The Deep Vee:
Ray Hunt's design legacy
By Steve Knauth
On a spring day in 1960, a 31 foot in-board roared out through Miami's Government Cut and careened into boating history.
It was a hasty morning for a test ride, but that's just what owner Dick Bertram wanted. The wind was "blowing out of the east at 22 knots and the seas were rough," he recalled. Looking at driver Sam Griffith through the spindrift, Bertram wondered what to expect from the boat with its radical bottom, a "deep-vee" designed by a quiet New England innovator named Ray Hunt.
Bertram was excited by the potential of the odd-looking hull - vee-shaped for its entire length with fore-and-aft strakes below a sharp chine. Hunt knew it ran faster and handled better than other boats in high seas. Now Bertram was about to find out for himself.
Griffith, the veteran racer, cut speed instinctively to take the first wave at about 25 knots. "After the third wave, Sam started smiling and eased forward the throttles," Bertram wrote later. Griffith spun Moppie around and headed downwind. Instead of yawing, "the boat held it's course as though it were on tracks. We opened the throttles and raced those following seas at 40 knots straight for the inlet."
In those first few moments, Bertram and Griffith became deep-vee believers.
Though hardly a household name, Hunt is the guy who made speed, stability and handling an everyday part of motorboating. Through the genius of his deep-vee design, this champion sailor changed the face of powerboating. The 24 degree deep-vee with lifting strakes remains a standard.
The deep-vee was just one of many achievements in the wide-ranging design career of Charles Raymond Hunt, a complex man with a quick mind, little affinity for business and no taste for fame. Among his creations are the classic Concordia yawl, the 12 Meter Easterner and the ubiquitous Boston Whaler.
"He was a genius, a real wizard who did things no one else had done," Griffins said.
Bertram was so impressed with Hunt and his deep-vee that he entered Moppie in the 1960 Miami-Nassau Race. The boat covered the rough, wind-whipped, 160 mile course in record time, averaging just about 20 knots. A third of the fleet couldn't even finish.
"...as Skipper Sam Griffith gunned the engines, the fleet dropped astern," recalled Carleton Mitchell, a three-time Newport-Bermuda winner who came along to write about the race. "Our wake stretched like a wide white road back towards our nearest competitors. We grinned."
Many more deep-vee tales have followed. "You go out in rough water, and they sell themselves," says Andy Wylie, an Irvington, VA yacht broker. "We called them the water softeners."
Tom Oakes, a marina owner from Marmora, NJ, remembers showing off his deep-vee's handling while heading offshore to fish. "We'd see see who could go the longest without touching the wheel and still hold a course," Oakes said. "I'd be standing there for 45 minutes, still running true."
Hunt, who died in 1978 at 70, never successfully patented the idea and never got rich off it. A private man, he shunned publicity and eventually faded from the public eye.
Yet, when the Museum of Yachting in Newport wanted to kick off its annual "designer" rendezvous series last summer, it chose Hunt's designs for the theme. "He was so diverse and so imaginative, there's no doubt that he was one of the really talented designers," said Jim Cassidy, 53, a marine insurance agent in Mystic, Conn, who helped organize the event.
Hunt's designs have stood the test of time. When Rhode Island sailboat builder Alden Yachts decided to get into motoryachts four years ago, it put its money on a Ray Hunt descendant designed by C. Raymond Hunt Associates, the Boston design firm Hunt founded in 1966. Hunt Associates continues to design versions of the deep-vee for production builders, including Grady White and Grand Banks, which uses it for its new sedan and express models.
"Ray Hunt obviously did a good job of thinking through what at the time was an innovative idea," said Ed Roberts, vice president of Grand Banks Yachts, Ltd. in Greenwich, Ct. "Good design really doesn't go out of style. It's sort of like the button-down collar."
Designers for Formula and Cruisers, Inc. also have produced variations of the deep-vee shape for their performance craft and family boats. "The deep-vee has had a long and illustrious career," said Pat Laux, 35, a designer for Formula Yachts Decatur, Ind. "And it's still the technology used by many companies for their lineups."
It's ironic that the man who so changed powerboating was a really dyed in the wool sailor.
In 1932, Hunt found himself working for Boston designer Frank Paine. Although he didn't have a formal design education, Hunt nevertheless had talent and instinct. "His education came from the observations he'd been making since he was a kid,"Griffins said. " I think he started learning about design and how boats move through the water as a young sailor in Duxbury."
While working for Paine, the 24-year-old Hunt met Waldo Howland, son of a Paine designer. The two formed the Concordia Co. in 1932 to design, build and broker boats. Their first effort was the B-class frostbite dinghy, soon being sailed successfully by Corny Shields, Briggs Cunningham and others. With Howland as the first of several compatriots who often handled sales and drew final plans, Ray Hunt's uncanny, unorthodox career was off and running.
