Top yacht designers pick their favourite piece of design

A fórcola by a Venetian craftsman

Words by Martin Francis

When I first visited Venice with my parents in the mid-1950s I took a photo of a fórcola, the rowlock of a gondola. I still have the picture in my archives. Perhaps my interest in the shape, which then appeared completely abstract, stemmed from the fact that my mother, having moved from the stuffy Royal College of Art to the more dynamic Chelsea School of Art, had studied sculpture with a bright young teacher called Henry Moore.

On returning to Venice many years later, I met the master craftsman Saverio Pastor, who makes oars and fórcole for all the traditional boats on the Venetian Lagoon. I acquired the first fórcola in my now bountiful collection and made a new friend.

This example is a stern fórcola da puparìn. The puparìn is the most elegant of the sandoli (work boats) originally designed to transport rich Venetian families. It is the perfect combination of function and form, every part has a purpose – high gear, low gear, reverse – and the whole piece puts even Henry Moore in the shade. It is carved from a single piece of walnut using traditional hand-tools like the adze and draw knife.

Having started my career as a cabinetmaker I am filled with nostalgia every time I make my pilgrimage to Pastor in his small workshop on the canal in the Dorsoduro district. He is a passionate supporter of traditional craftsmanship and has one apprentice – I’m often tempted to ask him if he would like another. Since every type of vessel has two fórcole, and there are at least nine boat types, I have many more visits in store, whether or not I’m on the payroll.

Sony Sports Walkman WM-F5

_Words by _Marnix Hoekstra, co-creative director at Vripack

Both I and Bart, my co-creative director at Vripack, owned the Sony Sports Walkman when we were teenagers. We didn’t know this about each other until we met years later. But it shows our tastes were aligned even then!

It finally allowed you to bring your tunes to the water. That was amazing for guys like us, who loved sailing and surfing. It was splash-proof, so you didn’t need to wrap it in plastic bags (something we both did with previous Walkmans).

And, of course, it was super cool in the late 1980s because it was bright yellow. It was chunky, tough, with this big clip on the side that you had to lift over the rubber seal that kept it waterproof. We loved it. You really wanted to wear it on your belt where everyone could see it.

I got my Sports Walkman when I was 15, in 1991. I was earning some money cleaning boats. In my little village there was one store where you could buy electronics and I remember going week after week. Finally, after a few weeks, I had enough to buy it.

I took it on my first major crossing, a tall ships race from Aberdeen to Helgoland, an island north of Germany. On the night-watch I listened to my Walkman, looking over the sea. I felt very wise and mature.

It brings back memories just looking at it, but also makes you realise how fast we move to new technologies. It is a great symbol of how a good design can be super successful when the timing is right, and how swift that moment is gone.

Rolex GMT-Master

_Words by _Jonny Horsfield, of H2 Yacht Design

This Rolex GMT-Master is definitely a “he”. He is 25 years old, goes everywhere with me and always gets me to a meeting or airport gate early because he runs fast (very un-Swiss). I have worn him virtually every day for 25 years with only one service. Even the strap is original.

I spent my first few years in this industry admiring the watches strapped to every captain, broker or owner and thought, one day I, too, will have a Rolex. Not gold, platinum or anything too flamboyant, because I know my place in the food chain.

The GMT-Master in stainless steel hit the spot for me. Conceived in the 1950s as a workhorse for Pan Am pilots, it has an honest “form follows functionality” look that I admired 25 years ago and which seems even more relevant now. It has a fourth hand that enabled crews to set the watch to two time zones simultaneously. Brilliant and simple. It is hard wearing and its smaller size makes it easy to wear. Fidel Castro and Pablo Picasso both had one.

I still remember the moment at Heathrow Airport when I put mine on for the first time. Whenever I look at it I recall that young designer desperate to succeed. I guess it symbolises a turning point in my career.

Only two things about the watch have surprised me. The first is that he would now be worth double what I paid back in 1990 and the second is that I have never lost him.

A wood and aluminium lounge chair made by Eames

Words by Mario Pedol

Five years ago we bought Eames aluminium chairs for our new office in Milan and I added to the order an Eames lounge chair (shown here with ottoman) for my house. They were all delivered to the office, and the lounge chair is still there! I can’t bring myself to take it home - I love to see it when I’m working.

The chair is an absolute icon of industrial design and was created by Americans Charles and Ray Eames in 1956. I love it for its combination of innovation, technology and style, while its timeless elegance means it fits proudly in any environment, from a traditional gentlemen’s club to a contemporary Milan design office, and from a yacht club lounge to a chalet in the Dolomites. The three materials chosen by the Eameses - wood, leather and aluminium - evoke nature and modernity at the same time.

