Archive for the ‘economics’ Category

A Fascinating letter from an economist, and my responses

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

I received this fascinating and long letter in response to a comment I made on this blog about debt, and my objecting to it. This fellow is a professional economist, so his words should count.  His letter is in black typeface, my responses to him are in red.


I have admired your designs casually for many years, but following your blog
and reading your book recently, I encountered a closer parallel between our
lives and sentiments.  Born in 1942, I, too, grew up (in New York) loving
boats.  I drew them, sketched designs, visited boat shows, collected old
Rudder and Yachting magazines, and assembled a large library of books on
history, design, building, cruising, and art that is still growing.  As a
teen-ager, I even contemplated a career as a yacht designer, once visiting
Henry M. Devereux at Minneford’s.  He gave me a piece of drafting vellum,
which I kept for many years and may have yet, though sunk in clutter.  My
father was persuaded to buy an old Hampton One-Design (sort of between a
Comet and a Lightning) for my younger brother and me, and we sailed it out
of City Island for several years.  There was never enough time for sailing,
but the most important lack was time for maintenance and refinishing.

Dear Peter,

 What fun it was to get your long and erudite letter. You were an amateur yacht designer and a professional economist- I am that far more dangerous of breeds, an amateur economist and professional yacht designer. It is clear that we both love sailing, and we both share a concern when the intellectuals who guide our economy get it wrong, to the detriment of countless people around the world.

For fun, let me try to refute or illuminate your many cogent points, and in a way that hopefully will not confuse my blog readers’ understanding of which voice is yours and which mine. I’ll do this by putting your original letter in black typeface, and my own responses in red.

While you attended Brown, I went to Harvard, majoring in German literature.
Parenthetically, I just re-read Thomas Mann’s “Der Zauberberg,” in which the
hero is a young man who loved drawing boats and trained as a naval
architect!  I did sail a bit with the Harvard Yacht Club and once met Olin
Stephens.  I still remember asking him whether there was a boat type that he
would like to design without regard for a rating rule and his replying to
the effect that he could not conceive of one.  Having graduated in 1964 and
abandoned the idea of applying to medical school, I joined the Peace Corps
(India, 1966-67).  On returning.  I trained as an economist at Yale, where
Janet Yellen, who was a year behind you at Brown, was my classmate.  After
grad school, I crewed for a summer in the Shields class on Long Island Sound
but found a job with the federal government in Washington, where I spent my
career, primarily in regulatory economics.  I have been widely noted
(admired?) for the drawings of boats with which I stave off boredom in
meetings.  I did make etchings for a while and contemplate taking them up
again, though I could certainly improve my technique. 




I found your sketches charming and artistic- indeed I wish I could recapture some of their naivete’ in my own work, which tends too far towards precision and realism. The final one in particular- the one of the cutter- was lovely in the extreme. I wonder what was your medium… a combination of pencil with watercolor washes?  Its only failing, and it is extremely minor, is the slightly too high freeboard and incorrect placement of the mainsail battens. But the design of the clouds, values of the shoreline in the background, and drafting of the sail seams, and its general playfulness, could not be improved upon by anyone!

As you know I graduated from Brown in 1966- two years after you left Harvard. Although I studied engineering, during my senior year I met and fell in love with a graduate student in economics—her name was Frances Cairncross— I am sure you will have heard of her. It is she that my “Frances 26” was named after, and probably from her that I acquired my lifelong fascination with the dismal science.

Like you I also served in the Peace Corps—in Iran between 1969 and 1971, and got to India a few years later on a four-month overland backpacking tour with my then girlfriend- now my wife- in tow. It is sad to see how many countries which were once friendly to America and us to them—Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan—are no longer welcoming, and to ponder why this has come to pass. You can blame it on one man if you prefer- like you a Yale Grad but unlike you an idiot (GWB, if you were wondering), but his follies are being happily taken up by his entire reactionary party, and our national and just possibly the world’s economy may well fail as a result.

In 1972, my wife and I bought an O’Day Mariner 2+2 in Washington and cruised
it down the Potomac and up the bay to Annapolis.  That model was the most
handsome of the series-as you probably know, a Rhodes 19 hull with a
self-bailing cockpit and tiny cruising cabin with four (notional) berths.
Though it was fast, weatherly, and able, a centerboard sloop without a
steady helm still raises problems for single-handing, so I was always
dependant on my wife to crew.  We kept it in a slip and enjoyed it for
several years, but the travel and preparation time was about equal to the
sailing.  Even with fiberglass, we were never able to dismiss thoughts of
maintenance entirely, nor was the idea of trailering 1400 pounds simple
enough to widen our horizons.  As they say, the second happiest day of a
sailor’s life…  Facing retirement, I saw some advertisements for stunning
wooden cruising boats at modest prices and reached the painful conclusion
that what I couldn’t afford was not the monetary cost but the complete
change in lifestyle that owning a boat would demand of a city dweller.  When
I dream now, the most attractive prospect is a decked sailing canoe,
something like Mik Storer’s Beth-garage storage to car top to water,
single-handed without a trailer or ramp.  I may never reach that point,
either, but the stress of ambivalence is less.

