November 2011 Archives

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My last blog entry on hand drafting received more hits than my best previous blog entry by over 120 hits. I thought I was blogging on an arcane art that was esoteric to say the least and would have very little wide spread interest. It was, to my eye, a pretty self indulgent blog entry. I was really surprised in the interest it attracted. So I have decided to do a Part II and go into a little more detail on the tools that were common place in old design offices. I have enlisted the help of my cronie pool over on Cruising Anarchy for this task. I think for them it was fun to dig out the old gear. Thanks Tad, Jose, Sons, Yves-Marie et al.

When I was a kid, probably 1962, I was reading an article about Ted Jones, the hydroplane designer in Seattle, in SEA Magazine. There was a photo of his drafting table with a hydro design laid out. Along the top of the drawing board were these "things". I thought, "What the hell are those?" I could not identify them at all. I was familiar with drafting tools but these funny shapes with little prongs sticking out of them were new to me. They kind of looked like boat hulls, weird boat hulls, so that wasn't it. They looked a bit like whales but that couldn't be right. What the hell are they? I later learned that they were spline weights. Yacht designers call them "pigs", "whales", "ducks" and spline weights. "Ducks" was probably the most common name for them.

ducks.gifThey are usually weigh about 3.5 lbs., made of lead with felt on the bottom with a hooked prong extending out from the end. The prong is designed to fit into the groove in a plastic spline so you can bend the spine to do your bidding and hold it in the desired curve with the ducks. They are tapered in shape so you can better squeeze them together for tight radii. When I was a kid I had a small collection of ship's curves but if I was going to move to the next step of drawing hull lines it was clear that I needed some spline weights. But they were expensive. I worked at a meat market after school so I had some income and I began buying ducks one at a time. It was a bit frustrating. I was feeling like a yacht designer with my small collection of ducks but you need at least ten to really control a long spline. I asked for ducks for Christmas and my folks bought me three more. I eventually bought enough so that they were useful. The plastic splines were relatively cheap and could be bought in various lengths and various stiffnesses. My attraction to ducks continued and having worked so hard to collect them I started buying them up whenever I could find a pile of used ones. I found one group of ducks in a store that sold second hand yacht equipment. I bought two from Boeing Surplus. I even had a few chromed just for fun. I have one duck that belonged to Bill Garden. I have another duck that belonged to Bjarne Aas. When a helper would move on from my office I would trade him a spline weight as a memento.They were important to me. You could not design boats without them and they were a tool almost exclusive to the art/science of yacht design. Today I keep about 6 of them on my drafting table. Paper weights. The rest are in a bucket, lonely and neglected in my garage. With the spline functions of modern computer programs physically bending a spline and fixing it with  carefully placed ducks is a thing of the past. Oh well. One of the problems with ducks was that when I wore a tie to work I would sometimes set a duck in place with my tie clamped under the weight by accident. When I stood up to survey my long curve the tie would pull out, upsetting the duck and tipping it over, leaving a lead divot on the soft mylar. The bad old days.

my eraser.jpgWith all that pencil and ink drawing going on young designers quickly learned that the eraser was an important tool and just as critical as a creative tool as the pencil. I think I must have erased miles of bad sheerlines over the years. You could use the standard Pink Pearl drafting eraser and do it by hand but that got old fast. I used a chordless electric eraser. I named mine "Steely Dan". You'll have to have read NAKED LUNCH to understand that reference. But I thought it appropriate. I went through several electric erasers. I found a certain eraser that was great on ink and others that worked well with pencil. Having the exact right recipe eraser in your machine made a big difference when you spent a good part of the work day erasing.

my planimeter.jpgThe other tool that you can't be without when designing yachts, ships or boats is the planimeter. It measured the area of odd shapes like hull sections. When I was a kid I would make a grid of squares on paper, place it over or under my body plan and then count the squares to see how many square feet were in a particular section. It worked fine but it was slow and not very precise. As time went on I knew I had to find a planimeter. I found one in a pawn shop down on Seattle's seedy 1st Avenue. It was $100 and I managed to come up with the money and buy it. It was German made and a marvel of the machinist's craft. You read the area on a vernier scale. It did take some getting used to but I almost got comfortable with it over time. The orange planimeter you see in the photo above is electric and digital. I thought I was hot shit when I got that, high tech. Fact is it worked great and for years I did my best to wear it out.

See that little green disk next to the planimeter. That is a parallel spacer "template". If you want to draw a cap rail of a constant 1.5" thick on a bulwark you stick your pencil into the appropriate hole in the parallel spacer and drag it along the spline. You get a perfect parallel curved line that way.

See that funny elliptical curve just below my pipe? That is a K+E 1007-8 curve. I used to call it the "egg". That little curve is responsible for the shape of the Valiant 40's stern profile. I could not have worked without that curve. I bought them whenever I saw them to be sure I'd never run out. I still have two very well worn examples.

Above the pipe is an erasing shield. You use this tool to protect the areas you do not want to erase. The erasing shield was indispensable. I had several, still do. But my favorite is gone. Damn!

