13 questions for Auckland yacht designer Christian Stimson

00:38, Jul 31 2012
Christian Stimson
More than 100 boats from designs by Christian Stimson are afloat today.

Christian Stimson is UK-trained, Auckland-based yacht designer. See the August 2012 issue for more fascinating answers to the tough design/life questions in our On Watch Q&A.

1. What was your first design that hit the water? Must have been a special day?
My first design per se was a 12ft Cherub dinghy called Flying Trifle (as it was commissioned during a food fight at the UK Nationals!). That was followed by a couple of International 14s. They served as my grounding in fast performance sailing boats. However, the two B28 sport boats built in the Caribbean were my first yacht design proper. Building vac-bagged, foam-cored epoxy race boats in St Lucia was something of an adventure, but Antigua Race Week as an inaugural event is not a bad option!

2. When did you go out on your own, and why?
From day one. Why? It was 1987 and there was a global recession - no-one was hiring!

3. What's your take on Oracle's vision for AC34 and beyond?
I'm not sure what they have in mind for beyond, but yacht design goes in entirely predictable cycles of design convergence, followed by a wholesale change. We saw it with the 12 metres, followed by IACC up to V5, where the differences between the boats are initially large as the design space is explored, and ultimately become very small, followed by a new design rule or race format (dropping the Z-leg from the 2000 AC removed the need for reaching to be considered in the performance profile, for example). So we will see a cycle of initially similar but still different solutions, followed by consensus on where the optima are, followed by intense development and refinement around those optima. At that point, with the designs so similar, the call for change will be heard. Assuming commercialism doesn't drive the change sooner, you could expect four or five Cup cycles on the basis of design evolution alone. I think the multihull version is going to be good to watch! The AC45 new televised format with the 3D overlays is good.

4. Can you ever see the America's Cup going back to monohulls? 
Never say never with the America's Cup! It is not required to behave rationally as a corporate entity, being driven entirely by the desires of billionaires, not commercial pressure. So, whoever wins really determines what they race in. I'd be shocked, but not surprised, if one day it was raced in pedal-powered submarines!

5. If Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad had come to you asking for a Volvo boat for the current economic climate, what would you have come up with? 
If I had to draw a one design? With a brief to reduce cost yet still deliver performance and a spectacle for TV? It would be pretty much what they've got with the Farr 65. They'll make a nice pay-per-play fleet for some entrepreneur in a second life.


6. Many of the world's development classes (VO70, Orma 60 and potentially the IMOCA 60) are dying because they are too expensive in the current economic climate. Do you think that Grand Prix sailing can survive on one design classes or do the public need mileage and speed records to remain interested?
My 25 year telescope is long enough to have seen development/one-design/development class cycles come and go. The J24 was a one-design 1/4 tonner! If we had no development arena we would still be racing J24s, still a fun, popular boat, but come on! Economics plays a part, but it's a double-edged sword as a downturn is not the best time to fund tooling on the promise of boat sales, while a good custom boat can be built at reduced cost compared to boom time rates. Custom boats show the way, one designs consolidate at that design point but by definition cease to advance design. As one design fleets grow, splinter groups go for a more advanced custom design as a re-occurring set of faces collect the one design silverware. Someone likes the look of the custom design direction and develops a new one design, and round we go again! For Grand Prix, the AC or Volvo scenarios I've described above lay it out. Design convergence leads to near one-design ultimately, so if financially it makes sense (for the Volvo, but never the AC!) to adopt one design until the economic winds come aft of the beam, it's no bad thing.

7. In your opinion, in terms of design, what is the most underrated boat in the world?
Ooh, I had to think long and hard on this one. Many boats have attributes that go unappreciated, or have features taken for granted without the full story of what the designer went through to achieve it. You have to consider the Laser dinghy in the 'taken for granted' category. The amount of thought that went into keeping it so simple should not be underestimated. And what it did for getting so many afloat and enjoying our sport on the back of a car-toppable, cheap-to-produce, fast and fun dinghy is impressive.

8. If you could build a dream boat for yourself, what would it look like? 
A 50ft composite, lift keel, pilothouse fast cruiser, which is exactly what we've just launched in the UK.

9. You've been heavily involved in the new High Performance Rule which you wrote about in the July issue of Boating (see The new golden rule, p88). Do you think it will take off in NZ? And what has to happen for that to happen?
I sincerely hope it does. NZ is not alone in being frustrated with the shortcomings of IRC to fairly rate performance raceboats under 45ft. While the rule does an admirable job for club level production racers, it is not the right tool for the job for pure race boats of that size.
What does it need? A bit of courage in your convictions, some events to open the doors and run races for the existing HPR-style boats, patience on the part of owners in the early days and some attractively-priced, fast boats to get the ball rolling. In the meantime, modifying or converting existing boats to HPR is the key to getting some momentum going. We have a couple of options at 30ft (flat panel home build) and 42ft (utilising a Farr 40 rig and hardware) that we'll be shouting about in the coming months.

10. Funniest moment at sea?
Jeepers, there have been a few, but repeatable ones fewer! Probably ghosting along on Full Pelt in the pitch black on a near-windless Lake Geneva towards the small light on the buoy we were hoping was the right mark. We had absolutely no visual frame of reference. All was set for the bear-away hoist when a door opened beneath the light! It turned out to be the porch light of a cabin on the shoreline far away, rather than a buoy very close. Needless to say, a rapid tack followed!

11. Favourite anchorage in the UK and NZ?
UK? The fishing village of Tarbert, Loch Fyne in Scotland, and the Kyles of Bute are just stunning as a place to passage through. NZ? I've got a lot yet to see, but of what I have seen South Harbour at the Poor Knight's offers shelter from most wind and swell directions and a wonderful sunrise, with the added bonus of being right on top of several cracking dive sites! There or Russell, BOI.

12. Where would you most like to visit by sea? 
You have to rate Cape Horn as an achievement when you get there! But sailing amongst icebergs has always appealed for some reason, it's the weird sculptured shapes carved by wind and wave on a cathedral-like scale and the monochromatic blue-to-white colour scheme.

13. How would you solve the Eurozone crisis? 
I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment, but since you ask, either go to a federal Europe or disband it, as the half-way house has been shown to be flawed when the pressure is on. The latter is not possible without massive fallout (if a viable mechanism exists), but you didn't say solve it painlessly. The former effectively means loss of national identities and an averaging out of economic strength and that won't go down well with the richer nations! But hey, what do I know, I draw boats for a living.


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