You have no need to own a sailboat! Simply come to Maine anytime in the summer and you can come sailing on mine. If you read my essay “THE FUTURE OF YACHT OWNERSHIP” on my blog, you will see that one way we can save the earth is by learning to be content with the material possessions we already have, and sharing them. If we are to survive, we have to cease building more “goods” (nothing good about them, actually), and sharing the extant ones more equitably.

What prompted me to write, however, was not shared history or interests but
something you wrote on your blog recently: “Governments and Wall Street
expanded the money supply through massive borrowing against the well-being
of future generations…The economy has recovered a bit since then thanks to
massive money-printing, (our children will inevitably pay for this).”   I
have learned that we share many values- concern for other peoples and future
generations and stewardship of the environment, besides a romantic
aestheticism.  We both regard with skepticism (perhaps disdain) the
self-serving pomposities of financiers and their adherents who idolize
markets.  What you may not realize is how antithetical your words are to
your own values and how strongly they reflect the prejudices of the right.

I am, though, far from right (politically, that is). I am a liberal and proud to call myself one! But when it comes to issues of sustainability, perhaps you are correct. I believe one generation (ours) has no right to live well at the expense of future generations. If this means Recession, or Austerity, or avoiding borrowing, then so be it. Homo Sapiens has stood erect upon this earth for 1000 generations. We have (we Northern Hemisphere Americans and Europeans), in the past four or five generations, extracted from the finite crust of our host planet a vast proportion of its remaining store of minerals such that the only argument, at present rates of consumption, (and once the Chinese and Indians begin to make their claim, that rate will ramp up exponentially) is whether we will have extracted it all within the next five at least, or ten at the most, generations! Is this fair to the remaining potentially 990 generations who will thereby live in abject penury or more likely not live at all? We—well actually YOU (economists)―have a duty to find a way to permit another 1000 generations to enjoy life on this planet. By espousing Capitalism, free markets, and Keynesian economics, I fear you are neglecting this duty!
Even when he thinks he is espousing the liberal cause, President Obama has
argued the need for economizing to protect our children and is only now (one
hopes) being weaned from a perverted model.

Obama is a great man, and a thinker. For which he is hated by some. I hope he will devote the remainder of his term to pulling the wool off our eyes and addressing the failings of Capitalism and the Free Market before it is too late.

What do I mean with this “too late” warning?  Countless small countries in Africa and Latin America have progressed to the point where a few highly placed individuals possessed essentially all their nations’ wealth while the remainder of the population lived in abject poverty. And two great European empires reached the same disparity of wealth- France in 1789 and Russia in 1917. We too are dangerously close to this level at present and moving inexorably toward the tipping point. The result is invariably the same- violent revolution. If you think our unemployed masses or our marginally employed workers whose “minimum wage” is incapable of supporting them and their families at anything approaching the poverty level- are content with the present state of things, well, “Let them eat cake!”

If you, like Polonius, were offering advice to your son, you would be wise
to discourage him from frittering away his savings on unnecessary luxuries,
leaving himself and his children impoverished.  Prudent saving and
investment would allow him to accumulate claims on the product of others,
who would support his family in comfort. 

It is because of our shared values (concern for other peoples and future generations and stewardship of the environment, plus a romantic aestheticism) that I have come to abhor inflation and its bedmate, debt. It is for this reason that I wrote the words “The economy has recovered a bit since then thanks to massive money-printing, (our children will inevitably pay for this).”  And I have indeed, like Polonius, discouraged my son from frittering away his savings on unnecessary luxuries. (For the benefit of my non- Shakespeare readers, Polonius’ advice to his son was, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”).

There are two flaws with this prescription when applied to a nation’s economy.  The first is the “fallacy of composition.”  One man’s consumption is another’s income, so it is
impossible for a society to enrich itself by spending less. 

Begging the question, should society’s job be to enrich itself?  A question no present economist will ever utter. My answer is, no. The level of self-enrichment that America (and the rest of the Western World) went through before 2008 threatened to incinerate the earth, or at least to extract the remainder of its finite resources within the span of the next few generations- and then what?