When we started discussing tools over on CRUISING ANARCHY my buddies started dragging out their old planimeters. I don't recall anyone saying, "Oh, I threw mine away." Most said, "I think I can dig that out." And they did.
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Tad planimeter.jpg
bob ducks.jpgThis last photo shows some of may various ducks that I collected.
The duck on the far right belonged to Bill Garden. The shiny green one said "747" on it when I bought it at Boeing surplus. The tired looking orange one is one of my very first ducks. I think that rounded one second from the left was made by Paul Bieker and left for me after he did his internship in my office. Tall ducks don't work so well as they are too easy to tip over. The black worn out one third down from the right belonged to Jay Benford, my first boss in a yacht design office.

Maybe I feel sorry for the youngsters that will never know the challenge of lining up their ducks, getting them all in a row to define the perfect sheer or waterline or buttock or diagonal. There was a real hands on sense when you drew with this old stuff. I would hunch over my drafting table and manipulate my planimeter around an immersed section three times and then take the average reading for accuracy. Now you push a button and get the areas, all of them, immediately. But in the old days there was that moment of anticipation when you would read the mysterious vernier scale and hoped you had a reading that looked right. There was a truly visceral connection to the design process.

I miss the aroma of hot ammonia wafting through the office from the old Diazo printing machine. Like hell I do.

The Good/Bad Old Days of Hand Drafting


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I'm often asked if I miss the days when the design drawings were all done by hand.ct_54_drawing.jpg I don't. The convenience and accuracy of acad along with the ability to email drawings to a client or builder is way too handy to go back to drawing by hand and then mailing prints. When I designed ICON I sent a set of beautiful hand drawn drawings to the builder only to get an email that they wanted everything in acad so they could convert it to metric. So it was time for me to quit just playing the acad and get down to really learning how to use it.

But there are times when I look at my old drawings and the hand of man is so evident in the nuances of the drafting process that the level of "art" has to a great degree been lost with computer generated drawings. I was good at hand drafting. My old high school mechanical drawing teacher, Mr. Kibby, was very good, a bit dogmatic and very demanding that we master the techniques required to produce a well crafted drawing. "It's all about line weight Perry!"

It sure didn't hurt that I was enthralled with the drawings of Bill Garden, Phil Rhodes, Bill Tripp and of course the mast draftsman Al Mason.  I had some great examples of how it should be done available every time I opened a yachting magazine. I was collecting drafting equipment and drawing at home determined to become a yacht designer. In those days being a designer meant presenting attractive drawings so you could sell your ideas. It was good that I did. Coming home from school with one "A" on my report card, for mechanical drawing helped soften the effect of my other less than stellar grades. "Look Dad I got an A in mechanical drawing AND PE.

YONI construct.jpgI drew on Clearprint vellum, 1000H. It was a high quality drafting vellum. I drew on both sides of the paper. The printer did not care what sides the lines were on. This way when drawing a set of hull lines you could draw the grid on the back side of the paper and the hull lines on the front side. This way as you made the mountain of corrections required to fair the lines you were not erasing the grid. But vellum/paper is not very dimensionally stable. At Dick Carter's office I was introduced to drawing on Mylar. Mylar was expensive, heavy and very dimensionally stable. It was also very messy to draw on as it smeared easily. You could buy pencil "leads" specifically formulated for drawing on Mylar but I didn't like them at all. I stuck with 4H, 6H and even 9H pencils. I used 9H for grids so I could get a razor sharp line.

I liked drawing on Mylar but as I looked at the drawings of other designers I realized I could do better. I started to use drafting pens in addition to the pencils. I would use the ink to highlight the important lines of the drawing. They made very good erasers to erase ink and I was very adept with an electric eraser. You learn quickly that the eraser is just as important as the pencil.

My old tools lay in a drawer now. I still use them from time to time but not much. I have a wide selection of range plastic triangles of various sizes but 90% of my drawing was done with one well worn triangle. I liked it's feel. I also used an ancient drafting machine that a friend of my father in law had given me. It was old when he got it so by the time I got it the machine was a true antique. But it was a wonderful machine, beautifully built and all metal, not like the newer mostly plastic ones. I treasured that machine and if I broke the steel belt that controlled the angle of the arm I was dead in the water until I had a replacement belt. I had to get the replacement belts custom made.


YONI deck pl.jpgI also had collected a large number of spine weights. These are 3.6 lb. lead weights with a prong on one end that is used to hold the flexible plastic spline in place so you can draw long curved lines. As a kid I found them expensive so I bought them one at a time. But you needed ten to really use them properly. My folks bought me a few for Christmas one year. But I got in the habit of buying up used spline weights whenever I found them. I probably have about 40 of them now. I just use them today as paper weights. But you never know. They are great conversation pieces. I have one of Bill Garden's old weights. I have two weights that I bought at Boeing Surplus that say "747" on them.

While I enjoyed drawing I did not and do not like having to deal with huge sheets of brittle vellum and stiff Mylar for storage. It's not fun to have to go through a roll of 20 or more drawings when they have not been unrolled for ten or more years. But I still get a lot of requests for prints of my old designs so I have to  do it.

