Robert H. Perry

Robert Perry

Robert H. Perry
(excerpts from his new book, pictured below)

While working in Boston and just completing my work on the Hans Christian 54 (which was soon to become the CT54), I was asked by the head of Hans Christian, John Edwards, to draw a 34-foot double-ender. It was a time when the Westsail ruled as the premier offshore cruising boat and when sailors accepted, without question, that any "real" offshore boat would be a double-ender. No one, including me, ask why. We just accepted it.

Yacht Design According to PerryIt probably had something to do with the work-boat mythos originating with Colin Archer and his famous double-ended Norwegian lifeboats. This myth had been perpetuated in the attractive design work of William Atkin, with several designs done in this style, and Bill Garden’s Seal. These designers did not adopt Archer’s trochoidal waveform theory that his hull shapes were based on, but they borrowed heavily on the general aesthetics of his boats. It was a strong look, with deep bulwarks cut down at the ends long bowsprits, heavily curved stems and sternposts, and massive outboard rudders with tree trunk tillers. Who could resist a look like that? It said, or at least implied, "seaworthy."

To help me get started with the new design, John mailed me a copy of the front page of Soundings magazine. There was a picture of K. Aage Nielsen’s Holger Danske sailing away from the camera with one of the most shapely pointed sterns I had ever seen. I was just beginning work on the Valiant 40 design at the time, and days later Nathan Rothman mailed me the exact same picture. Rothman and Edwards both offered the same advice: "Make the stern like this." I did, basically. I added my own touch to it, but the basic stern shape was that of K. Aage Nielsen. Of course, he had copied the stern from someone else, too.

This type of canoe stern made a lot of sense because it allowed the designer to stretch out the buttocks and avoid tucking them up until the last possible moment. It pulled a lot of volume aft compared with the squeezed-in, pointed stern of Atkin’s Eric or a Westsail 32. This improved the sailing length, stability, and lazarette volume.

My design for Edwards was to be the Hans Christian 34. I eagerly accepted the design job and drew hull lines and rig, but as I proceeded with the rest of the design, I began hearing rumors of a 36-footer being built to my design in Taiwan. Few Boats were being built in Taiwan at the time, so it was impossible to get projects confused. I told people that the boat was really 34 feet, but the rumors persisted. Finally I picked up the phone and called Edwards in Taiwan.

Yes, he said, the boat is 36 feet long, and it’s just a bigger version of your 34-footer, and we’ll build the 36 first and then your 34. I told him that was great and that I could certainly use the royalties from both boats, but Edwards said he had no intention of paying royalties on both. I countered that there would have been no 36 without my 34, but he was adamant. It was hard for me at the time, making $157 a week, to watch a project that I had set my hopes and dreams on go sideways and disappear. My retaliation was to back Ta Chaio in their dispute with Edwards over the Hans Christian 54, and then to drop all involvement with Edwards as related in Chapter 5. Angry about losing the 54 project, Edwards wanted nothing more to do with me either.

Union 36 BrochureThe 36-foot double-ender was first marketed as the Hans Christian 36. Then Edwards had a falling out with the Union Yard, where the 36 was being built, just as he’d had a falling out earlier with Ta Chaio. It was common in those days for a marketing entity, in this case Edwards, to own the design, while the yard, Union, would own the molds and tooling. In the event of a disagreement between the marketing group and the builder, the marketer was sent packing and the yard maintained its ownership of the tooling.

The Union yard had no intention of halting production of the Hans Christian 36. They just had to find another name for the boat. The design was eventually sold as the Union 36, the Union Mariner 36, the Mariner Polaris 36, the EO 36, the Universal 36, and other names I have no doubt forgotten. It was a popular boat and remains so today, although a Hans Christian 36 always sells for more money than its identical but less prestigious sister models despite the fact that all the boats came out of the same yard.

