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Preview: FRANCIS LEE: The Ultimate Sailing Machine, Part 1 – The Design Spiral

October 29, 2015

When a veteran sailor and one of America’s great yacht designers get together to discuss the creation of a sailboat that will ultimately be both radical and beautiful, it’s bound to be an interesting conversation.

Drawings by Robert Perry Yacht Designers, Inc. Drawings by Robert Perry Yacht Designers, Inc. Drawings by Robert Perry Yacht Designers, Inc. Drawings by Robert Perry Yacht Designers, Inc. Drawings by Robert Perry Yacht Designers, Inc. Drawings by Robert Perry Yacht Designers, Inc. Drawings by Robert Perry Yacht Designers, Inc. The Build of FRANCIS LEE at the Northwest Wooden Boatbuild School (Photo by NW Wooden Boatbuilding School)

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– This is kind of a boat that a lot of people dream about. Kind of this, ultra double-ender sailing machine and to see it in the flesh here at the festival for the first time is pretty awe-inspiring. Can you talk to us a little bit about what inspired you in this to get this design started? What boats kind of sparked your interest and what you were going after?

– Well, I thought about this boat for around 50 years. Spent a lot of time thinking about it. The boats that kind of led me to this, ’cause the thoughts evolved over those 50 years, but Bill Garden’s Oceanus, L. Francis Herreshoff Rozinante? L. Francis, in his book, The Common Sense of Yacht Design, had a boat called The Sailing Machine and that was kinda what I thought would make for a really great boat, long, skinny, double-ender. And so over those 50 years, I slowly kinda got into my mind what I wanted and one day my youngest son, who’s now 44, said to me, “You know dad, you’re not getting any younger. “If you’re gonna build a boat, you better get on with it.” So fortunately I had this friend named Bob Perry, so I went to him and he did a fabulous job of taking the concept I had and turned it in to a real, very practical, easy to sail boat.

– We were sort of on the same page from the first five minutes ’cause we had discussed it before and we share a very common background in the boats we both like, the boats we think are significant boats. Usually, when you start to design preliminary drawings, you’re trying to figure out the guy wants. And you find out what the guy wants by showing him what he doesn’t want, usually. But in this case, we were right on initially and I came up with a sketch and he lived with it for a couple days and he came back with his L. Francis Herreshoff boat and said let’s go make the Ansonborough look like this. No overhangs, just stretch out that waterline. We had the boat in focus.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Right, right from the get go.

– Pretty quickly. Yeah, pretty much right from the get go. And then it was just a matter of working it through and then deciding how we were gonna build it. When we decided to go with wood, I made little changes to the lines, added some dead rise.

– [Man in Green Shirt] I mean it seems to me, boat like this, is just inherently gonna go like a witch. Light air and heavy air, narrow, efficient.

– [Kim] And she has no bad manners.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Right.

– [Kim] She’s incredibly easy to sail. First time we jibed on it in a fair amount of wind, my wife was aboard and she does not like drama in sailing. We did the jibe and she went, “Oh, I like this boat.”

– [Man in Green Shirt] Talk us through her proportions. We’re talking 60–

– Two.

– [Man in Green Shirt] 62 feet overall and her beam is–

– Nine feet, 10 inches.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Narrow. And draws 10 feet, 10 plus feet of water.

– [Kim] She draws 10 feet.

– [Man in Green Shirt] What about her underwater appendages? What do we got underneath the hull?

– Well, a long aspect ratio and a fin with some sweep to it, and then a big bulb on the bottom of that.

– Is it a T bulb–

– No, L.

– [Man in Green Shirt] or L-shaped bulb?

– [Robert] With all the kelp we have, it just didn’t make any sense to put a big hook on the bottom of the keel. The boats just effortless to sail and just effortlessly fast.

– What’s the boat displace?

– 19,076 pounds.

– Very light.

– [Kim] The 19,150 of that is in the keel.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Almost a 50% ballast displacement ratio.

– [Kim] Just about, yeah.

– [Man in Green Shirt] When did you kind of approach your first designer as kind of wanting to go through the design spiral?

– Oh goodness, I’ve talked to a lot of designers over the years. But because I was already friends with Bob, we’ve known each other for 30 years, it was easy because we had a lot of fun together, he took his time, we weren’t in a rush, we spent a year on that design. I was getting ready to retire, so I was trying to bring somebody in to take my job and so, I started working four days a week so every Monday I spent with him going through the boat, and the design and all the little, you know. I had no idea what was involved in designing a boat and putting this much detail into the design. So we spent a lot of time together. I learned a huge amount from him everyday.

– He says that, but he’s been a student who’ve got design since he was a kid, so there’s no element of it that he’s not familiar with, and he knew what he wanted, he understood the process, he understood the terminology, and he knows how to sail.

– Your requirements.

– You’re on your boat that paid no attention to racing rules and was designed for the pure pleasure of sailing. So basically, I wanted a big day sailor. I want it to be fast, easy to sail, pretty, and overtime, actually, originally, I wasn’t even gonna put a cabin trunk, I was just gonna do flash deck. But I got beat up by him and my kids and my wife and everybody who said, “No, we gotta put at least weekend accommodations on board”, so we did that.

– [Robert] Didn’t want a head, had to talk him into a head.

– I sailed with my parents on a dragon, we used a bucket.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Right?

– I was thinking we could use the bucket on the boat, but anyway we ended up with a composting head.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Right?

