I was just cruising the web looking at boats and having a moment of appreciation for double-enders. This timeless hull form was not so much developed by the mind of man as simply assembled organically by the hands of natural craftsmen. The first people to stop digging the guts out of logs began to lay planks edge to edge. The Phoenician’s got the concept and they went pretty far. The Norseman turned it into an art form worked by hand and eye. Archaeologists are still finding traces of them in unexpected corners of the world. You have to admit the Vikings were on to something. Having both ends of the boat shaped the same is pragmatism at it’s finest. Especially when you are building with broadaxe and adze.
In the time-line of maritime progress the transom is a later development. It is more complex in construction and serves it’s purpose above the waterline only. It provides a broader deck and wider cockpit aft. This provides a more spacious lazarette to store essential gear. If the bilges of a boat are it’s basement, a lazarette is the attic. They collect an amazing array of gear both nautical and nondescript. Check yours, you’ll finding at least one thing you haven’t seen in the last decade.
Most sailboats are double ended from the waterline downward. A basic concept of sailboat design is not having the transom immersed creating drag induced turbulence. In heavy weather the transom presents a target for waves to commit blunt force trauma against. Having been shoved in the ass by many a following sea I can see the utility of having the back of the boat shaped much like the front. Transoms do have some practical values. They are ideal for displaying the name of your pride and joy and you can mount an outboard and swim ladder. The prettiest transoms are the elliptical masterpieces constructed by the best boat-wrights and the the small vestigial transoms seen on classic yachts with long counter sterns.
Double-enders can be both seaworthy and beautiful yachts. Some of my favorites are Pinky Schooners, the Maine Peapod, Iain Oughtred’s Caledonia Yawl (and variations), L. Francis Herreshoff’s Rozinante, Antonio Dias’ Beach Point 18 and Harrier, Albert Strange canoe yawls and the many designs they have inspired over the years.
All of these examples confirm the notion that form follows function. My studies of yacht design have proved two things to me: I suck at math and ugly boats aren’t worth the kindling they’re made of. Somebody once said “Boats that look right are right.” Many modern sailboats look like nothing more than a stack of high priced Tupperware. And just as form follows function it is also allied to purpose. The classic Tahiti Ketch designed by John Hanna is a blue water work horse but will go nowhere without a capful of wind. The best hull for a given purpose needs a rig to match. It seems that the ketch and yawl rigs are ideal. See the aforementioned Beach point 18. In smaller boats the lug sail has proved itself. Oughtred’s designs feature them to good effect and they have a proper salty look.
A time machine could take you back to more famous examples such as the Colin Archer designed Redningskoite and the Danish Spidsgatters. This month’s Woodenboat magazine features an article on Scotland’s Loch Fyne Skiff’s. The plumb stem and steeply raked stern post look like they were meant to take on heavy seas. The raked mast with dipping lug sail is weatherly and mounted out of the way of a working crew. The lapstrake planking accentuates the lines of the hull as they sweep gracefully from stem to sternpost. Honest craftsmen imprint their work with an understanding of how their product is meant to be used. With wood aesthetics aren’t forced because beauty is organically grown from truth.