class association, history, News

On The Origin Of The D-Zero

We all know it is a fantastic boat giving us great fun racing and that ear to ear smile but it was time to find out a little more about the origins of the D-Zero from designer and current national champion, Dan Holman.

Dan, you designed the D-Zero, the boat we all enjoy sailing so much. Thank you! This is famously based on your Punk design. Can we get a potted history of how the boat came about?

Thank you guys – the passionate owners and sailors are a great reward to me.

As for the Punk, I’d spent most of my teens and early 20s laser sailing, owned something like 10 lasers, raced at the highest level against some legends of the sport so I was really lucky in that regard. Probably the best and worst moments of my life were in those days’ of laser sailing.

By 2004 I came 3rd in the Olympic trials and was pretty stale and burned out not to mention broke so decided to quit the full time campaigning that I’d been doing for the previous 18 months and join the real world. I had 2 lasers at the time and sold both. I was doing a bit of windsurfing at the time for light relief. I got a job and started working but decided that I still missed having a boat and sailing. I didn’t want another laser as I had been there, done that and also I felt that as a product it was pretty flawed and well overpriced for what it was, and even back then one certainly got the impression that the massive margin wasn’t being ploughed back into the class or the sport.

I loved the “art” of unstayed narrow singlehanded hiking boat sailing and felt that I wasn’t catered for in the market. Nobody wanted to do something modern because it was not going to sell 3000 boats a year, but of course you didn’t need to sell 3000 boats to be economically viable. So I decided to have a go at one myself – I was a qualified Naval Architect, how hard could it be? I’d always wanted to design boats but it seemed that a career in yacht design was difficult to get established in, so I pooled in my laser money, and scraped together various other savings and got to work.

The approach I took was completely artistic insofar as I wasn’t aiming to do it commercially and sell boats, but to get the no compromise effect that I wanted, it meant a making full set of female moulds and loads of custom parts. So for three of the best years of my twenties I spent every evening and weekend day working on designing and building some aspect of the boat. I was very lucky insofar as my father had some workshop space in Cornwall, as well as an understanding of many of the processes, not to mention the all-important sympathy to my cause, so I abused that privilege heavily, and saw an awful lot of the M5 and A38 between Cornwall and Bristol where I was living.

I designed and had at least some part in building every part of the boat apart from the blocks and ropes so it was a very long winded but rewarding process. I had the moulds done by early 2008, found a builder to help do the actual lamination (Jamie Stewart, who was at the time building a lot of the RS dinghies under subcontract) and after a lot of commissioning and assembly etc I launched the boat in the Autumn of 2008, had a big party and couldn’t have been prouder of the outcome.

How much change occurred between your Punk design and the Devoti boat we are now sailing?

Quite a lot changed. Probably the biggest single change was the move to a bailed cockpit which made it much deeper and nicer ergonomically. I’d already moved away from the wishbone boom for a number of reasons, I had made a log of over 100 minor or major changes that I had made to the Punk Boat, and speculatively designing V2 before the Devoti introduction happened.

The D-Zero is a bit fuller in the ends to make it easier to sail or more forgiving. Then there were a load of features to accept some of the Devoti parts and components. The laminate / construction method is a little bit different between Punk and D-Zero. I’d worked with North and Selden on a v2 Punk rig which still works to this day, but Devoti had a relationship with Compotech, so the North sail that you see now was built around that mast and spar set. We used foils that Devoti had invested in for the D One. The under-floor sheeting was parked – it was cool but higher cost and higher friction.

Were there any features on the Punk you would have liked to have seen on the D-Zero and what ruled them out?

Devoti gave me pretty much carte blanche on the hull design itself and that was pretty much where I wanted although if more prototyping had been allowed who knows where we would have ended up!

There are a few things on the Punk that are a bit custom and a bit special that make it that bit crisper and sweeter, that I would have liked to have retained, relating to construction and rig, but I accept that this would have resulted in higher cost so all of this sort of thing is a bit of a compromise and there will always be value engineering.

In working with Selden on other dinghy design projects, and seeing the RS Aero, I really love working on the product design of custom parts with Selden as having that sort of “Jewellery” can really set the boat off as a product, so it would have been nice to have been partnered with them in that regard. Essentially, with a project like this, whilst it was my “baby” and I had poured a lot of sweat equity into it, Devoti were making an actual financial investment, taking the risk, so there is always some back and forth there.

On the whole it went well and was pretty frictionless.

We have all recently seen your work in the International 14 and congratulations on getting 2nd place in the worlds in Perth.  What other dinghies are you working on?

Thanks very much. Perth feels like a long time ago already! I hadn’t done much designing since the 2016 Fusion dinghy with Glen Truswell, which I was very proud of and continues to sell well. Designing, building repairing and modifying the i14 has taken most of my time in the intervening period. That said I’m always keen to keep my crayons sharpish so this year I have a largely mature 30ft IRC race boat that has sadly been parked for coronavirus reasons, I have drawn a version 2 of my “Cuckoo’s Nest” i14 pulling in all the lessons from the first one, and I’m getting close to halfway through a new rotormoulded dinghy. So I guess its been a busy time in the vacuum left by a reduction in sailing.

I want to build a sports car as well, so I’m sketching and making models for that a lot at the moment as well.

So not much going on then! If the car turns out to have any of the quality and flair of the D-Zero, I’m getting one! Anything else interesting that we can quote you on?!

I think that most of my quotable thoughts would not be “woke” enough for 2021. Having said that, I think that looking at the cradle to grave cost and environmental impact of electric cars, they are not an improvement on internal combustion, or at least they only reach a tipping point when a substantial majority of the electricity that powers them is supplied from renewable sources. We should punitively tax all new vehicles above around 1500kg.

 A few second hand ones that I always liked:

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Einstein

“I was just wondering whether there will ever be a boy born who can swim faster than a shark.” Gareth Keenan  – for George Cousins

Thanks for you time Dan, and thanks for the D-Zero.

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