Boats from an artist’s perspective.

There are many attractive things about sailing and the sea but looking at boats through a sculptor’s eye is definitely one of them. I was thinking about curves the other day because one of the inspiring thing about boats, especially traditional ones, is that they are made up of beautiful curves. Why is this so?


The curve of the spinaker on Shamrock is a good example. If there was a kink somewhere in this curve the wind over its surface would begin to curl around and become turbulent. This would tend to slow the forward movement so a smooth curve all over the sail is essential. The same happens with the bits of the boat in the water. The effect of turbulence is even more pronounced here. So everything is done in order to smooth the hull and create the right shape to pass smoothly through the water. Any sign of ruffled water at the back of the boat is bad news so the taper at the waterline is essential. ranger J

Photographers know how to exploit the beauty of the curve don’t they?

Sails are sewn so that they can take up a perfect curve but it is the wind providing a constant force that stretches the sail in to shape.

Which brings me to Anton Gaudi, the Spanish architect who was also a sculptor. He needed to explore shapes that he could use when building domed structures. Instead of using the wind as a constant force, he used gravity.

gaudis catenary

He hung chains to produce catenary curves then looked in a mirror to see the forms that his domed structures might take.

gaudis catenary

Gaudi was asked to produce plans for a large hotel in New York. These were never realised. Probably too outrageous for the New Yorkers.

hotel attraction

Hotel Attraction was never built but would have looked magnificent if it had.

But back to boats. We don’t often see boats parts that are below the waterline but these are the bits which have to flow through the water efficiently. They will often be shaped like a fish or other aquatic animal. Shapes that have evolved into perfect streamlined shapes.

Above the waterline the curves of the sheerline and the planks of the hull are dictated by the method of construction. Take a bendy plank and curve it naturally around a skeleton-like structure and the shape taken up might provide that pleasing curve. Add to that the graceful curve of a sail or two and you have the perfect, beautiful form.

Here is the 100 year old gaff cutter I used to own.

Biddy's underwater shape

Biddy’s underwater shape

Biddy on the Isles of Scilly

Biddy on the Isles of Scilly

Biddy's rounded stern

Biddy’s rounded stern

Sailing in the Bay of Douarnenez

Sailing in the Bay of Douarnenez

I guess it’s Biddy I have in mind when I think of beautiful boats.


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