Interview with Dudley Dix

When did you become a boat designer and what was your first real design?

My first boat design was a 15ft tortured plywood catamaran, designed and built for myself in 1973. I knew nothing about boat design but it was a good boat and fast. My first “real” design was the CW975, when I was part-way through my studies with Westlawn. I drew it for the Cruising World Yacht Design competition in 1979 and won the competition. I built that boat, named it “Concept Won” and raced it in Cape of Good Hope waters for about 7 years, before designing and building the Didi 38.

The Didi 38 “Black Cat” crossing the finish line to win the monohull division of the 2014 Governor’s Cup Race, 1700 miles from South Africa to St Helena Island. I built her 18 years earlier in my garden in 1994/5 and have personally raced her three times across the South Atlantic. She now has 6 trans-Atlantic voyages under her keel.

 

Which designer(s) had the greatest influence on you?

I was in Cape Town, South Africa, far from any big-name designers. They mentored me via magazine articles without knowing it. There was a bunch of them whom I admired for various reasons and followed all that they drew. Some of them I have met over the years. I bought every sailing magazine that I could lay my hands on and analysed the featured designs for myself, to figure why they drew what they did.

Ricus van de Stadt for his performance wooden boats that were also always very seaworthy.

L Francis Herreshoff for his classic styling and detailing. William Garden for similar reasons.

Phil Bolger for no-pretences practical solutions that are mostly way off the beaten path. I seldom stray onto the beaten path, so Phil showed me that I could put lots of originality into my designs and still build a demand for them.

Ted Brewer for his practical cruiser designs.

Bill Lee, for his super-fast sleds. I loved the “sailing is fun” stuff that he espoused. There was a great photo on the cover of one magazine of him standing on a cockpit seat at the wheel of “Merlin” with the biggest grin on his face. Those boats have influenced my Didi series of radius chine plywood racer/cruisers and racers. Having fun became part of racing for me, more important than winning.

Bob Perry and Chuck Paine for their pretty cruiser concepts, despite them both drawing double-enders at that time. I am not a lover of double-enders and have only drawn one, the 60ft “Ancilla II”.

 

How many boat designs have you drawn in total?

There are currently 64 designs on my pricelist. Some of them have a host of variations that stretch the list to more than 80 and I have a few others that are not on the pricelist.

“Concept Won”, self-built to my first “real” design, the CW975

Shearwater 39 and Shearwater 45, both GRP production boats that can be built by amateurs in wood or aluminium. The Shearwater 45 was Cruising Sailboat of the Year 2001 at the Annapolis Sailboat Show.

 

Which of your designs is your best seller, and which is your personal favorite?

Our top-seller is the Argie 15. That is a very popular 3:1 family dinghy in many countries, including Russia.

My personal favourite is a difficult one to answer because I have a few favourites, each for their own reasons. I think that overall the Shearwater 39 and Shearwater 45 must top the list. These are boats that are very pretty and also sail very well. The owners love them and are always sad when the time comes to part with them. Close behind is the Didi 38/40/40cr series. They are lovely boats to sail, I have crossed the Atlantic 3 times on “Black Cat” and they formed the basis for most of my design commissions at this stage in my design career.

 

Do you have a design philosophy – certain themes or principles your adhere to?

Although I was guided by my mentors listed above early on, once I found my own character and confidence in boat design and aesthetics I stopped following others. Now I draw what I feel is right and seldom reference the work of other designers. I describe myself as a seat-of-the-pants sailor and designer. With 60+ years of sailing and 50+ years of surfing, I have a good feel for what works in the ocean and what doesn’t. So, in the scale of boat design with science at one end and art at the other, I fit in well across toward the art side. This all fits in somewhere in my design philosophy of “draw it to sail faster than it looks” (it is good to draw a boat that looks slow but sails fast but not good to draw one that looks fast and isn’t). The other one is elegance in simplicity. I try to keep my boats simple in detailing and aesthetics, thereby creating boats that are easy to build, efficient in material use, light, fast and fun to sail.

 

What key tips would you give to builders of your designs?

First and foremost, if you have a question, ask me, not the guy next to you in the yacht club bar. If I receive the question I will give an educated and well-considered answer.

 

What do you have on the drawing board now?

I have way too much work to handle by myself but don’t employ others to do my drafting. This does slow down the work coming out of my office. In size order, I have recently completed or am busy with a 26ft Mini sportfisherman with Carolina-style hull, wood construction.

Didi Retro 27 plywood performance daysailer with retro styling but modern rig and performance Cape Charles 32.

Lapstrake cruiser, big sister to Cape Cutter 19 and the other Cape designs that followed.

Expedition 35 aluminium specialist adventure cruiser with classic lapstrake styling.

Dix 430 radius chine plywood cruising catamaran (smaller sister to DH550 and Dix 470).

When the 43ft cat is done, I also have commissions for 38ft and 65ft sisters.

 

Dudley’s plans are in the Duckworks store.

Dudley Dix
Dudley Dix Yacht Design
Virginia Beach, VA 23454, USA
Email dudley@dixdesign.com
Website http://dixdesign.com & http://dixdesign.com/mobile

Blogs http://dudleydix.blogspot.com & http://boatbuilder-tips.blogspot.com

Flickr albums http://www.flickr.com/photos/23039635@N03/collections
Facebook http://facebook.com/DudleyDixYachtDesign

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