 What economists should be asking is, “What level of enrichment is SUSTAINABLE?” And at that level of consumption, how do we distribute the associated level of goods and services so that every person on earth can survive and enjoy life? Capitalism- the economists’ present darling- eponymously rewards capital, with the result that the rewards go to the owners of that capital, leaving non- capital owners impoverished. At the resultant rate of rapid wealth redistribution, a few families will live in opulent splendor and the remaining 99% of the population will starve to death. Yet, sir, has even one of your fellow Harvard professors ever questioned the idea of a new “ism” to replace Capitalism?

My idea of that “ism” might be named Conservism, though that sounds suspiciously like “Conservatism” which it is, actually, diametrically opposed to.

 If everyone tries too hard to save, each will find himself losing wages or sales, and
the process will continue until growing poverty discourages saving. 

If a farmer did not “save”, at least a few seeds from each crop, but consumed everything, then the next year he would starve. Saving is a necessity that permits life to go on. If he not only consumed all this year’s seeds, but the next year’s and the next, (long term debt) he would starve that much sooner. This is what we will do by trying to solve the pre- 2008 mistake of incurring too much debt- both public and private- by massively increasing debt! You don’t put out a fire by adding more fire.

 Claims against others are meaningless, when what counts is aggregate productivity.

I’m all for aggregate productivity, as long as it is sustainable. If productivity means mining irreplaceable resources, then it can last just so long. If it means producing capital (think wind-turbines) that can be productive forever without harming future generations, then “bring it on!”

The second flaw is assuming that spending less on one thing automatically
frees resources that will be employed elsewhere, possibly on something more
desirable.  What recessions prove is that unemployment is not a transitory
phenomenon, that new demand does not appear magically to offset the collapse
of a market sector. 

I totally agree! The “Great Recession” is at least partially the result of a failure of aggregate demand. (Am I right?) But printing more money (oops! Let’s call it QE) has had until this point little to no beneficial effect upon aggregate demand and therefore employment. A good metaphor this time is that it’s like pushing on a rope. If there’s nobody pulling, there’s no effect. You see, the populace is ahead of the economists. We all KNOW that we cannot continue to consume- that this would be a worldwide end-game. So no matter how much money you print (sic), we ain’t buying. Offer us Infrastructure, sustainable energy production, efficient provision of health care, removing subsidies to inefficient production, and throw in aid to the starveling nations of the Southern Hemisphere, and we’ll buy.

 But the unemployment problem this go-round is more than simply a lack of aggregate demand. An essential consequence of Capitalism is that massive intellectual effort has been devoted for generations to replacing workers with machines or rather, labor with capital. Although plenty of “work” has been provided to the designers and manufacturers of the ATMs that have replaced bank tellers, Self-Checkout machines that will replace cashiers, People-movers that require no conductors, and on and on and on, (they’re working on airplanes that will take off and land themselves!) the result of this aspect of Capitalism will ultimately be a world of robots, computers and machines, and no need for human work. Of course this is entirely sustainable and stable if the rewards that derive from this Capital were equitably distributed in such a way that every human received a sufficient share of the reward (profit) to sustain himself and his family. But Capitalism as presently contrived distributes these rewards only to a minute fraction of the world’s population, and the ones who need it least- the wealthy. This is clearly unsustainable and unstable.

Although “money printing” is a misleading term for the Federal Reserve’s policy, (my bad, I meant QE- Chuck) what it is trying to do is to reverse the wholly destructive effects of reductions in federal, state, and local spending by lowering the cost of private borrowing to spend and invest.  (All laudable in my view.) Unfortunately, this monetary policy is a crude mechanism that has been able to stave off disaster (Congrats, President O. and Mr. Bernanke!) but has not compensated for the long-term waste of unemployed labor, industrial capacity, and other resources caused by cuts in both private and public spending. No, we agree, it has not. And it won’t. Only by moving the ownership of capital somehow from private to public hands thereby disbursing its rewards equitably, and increasing investment in sustainable means of production (Infrastructure, sustainable energy production, efficient provision of health care, removing subsidies to inefficient production etc.) will we stave off ultimate disaster.

When we talk of saving to improve the welfare of our children, we are not
referring to a survivalist’s investment in canned food, nor will money,
stocks, and bonds do more than apportion claims under a system of law and
taxation that may be altered to reassign them later.  Material benefits will
be derived from investment in roads, transit, power grids,
telecommunications, buildings, factories, and other durable infrastructure.

Here we absolutely and totally agree! And what is our government doing? Cutting all of these investments!

Protection of the environment, whether included in these investments or in
separate programs, will be a cost that should be shared fairly,
independently of market outcomes.  So true! In each case, a strong argument can be
made that only government has the necessary information, power, financial
resources, and long-term perspective.  When will half of our voters begin to understand this?)

