Are all your designs unique?
I think so. There’s an endless debate about which comes first: Form or Function. I am very much into form, and function comes a close second in my eyes. I draw my inspiration from a lot of things, mainly the female form. I don’t think that’s an original idea, either.
I think it predates me by a few thousand years, at the very least. If I can’t get a boat to look good, I’m not building it.
A good example was when Sir Richard Branson contacted me to build a ferry for Necker Island. He had a naval architect in England that…sent me some photos of what they wanted; when I saw it I said ‘No way, I’m not building that!’ And I was emphatic. I often wonder if Branson actually saw this design. It just didn’t seem like something he would have wanted. I was criticized for the decision, but I just could not conceive myself looking at that boat and feeling proud.
It’s an emotional thing. The business side knows we need to pay the bills, but the artist in me doesn’t want to compromise anything for a dollar.
I sometimes regret I don’t have any formal training…in naval architecture, I just used instinct. I believe that Anguillians, because of our peculiar history, have a predisposition, a sixth sense, of knowing what boats need. I design with pencil/paper and, just like my forebears, with my gut. Every boat I’ve designed came from my gut.
Sure, when you’re on the drawing board, you have to be mindful of dimensions and other technical stuff. I usually draw for like 2-3 hours, and then leave it for at least 24 hours, and invariably when I come back and look at it, I tear it up and start over. And then all of a sudden, something just jumps from the page. The line might have changed just a ¼ inch. It’s certainly not rocket science.
What about the Anguillian experience influences your work?
The Anguillian experience hasn’t influenced my design work, but it has powerfully influenced my passion for the trade and the craft. When I think back to the older shipwrights here, they built some beautiful boats…schooners such as the Ismay and the Warspite.
It is impressive to think that men with no education and little resources or equipment could have done that. I’m in awe of those guys. I think that’s been lost to a large extent. The reality is that nobody can afford to build boats now like the way they did back then. It might take 2 men working 10 days to build a modern boat with modern materials and techniques; I would probably need 10 men and two weeks to build a single frame of the Warspite. In those days, time wasn’t an issue. They would take maybe five years building a schooner.
Not because they’re working slowly, but when the money’s finished, they just had to stop working.