It’s all about the bows! We discuss this with Giovanni Ceccarelli. PHOTOS


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THAT PRUE! Two Ice 52s under sail. In the sports car world, the inverted or “scimitar” bow has become a constant. It has not only an aesthetic reason but also a scientific reason: this shape offers less resistance to water penetration.

Straight, slender, upside-down, blade-thin, or “pot-bellied.” Prows are one of the important elements that characterize the aesthetics of a boat. But they are not just a stylistic quirk with which designers sign their hulls-they are made a certain way for specific reasons. Like everything related to design, the shape of bows has had what we might call “periods”: the period of slender bows, the period of straight bows, and so on. It then becomes interesting to go and understand what variables trigger the change in style and shape, trying to understand why we have phases when there is a tendency toward a certain type of heading and times when another has become established instead. We talked about this with Giovanni Ceccarelli, a designer whose work has spanned several boat eras, and before him the same can be said for his father Epaminonda Ceccarelli, also a great designer. That is why we chose John, and he will be the one to lead us on this journey to discover changes in one of the most obvious components of boats.


Let’s start with a concept: a bow must be analyzed three-dimensionally, volumetrically, not by analyzing only in profile. The design of sailboats, particularly in the “fast cruiser” bracket, understood as boats used daily for fun or racing but with interiors that allow for good cruising comfort, has always been influenced by racing regulations, especially until 2000 but even today, from the RORC regulations to ORC and IRC“. Racing regulations then have been in their history an important variable that has shaped not only the bows but the shapes of boats in general, including cruising boats. Today this happens slightly less because the two types of boats, cruising and racing, have become somewhat extreme. Until the 1980s-1990s with most boats designed for cruising it was possible to go racing successfully as well. Think for example of many models from Italian shipyards, such as the Grand Soleils and Comets of the 1980s, boats that were definitely cruise boats but with a few tricks went on to win in regattas. Nowadays in the majority there are pure cruising boats unsuitable for racing, and very pulled racing boats a little too uncomfortable for cruising.

BOWS AND REGULATIONS. A hand sketch by Giovanni Ceccarelli captures well the difference in bows according to regulations and the variations within them. It can be seen, for example, that inside the IMS/ORC there are at least two bow solutions. The one with more immersion is the slightly more “cruise” version.

Of course, the yards that continue to successfully produce cruiser racer, or performance-cruiser as they may be, in short, sport cruisers, are there, and they do so with great success precisely because they manage to stand out. The fundamental concept to understand is that in any case, regardless of the market, the two worlds from a design perspective always “talk” to each other and live in constant “osmosis,” and we will see why.


Returning to regatta regulations and their influence on the design world, we can identify at least three major periods: the RORC, the IOR, and the IMS/ORC phase. “We have three major periods. The RORC, a regulation developed in England, runs from 1945 until the late 1960s . The IOR was founded in 1969 and continued until 1998, during these years there was much development in recreational boating with competitions at the highest level. Finally, we have the IMS/ORC period that reaches up to the present. Each of these phases expressed a certain type of hull shapes, appendages, and sail plans, design responses that arose from the study that designers were making of the regulations in place.”, Ceccarelli tells us. “Length has always been the determining value in any regulation, being directly related to performance, but how was it measured? Take the IOR period as an example: the length factor L was calculated as the result not only of a linear length measurement but also took into account the volumes of the forward and aft slips through measurements of the hull end sections, the so-called chains. In summary, a bulky stern that was low on the water or a straight bow with substantial volumes increased the size of the sections and consequently the tonnage length, penalizing the boat on the rating. This gave rise to the narrow, high sterns and slender bows of the IOR boats“. So think of the very slender prow of a Canados 33, to cite a boat from the IOR period.

THE HIGH BOWS OF THE ORC. Left is the bow of the new Italia Yachts 11.98, a boat expressly designed for ORC. It can be seen that at little heeled boat the bow is still out of the water, and will go underwater when the heel increases; at static boat it will be even higher. The reduced waterline length serves to improve the rating in some conditions.