– So we did somewhat agree. No holding tank or anything like that. My kids have taken the boat out for a long weekend cruise. My wife and I have slept on the boat. The boat is actually very comfortable down below. It’s perfect for a couple and we used to own that Suite 55 and my wife and I cruised that Suite 55 and this is kind of a turbo Suite 55 elongated, lighter for the length.

– Maintenance must have been a high priority, I mean I don’t see a lot of exterior brightwork on this boat.

– This is the tool.

– Oh, let me tell you about brightwork. So, we were talking about having teak drop boards, teak sliding hatch, teak grating, teak Cummins, teak toe rail, and then one day, we were talking and Bob said, “Wait a minute, this isn’t about yesterday, “this boat is all about today, “let’s do foam core composites”, so it keeps it really lightweight and really strong and I don’t know how many hundreds of pounds we saved by doing that.

– [Man in Green Shirt] I love the look. I mean, it’s incredibly clean, incredibly low-maintenance it would seem to me.

– Understated elegance. That was one of our goals.

– Right. Talk us through the construction. She is a strip plank core with glass either side.

– She’s got a one inch Western red-cedar strip planking. She’s got triaxial Vectorplies and a WEST SYSTEM Epoxy, both in and out. And then, the cockpit cabin deck is all one piece and it’s Vectorply and WEST SYSTEM Epoxy. And the interior structure is all foam core, Vectorply and WEST SYSTEM Epoxy, the WEST SYSTEM–

– [Man in Green Shirt] All foam core, no honeycomb anywhere?

– Well, the table is actually honeycomb and carbon.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Right.

– But its sheaved in cherry. It was left over from another project and the guys who built it for me say, “Hey we’ve got this Nomex “and pre-preg carbon, you want your table made outta that?” And I say, yeah, what the heck. But we wanted to keep the structure as light as possible and as strong as possible. We built the deck on one side of the hull, we built the anterior on the other side of the hull, and I was a little nervous about how it was all gonna fit together. Jim Franken who did all that computer work said, “Well it’s the same computer file, it’s gotta fit.” And it did.

– When the day they were going to put the interior in, everybody was slightly skeptical. They lifted it up and put it in and it didn’t quite fit and there was one 2×4 brace in the hull. They pulled that brace out and just fit in and somebody said, “How many times did you have to put it in “before it fit?”, and I said, once.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Right.

– [Robert] And you couldn’t have slipped your credit card in the gap.

– I went to the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building to get the Francis Lee built because first I wanted a wooden boat, and I really kind of enjoyed the idea of participating in that community. Working with the students, working with the instructors. I knew it was gonna take longer, but I also believed and it turned out to be true, that I would get a very high-quality product. People were kind of intrigued with the unusual design and so I got everybody’s absolute best efforts. The reason she is a double-ender is that my dad, who died in 2001 was a big double-ender fan. And because I named the boat after him, Francis Lee, it seemed like we just had to go with double-ender, plus I like double-enders, I think they look cool.

– I know a lot of problems typically, not problems, but things that people talk about double-enders, is getting a clean buttock run aft, and I see she’s got kind of a chin back there.

– That’s why I call him a genius. He spent so much time pushing displacement aft here so she wouldn’t squat and she does not squat.

– There’s a lot of non-skinny double-enders, but going back to Bill Garden’s Oceanus, and they can be beautiful, but you know the stern has to do some work. There’s a reason there’s no double-ender TP52’s, right? And I knew that the key was to get volume aft, so I got the inspiration from the stern of this boat, was the bow of Laurie Davidson’s America’s Cup Black Magic, which is, and he’s got a fabulous eye, in the way he pushed the volume of that bow. I looked at those sections and I thought, that’ll work for our stern, just full, instead of this delicate gray, so beautiful, concave stern section. I’ve got these masculine, muscular sections to keep that. You want the stern to keep pushing on the water to the very last minute.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Right.

– Then it can go. But, you don’t wanna encourage the water to come up, any sooner than it has to. With that in mind, when the boat was upside down in the shop, there was no whole hell of a lot of difference between the bow and the stern. In fact, the first couple of times I walked up there, is that the bow or is that the stern? You know? I don’t there’s too many double-enders with a stern like this.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Kind of harks back to Ray Hunt’s 510 that he had for himself.

– [Kim] Yeah.

– That’s about as close you’re gonna find and we didn’t see that ’til the boat was done. I didn’t.

– – [Man in Green Shirt] People started sending us pictures of the 510 and the 610–

– Yup.

– And I guess he also designed the 1010.

– [Kim] But we didn’t see all that stuff until this hull was well underway.

– [Man in Green Shirt] Yeah.

– But definitely, a lot of similarity. The thing about Bob that was just really enjoyable when it came to doing this design is he’s not afraid to say, “I don’t know, let’s go find somebody who knows that”. So as we were working on various different aspects of the design, whenever I’d ask him some questions, 90% of the time, he knew, he’d done something along those lines, but on a rare occasion, he would say, “I don’t know”. And he’s got friends all throughout the Yachting World and the yacht design world, everybody seems to know Bob. So for example, we ended up getting a Farr 40 carbon fiber, Farr 40 mast for the boat, so he calls up Bruce Farr’s office and they sent him all the drawings and everything for a Farr 40 rig, so that he could figure out how to fit it into this boat. So, it was just really fun working with him because he’s actually very down-to-earth.



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