In 1983, the first BOC Single-handed Race Around the World debuted in Newport, RI, where we lived, to go east around the planet, stopping in three other ports along the way, and returning to Newport in 1984. BOC stood for “British Oxygen Corporation” which was the initial sponsor of this race for its first few runnings every four years. How neat it was to be amidst that crowd of sailors, competitors and onlookers! This type of racing and boat design really appealed to me as a designer—could I get a commission to design a round-the-world racing sailboat?
I tried—I followed the BOC, and later the Vendée Globe which is a non-stop race around the world with fastidious attention. For some races in the early 1990s, I created my own paper “spreadsheet” of the notable events, like leg wins, placings, and damage enroute, and I shared news and analysis with potential customers who had expressed interest in becoming competitors themselves one day—they would need a new boat design, from me, of course! The boats became ever more customized, getting wider, lighter, incorporating water ballast, sporting huge rigs, and they were trotting—galloping, actually—around the globe, sailing ever faster with each edition of each race—they were Globetrotters!
I did not adopt the term Globetrotter right away, but by 1988, I found a client, an Air Force pilot from Florida, who wanted to race in Class II in the BOC. He commissioned me to do a study on what type of boat it would take to do that. I sketched out a speculative design of just a sail plan and deck plan so that he could show potential sponsors, including the US Air Force. In my write-up for him, I spoke of all the advantages of the design, and speculated that he would have a 90-95% chance of winning the BOC in Class II. The elements of this design were what formed the core of what later developed into my Globetrotter designs—strong seaworthy boats that could carry their owners safely around the world with speed and comfort. Unfortunately, that particular effort fizzled, and the client was not able to raise sponsorship interest in his campaign so a boat design was never commissioned or built.
In 1990, another customer from West Virginia named me his designer for a new 60’ Class I contender for the BOC. Again, this boat did not have the Globetrotter name, but it had the Globetrotter pedigree. We referred to it as 747, because, as many sailors know, “Nothing goes to windward like a 747.” This campaign stretched on with promise for a few years, but again, lack of funding and sponsorship prevented a start to any detailed boat design.
By 1991, my frustration grew at not being able to secure a paying customer for a BOC boat. Then, organizers for the Whitbread Round-the-World Race, another quadrennial race dating back to 1973 with multiple port stops in boats with full crews, saw the writing on the wall of the single-handed boats when it came to light weight, water ballast, and boat speed. They instituted a new design rule to confine the dimensions of all new contenders to a one-design 60’ class design with various dimensional restrictions and that allowed water ballast. I thought that this new rule leveled the harbor waters amongst designers for new design ideas, and I might have a good chance of securing a customer in a brand new field. I did a design proposal for the SYDI-WOR 60 that maximized the performance parameters, and I sent out press releases. Again, I did not call this design a Globetrotter, but it did incorporate lifting strakes in the hull, just like on a powerboat, that I came to include on some later Globetrotter designs. I aroused a lot of interest from one possible client from England, but again, I did not get the brass ring.
Since 1984, soon after incorporating Sponberg Yacht Design Inc., I had been publishing a newsletter called The IdeaBook, later renamed The Design Waterline, which showed off my designs and consulting work to potential customers and to keep in touch with past customers. This was in the days before computers, the Internet, and the concept of websites. In the autumn 1991 issue of The IdeaBook where I discussed the SYDI-WOR 60, I also featured an article on the first Globetrotter designs by name. Two were the 767 and the 757 BOC and Vendée Globe contenders, (their names taken from the “747” concept, but using the middle 6 for the 60’ Class I, and the middle 5 for the 50’ Class II). And two were cruising designs, a 44’er and a 38’er. The racing boats had round bottoms with lifting strakes, and the cruising designs had multi-chine hullforms for relatively easy construction in metal, wood-epoxy, or composites. All the boats sported free-standing cat ketch rigs, twin rudders, and a unique keel design that I called “The Sponberg Keel.” These reflected the essence and features of The Globetrotters as a group design style. These were not fully complete and detailed designs. All of these were basically sketches of sail plans and arrangement plans for design ideas. Complete design details would be created on receiving a design commission by a paying customer.
