How I built the boat of my dreams

The best boat design should combine old and new, says Tom Cunliffe. And he put it into practice in his own craft, The Westerman

THIS WEEK, Earls Court is resplendent with fine yachts, bristling with new technology. Nearly all are descendants of the hull-shape revolution of 25 years ago. By contrast, my own boat, The Westerman, lies quietly on a tidal creek in the New Forest. She was designed last year but, seeing her, you might imagine her to be 100 years old and that her owner must be some kind of lost-soul romantic. Perhaps I am, though I doubt it, for this boat combines all the magic of old-fashioned boat design with the advances of modern know-how.

Sophisticated technology often insulates crews from the harsh realities of maritime life - often the very realities they hoped to rediscover by going to sea in the first place.

It's not that I'm suggesting sailors should wear hair shirts. It's always been important to me that my boats have a coal stove for warmth and dryness, cosy berths and a highly effective galley. But why go cruising at all if every sail sets and furls itself? The occasional battle with kicking canvas is part of the seaman's life. And for what purpose should we abandon common sense and move our steering positions from the security of the aft end to some vulnerable perch half-way to the bow? The answer is that this creates a cabin like that of an ocean liner, with space for a bed larger than the one at home.

For me a boat should always be a boat, and not a cottage on the water.

When I took delivery of Hirta, the Edwardian pilot cutter in which John McCarthy and I circumnavigated Britain for BBC1's Island Race series, the previous owner observed that "she has every comfort, but no luxury". Hirta taught me how wise he was. Her sails were heavy, and she had no pumped water, no electricity to speak of, no fridge, no central heating, no winches and absolutely no electronics, especially in the navigation department, yet she was the kindest, easiest boat that I have ever sailed at sea.

Sadly, the very antiquity of classic boats and yachts means that they need a lot of looking after. When I damaged my back I had to face the fact that my 15-year love-affair had to end. Searching for a younger replacement in the brokers' advertisements produced no credible contenders, so I decided to build a new boat from scratch, and commissioned the designer Nigel Irens to work on something for me.

Irens is famous for his racing multi-hulls and for developing fast, economical power boats such as the record globe-girdler, Cable and Wireless. At the same time, having lived aboard an ancient wooden beauty in the early Seventies he understands about easily driven hulls, and knows more of the way of a boat on the sea than anyone I can think of.

His work on The Westerman has not disappointed me. Although Irens and Ed Burnett, his right-hand man, are adept with the CAD (computer-assisted design) program, Irens initially drew this boat on a paper napkin, and only later transferred his ideas to the computer. After the machine had worked up a set of lines he carved a model, just as boatyards did in the days of sail.

Together we considered the primary embryonic vessel, then fed the lines back into the electronic box for modification. The next model was nearly right and by the time the final version appeared, the form was perfect. The completed boat has now crossed the North Atlantic and has won four out of her first six racing starts. Her appearance is timeless, her motion at sea is a pleasure and her accommodation, much of it in reclaimed pitch pine, emanates an atmosphere of deep peace. Maybe this is because she was drawn purely as a sailing craft, without reference to any furniture we might put into her. That is the well tried method of the sea. It still works.

The Westerman is constructed in wood epoxy, timber treated with penetrating glue, and she is totally impervious to water. Thus she has all the benefits of a glass fibre boat yet looks like, smells like, feels like and sails like the real thing.

She is living proof that there is no need to follow current fashions to find satisfaction, and that sometimes it pays to listen to the lessons of history.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015