The Cockpit as Safe Haven

When choosing a liveaboard and voyaging yacht, many people tend to identify with the “norm” that the magazines are pushing for their advertisers. It should be kept in mind that the heaviest advertisers control editorial policy (articles) in all commercial publications, their survival depends on it. The vessel owner’s survival, however, depends on choosing a vessel designed using parameters rationalized specifically for safety and enjoyment.

The respective interests are not likely to coincide when there are a great many catamarans on offer, said to be designed for offshore voyaging, with characteristics inherited from the holiday charter market from which they were derived. Additionally, as with all design, it can difficult to identify what is “modern” and what is just the latest fashion. Style is very appealing and desirable, as long as it isn’t disguising compromised function.

The very good popular technical literature that address concerns of this nature, such as C.A. Marchaj’s book “Seaworthiness The Forgotten Factor”, fights an uphill battle against the marketing machines of the large volume boat builders. The appeal of a staged “lifestyle” photo shoot can easily outweigh any written argument with an unwary observer.

At what point did the design consensus decide that a truly enormous cockpit, originally designed to seat eight people for a cocktail/dinner party and fully open to the stern is suitable for an ocean voyaging vessel?

And what is wrong with having an entire bulkhead face pierced with sliding patio doors?

Apparently the “old” design insistence on defending from a breaking following sea, potentially much higher than the vessel itself, is no longer necessary.
Maybe any boarding wave crest will simply spill back out over the stern as the boat is tipped up on the wave back? The stern will certainly not rise very quickly. As you know, these waves travel in sets.

Maybe the cockpit soles of catamarans are thought to be so high off the water that it isn’t an issue, no breaking wave crest could climb as high as say four of five feet, could it?

What if it does though, and throws tons (only 200 gal/ton) of water through the cockpit to crash against the “bulkhead” at around 20k (USCG study “typical breaking wave crest” for 200’ wavelength)? Can we say the design at least recognizes the possibility?

Maybe we shouldn’t be so complacent, maybe we should make some provisions against those occurrences we know nature can, and sooner or later will, challenge us with.

Suppose we created a substantial stern bulwark aft of the opening to the cockpit in order to break any solid water that may want to come aboard?

Suppose we moulded in recesses in the cockpit aft face to accept a hinged storm board gate to repel solid water but allow it free escape?

Suppose we kept the cockpit sole dimensions within the largest practical limit commensurate with its functions, thereby limiting its capacity to shovel in unexpected water?

Suppose we kept the sliding door, a very attractive and enjoyable feature after all, at a practical size to give us the access we want without alarming the sensibilities of old fashioned sea going types?

Suppose we made sure the design of the cockpit and hardtop have provision for enclosing protective canvas work, right from the start?

Suppose, with all this nice protected space available, we could keep the helmsman from dying of exposure or being washed off some cold dark night?
Maybe we could provide a truly functional helm station, with visibility even. If we draw it right, maybe we could even keep the watchkeeper from baking in the sun, like the Sunday roast.

Suppose we could bring all the running rigging lines in off the mast and potentially treacherous deck? Maybe we should put the winches right at hand in the cockpit and run all the lines under the bridge deck.

Suppose we incorporated all these ideas right from the start in the initial design exercise?

You can enjoy fair weather sailing and still experience the spectacular open ocean environment in comfort and safety in a vessel conceived for offshore sailing. Design with the possibility of extreme conditions in mind and compromise a little on the toy boat flash, isn’t that the only philosophy we can all live with?