Sensible interior layouts

All too often and with marketing interests in mind, modern yachts attempt to cram too much accommodation into whatever space is available. Does this make sense?

Your home afloat

I had to admit the visual effect was impressive. Removed from the bustle of Boat Show noises outside, the cathedral calm of the cabin exuded an impression of majesty and opulence. I was amongst a group of boating journalists that had been invited on board, hopefully to write flattering things about it. And indeed it was a splendid creation. Finely worked woodwork shimmered in the indirect lighting. Rich Florentine patterned fabrics, quite worthy of a potentate’s pleasure palace, set off the ceramic work surfaces and the swirling burr veneers of the saloon table. We were in the presence of great luxury and the salesman pointing out the various features oozed an oily pride.

Among our company was a work-worn scribe who claims to have sacrificed both humour and liver in pursuit of his profession.  “Tell me, young feller, where would I lash the dead sheep?” he asked loudly.

The salesman blinked. All movement ceased as his words ricocheted around the cabin. An attentive silence settled over the yacht.

“Excuse me?”

Ignoring the ‘No Smoking’ signs, my friend took out his pipe and started to load it with a foul substance having the appearance of well-rotted manure. “Story time”, he announced. “Years ago when I was a youngster in the Merchant Navy, we took out this brand new, special order Rolls-Royce to Australia. It was a magnificent machine. Gleaming coach-built body, walnut trim, and snow-white leather upholstery. Amongst its other wonders it also had air conditioning, a cocktail cabinet, and a little gadget that spat out ice cubes – just the sort of thing you’d want if you owned several hundred square miles of prime grazing and felt like giving yourself a treat. Are you following this?”

“Well. . . er. .”

“Anyway, when we got to Melbourne and off-loaded this extravagant transport of delight, our well-heeled drover was there to meet it. What d’you think of that, eh?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but . . .” The salesman’s eyes signalled for reinforcements. There were no takers.

“You’d guess he’d be happier than a pig in clover, wouldn’t you? Just like the lucky folk that buy your boats. Well, you’d be quite wrong; the poor guy was stricken. You see, his old Roller had running boards, to which he would lash any dead sheep he found. And the new car was of the modern style with flush topsides. For all the fancy odds and sods it had aboard, it was seriously deficient in his eyes. Now d’you get it?”

We all waited for a response but there was none coming. So hypnotised was the salesman by this manic  encounter that he ignored the flare of the match and the cloud of smoke that filled that hallowed cocoon.

“All right, let me make it easier for you. How could I work at that ridiculous chart table if soaking wet? Where’s the sea berth where I could put my head down if ditto? What would keep you in that silly armchair on starboard tack? Where would I stow the dinghy if I didn’t want it in the davits? And, if you’ll forgive the plain speaking, in sailing terms there’s nowhere on this thing you could lash a dead sheep. This isn’t a boat, laddy, it’s a floating boudoir!”

For the arrival of the interior designer into the world of yachts hasn’t always yielded positive results. This is not to say that the accommodation is unworthy of the same sort of professional attention that should be lavished on the hull and rig, but sometimes the chintzier excesses of creative zeal can ruin an otherwise decent boat. Of course, flashy furnishing and an ingeniously commodious lay-out are known to be powerful selling points. The manufacturer, with his enormous capital investment in a new model, is under extreme pressure to compete by offering the most for the least – and by that he usually means the most berths for the least length and money. This might be fine for weekend sailors but is seriously bad news for those going offshore.

To plot the development of this disastrous corruption, let’s take a fictitious but representative modern design – a 36ft [1.0m) sloop of generous beam and fairly light displacement. The naval architect has done his stuff and handed the hull lines and sail plan over to his client, the builder. He passes them on to the interior designer with instructions to conjure up an accommodation which will satisfy the following criteria:

  • Sleeping for eight adults.
  • Two enclosed heads with showers, one of which must be en suite with the ‘owner’s cabin’.
  • A seating and dining area where the crew of eight might convivially congregate. Intended as the area where social events will focus, a visually striking approach was deemed desirable.
  • A galley of sufficient capacity to feed the aforementioned complement of eight. Equipment must include a double sink, hot water supply and refrigerator.
  • A navigation area with seat, full-size chart table, and an instrument panel vaguely reminiscent of an airliner’s.