With the IMS and then with the ORC this concept d measurement of length as a parameter of tonnage changes. As the rule states, length is an actual measurement that takes into account the shape of the hull particularly at the ends, both above and below the waterline. The bow then progressively becomes vertical, this is because the bow that maximizes the dynamic buoyancy length (in sailing), is not too penalized by the regulations. The designers’ game becomes to look for a reduced waterline length at static boat (reduced static waterline length also means a good rating), and instead try to make it longer in reality in sailing trim. In practice, boats designed precisely on ORC regulations from a standstill or little heeling often show the bow out of the water“.

YESTERDAY AND TODAY. Above are the two Grand Soleil 34s: on the right the 1970s one designed by Finot, on the left the 2017 one signed by Skyron. Two eras compared, in between which there were others: the Finot design was influenced by the IOR, Skyron’s follows IRC/ORC trends and some cues that came from the open ocean world.

The “game” in short that designers often play to have competitive boats is to find the “hole” in the regulations, which is to figure out how to make a boat that is not penalized by numbers on tonnage. But is this all about the world of racing? Especially in recent years, the trend has changed, partly because regulations have also improved the usability of cruising boats, for example with the straight bow phenomenon. “However, the vertical bow derived from racing we see it now established and widespread even in purely cruising-only hulls, in this way maximizing waterline length which means performance but at the same time moving volumes to the extremities increasing interior livability, thus a more convenient and comfortable boat in short” indeed, clarifies the designer.


The regatta and the cruise, although seemingly distant, live in close relationship and especially ocean sailing has greatly influenced the design of cruising boats, not least because sometimes the designers of open racing boats may be the same as those working with a yard that makes cruising boats in large series. Design applied to pleasure boats has felt the need to seek functional design solutions to improve the quality of sailing, the usability of boats, and their seaworthiness. Slender bows disappeared, partly because they penalized interior space without giving a decisive advantage in terms of sailing quality. “The latest design trends for cruising see major bows with volumes that are no longer fine. These allow for more positive buoyancy than a fine bow, and to have a volume reserve that avoids swamping in conditions of carrying swells with stern seas. These are forms of derivation from ocean sailing. Logically, a boat with a bow with powerful volumes will also need to be proportionately wide and high on the water in order to have a homogeneous aesthetic“, Ceccarelli continued. “Consequent to the larger bow volumes, the freeboards also change: the trend in my latest designs has been to increase them from more conventional values, this allows for more available interior space but above all a drier boat and a pleasant feeling of being high on the water while sailing, which gives a certain confidence“.

Sometimes small steps also appear at the extreme bow, the so-called “redan”, that is, angled corners that serve to deflect the flow of water and thus allow for a drier deck, a choice that when paired with powerful volumes gives us a decidedly comfortable boat when the wind and wave rise. But the trends don’t end there: what about inverted bows? “Instead, the inverted bow has an explanation related to decreased resistance to penetration on water. In practice, a reverse tilted bow offers less resistance to fluid impact. In addition to a scientific reason, there is an aesthetic reason: any vertical line gives an optical effect of lateral spieling, to avoid this then a non-vertical line is chosen, and, not wanting to return to the soaring IOR era, the design has moved in a more modern direction toward inverted prows. The bows like this then also allow the designer to characterize the boat as a graphic sign, to give it its own response of style and recognizability, and now this feature has also arrived in the engine“.

And finally, the world of sportscasters, those untied by rating regulations, is also exploring new frontiers. The very latest rapidly expanding trend is that of bridge flaring. That is, at the bow the deck and the broadside are no longer straight but have a more or less slight negative flaring. The reasons for this solution are strictly aerodynamic: compared to a straight surface, the flared one offers less resistance while dumping less turbulence on the headsails. Ultimately, the world of design is constantly evolving, in multiple directions; let’s get ready to see a new generation of bows soon and a continuous evolution of forms…

Mauro Giuffrè


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