I sent out a press release on The Globetrotters, and they made a pretty big splash in the boating press. A German yachting magazine, Yacht, gave me a very nice four-page center spread which brought a lot of enquiries from Europe. Thematically, this unified collection of designs touted fast speed and safe passages which could blow away competition in races. Surely, I would be able to secure a customer, and so I tracked the inquiries as they came in. I did eventually secure two clients. One was Dr. Blake Cady who owned a Freedom 38 cat ketch called Wobegone Daze. Some years later, he had me design a new bow for his boat to add buoyancy forward to improve its sailing characteristics. A few years after that, he hired me to design a new carbon fiber wingmast rig for the boat which improved its performance further. The other contact was Sebastian Reidl who hired me to design a 60’ contender for the 1996 Vendée Globe Race. Events of all sorts prevented a detail design from happening beyond the sail plan and general arrangement plan, but perseverance and funding on Reidl’s part paid off, and the design eventually morphed into Project Amazon which entered the 1998 Around Alone Race (formerly the BOC). Project Amazon is described in a separate page on this website.
But for the other cruising versions of The Globetrotters, again, people who came to me had big dreams but never enough money to pay for a full design, never mind the boat itself. I spent the middle 1990s designing Project Amazon and following its construction in South Africa. By 1997, I started sketching what I would like for my own boat, should I ever be able to afford it. I had always thought that Bill Garden’s design of the Fast Passage 39 was one of the best boat designs ever, and it had a nice aft cabin. But I wanted a boat with a pilot house as well as an aft cabin, and I had toyed with these features on other designs. The Globetrotter 42 was similar to the earlier G-44 and G-38 in a number of ways, but situated between them in length and featuring a round hull instead of a chined hull.
The G-42, was nice, but still a little cramped in the cockpit, aft cabin and the pilot house. But it was another seven years before I could improve upon it with the Globetrotter 45, which I laid out in 2004-05. This also got some publicity, but no takers. Then in 2007, Cruising World magazine in conjunction with the Westlawn Institute for Marine Technology and Island Packet Yachts sponsored a boat design competition, open to pros and amateurs alike, for any new and previously unpublished boat designs. The theme was: “a boat between 30 and 60 feet LOA capable of serious cruising with two or more people for a minimum of three weeks.” I decided to improve upon the G-45 and enter the contest with a version called Eagle. I changed the rudder design and the engine position so that the new version would qualify as a derivative of an earlier design but was unpublished in the new arrangement. I completed all the other tasks to fill in the detailed design requirements for the competition—more drawings and calculations. To my delight, I was selected one of the 10 finalists from 55 entries submitted from around the world.
The judges relegated me to 7th place in the competition, and I was a bit taken aback. Not so much that they rejected my design, but that the design they did choose as the winner was so bland, unimaginative, simplistic, and old hat that I thought they were a bit nuts. According to the posted results, of my design the judges said that they were “in many minds with his utterly professional presentation….” Other comments were:
“While the unstayed cat ketch has a proven record, Sponberg’s rotating wing masts and attached ‘half wishbones’ add a level of complexity that, coupled with the windage issues they raise in heavy conditions both offshore and at anchor, is probably above the comfort level of most cruisers. A simpler, proven arrangement, detailed with the same care seen in other elements of the design, would have found better favor with the panel.
“Bob Johnson thought that the boat’s size was good, and called the design ‘creative and practical,’ adding ‘The rig is a mixed bag.’ Johnstone didn’t like the prospect of being caught in a big sea on this boat.
“As to the overall impression, Bruce King said simply, “This design is quite far from connecting with my values, both functionally and visually.”
Huh??? Wishbone booms are complex?? Free-standing rigs have windage issues?? I’m sorry, a stayed rig is both complex and has considerable windage issues. And as for Bruce King’s opinion, well, maybe he is just being snooty.
Then the judges did a most interesting thing—they opened the competition to the readers to vote for their favorite design. The public came back with a resounding affirmation for Eagle. Of the 253 votes cast, fully 26.48% (67 votes) named Eagle the best of the best. The second place winner of the public vote was the clinker design that won the competition, but it garnered only 17.39% (44 votes) of the public vote. So I felt somewhat vindicated.
