It still Christmas
time, so may be a good time for a tale. Even a fairytale…
Once upon a time, on the continent far, far away (or close, close to – depending on the point of being) called Europe
were tens and hundreds of boatyards
. The craftsmen there were skilled, tradition of boatbuilding long and seas demanding. So the yards built the boats sound and robust, boats designed to look after the seamen when the things go wrong. But (there is some but in every tale) one day some people found that all yards together build a lot of the boats. These people called it “the market” and found, that this market is huge. The also looked at the seamen innovative way and named them “customers”. They also decided that a boat should be a “product”, not an object of craftsmanship. They looked around and found that there are the modern ways to “produce” boats rather than built them. They came to conclusion, that it is feasible to produce boats in large quantities, just like a cars, to bring the cost and price
of produced boats down to the levels unheard of before, to attract a lot of new customers and sell them a boats to their satisfaction. So, for the benfit of customers only, they made a substantial investments and put together a new yards, building not tens, not even hundreds but whole thousands of boats each year. They produced more and more boats, but still they were struggling. They goodwill was not rewarded. The people they want to become their customers were still unenlightened to call themselves a sailors still. And a lot of the sailors still preferred the boats build in old fashioned way. Some of the old yards disappeared, especially the ones building cheaper boats, but still the progress of the industry was blocked by boatbuilders and sailors with the luddite mentality.
The boatproducers decided to offer their products even cheaper in order to find the more and more customers. They looked thoroughly at all costs and found a lot of ways to cut them down. For example, they found some old principles of boatbuilding just ridiculous and inappropriate for modern boatproducing. Why to fiberglass
the bulkheads and frames to the hull when it is feasible just to glue them in? It is cheaper, easier and quicker. Why to build the interior
in the boat, making it a structural? It is possible to produce it outside and put together in the hull just a way Your home kitchen is fixed. Why to stick with old safety
factors in construction resulting from centuries of experience? If the safety
factor of four is accepted surely the factor of two will suffice? Still something will be twice as strong as necessary in most of the cases. Why to depend on sizing guidance provided by the manufacturers of spars, rigging
and deck hardware
. The manufacturers were beyond any doubt misled by old, traditional approach. And thinner, lighters spars, smaller winches and so on need less support in the structure of the boat – additional benefit for the less paying customers.
But still it was no sufficient demand for the huge boatproduction, so the producers offered their product to charter
fleet operators with handsome discounts. It made chartering cheaper and effectively banned the boat builders from the sales to charter operations. Additional profit was in persuading the charter operators to include into the charter contracts the clauses forbidding sailing in anything above Force 6, which added enormously to the overall safety of sailing sport.
There were other positives about the progress. As the boats became cheaper and cheaper, more and more clients were able to afford one. At some point owning the boat became the element of the lifestyle, more than sailing the boat. Affordable boats sailed less by average, as now it made a sense to buy one for occasional use only. So the boats spent more time in marinas
, venturing to the sea mainly in nice and settled weather
. As most of customers were not similar to sailors now, the boats changed further still. The customers didn’t need interiors safe in seaway, with well rounded corners, lot of handholds and so on. Demand turned to open spaces, wide berths and generally the styling reminding this of an upscale loft. On deck
minimalist approach was en vogue, resulting happily in further cost cutting, as two winches instead of six do much less damage to the clean look of boat, only accidentally being cheaper triple. Some boatproducers were creative enough to realize that on the boat sailing quite sparsely and for not long time some older extravagancies, like helmsman seat or navigation
table are possible to exclude from modern boats.
No effort was spared to restructure all the industry, but still a lot of the seamen were denying the obvious benefits of progress. It was necessary to make some decisive move to keep the progress going, but it was beyond the possibilities of boatproducers alone. The cases of keels falling off, masts falling down, booms breaking in Force 4 or 5, or interiors going apart on short photo-op trips just before the opening of the boatshow were the proof that it is impossible to make much more savings on costs of production. Biggest boatproducers in Europe
were on the verge of bankruptcy. Some were in fact taken over by creditors. Being desperate, the boatproducers went to the renowned and influential consultants, contacted the politicians and presented them the case of the progress being blocked by the builders of unfairly high quality boats. Disscussions started, lobbyists get to work
and for the sake of progress and to the benfit of the customers, and also in order to save thousands work places provided by boat producers, the Recreational Craft Directive was invented and applied thorough the European Union.
The RCD introduced new system of categorisation, attributing each boat the allowed area of operation and, if applicable , limitations.