Even if these qualities are not always apparent, there is less evidence for the often-asserted superiority of private judgments.  Public investments, however, though the most valuable and necessary in the long run, are just those that have been severely cut by misguided policies.  Even more important for future welfare is human
capital, including everything from universal health maintenance to
libraries, schools, and mass education to museums, cultural institutions,
training and research at the highest levels.  Again, market outcomes will
never provide enough of these; only collective decisions and public spending
will do.

I’ve lived in Europe long enough to know the truth of this. It’s called Socialism, and it works exceedingly well! The fact that it’s a dirty word over here may spell our competitive demise.

Whether such public spending should be supported by (higher) taxes,
balancing the government’s budget, is an empirical, not a moral, question.

It should, because the only alternative is debt- a euphemism for my eating the cheeseburger and giving the bill to my grandson.

To the extent that full employment and personal freedom necessitate
maintaining a certain private ability to consume, the rates and forms of
taxes may be limited, but beyond that, government’s command of resources is
constrained only by the labor and material not otherwise employed.  The
decision, whether to finance any desired level of government spending by
confiscating private wealth through taxes or by borrowing, maintaining
private wealth (in the form of Treasury bonds) intact is a purely technical
question that should be evaluated by its ability to keep the economy
functioning efficiently.  There is nothing about governmental borrowing that
is immoral, dangerous, wasteful, or improvident.  It is if it causes inflation! The argument that a country running large deficits or expanding the money supply risks high
interest costs or runaway inflation has been dramatically contradicted by
all recent evidence. 

ALL? Only once in history has there not been a direct correlation between running large deficits and inflation, and that is in the current Great Recession. And that is because of the pushing on a rope phenomenon, which has emerged for the first time in economic history. In remembering all that I’ve seen of recessions and booms throughout my life, each time a recession came along I said, “This time it’s different.” And every time I said this, I was wrong. Keynesian economics always worked (If you print it, they will spend). But let me humbly suggest, because we are transitioning from a time when the endgame of depleted resources loomed so far over the horizon as to be invisible, to a time when Everyman knows he’s gotta stop consuming or the game is over, that…This Time It Is Different!

That the wealthy love tight money policies which harm
their poorer debtors is, itself, a reason to regard them with suspicion.
Unemployment, poor health and education, worn-out capital, and a degraded
environment are the only legacies we can leave that will burden our
children.  Massive borrowing is not against the well-being of future
generations: under present conditions, it may be their only salvation.

There has got to be a better way. And this time, it won’t work! It simply pushes harder on that rope.

Well, enough of my tirade. (Actually I can’t get enough of it)  I enjoy enormously what you write, and I believe we look at boats in similar ways.  They are objects of beauty that we want
to possess, and they afford a unique experience and training that can become
a lifetime’s avocation.  At the same time, it is easy to be tempted by the
fantasy into unrealistic decisions-either because one can’t afford the
monetary cost or because making room in one’s life for sailing may displace
too many other pleasures and obligations.  I agree that the future is likely
to call forth opportunities for new forms of boat sharing that permit more
intensive use, though most will unfortunately represent the lowest common
denominator of mass appeal.   Perhaps institutions like the Center for
Wooden Boats in Seattle (where I once sailed a Beetle Cat and a Herreshoff
12 ½) could be expanded and diversified.  “Sail Newport” which is a boat-sharing enterprise in Newport RI is prospering- there will be many others) You have had an amazingly successful career, doing what you love and doing it so well that you have
both supported yourself and brought joy to others, even those who only read
an occasional article or admire a set of plans.  I do hope that what I have
written will prompt you to reconsider some of your interpretations of the
state of our society.  There are many economists who can explain these
issues with much greater competence than mine and, unfortunately, many
highly respected ones who are venal or perversely ignorant.

Best Regards,

Peter Belenky

Summoning up what little I retained from Economics 101 plus a lifetime of reading has been fun for me. As will be reading your reactions to my layman’s view of what we’re going through right now. Remembering always that it was GWB’s ideological cretinism that got us into this mess in the first place, I sincerely hope that this latest multi-trillion dollar dose of Keynesian economics actually saves the sinking ship. But I fear, This Time It’s Different.  -Chuck

A Guy asked me in a forum, Why does your P14 cost so much?

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013


Let me take this opportunity to talk a little about “value”.  In all aspects of the production of material products, economists talk of the “economies of scale.” If you were to hand-build one of anything― let’s say for example a vacuum cleaner― machining or hand-carving its parts and assembling them using skilled human hands, that single vacuum cleaner would cost $500,000. But if you put ten times that figure into design, “tooling,” and robots, and then sell 10,000 vacuum cleaners…  presto, each one becomes affordable if not downright cheap.