The chair is made with three separate shells (seat, backrest and headrest) of cold-moulded wood “filled” with comfortable leather cushions that are connected to the shells by an almost-invisible zip. The shells are connected to the aluminium frame through flexible joints that enhance ergonomics and comfort, allowing the chair to adapt to the sitter. Behind its apparent simplicity lies a hidden depth of sophisticated design and a study of detail both in the production process and in the product itself.

The lounge chair perfectly embodies a motto that is framed and hangs on a wall in our office and that we always keep in mind in our design practice: “Simplicity is the essence of good design”.

A barograph by German firm Fischer

Words by the late Ed Dubois

Barographs have always appealed to me. This one lives on my classic yacht Firebrand in the summer, and then moves to my design studio when the yacht is laid up over the winter.

From my earliest childhood, I remember being fascinated by their intricate yet easily understood mechanism. The fact that the British Isles are dominated by such changeable weather dependent on pressure systems sweeping across the Atlantic also makes it a handy piece of kit to keep on a yacht!

Mine is a German electric model from the late 1990s made by Fischer, model Type 217MQ. I bought it new in 1999 for my yacht, so it’s robust.

I have another barograph at home, which I’ve had for about 30 years, but the Fischer, with its link to my 13 metre Sparkman & Stephens yacht (built in wood by Lallows of Cowes in 1965) makes me extra fond of the instrument, and it’s always a nice reminder of sailing days. The actual design comprises a beautiful wooden case, with a practical handle on top, while the workings are painted grey.

I’m sure my initial love of the sea was down to frequent visits to the Maritime Museum at Greenwich as a child, and the Royal Observatory nearby. My early fascination with navigation, yacht design, boats, ships and the way weather has a profound effect on this country and had a determining effect on Britain’s supremacy at sea, are all interrelated.

In a strong way, this barograph symbolises all of that and embodies my fascination and love of all things marine.

A custom-made suit by Richard James

Words by Andrew Winch, founder of Winch Design

Four years ago, I decided to improve my attire. I had had a few suits made in the past, by no one in particular, but I wanted to treat myself because we were about to celebrate 25 years of Winch Design.

I did my research, looked at the options, and thought that Richard James was the best fit for me. His cut was comfy, the suits were not too flamboyant but, at the same time, they were individual: I did want to stand out.

The first suit I had made was a black-tie outfit for the anniversary party itself, which we held in Mayfair. When the tailor came to measure me, a wonderfully old-school character, I realised what my clients must feel like when I design them a yacht.

When he said that I needed a slightly longer cuff, I trusted him and found that I really loved having something custom-made to me. When I wear that suit I stand straighter, I feel like I have a better physique and I feel empowered. No one has the perfect body, but it is a wonderful feeling when you put something on and feel proud.

I have now had four suits made by Richard James. The next one was for presentation meetings, in a Prince of Wales check, and I wore it recently to pitch for my biggest project yet. When I met the owner, the first thing he said was: “That’s a lovely suit.” It made him feel that he was talking to someone who cared about aesthetics.

I got the job and I like to think that when I finish it next year and he sees his yacht in the yard, he will feel like I do when I wear one of my bespoke suits.

Leatherman Skeletool CX

Words by Rob Doyle

I remember seeing my first Leatherman multi-tool as a teenager in the 1980s, watching how the professional sailors solved any problem with a Leatherman, duct tape and a hammer. I needed to have my own.

Over the years I’ve owned a few, each version improving on earlier models. I love my current Leatherman, which I’ve had since 2007, for its basic functionality. The Skeletool CX is a third generation of the multi-tool and represents a total rethink on the philosophy: you don’t need 15 tools, just the basic ones that you use the most. It was clever and brave of the manufacturer to take away functions while other brands were adding more.

It is beautifully crafted: low weight, a compact design and a comfortable fit in the hand. It is a joy to look at its dense engineering and a pleasure to hold. As a naval architect and designer, I appreciate the balance between styling, engineering and materials. This deep understanding of what can and can’t work has protected me from presenting unrealistic concepts. It’s not “it can’t be done,” rather “it’s not the right time for that idea”.

I always have my Leatherman with me; it gives me a peace of mind knowing that I have a knife, screwdriver and pliers ready. Has it ever saved the day? Yes, a million times: from fixing one of the kids’ toys before they go thermonuclear, to cutting a jammed line in a block while under load. It’s never celebrated but the one time you forget it will be the one time you really miss it.

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