Stephens Waring: The Spirit is Strong

Bob Stephens and Paul Waring still draw lines plans in their boat design process. Then they apply modern design parameters and materials…

Story and Photographs Dan Houston, Courtesy of Classic Boat Magazine 

To Belfast, in Maine where I am meeting the design duo of Bob Stephens and Paul Waring, who are carving a name for themselves designing Spirit of Tradition craft which are extremely easy on the eye. The office is on the top floor of a three story red brick building on Main St, just a couple of blocks up from the waterfront of a pretty harbour. It’s a pleasant airy office with extra light brought into the design studio from a floor-to-ceiling artist’s window.

And I am a little surprised to see, alongside the wide computer screens with their CAD drawings of yachts from unusual angles, draughtsman’s tables with spline weights, like heavy black mini sperm whales – the traditional tool of the designer to hold the long splines in position to draw the curves of his design’s lines.

“We still draw out designs because it can actually save time at the beginning stage of the design process,” Bob says. “A hand drawing is also a great presentational tool for a prospective owner. It feels personalised and it’s a good size to be able to see the whole concept of the boat at once.” Of course I need no persuading about this and I love lines plans which are made by hand – they are far more like a work of art than the printout, albeit at A1 size, from a computer- aided design (CAD) programme.

But I’m just surprised to hear that it’s quicker. Bob and Paul avow this is so: “We use hand drawings in two ways,” Bob continues. “First it’s a quick way to develop the ideas of a design process. And secondly we find that when we are developing the construction details we also do that by hand because it’s quicker. But then we transfer that to CAD and the drawings we give to a builder will always be CAD.” I’m quite surprised to hear this because re-drawing the whole boat must surely take time. But Paul adds that this is how they mainly work in the beginning stages – even though the drawing in his desk is number four in the evolution of a design consultation.

With this faith in the speed of hand drawing it’s not too surprising that Bob says he was ten when he realised he wanted to design boats and started drawing properly aged 14 when his parents gave him a draughting set. It was some time before he was able to make his living from drawing boats – helping Joel White in his design office after a couple of years with his son Steve of the Brooklin Boatyard. “I did that for four years before he died in 1997, which was just before we launched the W Class Wild Horses.” About this time Paul had arrived in Brooklin and the pair teamed up with Steve White to become Stephens Waring and White, aiming to design lightweight SoT boats that were fast and easy to sail but which also looked good against the backdrop of so many classics in the local waters.

But after a couple of years the partnership ended and Stephens and Waring carried on as a partnership. Some of their signature designs were from this time,with boats like Hoi An, Geranium and Ginger, overleaf, redefining the way people saw Spirit of Tradition boats. The the recession struck and they had to endure some lean times: “Sometimes we would design a boat that never got built.” Three years ago they moved to the Belfast office and more recently business has turned up with several projects.

And they are excited about the future of their type of boat which can take from any classic design or tradition, from a sandbagger to a sailing barge and apply modern design parameters and building materials to make it sail faster. “It doesn’t always have to be long overhangs and a little spoon bow. There are many traditional designs that transfer well,” Paul enthuses. Watch this space…

Jet boat which acts as superyacht tender

While the SW partnership mainly concentrates on sailing yachts they have designed a number of motorboats and Bob was keen to show us Pandl, a 26ft 3in (8m) tender which is used to ferry crew to and from their 50ft (15.2m) 2003 creation, Hoi An.

But the boat is also a result of a design needing to cater for specific needs, and so, for instance she has an open transom to make it easy for owners to swim from her. Local experience of the area being littered with lobster pots also led to her being designed with a jet engine – so there’s no propellor to get caught up in a lobster buoy line, plus it makes swimming off the back easier too. To be able to access local beaches she has a very shallow draught – of just 14 inches (355mm).

“I drew this boat while I was still employed at the Brooklin Boatyard,” says Bob. “She’s very much a one-off and partly designed for the owner’s wife to be able to visit her mother on a local island offshore here. It would be 60 miles by road but only ten by sea. So she has a 240hp Yanmar four-cylinder turbo diesel that powers her along at 31 knots with a Hamilton Jet.”


Bob takes me out in Pandl to let me get the feel of the boat. She’s partly influenced by the local lobster boats which are so common in these waters… but you’d have to look twice to really see the provenance. It’s more in her lines than her steering and deck arrangement. She weighs just 5,200lbs (2,358 kg) which gives her a feeling of stability without seeming heavy. The jet is like a bucket which directs water. It takes a while to get used to but makes the boat very manoeuvrable. And an emergency stop just turns the bucket mouth from aft- facing to forward and you come to a halt in the water in a couple of boat lengths.

We don’t try this at speed because of the open transom!

Bob says there was a plan to put a gate across the stern but so far there has been no need to do that. We power up and in my notes I read that at 29.5 knots she “tracks like a witch, with no sense of waver, and you can walk around the deck without having to hang on”. But do note the calm waters we were in.

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