July 24th, 2006 - Seattle, WA.
We were working on a 53’
cruising boat project with Bill Stevens when a little over a year ago he
suggested we try a new project. The idea was to produce in China a one design,
affordable, club racer that would help promote sailboat racing in China. There
was already some racing going on there but the boats in use were at best worn
out and very mismatched for one design racing. Bill knew we already had a good
yard and all we needed was a design. Bill is a bit of a visionary.
The idea was to design a boat
that would fit into a container for shipping. For me that meant manipulating the
beam of the boat so that when the boat was tilted 30 degrees it fit tightly into
the container. Bill chose 10 meters as the LOA we would work with. I drew a
light and fast hull with a lifting bulb keel and outboard rudder. Bill wanted to
have the preliminary design finished in time for him to take it to the Shanghai
boat show. I finished the preliminary drawings and off flew Bill to China. That
was the last I heard of the project until about 6 weeks later when I logged onto
the SAILING ANARCHY website and saw our 10 meter boat on the home page. There
was no caption other than something to the effect of “Look at this new design”.
Bill called me immediately and said “Don’t tell them anything until I give the
Speculation on SA raged and the
guesses as to what the new design was, who designed it and who the builder was
were all over the map. The guessing went on for four days then Bill called me
and said “Now you can tell them”. I went onto SA and explained the project and
casually mentioned that we had the hope of bringing this boat in for “under the
magic price”. To me this meant $50,000. By now the SA board was humming with
interest and Bill flew off to China to negotiate a contract with the Han Sheng
yard in Xiamen. At this stage the SAILING ANARCHY part of the equation was still
an unknown. Bill returned and announced on SA that the price of the boat ex the
factory would be $39,500 with sails. This price would be held for the first 50
boats. Bill also announced that a $1,000 deposit would hold a hull number for
buyers but we had no idea of what the delivery times would be. Regardless
deposits starting coming in very quickly as interest in the design grew.
I was soon peppered with
questions as to the specifics of the design. Unfortunately all that existed of
the design at that point was preliminary drawings and I made this very clear to
the readers of SA. “There are no specs. There is no real design as of yet.” Then
without thinking much about it I suggested that the SA readers contribute ideas
that would help me solidify the design. This opened the flood gate and started a
process that I think is unique in the history of American yacht building.
Of course the design ideas I
was given through SA were often contradictory and often at odds with Bill’s
vision of the boat. There were some good, heated arguments, plenty of name
calling and the type of rough and tumble discourse you can typically find on SA.
But the bottom line is that it worked pretty well and soon we had a design
coming together that seemed to satisfy the collected needs of the SA crew.
Deposits were rolling in daily from all over the world and before long the first
50 boats were all spoken for. But that did not stop would be buyers from
ordering hulls beyond number 50 despite the fat that we could no guarantee a
price. Today we have deposits for 107 boats.
There was a lot of China
bashing in the early days of the project. Here was plenty of Bob Perry bashing
too. Bill took a few direct hits on the nose as did his son Brian. There was
rampant doubt that we could bring this project to reality and if we did we would
be putting out a poorly built, “cheap” boat. They were all wrong. We now have
four boats rigged and sailing and two sets of tooling pumping out boats as fast
as we can. The first five boats will stay in China for Chinese regattas and be
used as prototypes. I think we have proven to a lot of people that we can do it
and do it well. The finished boats are of very high quality. We have a full time
man at the yard supervising all elements of construction including the finishing
of our own carbon spars from raw tubes shipped in from Australia. Bill, I and my
engineer Ben Souquet have spent much time at the yard to see thing were kept on
track. Bill has one full time man at the yard overseeing the project on a daily
The depositors were polled to
see if they wanted to pay extra for the carbon rig. They did and this brought
the price of the first 50 boats up to $44,500. All you have to do is have the
boat shipped, add instruments and an outboard and off you go.
There has been a lot of chatter
about our “revolutionary business model” and how we enlisted the SA board
members for help in the design process. In fact, we had no business model. Once
the momentum was initiated at SA the project took on a life of its own. We were
totally out of control initially but soon a process gelled. I would go on line
to SA in the morning and ask if anyone had details for a lifting keel mechanism
and by the afternoon I would have half a dozen responses often with drawings and
photos. Wherever I needed design help there was plenty of expertise to be mined
on SA. Sailors volunteered to do research projects for the project. For everyone
telling us you can’t do it there were several people there telling us how to do
it. From time to time this plethora of design “help” has been irritating. There
was the long and drawn out debate over the shape of the windows. We have had
enough input on interior layouts to serve a dozen designs. One group wanted
headroom while another wanted a low profile. From time to time we would conduct
a formal survey to establish a design direction on a specific detail. It was not
always easy but in the end it worked well enough to the point that to date we
have only lost one depositor and he left due to a job transfer.
I can now say with certainty
that this project has been a most rewarding challenge for my office. I can’t
give enough credit to my engineer Ben Souquet for his contributions.
Robert H. Perry