The Concordia yawl and the International 110, both introduced in 1938-39, stand out as early examples of Hunt's versatility. The first was pure tradition, setting a tone for more than 100 subsequent &quo;Concordias." Built for Howland, the yawl and those that followed earned a reputation for "speed, beauty, and sea-kindliness," according to Elizabeth Meyer, head of the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport and a former Concordia owner.
In the second, Hunt departed completely from accepted design norms with the 24-foot International 110. A racing sloop with low wetted surface and lots of sail area offset by a ballasted fin keel, it performed more like a modern sport boat than a 1930s club racer. "Similar configurations can be seen today in America's Cup boats," said John Deknatel, president of C. Raymond Hunt Associates.
Hunt brought that kind of innovation to powerboats after World War II. For nearly 50 years,planing hulls had sharp bows and flat sterns; the standard boat of 1960 got lift from that basic shape. With transom deadrise a flat 2 to 6 degrees, those hulls had good lateral stability and they planed quickly with relatively low-powered engines. But the boats "pounded in high seas and were hard to steer in a following sea," according to speedboat historian D.W. Fostle.
Those were the problems Hunt solved through instinct and observation. "He was intuitive as opposed to being an engineering type," said Deknatel, who began working with Hunt in 1966. "He had an active mind that was wrapped 150 percent around boats, and he could focus in on basic problems undistracted by outside influences."
Hunt didn't put much deep-vee in his first effort. In 1946, he and son Jim and daughter Diana were tending about 100 lobster pots from a 37 foot "Huntform" he'd designed. Head on, the Huntform's bow profile resembled an upside-down bell with its concave entry; the transom deadrise was just a few degrees.
The deep-vee begins to emerge in Hunt's 1949 design, Sea Blitz, which was commissioned by Hunt enthusiast Bradley Noyes. The bow sections are straighter and Hunt increased the deadrise noticeably, carrying it aft with virtually no flattering. Instead of a broad stern, there was a vee something like the bow.
Hunt loved to build prototypes. By 1958, a wooden deep-vee, complete with lifting strakes and 24 degrees of deadrise, was turning heads in Newport, RI. One July day, Bertram, a crewman aboard the 12 meter Vim, looked up to see "something special hurtling across" the bay. Bertram made a mental note to corner Hunt after the day's racing. He took a short ride the very next day and immediately ordered the 31 footer that would become the record-setting Moppie.
Mitchell's Miami-Nassau race story appeared in Sports Illustrated, spreading the deep-vee story to an emerging class of postwar recreational boaters.
Businessmen noticed it too, and the race for the new powerboat market was on, with Bertram at the forefront. Moppie was quickly turned into a plug and a mold was cast to produce fiberglass versions under license to Hunt.
Hunt shunned the accolades that started coming his way and, as a result, some people considered him standoffish, Deknatel recalled. Meanwhile, other boat companies copied the deep-vee, and Hunt was unable to patent his idea. Drawings had appeared in a boating magazine early in 1958 as part of a story on the design. Patent rules stipulated that a patent application must be filed within a year after the invention has been written about or used - and Hunt had missed the deadline.
A phase of unsuccessful patent infringement suits followed, in which the oversight proved his undoing, Deknatel recalled.
Even as he was working on the deep-vee, Hunt continued to design other craft. He worked with partners Dick Fisher and Bob Pierce on the experimental tri-hull shape that would become the Boston Whaler. Hunt convinced Fisher and Pierce to make the foam-cored boat an outboard instead of a sailboat.
He also kept sailing. In 1957, he captured six of seven races at the prestigious Cowes Week in England in his own Concordia, Harrier. Jim Hunt raced the Hunt designed 5.5 Meter to an Olympic gold medal in 1960, and Ray Hunt won the 5.5 worlds in his own design, Chaje II, in 1964 with Jim as crew.
Tributes came after Hunt's death as well. He was named to the National Marine Manufacturers Hall of Fame and honored with the Ole Evinrude Award for his contribution to powerboating. Almost all of his Concordias are still sailing, the International 110 has fleets as far away as the Philippines and Whaler is one of the world's best known boats.
"Others can be credited with breakthrough designs," Deknatel said. "But the thing that makes Ray Hunt different is that he did it in both power and sail."
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Hunt is the longevity of the deep-vee in a world of change. After 35 years, it's still a sound, proven hull.
Credit: C. Raymond Hunt Associates, Inc.
REPRINTED FROM SOUNDINGS TRADE ONLY - FEBRUARY 1998