The Union yard kept using my name in conjunction with this boat, and eventually I met with Bengt Ni, who ran the yard. He offered to pay me for the use of my name, but I told him that it would be unethical for me to claim that the design was all mine. We settled on the locution "based upon a design by Bob Perry," but that soon reverted to "designed by Bob Perry," and I withdrew from the arrangement. Still, my name has been forever linked to the boat, and you seldom see one of the 36-footers go up for sale without "designed by Robert Perry" appearing in the ad. I have almost given up trying to explain that the design is not really mine. I told this story on the dock one day to a young couple who owned a 36, and the woman started to cry.

Master Mariner Corp. brochure"But we thought we were buying a Bob Perry design," she whimpered.
"OK, OK, OK!" I said. "It’s sort of a Bob Perry design. Just don’t Cry."

The problem continues today, but I have learned to treat the 36-footer as an adopted child. I work with proud owners, most of whom have become aware of the boat’s true origins. They still call it a Perry design and I don’t mind.

One version of the 36, called the Mao Ta 36, is a different boat built at a different yard. It’s the same design but with one small change. It came about like this. I was wrapping up a hectic visit to Taiwan and was scheduled to leave Sunday at lunchtime. I received a call Saturday from a Willie Ma, asking for a meeting. I explained that I had no time to spare unless he could meet me for breakfast Sunday morning at the hotel. This was fine with Mr. Ma. Over breakfast he explained to me that he worked for Bengt Ni and that they had decided to modify the 36 to increase its sales appeal. He wanted me to design a change in the keel profile- a Brewer bite, as I call this feature. It was a small, arc-like bite taken out of the keel profile directly ahead of the rudder. This "divot" would not help much in a big, full-keel underbody, but it wouldn’t hurt much either and it would give the boat a more contemporary look.

I told Mr. Ma I could do this easily for $400. He said that was fine, but as it was Sunday, he could not get into the Union factory to get a company check, so would I please accept his personal check? He made an effort to explain to me that this check "represented" a factory check, and I said fine. To me a check was a check, and I loved flying home from Taiwan with a bag full of checks. I returned home, drew the keel change, and sent it to the address Mr. Ma had provided me.

The next thing I heard was that Willie Ma had started a new yard, Mao Ta, and was building the 36 with the Brewer bite keel modification. The boat was marketed as the Mao Ta 36. Apparently Mr. Ma had left Union to start his own yard and had taken the drawings for the 36 with him. (I have no idea what drawings there were.) Now he was producing the same boat, with the keel change, under a new name. When Bengt Ni found out about the copy of his 36 and asked Willie Ma to stop production of a design he owned, Willie Ma said that he had bought the design from me and produced the cancelled check for $400 as proof that I had sold the design. Years later I had the opportunity to tell my side of this story to Bengt Ni. The Mao Ta model had not been a success, and we both had a good laugh over the whole thing. It remains the only time a Taiwanese builder ever tried to cheat me, at least that I know of.

The little Hans Christian 34 went on to become reasonably successful, but the 36 in its various incarnations outsold it. I would guess that more than 100 of the 36s were built. The 34-footer had a deadrise in its hull, similar to that of the Valiant 40. This was a feature I would soon drop and then later come back to. In fact, this deadrise shape was right, and the 34 was an able sailor and a handsome boat.

We wish to thank Bob Perry and his Publisher International Marine/McGraw-Hill for their kind permission to use excerpts from Bob's new book, "Yacht Design According to Perry". To purchase this book now, please use the provided link:

"So there you have it the best I can remember it.

The 36 and the HC 34 share a common hull shape with deadrise. I dropped that midsectional shape when I did the Tayana 37. In that design I went to a more rounded midsection with much less deadrise. In time I figured out that I was right the first time and when I did the Baba 40 design I went back to the midsection with deadrise.  That shape proved the better shape."

If someone asks you who designed your 36 it would make me happy if you said,"Bob Perry is the father of this design."

Bob P.