The advent of fiberglass made possible a similar phenomenon in boating, though the numbers were smaller, since not everyone could make use of a boat. My business partner Tom Morris would hire me to design a yacht, put in round numbers $200,000 into the design, hull and deck molds, ballast pattern, rudder mold and other jigs and fixtures, then sell 30 to 40 yachts of that design for, let’s say, $100,000 each. In so doing he reliably recovered his investment and made a small profit. We did this together 17 times in the space of 33 years.

Now consider the ultimate object that is hand-built, one at a time—a fine art painting. Claude Monet’s paintings sold in the late 1800’s through the Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris for prices on the order of a hundred dollars or so. Those same paintings today sell for $50,000,000. Why? Because there’s only one of each, they don’t deteriorate with time given minimal maintenance, and they bring joy to every eye that beholds them.

So where does my PAINE 14 fall? Is it a vacuum cleaner, or is it a painting? I can tell you pretty accurately what it will cost to build― between $40,000 and $70,000 depending upon the material of construction. It can’t be mass-produced in large numbers, for too few people will ever buy one. It will last a long time with minimal maintenance, and will bring joy to every eye that beholds it.

Anyone who has followed my career knows how much I love my 76 year old Herreshoff 12 ½ PETUNIA.  It is a timeless shape that sails beautifully in lots of wind or next to none. My Pisces 21, Pentimento, Annie, Expannie, Anasazi, Gusto, Paine 26, York 18 and others are designs that represent extrapolations of the brilliant concept Nat Herreshoff first coined one hundred years ago.









My clients know that one of my first pronouncements about yachts is that the words Yacht and Investment should never be used in the same sentence, paragraph, or month. But there is an exception—the classic, hand-built yacht. It is more like a painting than a vacuum cleaner.

When I was just back from two years in the Peace Corps in 1972 and still in my hippie phase, I decided all I wanted in the world was a Herreshoff 12½. I spent my summer weekends sleeping in the back of my VW van and looking at every available used H 12½ between New York City and Maine. I found PETUNIA in a mud creek boathouse on North Haven Island. Owner’s name was Bernard Smith but everyone called him “Bun”. Bun Smith knew an easy mark when he saw him. Asked $1300 for the leaky old bucket and this city kid hadn’t the cheek to settle for less than $1250. And dammit, everyone knows that the first H12’s sold new for $420!

Herreshoff 12½’s in similar condition to PETUNIA with the builder’s plaque intact sell today for over $50,000. I have tried stocks and never sold one for a penny more than I paid, bonds that barely kept pace with inflation, and property that is now worth a quarter what I parted with and headed south. The only investment I ever made in my life was that boat I paid way too much for. Which I bought fully intending it to be a foolish extravagance, purely for fun.

Will your PAINE 14 become an investment?  Like a Herreshoff 12½ it sails beautifully, is lovely to look at, needs no crew, is built to last, will get you home in 30 knots of wind without a tow, and will never go out of style.

So you never know. Buy a PAINE 14 purely for the fun of it and plan on leaving it to your children. You’ll feel like a million bucks every time you hoist the sails. And with this bunch in Washington printing money like there’s no tomorrow, it might just take that much to buy one in a few years!

Tomorrow's inevitable inflation will make this worth a million bucks!

Tomorrow’s inevitable inflation will make this worth a million bucks!


Monday, November 11th, 2013

Some thoughts on yacht design and ownership

By Chuck Paine

As some of you may know my once prolific yacht design business C.W. Paine Yacht Design, Inc. closed in December of 2008. The financial downdraft of 2008 sent many of those who might have become my design clients- and all of my existing ones- scrambling to rescue what was left of their life savings.

The economy has recovered a bit since then thanks to massive money-printing, (our children will inevitably pay for this) and I am back at the drafting table. But I am limiting my efforts to sailboats, small ones at that, and only for my trusted boatbuilder friends rather than the Wall Streeters who tended to be my former patrons.


Looking back on my career I realize how fortunate I was to have ventured into it when I did. My aspiration to design yachts coincided with an unprecedented post-World War II expansion of Northern Hemisphere economies. Before that war the number of people who could afford a yacht numbered in the hundreds. The mass-production of yachts in order to make them more affordable came into being with the advent of fiberglass. Governments and Wall Street expanded the money supply through massive borrowing against the well-being of future generations, and the illusion of economic growth without limit encouraged the wealthy and even the not-so wealthy to purchase my creations.

