Friday, April 6, 2012

LAYLA, a Take On John Alden's "Miniature Ocean-Going Tug"

“Layla and Majnun” or “Layla and the Madman” is the story of a Bedouin poet and the woman he loved. They lived in the 7th century under the rule of the Umayyad Dynasty in what is now Iraq. Consumed by his love for the astonishingly beautiful Layla, Majnun set out to woo her with his poems. Local traditions forbade the match however and Layla married another man. In his anguish Majnun lost his grip on reality and abandoned his family and community to wander in the surrounding desert, reciting his poems to the sand. Majnun’s body was discovered in 688 AD at the site of his beloved Layla’s grave. Before he died he had carved three verses of poetry into a rock nearby. 

In case you are wondering, yes, 1,272 years later Eric Clapton invoked the story of Layla and Majnun in the title of a song he wrote to declare his love to Pattie Boyd. That Ms. Boyd happened to be married at the time to Clapton’s very good friend, sometimes collaborator, and former Beatle George Harrison proved to be a fleeting inconvenience. Clapton and Boyd’s love affair was not long lived, but the song it inspired is one for the ages.

Now, I’m not defending Mr. Clapton’s conduct. He set out to and eventually did steal his friend’s wife. I’m just saying that if you produce something this beautiful in the process, well, it’s just hard to condemn the man.

A well known yacht designer once told me that from the time he had opened his office he had never prepared a single drawing that wasn’t paid for by a client. He was boasting, or so it seemed to me as I listened to him. His rationale seemed to be that the work was good because it was paid for. Now I have a stack of magazines here in the office filled with images of plastic fantastic designs utterly devoid of character. I have no doubt the designers were all paid in full for their efforts. Don’t get me wrong, yacht design needs clients. Without clients you’re just solving imaginary problems for imaginary people. I guess I just find the idea of assigning value to a man’s work according to whether or how much someone is willing to pay for it a bit depressing. For my part I hope the work I produce on my own time when I am inspired to create something is as high quality as the work I produce when I am inspired to fulfill the obligations of a contract. I’m with Majnun. Proclaim beauty where you find it. If people decide you’re crazy, so be it.

LAYLA seems an appropriate name for this week’s post for there is a type of madness to the process of creating these designs, and some to be found in the people that pursue this type of work. There is also, I hope, a measure of beauty to the designs themselves. The point of these posts, if I’ve never clearly spelled it out, is that there so much more to yacht design than can be found in the offerings of production boatbuilders. On a more personal level,these posts help to manage my own affliction. I draw these boats, and more recently have begun to write about them, because they find a way into my head and I’d like to get them out. Certainly I hope that someone will see them, admire our work, and then approach us about getting the boat in their head out and down on paper. But that’s the rational part and it and doesn’t address the elementof compulsion involved. If I can get these boats out and down on paper, or in renderings,maybe then I can have my head back. Well at least for a little while. 

Enter LAYLA ex PIONEER. Thus far I have presented the designs in these blogs as new designs. They are all strongly influenced by the work of other designers, but I have felt that our interpretations are different enough to cIaim them as our own. I’m not so sure about this week’s post. I’ve altered quite a bit but I think in spite of my tinkering, this one might still belong to John Alden. At any rate there’s a line between reinterpreting someone else’s creation and taking credit for someone else’s work. I don’t mind being on that line but it is the kind of line that has a right side and a wrong side. So apportion design credit as you see fit as long as Alden gets a healthy share. I’ll be satisfied if I can take credit for getting one of these built. 

Several decades ago Robert W. Carrick and Richard Henderson wrote a book together about the life and work of John Alden. If woefully lacking imagination with regard to choosing book titles, the authors are otherwise adept at their craft and their collaboration, John G. Alden and His Yacht Designs, was published right down the road from Rockport Marine at International Marine Publishing Company. 

I read the book cover to cover once but that was years ago. These days when I pick it up it is usually to admire the content of those few pages whose upper corners are most visibly dog-eared. With my copy of the book in your hands I think you could find my two favorite Alden designs by feel; the tattered corner of page 164 offers up the 390 schooner series, but page 307 and its “miniature oceangoing tug” PIONEER has clearly seen the most traffic. 

 Designating PIONEER as my favorite Alden design is peculiar for several reasons, but principally because I doubt whether many designers familiar with Mr. Alden’s work would designate his power craft as the pinnacle of his design achievements. It’s akin to a curator or scholar favoring one of Rodin’s etchings over his sculptures. It’s not that Alden’s powerboats are lacking in any meaningful way, it’s just that several of his sailboats, the 390 series and the second and last of the Malabar series schooners in particular, are so extraordinarily beautiful.

Carrick and Henderson give over just 27 pages of their 330 page book to Alden’s powerboats, and most of those pages are allocated to motor sailers. The authors insinuate that Mr. Alden’s interest in powerboat design began and ended with his firm’s financial bottom line and have this to say about his regard for powerboats generally: “They were inanimate, artificial objects driven by noisy, incomprehensible machinery."

