Although drawing leading-edge racing yachts was a good way to establish a designer’s credibility, it was risky. The real security lay in drawing production boats and custom cruising yachts. In 1978, Westerly Yachts hired Dubois to design a line of production boats, earning for him a steady flow of royalties. “That and Police Car got me going properly.”
Six years after Police Car won the Admiral’s Cup championship, Dubois got another break, one that would shape the future of his design firm and establish his credentials in the rarefied atmosphere of the superyacht (a term that Dubois doesn’t like but has learned to accept).
Bob Milhous, an American sailor, had begun casting about for someone to design a big boat. Based on Dubois’ reputation for careful engineering, Milhous commissioned him to design a 37-meter cruising sloop, and he pushed Dubois to produce a yacht that would differ from every other in its size range. Milhous found a yard in New Zealand, which built the hull of aluminum and the superstructure of fiberglass. He christened her Aquel II. “It was pretty space-age at the time,” Dubois said, meaning technically and aesthetically.
Dubois’ plan for the interior influenced the exterior styling. “What we tried to do with Aquel was get the sight lines organized so that when you’re in the boat, you can still see the horizon.” He accomplished his mission by designing a relatively tall trunk cabin with windows along each side and placing the salon in a raised structure atop the trunk cabin. “I thought Aquel II was so different and so interesting that people would sign up straight away, but they didn’t.” A couple of years later, though, Neville Crighton saw Aquel II and thought she was terrific. He commissioned Dubois to design Esprit, which Alloy Yachts built.
The design of Aquel II also planted the seed that would grow into the Dubois style. “I’m very keen to follow a trend and create a marque...to have a recognizable style,” he said. “It doesn’t suit everybody, and we have lost one or two orders.” Studying the designs that followed Aquel II shows a definite progression from a bulky superstructure to the current flowing, almost organic shapes.
Establishing a distinctive style, however, does not mean that Dubois imposes his tastes on the client. “My job is not to have some ego fancy of what you should have, Mr. Client. I try to find out from the owner what really suits his style of living on the boat — how he spends his time, what his priorities are, and his friends and family — and put the right boat around them. The architecture gives you what you want on the water. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not just the look; it’s how it works.”
Dubois has enjoyed his artistic progression, and his style likely will change subtly as he grows. “I have to say that I get as much fun out of designing boats to look good as I do out of getting them to sail well. I’ve always been like that, even in the racing boats. I always got a buzz out of making them look right. We get work because people like the look.”
Dubois Naval Architects Ltd., +44-1590-626-66; www.duboisyachts.com