If you detect a caveat in this sentence you sense correctly. The limits that global warming and resource depletion and debt repayment and the replacement of workers by technology (unemployment) and humane care for the disadvantaged among us will impose upon future consumption are only starting to be dimly perceived. Hence the “Great Recession.”

I believe the yachts of the future will be far fewer in number, far better in quality, and built to last far longer than those of today. They will be made use of more constantly than those of past generations. As will, I believe, all manmade products. Our earth cannot for much longer sustain mass-consumption for its own sake and the day will come when we will be ashamed to have ever willingly called ourselves “consumers”. We are depleting the finite gifts stored within the crust of our planet at an alarming and suicidal rate. Not being suicidal by nature, man will rapidly cease to do so.


We cannot thoughtlessly continue converting fossil fuels into carbon and depositing it into the atmosphere at anything like the pace we have done in the recent past. Some are saying fracking will save us. And it may well save US. But it merely hastens the day when our children have to survive without this finite and irreplaceable gift that took eons to create and two centuries to squander. The day will come when the burning of our remaining fossil stockpile merely for pleasure (motor-boating) will be considered a serious crime.

This bodes well, of course, for sailboats. I believe it is inevitable that yachts propelled by sustainable energy (wind) will rapidly replace those propelled by our dwindling supply of oil. There is only so much left under the ground, but the wind will blow on forever.

In the future we will rediscover the preciousness of watery marshes and value them more highly than the marinas full of receding rows of unused faded gelcoat that have replaced them. As a hopeless boat lover and the “rainmaker” for my company my first visit to any new city on many a business trip included walking the floats of every marina I could find. With each passing year it became more obvious to me that the majority of these yachts ceased to actually be used. Many of the sailboats would be stripped of their sails, the motorboat bottoms fouled with marine growth from lack of use.

Surely if any resource goes unused past a reasonable length of time it should be ground up into its constituent elements and a new use found for them, and many essentially abandoned mass-produced “yachts” fall into this category. In a world of depleted resources we will have no alternative but to produce far fewer “things”, which last far longer, and find ways to share these less numerous items more equitably so that each of them produces sufficient enjoyment to compensate for the unavoidable environmental damage its construction entails.


An essential reality of yachts is that they are a form of overgrown toy―a toy for those of considerable means, one must admit, but a toy nonetheless. Like all toys, yachts bestow the greatest joy when brand new. While the shelf life of a yacht is a great deal longer than a Barbie Doll or GI Joe, there can be as little joy in owing many a ten-year old “yacht” as there is in owning a much fondled doll a fortnight after Christmas. The monetary value of most such “yachts” passes through the same stages as any other toy, decreasing rapidly to near nil when the other kids on the block all boast of having one just like yours.

I believe- and I know it’s a far from commonly held belief- that in the near future humanity’s entire motivation for economic activity will undergo a revolution. Acquisition and consumption- former motivations for work- will be replaced by an effort to redress the terrible (and terror-ism engendering) disparity between rich and poor. The embarrassing fact is, “We” have far more than enough; “They” are dying of starvation. Only when we have addressed this disparity will the rewards of yacht ownership be justifiable for those who take the lead in bringing about a fairer, safer from terrorism, and more ecologically sustainable world.


In the post-consumption age it will become socially unacceptable to own the piles of mass-produced consumer-crap that spews from Chinese factories through our local big-box stores and into the self-storage villages of Western Civilization. We will cheerfully learn to be happier with less. But while we will own less “stuff”, the stuff we do own less of will be of much higher quality.  We will focus our leisure lives around the enjoyment of One Perfect Possession. For some it will be their automobile, bicycle, kite-surfer and for people like me, their yacht. We may end up with only one such possession rather than the scores of unused ones we own today, but it will be a car, bike, board or yacht of the highest quality. Our world of dwindling resources can sustain this one very special possession, especially if we keep and enjoy it for a very long time.

One Perfect Possession

One Perfect Possession
















There was a time in the history of dating that you only got the thrill of the test ride after you had signed a contract that ended when death do us part. Likewise in boating. You’d see a sleek beauty on a mooring or at a boat show but you only got to experience her performance after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and committing to a lifetime of maintenance. I call this, in both cases, “The world’s most expensive test ride”.

These days, not so much. There are still some manufacturers who know how important that “first thrill” is to would-be buyers, and who will not let you get a hand on the tiller until you have signed a contract. But they are becoming few and far between. Increasingly, and rightly, boat buyers are insisting on the test ride before the contract, and builders are finding that if they don’t have a “demonstrator”, they can’t sell their product. In the past, folks who wanted the experience of sailing a fifty-footer, say, had no choice but to buy one or have one built. Today they can charter a boat of the size they are contemplating, put her through her paces in some tropical paradise, and walk away after a week with the thrill ingrained in their memory. Chartering will result in far fewer yachts sitting unused on moorings.