Maybe that really is the way Mr. Alden felt about powerboats but I have a suspicion that these sentiments may be more accurately attributed to the authors than to the man they wrote about. I have a hard time accepting that Mr. Alden’s heart wasn’t in his powerboat designs, PIONEER especially. I don’t like the idea that anyone could produce something this beautiful without being consumed by that beauty along the way. I have tinkered with this design again and again, but for my part I’m not sure whether I have improved it in any really meaningful way. It’s not often I admit to the existence of a design I couldn’t make better, such is the nature of this yacht designer and his ego, but my hat is off to Mr. Alden on this one. When it comes down to it, I suppose, newer, bigger,and more complex for the sole purpose of being newer, bigger, and complex is the ideology of the cancer cell anyway.

It turns out I’m a sucker for great designs that have never been built, and there’s no owner or builder of record for PIONEER. The story of Layla Al-Aamiriya and the man who devoted himself to the legendary beauty is still going strong fourteen hundred years later. It’s my hope that with the benefit of a few renderings we can demonstrate the genius and beauty of this 70 year old design to a whole new audience. Maybe one of you reading this is crazy enough to build one.

This is a boat is purpose-built for your favorite archipelago. With 4613 islands to its credit, Maine will do just fine, thank you, but so would Scotland, Greece, the Philippines, Indonesia, Finland, and the Bahamas. Slender and easily driven, I would power with the slowest turning, highest torque Tier 3 compliant diesel I could find. These days I think Lugger might have a good candidate for the job. The flare and added freeboard forward should keep things dry while the reserve buoyancy aft will reduce the tendency to squat down by the stern as she approaches hull speed. This is a boat for that couple with an abundance of time, a measure of wanderlust,access to an archipelago, and an inclination to proclaim beauty where they found it. 



Vessel Particulars

Length Overall 54’9”

Length Waterline 47’8”

Beam 13’4”

Draft 4’9”

Displacement 49,400 lbs

-Brendan Riordan

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At April 6, 2012 at 6:05 PM , Blogger brian eiland said...

What a great presentation. I can feel your passion for Alden's work, and this particular design.

I've had a passion for some of his designs as well, and particularly a Alden 57 design featuring a steadying sail rig on a power vessel that he did not want to call a motorsailer.

I want to do a 'moderization' of this design for exploring the world. Your yard was the builder of "Hawksbill"....what great lines for such a purposeful vessel.

Brian Eiland

At April 6, 2012 at 8:52 PM , Blogger Brendan H Riordan said...

Thanks for your comments Brian. Are you familiar with the restoration of the Alden Motor Sailer Trade Wind that we just completed here at Rockport Marine? It's decidedly on the power side of things but a fantastic boat just the same. You'll find several photos of the restoration on our main website.

if you are interested.
Best regards,


At April 9, 2012 at 11:36 AM , Blogger brian eiland said...

Looks like you are getting quite a few comments on your posting at Possible some of them will turn out to be positive. I am always open to critizism as long as it is presented in a constructive manner.

I made a mistake above about the construction of Hawksbill, "Your yard was the builder of "Hawksbill"....what great lines for such a purposeful vessel". It was Hodgdon's Brothers who built her.

At April 9, 2012 at 2:57 PM , Blogger Brendan H Riordan said...

Thanks for your note. Maria mentioned to me that she had posted the design at and I enjoyed reading everyone's comments though I couldn't really tell whether people had also been to the blog or were just responding to the single profile view Maria posted. It was interesting to read everyone's reactions to the stack. It seemed there was an assumption that the stack in the original design had been functional as opposed to decorative...I particularly liked Tad's idea of hiding the radar/satcom equipment in the top of the stack! Still I think I'll stay out of that particular fray and maintain a dialogue here for people interested to correspond about the design. We have had some interest in LAYLA from a prospective client and will be working toward a detailed interior arrangement plan and additional exterior renderings with some modifications so stay tuned. Thanks again for your interest.

At April 12, 2012 at 12:14 PM , Blogger Tom said...

Nice piece of writing Brendan. It's good to see yacht design that is looking back as well as forward. There's good stuff in both directions.

Too often new boat designs remind me of the newer oversized houses I see along the coast. They don't feel like houses to me, and many of the new boats don't feel much like boats.

I have the Alden book and refer to it but I'll be dusting it off again. Thanks. Tom Young Rockport

At April 13, 2012 at 8:31 AM , Blogger Brendan H Riordan said...

Thanks for your comment. It has always seemed to me that good design is good design and timeless design should be the goal. One of the nice things about doing boats one at a time, each for a particular individual, is that designer, client, and boat builder are all free to ignore fads and trendy gimmicks. Enjoy the Alden book, there is a lot of good stuff in there. Look forward to seeing you and CHRISTMAS on the water this Summer.

At February 21, 2013 at 6:16 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Good morning. I have sent you several emails regarding this design but I have not had a response. Please may you check your inbox and revert? Very many thanks, Andrew Thomas

At February 22, 2013 at 3:29 PM , Blogger Brendan H Riordan said...

Greetings Andrew,

I apologize that we haven't been in touch sooner. I have checked my e-mail messages but have not found any e-mails from you. Could you please double check that the e-mail address that you have for me is
Alternately please feel free to contact me by phone at (207) 236-9651
I look forward to hearing from you.

At February 23, 2013 at 8:57 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

thanks Brendan...sending now!

At February 27, 2013 at 3:22 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

hi Brendan...I have emailed you further from 2. separate accounts and nothing so I think you may have a tecnical issue! I will call you this morning your time. Cheers, Andrew


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Location: Rockport, Maine, United States

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