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Robert Ullberg, Ullberg Yacht Design: What Makes a Boat Pretty? Part 2

Robert Ullberg, Ullberg Yacht Design

Robert Ullberg, Ullberg Yacht Design

Happy New Year! The best part of my job, as you may well imagine I like to share with everyone I talk to (particularly with finance guys I meet at holiday parties), is that I get to spend my working days thinking about and writing about boats, looking at pictures of boats, and speaking to people who do the same thing. I talk to a lot of brokers and boatbuilders, but it’s where the designers and owners come in that the discussion gets to the next level.

One thing I like exploring in conversations with designers are the intangibles. I want to get a better understanding of the things that fit into a boat design that take the perfectly utilitarian aspect—the function that is so critical to any form—and yet somehow put it together in such a way that the result is… well, pretty.

This post is the second part of an occasional, and hopefully ongoing, series where we ask yacht designers to discuss what makes a pretty boat. The discussion first came up in earnest when Power & Motoryacht published a list of the prettiest boats of all time. (Full disclosure, I serve as Power & Motoryacht’s deputy editor and the magazine is a sister title to The obvious question that came to my mind was, “Why are these boats on the list?” Who better to ask than the designers tasked with putting form and function together in an agreeable package?

Robert Ullberg of Ullberg Yacht Design is the perfect person to approach about this topic because his grasp of the engineering side of a boat is second to none. So he knows a boat can’t just be a free-form piece of artwork if it’s going to do all the things you need it to do besides look nice at dockside…

Here’s what Robert Ullberg, Ullberg Yacht Design had to say:


One thing you can say in an art gallery is, I may not know much about art but I know what I like. For me growing up in an artistic family— my father is a sculptor and my mother is a classically trained pianist—you learn about beauty and balance and things like that. Not necessarily with boats now but you can apply all of those factors to any type of artwork and a lot of people, myself included, think yacht design is art.

If you think about it yacht designers create something that’s never been seen before. Initially, there are only drawings. However, these drawings will eventually become a sculpture, if you will, so it’s a responsibility of the designer to take into account that you’re drawing something that will eventually be a three-dimensional sculpture. People look at boats from every angle so every angle has to have some sort of artistic value.

It’s obviously an emotional reaction—there’s nothing technical about it—because it’s a personal perception. So how do you ask someone, Why did you use the word pretty? Maybe it goes back to the early days when ships were still thought of in the feminine sense. It’s always the “she.”

Pretty is the word to use. Graceful means something too specific; elegant means something very specific; pretty is just going to let others know that you like it: I agree with it. It pleases me without having to give too much away.

I will tell you this: Every pretty boat that you see has one line that defines her description. It only takes one line. I think if it takes three lines you’re reaching. Typically, it’s the sheerline and that’s the line that does it. It could be dead straight, an S-curve, a Powderhorn or it can be upswept. Whatever it is, as long as it rhymes with the rest of the design, that’s the defining line of the boat. That’s your keystone.

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