Thomas A. MacNaughton, Naval Architect

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A more formal view of Tom.  If you want really excellent Scottish attire visit Tom's tailors at Tom caulking the bottom of the 1895 Redningskoite "Oscar Tybring.

Tom MacNaughton reminisces about being out in the woods with his father at four years old watching him cut wood for a 28 foot sloop. He spent his earliest years playing in various boat shops, watching conferences between owners and builders, playing in the wood shavings, hearing various repairs discussed and listening as points of lofting were gone over while he held the pencils for his father. His memories of sailing go back far enough so that he remembers sailing a small dinghy with his mother using a sail made out of his own only recently retired diapers.

With all this early background it is perhaps small wonder that by the time he was in the latter part of grade school he was drawing boats at every opportunity and his father had already noted that when he drew a Friendship sloop it would be slightly different than other Friendships. When asked Tom would say that it would be a better boat that way and explain why.

In his latter teens Tom had investigated every opportunity for learning to be a yacht designer but had been scared off by the fact that the big universities taught only large ship design and the only yacht oriented course required a contract that required you to pay for the whole course whether you completed it or not. One day he chanced to meet the well known designer Edward S. "Ted" Brewer at Brooklin Boat Yard in Brooklin, Maine. He mentioned his trouble finding a route to a yacht design career and Mr. Brewer was obviously delighted to inform him that he had just founded Yacht Design Institute for the express purpose of filling this niche. Tom was one of the very earliest students and worked hard at his studies. By the time he was about a third of the way through the course in the early 1970's Mr. Brewer and his partner Bob Wallstrom felt they needed a draftsman and Tom suddenly found himself thrust immediately into one of the major design offices in the country. The rest of the YDI lessons were pressed into his hands with the instruction that he was now expected to know everything in them. Further Mr. Brewer delighted in introducing Tom as his "Chief Draftsman". Given Mr. Brewer's reputation this put Tom in the frightening position of having much more regard thrust upon him by some people than he felt he had any hope of standing up under.

After a short but very intense apprenticeship with Ted Brewer and Bob Wallstrom while running his own design business nights and weekends Tom went out on his own. Initially he worked at design work while "intermittently working at other jobs when actual starvation appeared imminent".

Soon, at the urging of his wife Nannette, Tom and his wife and daughter moved aboard the Laurent Giles Vertue class sloop "Charis" along with all his drafting equipment and a huge old Remington typewriter that was to turn out many articles by both Tom and Nannette on yacht design, living aboard, and cruising.

After some years of cruising Tom found himself with an office ashore at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina where the business rapidly built up to the point where he felt acquiring a boat building operation would make sense. From 1985 to early 1989 he spent most evenings working to find a way to acquire a yard. He soon focused on a small boat yard in Eastport, Maine which seemed to the only yard for sale for a price reflecting what the yard would actually earn. This yard was acquired by Tom and his extended family in early 1989 and, as Tom says, "and communism collapsed all over the world". Tom's time was divided between his design work and the yard until increasing design work and advancing arthritis forced the sale of the yard in early 1999.

Tom's earliest design work concentrated on offshore liveaboard sailing yachts for the very natural reason that he and his family lived aboard and cruised full time. These types still provide a major part of the customer base today. Nevertheless he has designed many well loved small cruising powerboat designs, coastal cruising sail boats and moderate sized commercial craft up to 134 feet as well.

At the time Tom was starting to design boats everyone assumed that conventional wooden boats were not going to be a big part of design work in the future. This led Tom to look into designing in modern wood/epoxy and fiberglass forms. He quickly found that there were no well engineered scantlings rules available in the United States for anything other than conventional caulked seam carvel planked wood hulls. Since he was determined to be able to design equally well structured boats in any material he used he embarked first upon doing a scantlings rule for cold molded construction. This work was completed in 1974 and remains, with a few updates, the only rule for pure cold molded construction available in the world today.

