Talkin’ Boats with Michael Peters

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Michael Peters Yacht Design

Michael Peters is an internationally known yacht designer whose company, Michael Peters Yacht Design in Sarasota, Fla., has rendered more than 350 boats from 20 to 160 feet.

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Peters, 56, began building boats while summering on Catalina Island, Calif., and designed his first vessel — an 8-foot sailing dinghy, Miss Take — at 14. Five years later, he cooked up a 19-foot stepped-hull, deep-vee powerboat named Maelstrom, which launched him into designing.

During Peters’ career, race boats have brought him significant acclaim, but he has also penned some breathtaking yachts, rugged fishing boats and sportboats, including the Alpha-Z, a 95-mph mahogany runabout. Cabo, Hinckley and Sea Ray have all hired Peters’ company (www.mpyd.net), which is also responsible for “rebranding” Chris-Craft, giving its boats their retro look. When he’s not working, Peters and his family ply the Intracoastal Waterway in a rebuilt 25-foot 1971 Bertram.

Q: What are some of the race boat characteristics found in your pleasure boats?

A: In the past, there was always a pretty clear connection between race boats filtering down to pleasure boats, especially with the emergence of the deep-vee. It’s a little tougher when the race boats are catamarans because you don’t see that big of a spin-off from them. But we really developed a lot of our understanding of stepped hulls [from race boat catamarans]. The other one would be structures. We got progressively lighter boats through the years, starting with wood boats and aluminum boats. Probably the most notable pleasure boat that we have that is a direct descendent from racing would be a boat called Invincible. They make a 33- and a 36-foot center console for the kingfish tournament [circuit]. And those boats incorporate a twin-stepped hull with a small tunnel.

Q: You describe yourself as a designer who includes both art and science in his work.

A: There is always an artistic approach to a boat because so much of it has to do with the aesthetics and the appeal, but the other side is there is a history of naval architecture and principles that you need to understand and follow. We find that the younger designers don’t have any understanding of that. They are really just into

3-D modeling and the wow factor of a boat. They don’t have any basis or roots in the fundamentals of boat design. And so our concentration has always been to do both very well. We are one of the few offices in the world that has received awards for technical merit and styling.

Q: What boat was the most challenging for you to design?

A: I actually find that any boat that scares me half to death is a boat I am the most interested in. You are going into territory you don’t know. It requires you to go back and reread and research what people have done before you and make sure you have a good grasp of that before you move forward with the project. That is the most challenging project you can have — one that doesn’t have all the answers in black and white. We recently worked on a large motoryacht that involved diesel-electric propulsion and Voith Schneider drives. Really, every part of that project was turning over a new rock and seeing whether or not it had merit to take that approach. Another boat that was challenging to design was a boat we did about 10 years ago — a 71-foot motoryacht called Plumduff. It had a cold-molded wooden hull with a fiberglass house, but it had a mahogany overlay on it. We used to call it the biggest floating oxymoron. Everything that looked like wood was glass, and everything that looked like glass was wood. It was a very difficult and very challenging project. Fortunately we were with a fabulous builder, Admiral Marine.

Q: Which company or companies have helped the most or made the greatest positive impact?

Peters helped to rebrand Chris-Craft with retro boats like this 28 Corsair.

A: Chris-Craft was essentially a 100-year-old company by the time we started to work with it, but it clearly had lost its way over a 20- or 30-year period. I was once in Germany at BMW and meeting with the executive vice president, and we got into a conversation about boats. I said, “Without thinking about it, name a boat company.” And he instantly named Chris-Craft. So this European’s point of view is really the world’s point of view. Chris-Craft is really synonymous with pleasure boats. We were given the task to rebrand it. That is easily the company that we’ve affected the most, because you can see the before and after, the image of the company and success of the company. The entire product line is consistent with that design theme and really has put a new face on the company.

Q: When you walk the docks of a boat show, what do you see that you like and what do you see that makes your stomach turn?

To his own taste, Peters likes this ultra light displacement boat he designed for a California client. At 48 feet, she weighs only 14,000 pounds and produces little wake.

A: I really like very clean, simple understated boats, and I like much more traditional boats than people might otherwise think. The things that make my stomach turn? My family refers to them as pregnant boats. My girls grew up saying, “Dad, what’s wrong with that boat?” These are the boats that look like they were inflated with high pressure from the inside to get the maximum headroom and maximum volume. I suppose what really turns my stomach is seeing boats that have been designed for people who know nothing about boating. They’re strictly marketing ploys to attract first-time buyers, with very little attention to what makes a practical boat or really what we would call a good boat. They’re aimed at people who are wowed at the fact that they’re so spacious, when we recognize that really people seldom spend a night on a boat like that. The other thing that really turns me [off] — after spending years trying to promote stepped hulls I see boat after boat after boat where the [builder and/or designer] have no actual knowledge of why they did what they did. There are some very bad examples out there. The other thing I find distressing is plum bows on high-speed boats. There’s a reason why there aren’t plum bows on high-speed boats anymore. When they introduced them through styling … it was without recognizing that historically they went away because a deep forefoot will cause a boat to spin out at high speed. And when styling overtakes any knowledge of boat design, that just makes my skin crawl.

Q: What do you think boats will look like in 50 years or so?

A: Surprisingly, not that different than they look now. I think boaters are more traditional than what they may recognize. Even though different styles come and go, people fall back to a very traditional, conservative boat. I think you will see boats taking on spaceship-type forms and then go out of favor. People will dabble with extreme shapes.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: We’re working on a Navy project for one of the large defense contractors. We also are doing a larger version of the Invincible, which will be a stepped-hull center console boat. We are doing a custom 55-foot RIB for the Mediterranean for a European client. We’re also working on a project we call the Echo 45, which is an existing builder who wants to look to the future of what can be done with a very fuel-efficient, very quiet propulsion system. After all these years showing how well we can go fast, we want to now show people how well we can go slow. We’re trying to come up with a boat that’s timely and is going to be the future of boating from our point of view.

Q: With volatile fuel prices and the focus on fuel economy these days, do you think deep-vee boats will decline in favor of more modified-vee hull forms?

A: I don’t think reducing the deadrise aft brings as much to the table as people would like to think. Certainly you can plane off a boat more quickly with a flatter stern. But one of the reasons the deep-vee developed is not just their rough-water ability. The fact is that boats with sharp entries and flat sterns have some nasty behavior problems, and modern technology has not erased any of those. Going down a following sea or a stern-quartering sea and the bow wants to dig in and cause the boat to broach — those [problems] haven’t gone away. There has been, over 25 years, a decrease in what we call the deep-vee. The traditional deep-vee has always been 24 degrees, and that has been reduced to 18 to 20 degrees. But going all the way down to 6 or 8 degrees is not a good solution. The boats don’t track well. I would rather see people more concerned about the weight of a boat and balance of a boat than attacking the hull bottom to try to gain efficiency.

Q: What boat do you want for the future?

A: The boat I really want to get is a boat I designed in 1986 for a guy named George Griffith (see photo, Page 21). It’s a 48-foot ULDB — ultra light displacement boat. It’s only got an 11-foot beam, but weighs 14,000 pounds and, with a pair of 145-hp diesels, runs 26 knots. This boat is absolutely perfect for the Intracoastal because at 18 to 20 knots it leaves hardly any wake. I keep waiting for George to sell it to me. But George is now 88 years old and still dives to scrub the bottom of his own boat. So he’s one of these guys who will never sell. I will just have to deal with things after the fact. He and his wife are the same age and use the boat all the time. It’s a really terrific story in a boat that has been well-loved and well-used.

This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue.