenging waters off the Cape of Good Hope, of dinghy sailing in the fresh winds of Zeekoevlei as a kid, his passion for surfing, and the experience of building his own keelboats. Then it goes on to how his career as a designer took off following the success of his first design "Concept Won" - which gained him a major international award, and gave him a basis for many of the very successful designs that followed.

As someone who has good experience of some Dudley's boats (ref the rest of this blog!), and has sailed in the same waters, I was able to relate directly to all of it, and was compelled to read the whole book from start to finish in just two days (its quite a lot of book).

As a reference book, the content is simple and very easy to read, ideal for the ordinary yachtsman or boatowner. It is not full of mathematics, rather it explains the elements of yacht design at a practical and concept level. It won't make you a designer, but it will give give you a very good insight into the elements of yacht design, including hulls, rigs and most inbetween. For prospective and amateur boat builders, it is a must - with great chapters on choice of material, building techniques, even options for turning the hull. For anyone sailing around the south tip of Africa (common these days), Chapter 18 is a must. This is a fine piece of reality, concise but sobering, and for some folk will justify the book on its own.

There is also a chapter on Ant Steward, the only man to who sailed around the world on an open boat one of Dudley's designs - a modified TLC19. Certainly Dudley cannot be blamed for this idea - Ant was on his own with this umm - amazing endeavour - but Dudley is uniquely placed to describe this feat, which must rate as possibly the most daring sailing challenge ever undertaken, along with the strengths and limitations of the boat used. In my opinion, there is nothing quite like this for bringing out the real priorities and needs of a sailing boat on rough waters . . . . its not called "Shaped by Wind and Wave" by accident!

It now has pride of place in my boat library, right alongside Dave Gerr's "The Nature of Boats", Adlard Coles (Peter Bruce) "Heavy Weather Sailing", Tom Cunliffe's "The Complete Yachtmaster", Joshua Slocum's "Sailing Alone around the World", and Frank Robb's "Handling Small Boats in Heavy Weather" (even though it is a bit dated now). I have dozens of others but these are the "must reads".

At USD 30 its very reasonable - copies are available from - details on Dudley's website at An e-reader version is also available now.