Ed Dubois had an early and innate love of the sea, sailing, and yacht design. This, despite growing up in a landlocked part of England. His choice of career was set from his early teens. Dubois designed, built, and raced his own first yacht, Borsalino Trois, in the late 1970’s. He went on to design many winners in major offshore races around the world. Dubois describes his work as combining seaworthiness and excellent performance with imaginative space planning and beautifully proportioned, elegant lines. Here, Dubois, the managing director of Dubois Naval Architects, discusses design innovation, racing’s influence on cruising, and more. He even shares a strange but true story about a pony and a yacht.
Megayacht News: Do you think large sailing yacht races around the world are becoming the yachting equivalent of Formula One car racing?
Ed Dubois: I would agree that the America’s Cup is yachting’s Formula One, but I don’t think it’s a fair analogy to think of superyacht regattas as Grand Prix events—nor do I think those taking part think so, either.
Megayacht News: Do the owners of large sailing yachts ask you push the boundaries of design? If so, how, and can you give some examples of where they have done that successfully?
Ed Dubois: Owners of large sailing yachts are happy for their designers to push the boundaries in terms of appearance and also speed. But it is also the designer’s responsibility, I believe, not to allow safety or seaworthiness to be compromised. For example, we are now designing (and have designed in the last six years) yachts with lifting keels, which have required a good deal of research and development with regard to strength. We are also designing larger and larger rigs, which would be perhaps dangerous were it not for safety factors being considered very carefully.
Megayacht News: Have any of the innovative ideas first tried out on cutting-edge racing yachts been of benefit to the family cruising yacht, and if so, can you give some examples?
Ed Dubois: Many innovative ideas first tried out on cutting-edge racing yachts have been of benefit to family cruising yachts. Perhaps the most emphatic example is carbon-fiber masts and rigging. Carbon-fiber was first pioneered in the racing yacht world and without carbon-fiber masts, some of the larger super sailing yachts would simply not have been possible or certainly would not have functioned in the way they do. Other examples are super-strong ropes, which have been pioneered in racing yachts before being taken on by cruising yachts and superyachts. I think it is in the area of rigs and rigging and sails where racing yachts have had the most central influence on cruising yachts.
Megayacht News: Have you as a designer ever been asked to incorporate an idea that could never work on a fast sailing yacht?
Ed Dubois: We have had some interesting requests. One owner wanted her daughter to be able to bring her pony with her on board the boat. Her idea was to have a rotating, turntable-like exercise machine that the pony would be able to swim off. We managed to persuade them that it probably wasn’t a good idea for the pony’s entire happiness. We’ve also been asked to incorporate a three-ton pizza oven into a yacht. Again, we managed—gently—to dissuade the clients out of this idea.
Megayacht News: Is large-yacht racing becoming much more competitive?
Ed Dubois: Yes! For example, I took part in my first St. Barths Bucket in the year 2000. There were just four boats and one race around the island. Recently though there have been over 40 boats competing in three races and many of the entries want to win quite badly. It is not necessarily a very healthy trait because the yachts are in essence cruising boats that are designed to go faster and faster.
Megayacht News: Are yachts built for speed taking over from the creation of cruising yachts that race?
Ed Dubois: I think that is the case, and I believe the industry as a whole and designers in particular should be wary of it. When I started racing offshore, in events such as the Admirals Cup in 1973, it was possible to cruise those yachts and race them competitively. Very soon after the sport went professional, in 1985, boats became too extreme and certainly not suitable for cruising. I don’t think superyachts will go that way, but it is something to be reminded of.
Megayacht News: Why is the single-masted yacht the preferred choice of racing-yacht design?
Ed Dubois: Single-masted yachts are generally more popular than ketches or schooners these days. I think most people think the aesthetics of a single mast are more attractive. In past days, before powered winches and automatic sail-handling equipment, sails had to be divided up into smaller areas, hence the square rig on merchant ships and two- and three-masted yachts. Now it is not such a requirement because of electrics and hydraulics. However, I still believe that a ketch rig is more seaworthy than a sloop. In a lot of wind, a staysail and double-reefed mizzen is a very handy rig.
Megayacht News: We have witnessed the canting keel, the movable ballast, the winged keel, and now there is talk of a dynamic stabilizer. What do you think the next big design feature for fast, large sailing yachts will be?
Ed Dubois: We have some ideas for the next big thing—but they’re secret!