Humans have been designing waterborne vessels since a hungry caveman found a deep river between himself and a tasty-looking baby brontosaurus.
As time progressed, man used boats and ships of all sorts to provide food, generate wealth and advance culture. Those who captained and crewed these vessels achieved legend status, from humble Inuit paddling a qajaq in pursuit of walrus to the Viking berserkers in longships, to Age of Discovery explorers. Yes, we know the myth, lore and legend of the vessels and those who manned them. But what about the designers? Do you think the Portuguese would have fished the Grand Banks atop the same lash-up of logs that Og used to get a bronto burger?
Naval architects work in the background, mostly unknown except by their peers. However, they have an important impact. Are there new frontiers in pleasure boats? Who are the designers pushing the needle with respect to how we enjoy speed, safety, comfort and efficiency? We think these three have had, and will continue to make, a lasting impact on recreational boat design.
John Deknatel is most recognized for perfecting and maintaining Ray Hunt’s vaunted deep-V hull design. Owner and president of C. Raymond Hunt Associates, Deknatel began working for the respected yacht designer Philip Rhodes in the early 1960s, while he was still studying at Harvard. After graduating he went into business with Ray Hunt in ’66.
Deknatel asserts that maintaining and improving a successful concept are challenges many naval architects face today. Interior and exterior trends often compromise a hull’s design integrity. Changing the beam, even slightly, can often change the way a boat handles in a seaway. “There are plenty of good designers,” he explains. “Interior features and topside amenities are driving many of their designs at the expense of hull performance. I focus on the hull; that is why the boats I design tend to have simpler, more traditional interior layouts and exterior styling.”
This approach is the secret to the success of such respected boats as Hunt Yachts, Sabre and the Grand Banks East Bay series. Deknatel was instrumental in these commuter-style and picnic boat designs. “I think one of the boats I am most proud of is the East Bay 38,” he says. “I think we captured the sailboaters’ aesthetic in the simple and straightforward design and again later with the East Bay 49.”
One of Deknatel’s contributions to boating today is optimizing the same basic geometry for different boat requirements and missions — explaining, for instance, how the hulls of a 50-foot pilot boat and a 50-foot motoryacht need to be designed according to the unique form and function of the two widely different uses.
Deknatel says he thinks new technology and innovations are what will continue to drive design. New lightweight materials and processes are creating lighter, stronger hulls. Pod drives and joystick controls are revolutionizing the way people perceive boat ownership, with more joystick options for every type of engine setup from inboards to sterndrives to pods and now even outboards. New innovations have made diesel engines cleaner, quieter and more efficient than just a decade ago. Larger displacement outboards are showing up on large cruisers and fish boats. All these innovations are making boating easier, more enjoyable and safer.
When asked what he consistently strives for when designing a new boat, Deknatel responds, “Rough-water capabilities, dryness and efficiency.” He points to Grady-White as an example of these attributes. Deknatel and C. Raymond Hunt and Associates have been involved in the design of Grady-White hulls for many years.
C. Raymond Hunt Associates and John Deknatel own a rich history of rough-water-designed boats for military, commercial and recreational use up to 120 feet. Deknatel deeply appreciates the classic designs of Rhodes and Sparkman & Stevens, noted for drawing seakindly boats appreciated by experienced mariners. One can see that influence in many of Deknatel’s designs today.