Blue Water Sailing

Adventure Travel

Graham Radford
Yacht Designer


Over 10 years ago, John Gayford, and I plan to sail to Australia.  We had preconceived ideas about the sailboat that would get us there.  There will be five crew and all the provisions, and we wanted a boat that could hold us and our stuff comfortably.  The boat was required to cover 200 miles a day so it needed to be fast and light weight.  Our floating home also had to be sea worthy, considering the 10,000 miles we plan to sail.  And we expected to get all this at an affordable cost.  We talked to yacht designers in Canada and America but none had existing designs available, and custom designing such a boat would have been too expensive.  Then, when John was in Australia visiting his family in 2000, his brother told him about local yacht designer Graham Radford.  John met him and explained what we wanted and Radford told him it couldn’t be done.  “It’s not my doing but the law of hydrodynamics,” said Radford.

As always, after working hard on the boat, we talk about the adventure to come – the exhilaration of surfing down waves in the Southern Ocean, watching the sunrises and sunsets at secluded anchorages and visiting distance lands.  Such fanciful discussions always come back to the design of the boat, the person who created her, and how his knowledge of blue-water sailboats convinced us go with a Radford design.

Radford’s interest in yachting design was galvanized when America’s “Intrepid” beat the Australian challenger “Dame Pattie” in the 1967 America’s Cup.  “I didn’t like being beaten by the Americans.  I thought we should have been capable of winning,” says Radford who believes the way to victory is design.

During the early 70’s, Radford gained extensive experience sailing the waters of Australia and was part of the crew for the 1973 record-breaking Sydney-to-Hobart race.  It was through sailing connections that Radford met renowned Australian boat designer Joe Adams.  As chance would have it, Adams was looking for help and brought in Radford, in 1974, to begin a three-year apprenticeship.  “I was very lucky because Joe was one of the better designers around at the time,” says Radford, who considered Adams as a mentor.  Back then, boat design was technically straight forward, so it was at Adams that Radford learned the art and feel for drawing yachts. After the apprenticeship Radford joined on as a partner.  During that time, Radford and Adams produced many well-known one-off and production yachts that achieved a string of off-shore race wins along the Australian east coast.

Radford set out on his own in 1987 and started Graham Radford Yacht Design.  His R12.2m design, “Red Jacket”, won the Australian trophy for the Top Ocean Racing Yacht of the Year (1996).  Radford’s designs have also earned a reputation for being well-suited to blue-water sailing.  His boats have sailed from Alaska to New Zealand and back, competed and won the cruising division in the 2003 Melbourne/Osaka double-handed race, and have sailed around the world.

All of Radford’s boats, whether they’re for racing or cruising, follow the same design philosophy - one born from Radford living by the ocean.  They must sail well in open water.  Radford drawings are significantly different from other designers in term of the section shape or hull design.  “I see V-section boats as being off-shore boats,” says Radford.  “They’ll never be as fast as a round boat in light airs and smooth water but I’m prepared to accept that.”  Radford’s V-section design - which distinctively gives his boats a battleship look - is his signature.  He can talk passionately about this design at great length.  Radford will not deviate from that hull shape, whether they are performance boats made out of light construction material such as his “Red Jacket” or heaver displacement boats like the R14m we are building.  “I have no great desire to rush off and design boats like everybody else.  I still want to pursue the style of boat I design,” says Radford.  If someone comes along and wants something different, like a lifting keel so they can go into shallow water, he won’t do it, “because if they get out there when the weather is bad those guys are asking for trouble.”
All Radford wants to do is design boats.  “I don’t have a job so it doesn’t really matter – I just play boats,” says Radford.  “There is not a lot of pressure on me to get out there and be successful.  I get by doing what I do, so I’m not particularly fussed about being noticed by everybody.”  Radford relies on people looking at his designs and understanding what he has to offers so that he doesn’t have to say too much.  “If I have to spend too long explaining what I have to offer then I think it’s a lost cause,” says Radford.  “A lot of people buy sailboats for the accommodations; nothing I can say about the sailing ability will change their minds.  I design boats because I want them to be sailing boats”

When I ask Radford, who is in his mid-fifties, what he wants to do in the future he simply says he wants to keep doing what he is doing.  “I think I’m a bit silly.  I don’t know, it just an interest that’s on going and to me it’s sort of a hobby - I just like to design boats.”