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Humphreys Yacht Design


Humphreys Yacht Design is a world-class yacht design studio with 40 years of tradition and experience. Because of his passion for sailing and the sea, Rob founded it back in 1974. Since then he’s had numerous successful projects both in blue water cruising and in racing sailing yachts. For years now Lymington has been the home of this family business.

1. Humphreys Yacht Design was formed in 1974. Tell us a bit more about what made you decide to found your own business in this industry and how the company has grown since.

The initial spur was simple, enthusiasm and a love of both sailing and creativity. Like many other designers who emerged in the Seventies and Eighties my office was initially involved primarily in racing yachts, and it was a pretty unforgiving world in that a studio’s profile and potential success was entirely proportional to the race-winning potential of its designs. Of course it’s an international sport and good results create the beginning of a recognizable brand. Over the years we have enjoyed success in various world championships and have also been very active in blue water events such as the Whitbread/Volvo/Vendee, etc. Not only have performances in such demanding theaters been rewarding in terms of profile, for us we have found them to be the perfect incubator for ideas and advances that can filter into the cruising world. We have always been concerned about balance and steering qualities of our race boats, and this knowledge has transferred directly into our growing cruising yacht portfolio. And in due course, the same mind-set that seeks to optimize sailing yachts has encouraged us to see opportunities in the motor yacht world as well, where we use state-of-the-art software to optimize hull shapes in a way that doesn’t rely on just crude power. So, by organic growth we have managed to develop and follow our interest in various marine sectors, which is stimulating and still synergistic.

2. The company has grown significantly since and has become one of the best known yacht design studios in the World. It is also a family company. When did your wife and your son join in and what are their roles?

Yes, it’s brilliant. My son Tom is a highly-trained Naval Architect and in the eight or nine years he has been fully involved has brought an increasingly strong scientific discipline into our work, running the R&D aspects of our studio, driving our in-house CFD and managing our tank testing and wind tunnel projects. He is instrumentally involved in all of our designs – sail and power - from hull lines to final detailing that can make a boat really stand out from another.
Jo, meanwhile, runs the Interior Design side of our business and in the cruising world in particular this can be fundamentally important to get right because boating is multi-dimensional in its source of pleasure. She has worked on a number of Oysters, for example, and more recently was extremely busy on our first Tempus design, a 90 footer.

3. What was your first project?

This boat was an IOR Quarter Tonner called ‘The Midnight Special’, a little red boat whose name was a reflection of the time of day when most of the design work was carried out!

4. What kind of projects do you particularly like?

We particularly like challenging, new concept design and in a way this predilection has been responsible for the great diversity of our work. Some of our peers are more specialized and focused, but to be honest we find that solving problems in various diverse areas can be both invigorating and informative, such that the process reinforces the core skill level rather than dilutes it. For example, bringing to bear our race-bred concern for sailing yacht resistance into the power boat sector has been very rewarding, and in many ways has allowed us to develop beyond the status quo.

5. How does a yard usually approach you? Do they know what kind of a yacht they want or do you suggest as well? How freely do they let you create?

It varies enormously. It can be rewarding to work with a company that has a decisive direction, and at the same time we enjoy helping a company or individual to find their path to success.

6. You have long lasting relationships with several brands. You must have a favorite model with each one. Would you tell us which yachts you are the most proud of?

That’s a pretty tough question to answer because we feel so lucky to have the opportunity to design so many boats and to witness the pleasure the owners might draw from them. Some stand out for the impact they had at the time, such as the Elan 333 and the Oyster 56.

7. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience with performance yachts such as Volvo Ocean Race, vendee Globe and Class 40 yachts?

That sort of work is just so interesting for us. It’s challenging and unforgiving, and one has to work through weather analysis to systematic hull forms, pushing the science at every step of the way. Ultimately it is time and budget that determine how far you can take things in the design process and even then, it’s only part of the solution, because ultimate success depends so much on the overall campaign budget and the level of professionalism among the sailors. But in all cases we take out of it invaluable experience at the cutting edge that can feed in to our more mainstream boats, with a general improvement of the breed. The Elan 350, for example, came out of work we had done in Open 60 and Volvo 70 Class, and we are drawing benefit as we speak from our latest Class 40 design Vaquita, which has shown real pace in the Transat Jacques Vabre.

8. How much do you get to sail a year with your family? What are your favorite destinations?

We don’t get as much time as we would like, for sure, but we enjoy the Adriatic very much and we have an Impression 434 which we keep in Croatia to cruise on. We had the fourth cabin converted to a study which makes it possible to work effectively from the boat which I find to be a great source of inspiration. This year Tom and I did a lot of racing on the first of our Tempus Class yachts, the 90ft Tempus Fugit, and Tom raced on the Class 40 Vaquita in the Fastnet.

9. Apart from sailing yachts you also work on other projects. Can you tell us more about the commercial ships and motor yachts that came or are still coming from your drawing board?

Again, it’s this diverse interest we have and our feeling that these other sectors can benefit from our hard earned experience in the race boat sector. Certainly we are making substantial gains in hull resistance in the power boat sector. Our 56-knot, 38 metre Ermis2 is possibly the fastest superyacht not relying on gas turbine engines, and the resistance we saved makes her much more economical at slow to mid speeds than most conventional planning boats of this size. Similarly, the Monte Fino ecHo 85 is incredibly fuel-efficient in the displacement speed regime that she occupies.

Our work on the commercial sailing ship is another fascinating project for us, seeking an efficient cargo-carrying performance that should at least halve the normal fuel consumption of conventional ships. We have done a lot of tank testing and wind tunnel testing and the result is really promising, and a lot of work is going on to create a commercially-friendly rig and general sailing systems.

10. How do you see the future of this industry? Which direction do you think the development of sailing and motor yachts will go in the next ten to twenty years?

Another difficult question! Sailing yachts will continue to become more efficient and motor yachts will simply have to become more efficient because the fuel they have relied on in a very extravagant way will become a rarer commodity, perhaps not because of diminishing availability but because of legislation and/or social conscience. We are also keen to hybridize the two and re-energize the motor/sailor sector.

Rob has been around in the industry for a good part of the most important development in the industry and has contributed great deal in the years of his work as a naval architect pushing the boundaries with extreme racing yachts. This development is now coming to serial production with Elan Yachts being among the more courageous yards to implement modern design to serial production.

Thank you Rob for taking the time and answering our questions. We wish you and your family and the team great success in the future.

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