New ways beyond chartering will emerge for yacht lovers to share ownership. I was a reasonably clever guy who came into a world full of newly prosperous individuals wanting beautiful yachts. Many of these new owners failed to consider how much time out of their working lives could be devoted to actually using them. Surely in the near future some clever lad with a computer will write a computer program that will enable twenty or so would-be yachtsmen to share one very beautiful yacht as if it were solely their own. Websites are springing up (Airbnb) that permit homeowners to share unneeded rooms or second homes in exchange for a fee. It is only a matter of time before yachts will be similarly shared.

There was a time when one needed to own a yacht to see the wondrous turquoise seas of the Caribbean, Seychelles, Society Islands and the nautical world’s many other idyllic destinations. No longer, thanks to the advent of chartering. Many who once owned larger yachts will get their big-boat thrill out of chartering, and their weekend joys from a much smaller daysailor that they keep near their home, or on a trailer in their garage.


My personal ownership of yachts has travelled a path that I am discovering is well worn by others. I began as a teen who got caught up in the plywood boatbuilding craze of the late ‘50s. My twin and I built our racing bluejay SCRATCH in our parents’ garage in Warwick, RI at the age of 14.

The Paine twins building SCRATCH

The Paine twins building SCRATCH


Chuck at age 15 sailing SCRATCH

Chuck at age 15 sailing SCRATCH





















When I was just back from two years in the Peace Corps in 1972 and still in my hippie phase, I decided all I wanted in the world was a Herreshoff 12½. I spent my summer weekends sleeping in the back of my VW van and looking at every available H 12½ between New York City and Maine. I found PETUNIA in a mud creek boathouse on North Haven Island. I have owned PETUNIA for the past 40 years have spent half my life restoring and sailing her.












After I moved to Maine in 1973 and opened my design office I discovered there wasn’t enough work for an unknown neophyte, so I supplemented my meager income by building boats. The first was FRANCES, the 26-foot double-ender whose design I sold to Tom Morris, giving me my start as an independent yacht designer. A four-year, four-yacht boatbuilding binge culminated in a 30-footer, my beloved ANNIE. I had sold that design too to Tom Morris and he generously let me have a hull and deck from his molds at a price I could afford.




























Many years later in 2005 my father-in-law Frank passed away, leaving his 39-foot sailing yacht of my design JESSICA to my wife and her siblings. I had fond memories of that boat, having sailed with Frank three times to Bermuda, and during many other summers up fog-enshrouded coasts to the Bras D’ Or Lakes and the St. John River. Nobody wanted the boat no matter how low the price so out of nostalgia I bought her, along with a partner. I put a year of nights and weekends and $50,000 into restoring her.











Then I discovered what so many others have- that I didn’t have time to use a 39-footer. Every summer weekend I had my choice- PETUNIA or JESSICA. The smaller boat won out every time. The choice is a little harder when the 39-footer is your only boat. From what I see in marinas on fine summer Saturdays, the choice then seems to be, to not go sailing. I sold my half of JESSICA to my partner for a small fraction of what I‘d put into her, built an even smaller boat than PETUNIA at a cost of five times what I got out of the much larger boat, and now I sail all the time, alternating between my two small boats. Trading a big yacht that I never found time to use for a small one that I use constantly was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.


I foresee yacht ownership going full circle with renewed interest in small sailing yachts- ones that can be easily gotten going and do not involve huge economic impact to build or maintain. Many sailors are doing just what I did- trading their large and unused cruisers for smaller, nicer yachts that they have time to use. The “daysailor” craze of the present will continue for the simple reason that it makes the most sense for people too busy to spend long stretches of time on the water. The most fun in boating is to be had close to the shore, for it is there that there is a view apart from two shades of blue or gray separated by a straight line. This fact plus a renewed interest in thrift owing to the recession will result in a resurgence of small sailboats. To get your big-boat jags, you’ll charter or yacht-share.

There will always be yachts. In the future we will find ways to make more frequent use of them. The era of mass-production to grind out as many as possible will be replaced by one of artistic competition to create fewer, far nicer ones. Larger yachts will be shared, either through “Seabnb” or chartering.

In all of my musings I am reminded of a story of two men who met at a cocktail party. The Wall-Streeter couldn’t wait to tell the other about his huge home in the Hamptons, his custom-built Bentley, all of the shiny new objects that littered his lawn, and of course his new trophy wife half his age and twice his looks. My patient friend awaited an opening, which finally came after several minutes. “I’ve got something that you’ll never have”, he said.