In August 2009, I received a commission for the Globetrotter 66, a cruising design in aluminum that the owner wanted to build himself and take around the world. I spent about nine months on the preliminary design, then did not hear anything from the client for over a year. Finally, the remainder of the design was commissioned in mid-2011 that took until early 2013 to complete. There were a lot of drawings to produce, including very detailed ones for the free-standing wingmasts and their booms. To date, I have not heard of construction having started on this design, so I don’t know if it ever will get built—I hope so.
Conclusions and insights
The story of The Globetrotters is the story of becoming a boat designer and all the trials and tribulations that that entails. How do you market your boat designs and attract clients? Can you make a living at designing boats? How do you become known and respected? This was not an easy course to sail and be able to make a living at it. Before I started professional yacht design practice, one could count on magazines to publish interesting designs which could attract customers. But not too long after I started, magazines started cutting way back on that practice, instead publishing reviews only of actual finished boats. That was a Catch-22 situation—you couldn’t get a boat published until it had been built, and you could not get it built until you had a customer who had read about the design in a magazine.
If I could not get a boat design published, at least I could write articles on interesting topics on what I did as a practicing naval architect. One of my first articles was for SAIL magazine on pilot house design. The next was one on free-standing mast design. Eventually, I wrote a number of articles for SAIL, not on boat designs per se, but on design and engineering topics, and these writings started to generate a lot of respect for my work. Some design and engineering work came in. In the early 1990s as the SAIL articles became less frequent, Professional Boatbuilder magazine (PBB) came into being, and I wrote a lot of articles for them. PBB went onto sponsor the IBEX Conference (International Boatbuilders Exhibition) every year, and I became a regular speaker and moderator. That is, I got paid for attending the conferences, so I could schmooze with builders and suppliers without spending any of my own money. The frosting on the cake was when one of my seminars would get published as an article in a later issue of PBB, which happened a number of times. This was a great way to market my business and get paid for it. Over time, this activity built a lot of respect for my work.
Now, of course, we have the Internet and websites, so it is very easy to promote one’s designs and professional work. You still have to stand out, however, because everybody has a website, so how are your designs going to stand out above all the others? Competition will drown you out if you don’t speak loudly enough, so you do that with the help of outside outlets like magazines and conferences.
But nothing changed the fact that getting a boat design commission is directly dependent on how much uncommitted money a client has, and whether he already has a boat he has to get rid of, which may free up the cash to start a new design. I have often threatened that someday I will write a book called “I want to build a boat but I don’t have any money.” I hear this literally just about every week. Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. I made it a rule to not get suckered into creating speculative designs for people who could not afford them. I also would not travel at my own expense—clients had to pay travel expenses at least, and hopefully something for my time. Clients really do want you to join them for a sail on their boat, but surprisingly, they are not at all ready and willing to cover expenses—at least not for me. Needless to say, I did not travel that much. But time out of the office was billable time, and I had to pay for the roof over my head and the food for my family—I couldn’t make a living on other peoples’ underfunded dreams.
People don’t need boats—they are the first things to get disposed of in a recession, and the last things to come back when times are good. Potential customers always have much bigger dreams than their wallets can support. And honestly, I include myself in this group—I certainly cannot afford to hire a naval architect to design a boat for me, nor could I afford to have my dream boat built—the G-45/Eagle. But then, I don’t pretend that I can, either. The G-45/Eagle is probably too big for us now anyway—my wife and I are both older and not as strong as we used to be.
Referrals are the best way to get clients. I found that marine surveyors were great for referring work to me. If a surveyor called for some repair help, I gave him the best advice I could because he may call back with paying work at a later time. This happened a lot. Likewise, I reciprocated—I kept a list of the marine surveyors I worked with and could recommend to people who called looking for one. The same applied to fellow designers and naval architects—I’d answer their questions, help when I could, and I didn’t charge any money. Be good friends with your colleagues, because when the work piles up too high to handle, you can recommend customers go to another designer who may be more appropriate to the job anyway. The other designers are always grateful, and they will reciprocate with referrals back to you. It is a very friendly and profitable community of professionals.
That’s probably a lot more information that you needed to know. But that’s how the business of boat design works.