In 1977 structural studies and careful inspection of a few yachts built in sheathed strip construction, as originally developed by the naval architect Lindsay Lord, led Tom to feel that he could develop Mr. Lord's concepts into a modern wood and epoxy boatbuilding system that would require much less labor than true cold molded construction and have tremendous neglect resistance. It also appeared that it would be stronger for a given weight or lighter for a given strength than virtually any other system of construction. Extensive careful structural analysis done with early electronic calculating devices eventually led to the formulation of the MacNaughton Associates Sheathed Strip Scantlings rule. This has sold in increasing numbers ever since until today thousands of copies have been sold all over the world to designers, builders, marine engineers, and amateurs. This rule and supplementary information continues to be sold by Tom's design office at a low price to make sure everyone can afford it. The method is now being used increasingly all over the world. Tom says, "It stands on its own merits. I believe it will eventually take over modern wooden boatbuilding almost completely. Probably it would have done so without our rule. However our rule has allowed people to proceed with confidence and know that they will be designing or building a very rugged, long lived boat. This is what our rules are all about. The ultimate goal of the design process is to increase human happiness. The only way you can do that is with good solid boats with real beauty and solid performance."

By 1979 Tom was becoming disturbed with the test results he was getting with foam and balsa cores and took a considerable amount of time to do an structural analysis of these materials with the help of an early programmable computer. He was shocked to find that current practice in fiberglass boat building was not justifiable by a very wide margin. He found that the "standards" being built to were not only too weak to stand up well over long periods of time but were even too weak for normal initial load requirements. He therefore formulated a complete fiberglass scantlings rule for various forms of construction. Many of his findings were put into articles, unfortunately for the lives of unsuspecting boat buyers, it proved difficult to get any articles published on fiberglass boat building due to various magazines well warranted assumption that virtually all their boat manufacturer advertisers would find these articles offensive. Nevertheless at the moment his fiberglass scantlings rule apparently is again the only one for ordinary cruising yachts published in the United States and based on accepted principles of structural analysis and materials science.

In recent years Tom has also produced a scantling rule for conventional wooden boats of various types which for the first time gathers various methods and explains how to make sure any conventional boat you build will be strong enough. In the past scantlings rules for conventional construction have only covered the practices of the Nevins yacht building firm and the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. This new rule allows each builder to choose their own mix of methods and know they will be strong enough.  Because of the somewhat more complex mathematics involved in optimizing steel and aluminum construction, rules for these materials have, until recently only been used within the MacNaughton Yacht Designs firm.  However, at present they are being made ready for publication.

For many years Tom has had an interest in helping others learn yacht designing and for a long time referred people to Yacht Design Institute while helping them as he could. After the shut down of Yacht Design Institute by its eventual owners, Maine Maritime Academy, Tom was left with no school to refer aspiring designers to and began quietly composing his own course which he called Yacht Design School. For quite some time this was only promoted by word of mouth. However with the advent of the web site YDS has gotten more exposure. YDS has become a standard route to a yacht design career for aspiring designers world wide. Recently YDS has added a course for students, designers and builders in the use of computers as a design tool.  Tom is particularly pleased that a number of practicing yacht designers have thought enough of the course to sign up in order to improve their knowledge and abilities in their field.  He is also pleased to note that an increasing number of graduates from schools of large ship naval architecture all over the world are being sent to YDS by prospective employers for further training either as a prerequisite to being considered for a job or as a requirement for new hires.

Tom not only teaches design but remains an avid student himself. He routinely buys and studies a wide range of books and other publications on engineering, construction, and design. He studies these with great interest and occasionally makes forays into materials and structural testing to confirm or refute particular engineering and construction theories. He continues to try to lead individuals in the industry to a better understanding of properly structured construction, which is an abiding passion of his.  At the time of this writing he is studying new methods of examining structures using Finite Element Analysis (FEA), and advanced fluid dynamics studies which he hopes to incorporate into the curriculum of Yacht Design School.

At present Tom, and his wife and partner Nannette, divide their time between their small Cape Cod house in Eastport, Maine which is full of his wife's paintings and surrounded by her gardens, and their floating home and office "Dunnechtan".  He and his draftsmen and support staff continue to design custom boats for clients and update and sell stock plans. He says, "Although we are now one of the better known design firms, we probably won't ever design as many boats as some other firms. This is due to our intense interest in making each vessel the very best boat we can from the point of view of the particular client's happiness and our major commitment to helping people with their design, building and sailing questions without charge by mail, phone and over the Internet. There is immense satisfaction in trying to design in happiness for the owner of each boat. At the end of the day you have to measure your own happiness by how much happiness you've helped other people gain through your work. By that score I am well content."

Nannette adds to the above: "What Tom really seems to be aiming for is to be the 'best loved' yacht designer."

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