Monday, March 12, 2012

After Nelson Zimmer: A Speedy Tender

Last week, I was doing a little digging around about William and John Atkins for my last post, and I came across a reference, actually a curious insult of sorts, used to describe the efforts of the two men. They were, at least according to some of their detractors, designers of character boats.  If you spend enough time in the pages of the boating press you’ve likely come across this term before. I think the first time I came across it the author was describing the Lyle Hess designed Falmouth cutter/pilot cutter type favored by Lin and Larrey Pardey and much heralded in their many books recounting their adventures.

I remember, upon first encountering the term character boat, not knowing exactly what the author meant, only that there was something vaguely pejorative in its use. The implication was that there was just a little too much of this and not quite enough of that to qualify the result as a “real” boat in the author’s view.
It’s an odd slur when you think about it, for what’s wrong with character. I suppose poor penmanship or atrocious spelling coupled with a particularly fastidious editor could get you character where caricature was intended. I submit that if a colleague or reviewer were to describe a particular design of mine as a caricature boat, I’d have a pretty clear idea what he thought about the effort.
But perhaps there is another explanation. It occurs to me that in selecting yacht designs to spend time with, as with choosing spending people to spend time with, you might benefit to focus your attention on the ones described by those who know them best as having character as opposed to being a character.

So that’s our idea for this week’s post, boats with character, and the boats of a man named  Nelson Zimmer in particular.
Mr. Zimmer sold his first design in 1931 and passed away on February 15, 2007. In between, he worked at places as varied as Toledo Ship Building, Fruehoff Engine Company , and Chris Craft. During WWII he designed sub chasers and served as an armament officer on munitions ships.  Mr. Zimmer left us a body of work of over 500 designs, and one in particular that grabbed my attention. He gave the design the inspirational title 21’3” Utility Launch, thereby securing his position in the long list of designers who eschew marketing in the belief that superlative design is the best way to generate business. If you’re confused by that last sentence look up a guy named Bob Johnstone, and take a look at the number of boats he’s sold over the years.

So with a name like 21’3” Utility Launch it’s a good thing Mr. Zimmer’s design is as pretty as it is.

Photo by Billy Black
I was familiar with the design, which is to say I had admired the lines on paper, long before I ever saw one in the flesh, so to speak. A couple of years ago, a man named Michael Brenner brought one to the yard. Michael Brenner has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things boats. He also has the most comprehensive photographic record of contemporary classic yacht construction in the entire world and a better command of about four or five languages than I have of one. Anyway I came to realize that if Michael was interested in owning a particular boat, the design warranted a closer look than I had previously allotted.

Wooden Boat, Issue #43, p. 121
Mr. Zimmer’s article describing his 21’3” Utility Launch begins with the words “in the early days of the internal combustion engine” and goes on to reminisce about the early post-World War I days of slim, easily driven hull shapes and almost-silent, slow turning, low horsepower high torque diesels . Taken in this context it is altogether possible that he would view my 26-foot long, 19 degree deadrise, hard chine, 315 hp + Hamilton Jet-powered interpretation of his design as sacrilege.

 If there’s one passage in particular to indicate what Mr. Zimmer would feel about SELENE, it would have to be the one he employs to conclude the first paragraph of the article: “The design emphasis was on the reduction of wave-making resistance as it was affected by length and shape rather than by the employment of dynamic lift, as with planning craft. If this approach succeeded in achieving only moderate speeds, at least it was done with an equally modest expenditure of power.”  So I think it’s safe to assume Mr. Zimmer would not be a fan of my effort and I’ll be interested to hear whether Mr. Brenner agrees with him.

Sacrilege was decidedly not my intention.  Mr. Zimmer envisioned a “good, common sense little boat” and achieved a boat with character. It’s not the common sense but the character I’m interested in. The fact of the matter is that there are people out there building some pretty outrageous boats these days. Take a look at these.

Rising Sun
El Horriya
 I’ve never had any aspirations about designing 100 meter yachts, but boats this size are essentially privately owned cruise ships and as such require a lot of support craft. I have an idea that our little SELENE would serve quite well in that capacity. What’s more, the attributes of an ideal megayacht support boat have broad appeal for a wider audience.  Speed and maneuverability needed to zip guests to shore and exploring harbors that the parent vessel is in no position to approach, are just as appropriate for a boat used to get out to some of the islands I can see from my office window.

 I can see a couple hopping aboard SELENE in one of the little coves I described in last week’s post to go out to Tarpaulin Cove for a few hours and then meet friends in Edgartown for dinner.

And you know, now that I think of it, common sense can be pretty subjective. Take a look at these.

See the boat on the left? That’s the one the client had in mind when he first approached his designer. See the one on the right? That’s the one he had built to carry the toys for the “big boat”. It turns out that it’s more efficient and cost effective to build these “support yachts” than it is to increase the size of the boat and ask your crew to play Tetris in the lazarette with a handful of jet skis and 25 to 40-foot boats. Okay maybe it isn’t common sense, but it might be good sense. I suppose I’d have to see the numbers myself but the people at Amels-Holland are convinced. This is an established shipyard with a track record of building some very large boats

So here’s our effort. As I mentioned, it has a moderately deep vee bottom the after edge of which is trimmed off for the Hamilton Jet intake. There’s comfortable seating for 4 passengers in the cockpit, and a fifth in the seat forward opposite the helm. I’ve indicated a fair bit of varnished teak in the images, but I may run a few more renders with a darker topside color and all-white superstructure. Everything  within the aft cabin has been allocated to engine and systems. I think we’d take this project to the crew at Soundown for a really first rate sound attenuation treatment.
The entire cabintop opens up with the aid of powered cylinders and hefty hinges aft. I know the mechanic will appreciate the access it affords and as any mechanic will attest, adequate access to a large powerful engine is an uncommon feature in a boat of this size.  Call it a ferry, a megayacht tender, or a cruising runabout. Just don’t call it a character boat.

If this post should kindle an interest in some of Mr. Zimmer’s work not described here, I understand the good people at Mystic Seaport can help out. 

-Brendan Riordan

Labels: ,


At May 31, 2012 at 9:46 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

I've seen that one boat who were located at dubai it really impressive one..

i can't estimate how many millions that worth..

Yacht Decking Installation


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

My Photo
Location: Rockport, Maine, United States

Rockport Marine is a group of talented craftspeople who design, build and restore wooden yachts with unparalleled expertise.