The highest design category in RCD is Category A – OCEAN. Attributing this category to the boat means that given boat was designed for extended voyages where conditions may exceed wind
force 8 (Beaufort scale) and significant wave heights of 4m and above but excluding abnormal conditions, and is largely self-sufficient. Of course it was self-evident for boatproducers that now the boat able to survive Force 10 and to withstand the waves of 6 or 7 meters can be counted as an ocean going craft, condition to fulfilling all detailed demands of the Directive. The main requirement for the boat became to have the proper so called STIX number, the artificial figure presented as the measure of the seaworthiness. The STIX algorithm was broadly criticized by naval designers unaware of its importance for progress, but with massive support of boatproducers it was included into the Directive. Lot of luddites lamented over the STIX having nothing or almost nothing to do with such a nuisances like righting arms, righting moments, ballast ratios and depending on measurements and weights too much, but they were just enough ill-informed to be unable to realize how succesfully RCD supports and promotes broad hulls and wide sterns so necessary to put roomy, loft-alike interiors into the boats. Those murmuring something about Ocean category boats prone to capsize
and not so able to right themselves after capsize
were just doomsters, of course. And pointing to the boats widely renowned for their bluewater
capabilities, and unable to be attributed Category A, like Vancouvers, was… hmmm… pointless.
Anyway, the RCD was not invented to promote the safety in boat design and boat producing. As anybody can check the RCD is one of the trade-enabling European New Approach Directives, which sets minimum requirements of a boat making it suitable for sale
and use within the European Union. The main aim of the RCD was and is to provide the even ground for competition in producing and marketing
the boats. With the advent of RCD the boatproducers were, at the very last moment, granted the possibility to compete successfully against the builders of unfairly sound, robust and seaworthy
Of course, a lot of attention was given to the safety, but not in the way to promote it. Really the RCD introduced minimal standards – often much less demanding that older customary ones. Single
and well known, but by no mean only, example is the seacocks case. In old times before RCD it was widely accepted, that through-hull fittings should be made of bronze
and last for a lifetime. RCD authors decided, that such a fittings should last for not less than five years – minimal standard was set. Producers were able to replace bronze
for fittings by other, much cheaper metals. After few years, when seacocks on boats started to fail serially this small problem was unhonestly used by Luddites in their efforts to discredit RCD as a whole. Of course it is possible that RCD is not perfect in such a smallish details, but generally it is a great success.
Now the average customer can easily compare two boats of the same design category and size, for example the HANSE 575 and DISCOVERY 57 or OYSTER
575, just to realize how unreasonable will be to pay double or triple for the second one and even triple or quadruple for the third one, while first have all necessary amenities, is contemporary stylish and EU approved as the same category A - OCEAN.
Nothing strange that in several years after introduction
of the RCD so many of the boatbuilding yards went into bankruptcy just one by one. Somebody can feel sorry for them, but should remember all the work places saved at great boatproducers’ factories.
Now the future of the boatproducing is more or less assured. The future of boatbuilding not so much. But boatproducing caters for some 90 or more per cent of the market and should by supported by all means, shouldn’t it?
At least their product is well suited to the contemporary mode of the boat using.
And if Luddites call this use “porting” or “harbouring” as opposite to sailing, it is humilliating and should be prosecuted.
Somebody reading this fairytale can possibly think, that RCD is European only achievement, but it is not the true. Strength is in numbers and first three of five biggest boatproducing groups are European based. The European market for the sailboats is huge also, and only the boats conforming to the RCD are admitted to it. Anyway, all the producers thorough the world are more or less willingly influenced by RCD.
The worst effect of RCD was probably that it almost literally wiped out the middle of the market. Smaller yards, building sound boats in the price range somewhere between mass production and top shelf brands all but disappeared. Some were taken over by mass producers, some closed premises. Few still struggle for life. It does nothing good to us, as it is difference between Average White Boat and proper bluewater boat really. It is the difference between the boat looking after her crew and the boat the crew need to look after.
Of course – not all the production boats are the same. For example, the Beneteau
Group – with single exception of shortly produced Cyclades
range – never went to extremities of cost cutting.
But still it is a difference. Someone can go to McDonald, have a sandwich and tell that he dined out in restaurant. Someone can think other way. So it is possible to sail round the world
in production boat. May be not in each production boat but in many of them. Everything is to people in the last instance. But why to go in Hanse if You can go in Rustler..?..