Design Delusion

Even when stuck in an elevator, this owner's mind is on yacht design.
Steve Haefele Elevator Illustration
A choosy yachtsman’s desires conflict with reality. Steve Haefele

A pal called the other day to solicit an opinion about a yacht he’d c­ommissioned. “You at the yard?” I asked, hearing banging and a foreign tongue.

“No,” he said. “I’m trapped in an elevator with a lady that doesn’t speak English. The fire department is hacking through the door. Focus on my design, Coyle! Twenty thousand bucks to move a bulkhead a few inches is ridiculous.”

His designer had completed the project, and construction was underway, but my type-A pal would likely keep the designer drawing until his bank account was overdrawn. I might have tried to reason with him, but doing so would have been pointless.


“Of course it’s worth it,” I said of the $20,000.

Like my pal, the clients I had worked for as a designer were well above average in terms of common sense and brains. Most ran or had run successful businesses. Some had attended the best schools, and others had figured things out on their own. By and large, they were self-made people who understood the value of a buck and who did not spend their own bucks freely.

Except, of course, on boats. The idea for a new design was often noodled on, or near, a cocktail napkin. If sobriety did not dampen enthusiasm, the effort then tracked along a spiral course: thousands of hours of balancing the demands of the client with those of the natural world. Hydrostatics and structural engineering were predictable, but each client’s “needs” were not. When struck with a new idea, they called night or day, often turning the design spiral into a tornado.


“Twenty thousand bucks, Coyle,” my pal repeated. “How long could it take to move a bulkhead on the computer? Can’t they just push a button?”

By the time I came along, delicate velum drawings were being carted off to nautically themed restaurants or maritime museums. My generation noodled designs on Mylar, and at the ­customer’s whim, last week’s brilliant idea could be scraped off with an X-acto knife or ground off with an electric eraser. That was the easy part.

Read More: By Jay Coyle


“I had a section in my contracts for this sort of thing,” I lectured. “I’m sure your contract has something, maybe under revisions or change orders. Perhaps it’s worth reviewing?”

“Don’t be a wiseass, Coyle,” he said. “At the moment, that bulkhead is nothing more than a few hundred pixels on a computer screen. It’s hardly a change.”

“Oh, but it is,” I insisted. “You can’t put a bulkhead here or there. Its position is carefully planned, and its structure is engineered to support the stringers, bottom and deckhouse. Are you still stuck in the elevator?”


“Forget that and look at the drawing,” he insisted. “Eighteen inches, makes a big difference.”

“I’d be more concerned with the guest head,” I advised.

“What’s wrong with the head?” he asked.

“If you dropped a bar of soap in that shower, you couldn’t bend down to pick it up,” I replied.

My pal continued to grouse as the firefighters broke through the door.

“Listen Coyle, forget the head,” he said. “I need your ­advice.”

“Here it is,” I told him. “Ask the fireman for oxygen and call me in the morning.”