Well, mindful of his mortgage and the need to feed the kids, our man wanders off, switches on his computer and sets to work. Some weeks later he emerges with the results. Drawings, colour charts and swatches of fabric are laid out for consideration. Sales and production men gather around like archaeologists about to unwrap a mummy. The tension is electric. But at last, just when our designer thinks he can bear the suspense no longer, the first smile breaks like dawn in the east and a flurry of enthusiastic back-slapping ensues.


And, it has to be admitted that his creation is a masterpiece of ingenuity. Every design objective has been achieved — actually, even exceeded, for there is an extra heads. As can be seen in illustration above, not a square inch has been wasted. The marketing ideal of 100 percent space utilisation has been well satisfied. In due course a wide-angle lens will produce wondrous glossies for the brochure. Magazine articles will praise the level of comfort. Future boat shows will see admiring hordes traipsing through, hopefully with their cheque books primed and ready.

But, if we can tear ourselves away from the world of sales-speak, and imagine that same boat afloat and cruising, how does the interior design stand up? In my opinion, not at all well. Let’s deal with the features one by one.

Eight berths is ridiculous for a vessel of this size and is, anyway, a dishonest description because we are actually not talking about eight individuals but four couples. The ideal crew would be four and the boat could easily (and more likely to) be handled by two. And, as all the berths are doubles, where would you sleep on passage? I suppose it would be possible to split the cushions and divide the doubles into singles by using lee cloths, but this is an awkward solution. A sensible sea boat should have secure single berths for the watch below.

The sanitary arrangements are also extravagant. A single head is sufficient in a boat of this size, particularly when you remember the number of extra seacocks required. For the various inlets and outlets needed, the number of holes in the hull could be as many as fourteen for this layout.

The showers are a nice idea but, again, impractical. The spray within those tiny cubicles would thoroughly drench the interior. This would necessitate putting everything away – toilet paper, towels, cosmetics, whatever – before use.

That chic dinette area looks great on the drawing but would be very uncomfortable with the yacht heeled on either tack. Curved seating is hardly ever successful on sailboats. There are no corners in which to wedge yourself and that most comfortable of off-watch postures, sitting lengthways with your feet up, are denied you. On port tack, the settee would be uphill to windward and you might need to wear seat belts to stay there.

The cook won’t be blessing the designer in hot weather or if there’s any kind of sea running. The galley is too far forward, where pitching motion is greatest, and away from the natural ventilation of the companionway. Cooking at sea calls for an iron stomach and involves juggling with boiling liquids. No opportunity to make the cook’s life easier should be missed.

The two after cabins rule out all but the most miniscule cockpit lockers. Indeed, the whole matter of stowage has been neglected on this boat. Where would you put sail bags, buckets, bicycles, boarding ladders, dinghies – let alone dead sheep?

The modern light-displacement hull has very little volume beneath bunks, and there’s an obvious limit to how much you can pile on deck. The likely outcome would be that one of the cabins would be adopted as a bosun’s locker, so why not design it that way in the first place? The flaws in this design arose from commercial imperatives. Boat builders live in a precarious trading environment in which the failure rate is high. You can hardly blame them for supplying the public with what they think they want as long as we continue to prove to them that they are right. The pity is that many of us continue to be seduced by the delusion that a quart really can be fitted into a pint pot.

The illustration above shows a more seamanlike approach to the same project. One of the enclosed cabins and a brace of heads have been sacrificed in favour of more useful facilities. The seating arrangement works on either tack and can be lounged upon in proper languorous manner. The galley has reassumed its traditional position under the companionway and, abaft that, is an enclosed heads compartment of sufficient size to rig a more workable shower. Perhaps more importantly, there’s now a huge cockpit locker capable of swallowing a mountain of gear. Sad to say, if both options were offered it’s probable that this would be the least popular choice.

If that’s the case, we only have ourselves to blame.

Sea Books