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What Makes a Boat Pretty? Part 1


A 92-footer by Ward Setzer and Setzer Yacht Design, in the “boats we’d love to build” category.

We’ve all heard the old saw, “Life’s too short to own an ugly boat.” But I prefer to veer to the positive end of the discussion and ask the flipside of that question: What makes a boat pretty? Pretty is a strange word, freighted with all kinds of meaning, and it allows the thinking boater to vault the imaginary border from technically proportional to heart-stirring and back again.

This post is the first in an occasional series, where we ask yacht designers to discuss the concept of prettiness. The discussion first came up in the pages of Power & Motoryacht, a sister title to, and where I also serve as deputy editor. When Power & Motoryacht published a list of the prettiest boats of all time, 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 meeting and exceeding our collective criteria for proportionality and stirred hearts?


Ward Setzer, Setzer Yacht Design.

So here’s what Ward Setzer of Setzer Yacht Design had to say in a free-form discussion on just how boats are pretty:


Different designers are going to respond based on their age and their training them what they were brought up thinking was pretty but it all comes down to “eye of the beholder.”

If you’re raised in the Northeast you see a lobster hull or a classic sheerline on a sailboat a different way than somebody all the way around the world would, so I think what makes a pretty boat is very much a sort of a cultural thing. What’s out in the harbor in front of you influences your taste from the childhood onward. That’s pretty interesting.

There are certain elements that I may consider essential. I don’t use the word “pretty”—that’s a loaded one—but right now style is so so important. Most cultures have become very style conscious, because design has become a vital part of fashion, automobiles, architecture, all of those things.

When I was in architecture school we couldn’t express ourselves like you can express yourself these days—in naval architecture school we were about as stuffy as you could be.

I love fantail bowsprit motoryachts, like the one J.P. Morgan owned. My father was out on it with him when he was a kid and I’ve got all the black-and-white photographs when he went hunting in Alaska with Morgan and when I see a vessel like that, it’s ingrained in me.

When I draw sheerlines there’s a classic boat underneath all of that and I reference the past, whether I know it or not.

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