At 65 my eyes aren't what they used to be, Acad has infinite zoom abilities so that takes care of the eyesight issue. I can also now store lots of drawings on the  computer so I don;t have to deal with clumsy rolls of drawings any more. But there was a time when I relished the ritual of laying out a fresh sheet of mylar or vellum, assembling the tools of my trade, lining up the spline weights on the supple plastic spline and cutting in the perfect curve. Wait a minute, it's not perfect. I'll have to erase the damn thing and try again. Where's the "erase" button?

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It's quiet up here at the beach. Really quiet. My wife goes off to school each morning and I sit here at the keyboard pretty much all day except for when I walk the dogs or make a run to the grocery store. The fact is that not counting my two dogs I pretty much have no social life. My exchanges with other beach residents is usually confined to "How's the crabbing" , "What lure were you using?"or "Don't worry I have a plastic sack. I'll pick it up." It's a stimulating environment. For entertainment I go to the SAILING ANARCHY website, I've been going there now for about 10 years or more. Boy time flies. SAILING ANARCHY is where you can get immediate news on just about anything happening in the world of yacht racing. You can also learn about new boat building projects and what the big design houses are up to. It's a bit of a rough and tumble place so if you are of delicate sensibilities perhaps you should be prepared the first time you go there. Pretty much anything goes on SA and if you say something the group finds unintelligent they will let you know quickly and succinctly. The initial gang greeting the first time you post is enough to send a lot of potential SA'ers away. I think it's a bit like the local pub. You can find all types there and if what's going on in one corner bothers you then you  can walk over to another corner. There are a wide other end.jpgvariety of SA Forums to choose from. My own FLYING TIGER 10m and 7.5m boats were born on SA and now have their own forum. 

 

But I spend most of my time on the CRUISING ANARCHY forum. We discuss a wide variety of cruising subjects, this week ranging from man overboard visibility to the shape of the clipper ship's midesctions. Anything goes. When Spike died my CA buddies rallied and set up the scholarship fund. They also maintained close contact with me while I struggled along. There were some days when I just sat here and stared at the SA screen waiting and hoping and watching for who knows what. SA/CA is important to me.

 

 So, when the CA group found themselves once again discussing the "perfect boat" we had an idea. Let's design the boat on CA kind of like the way the FLYING TIGER evolved over on SA. Each would muck in with his ideas, I would do the drafting and  try to come up with a boat that represented what the group thought was ideal for the purpose. It really doesn't;t matter what the purpose was. We just picked a type and had at it. We weren't far into the first CA project when Rick Beddoe aka Sons aka SONODORA came along  and volunteered to do some rendering work for us. Pretty soon we had assembled a loose team with a few very active CA'ers at the core. I decided we needed a name for our group and The World's Largest Yacht Design Office seemed a good name. We are the WLYDO.

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Make no mistake, some of these projects involved a lot of time and effort as they went through a lot of revisions. It's not easy to get the entire staff in agreement on design issues.

 

I'll run down some of the staff names for you. I know I will leave someone out but they can just HTFU as we say in the "office".

 

  • There's me
  • Gatekeeper
  • Wun Hung Lo
  • Sons
  • Greever
  • Jose
  • Paps
  • Advocate
  • Palindrome
  • Hike Bitches ( we just call him "Bitches")
  • Tom Ray
  • Cruising Loser
  • Olaf Hart
  • Yves-Marie Tanton
  • Innocent Bystander
  • Floating Dutchman
  • Sculpin
  • Old Goat
  • Ishmael
  • Beau V.
  • Kimb
  • Boomberries
  • BlJones
  • kdh
  • Wombat
  • Austin1972
  • Smackdaddy

 

It's a big group and as I said, no doubt I have left a few names out and I apologize for that.

 

Here are a few of our projects to date. Note that when Sons began rendering for us we gave him a ton of shit over the quality of his work. At one point he stormed out of the office vowing never to come back. But we drug him back in with some effort and he began responding to the demands of his co workers. In short time Sons was producing world quality yacht design renderings. He had to. He had 30 people judging everything he did. "Do you really think the screw heads should be angled like that?" "Should we use a flatter varnish on the trim." The weird this is, I'm not kidding. Bottom line is that together we have had some fun and done some good work. I have made some fast friends.

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We have no central office. We are worldwide with branch office in many major cities. We do have one  WLYDO central library and that's at Kimb's house where he has assured us that we can sleep on the couch, drink his scotch and listen to him play the bagpipes any time we like. We have several branches in Australia and the Ozzies have been very active in WLYDO projects. In that we all have our own offices I thought you might like to see where some of do our important design work. A glimpse into the work space of different WLYDO staff shows you very quickly that we represent a wide variety of skills applicable to sailing. Some members can even rebuild the transmission on your car or build you a custom staircases for your house. We are eclectic. So enjoy this tour through the WLYDO.

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 jose's office.jpg

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  hungs office.jpg
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