Light thoughts on semantics and my boat design philosophy

This is one of those posts I am going to start writing and hope that, by the time I hit Publish, a coherent piece will have emerged. I have been thinking a bit about the kinds of boats I am drawn to draw these days, those that truly inspire me. Obviously AL DEMANY CHIMAN is the biggest case-in-point. I was so inspired by the design I brought it to life. My early design discussion on the boat began laying out a philosophy:

You may note that I have consciously blended traditions in a sort of nautical mash-up. The sailing outrigger is Indo-Pacific, of course, though I grabbed an ama connection approach that is from the African extreme of outrigger territory. The ends then hail from Central Canadian birch-bark tradition while the rig is decidedly Anglo-American. Some will call this a hash; I call it a gorgeous mosaic of cultures. I like fusion in food and music; why not boats too?

It is this idea of fusing truly traditional “designs” while weaving in modern knowledge where appropriate that is emerging as my “schtick.” To me, this fusion that we see in all kinds of places is the happy part of the globalization we hear so much about. We are learning more and more about other people and their cultures and I think this is a huge win for us all in the long run. It is too easy – in fact, it is deep in our nature – to keep in our “tribe,” but, all other issues aside, doing so eliminates the possibility of infusing fresh ideas. You basically have what you create within your “tribe.” Opening up to ideas, styles, and approaches that are totally foreign at least enriches you and may do much more.

So part of what I like about mining other traditions is the chance to do something truly creative. Another is the chance to pull innovations back from the past. There are many decisions that the “designers” of other cultures made that are pure preference, but some represent great solutions that perhaps were unfairly ignored when dominant cultures came into contact with them. The “sewn ships” of the Arabian Sea are a good example. Europeans scoffed at them and rejected the methods behind their construction. They may have suffered from materials that weren’t ideal, but the fundamental idea may be interesting for the same reason other lashed craft work well: they flex with the waves rather than trying to rigidly power through them. Combining traditions may heave produced a stunningly affective combo. Boatbuilders the world over looked at their waterways and their materials and came up with their own ways of solving problems. Taking all these approaches in and sifting through the best of the best can yield exciting results.

My goal, therefore, is to continue on this path of taking the best from different traditions and mixing them into new hybrids. What I haven’t figured out how to do is talk about this concept. No one has created a buzzword. Unfortunately the “spirit of tradition” mantle has been taken up by a nice, but somewhat different, set of boats. I dislike using “tradition” for reinvented 1920’s yachts. To me, “tradition” implies older and more deeply embedded in a culture. I wish they had chosen “spirit of classics” – that captures it much better to me. It puts them in every bit the same rightful tier but keeps them in the correct context. But no one asked me… It seems, then, that for the design philosophy I describe I get to coin my own term. I am taking back “traditional” and “fusion” is effectively an accepted term in other arts… I am going with “Fusion of Tradition” and am going to accept the closeness to “spirit of tradition.” Heck, I owe a dept of inspiration to that movement. So you heard it here first; come back to Chine bLog for more “Fusion of Tradition” discussion as I expand my thinking on the concept and genre.

2 Comments for “Light thoughts on semantics and my boat design philosophy”


Our friend Tom over at 70.8 sent this comment through other channels: “I think the design brief failed to mention one more tradition your boat learns from, the tradition of skin on frame.” There are all kinds of examples that I could add next to my sewn boats one. The skin-on-frame one is another excellent one. My strong suspicion is that the collective boat design minds of the world have only begun to tap the capabilities of this medium, given we can now pair the perfect structural material that is wood with durable, lightweight fabrics and lashing solutions. What is fascinating about skin-on-frame is that it developed, apparently independently, in several diverse spots (northern North America and Siberia, Patagonia (perhaps this came south), Vietnam, Ireland, Mesopotamia, and Australia. This is a clear testament to its value, yet the “conventional” Western methods ignore it. Heck, the Irish were doing quite a bit with curraghs right in their back yard. So point taken, Tom, though there are other examples too.



It’s curious the way boat people are so hide-bound when it comes to their traditions when they have always been among the people who disseminate new ideas as a direct result of their wanderlust!

This is one of the tasks for those of us who tend to wander, whether through physical travel, or simply by looking outside of familiar patterns, going beyond the local tribe, and coming back.

A sense of tribe is becoming increasingly important to a lot of people. One way to keep this from causing an implosion into ghettos of parochialism is for us wanderers to continue our deep tradition. I look to the “Ice-Man” as an example. There were countless others way back then, maybe in kayaks, or early multihulls in the warmer seas,discomfiting the locals and cross-pollinating their cultures.

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