“Oh, yeah, what’s that?”

My friend answered, “Enough.”




Monday, October 21st, 2013
Nick and Chuck in the rain.

Nick and Chuck in the rain.













My son Nick and I trailered AMELIA to the Annapolis Sailboat Show last week. Upon our arrival it commenced to pour rain for four straight days! Combined with the shutdown of the American government and the impending default on the national debt, it would be an understatement to say that virtually nobody came to this show, and the few who did headed immediately for the shelter of the tents, leaving Nick and I standing disconsolently in the relentless deluge.

So, my take on all of this?  It was fantastic! The nautical press had no choice but to be there, and they were, owing to their chosen careers, real sailors, who knew a great boat when they saw it.  Look for their reaction to the PAINE 14 in their columns in the next few months.

The days when you could sell plastic consumer crap are over. The days when you can exchange mere money for a small yacht of great value that will enhance your life forever have arrived.

Stay tuned.


Thursday, January 12th, 2012

My Talk in London













Here I am giving my talk at the Cruising Association in London. It went well judging by the fact that everyone was still awake after 70 minutes, and there were a few good laughs (most at my own expense). For the first time in nearly 40 years I divulged the identity of the lovely young lady who was the inspiration for my first design, the Frances 26. That’s her peeking at you, Frances Cairncross, now a world-famous economist and the rector (president) of Exeter College at Oxford. She was a wonderful dancer and turned me from a pathologically selfish 22-year old into a functioning human being.


Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Dinner on the Krka River

         I got to thinking about one prediction I made in the conclusion to my recent book: “Surely in the near future some lad far cleverer with a computer than I ever was will write a computer program that will enable twenty or so would-be yachtsmen to share one very beautiful yacht as if it were solely their own.” 

        I watched the slow demise of my highly successful yacht design studio as the once too numerous to manage customers vanished over the horizon.  I had put it down to the lingering effects of 9/11, but perhaps I lost sight of a far more positive reason- the advent of chartering. Why would one own a yacht, with all of the maintenance expenses involved not to mention the depreciation- when one can  so easily and more cheaply charter. The happy group in the above photo, plus John the photographer, have chartered together for decades. We have enjoyed larger yachts than any of us could afford to own, have seen cruising grounds from Tahiti to Croatia, and have, at the end of one week in a climate far more amenable than the frozen wasteland of winter in Maine, simply handed back the keys at the end and told the charter company to fix anything that broke.

        Another prediction: The day will come when the rapidly rising cost of liquid energy and its attendant impact upon airfares will combine with one or more terrorist attacks upon this highly vulnerable mode of human transport to put an end to civilian air travel. And that will be the end of chartering.  Until that happens, though, this happy group will be posting photos like this one on this blog from some of the loveliest cruising grounds on God’s blue ocean.


Sunday, February 27th, 2011

I have just returned from Miami Boat Show. My only interest was the sailboat part, held at Bayside. I regret to report that it has hit a new low. There were so few sailboats that they didn’t even bother moving the normal berth-holders out of their slips, lest it look woefully empty. To my eye there was only one boat of any interest on display- all the rest were cheaply built, poorly designed mass production consumer junk- the last thing we need any more of!

Morris yachts were in Miami, but not at the show. They had their beautiful, truly valuable yachts on display over in Coconut Grove, as far away from the grind-them-out-cheap crowd as they could get and still be in Miami. If they can stay in business, there is still hope.

The one boat of any interest to me at the show was the Presto sharpie. I don’t love this boat, (too special-purpose) but I know the builders who are fine people and I understand that in a world of 100,000 perfectly good and severely depreciated used sailboats begging for owners on the only way to sell anything new is to chase tiny unserved niches, like shoal draft in the case of the Presto. When will our wealthy begin paying the vast premium required to buy a new and well designed yacht rather than a used sailboat? If that day ever comes, I’m back in business!


Thursday, January 13th, 2011

I have just returned from London Boat Show. My primary purpose was to meet with the editor of ClassicBoat magazine, which will be publishing a series of articles about my classic designs. The show followed the recent trend of being smaller each year, though what was missing were the plethora of massive powerboats chasing the maybe two customers left in the world who would want such a thing. The ClassicBoat stand was once again the best part of the show… remember, everyone, that I predicted in my memoir that the world of boating would go full circle and that what will be left in the end will be traditionally shaped, aesthetically derived, small raceable sailboats made of a material that grows on trees. The other thing that was really fun was the huge new aquasport pool where I leaned against the railing and watched improbably tiny kids trying to get their floating windsurfers to the northern end of the pool against a fan-generated wind. This, and anything shorter than fifteen feet that doesn’t consume fuel, is the future of boating!