Robert Perry, a name synonymous with yacht design, has been hailed as the “Hippie Godfather of Performance Cruisers.” With an impressive legacy of between 6,000 to 7,000 boats built to his designs, Perry’s influence on the maritime world is undeniable. In a recent episode of the SHIPSHAPE podcast, Perry delved into his journey, sharing insights into his life, career, and the evolution of performance cruising.
A Pioneer in Performance Cruising
For many years, cruising boats were primarily designed for survival and marketability, often sidelining performance. Perry observed this gap and emphasized the importance of performance in cruising boat design. He noted, “For so many years, cruising boats weren’t designed to perform well. They were designed to survive and be easy to sell, but not to go fast.” Perry’s approach was revolutionary at the time. He believed that any boat design should start with good performance and then work backwards from that.
Interestingly, Perry didn’t invent the concept of performance cruisers; they had always existed. However, he was instrumental in coining the term “performance cruiser,” which has since become an industry-standard classification. By naming this category, Perry made it easier for people to identify and understand the concept, leading to its widespread adoption.
A Legacy of Thousands
When asked about the number of designs he’s created and how many boats have been produced based on his designs, Perry humbly admitted that he’s lost count. However, he estimates that somewhere between six and seven thousand boats have been built to his designs, a testament to his significant impact on the industry.
A Passion from a Young Age
Perry’s journey into the world of yacht design began at a young age. Contrary to some beliefs that he started at eight, Perry clarified that his interest was piqued at 14. Recalling an eighth-grade assignment where he had to give a talk using visual aids, Perry chose sailing as his topic, despite never having been on a sailboat. This presentation sparked an interest that would shape the rest of his life.
Early Influences and Mentors
Perry’s passion for yacht design was further fueled by the works of renowned designers like Bill Garden, Phil Rhodes, Olin Stephens, and others. He reached out to these legends, expressing his desire to become a yacht designer. Most of them responded, with Phil Rhodes even sending a two-page handwritten letter. Bill Garden, in particular, played a pivotal role in Perry’s early years. Perry spent a day with Garden, which led to years of sailing together. Although Perry never formally worked for Garden, their relationship remained strong until Garden’s passing.
Rock and Roll Meets Yacht Design
In a surprising twist, Perry also had a stint in the world of rock and roll. His band, comprising five members, won a “Battle of the Bands” in Seattle, leading to a record contract. While Perry loved playing in the band, yacht design remained his primary passion. He recalls thinking that he didn’t want to be on stage at 50, like Keith Richards, and decided that rock and roll was a means to an end.
The Path Not Taken
Perry often wonders what his life would have been like had his family moved to Phoenix instead of Seattle. Would he have become a residential architect or a butcher, given his experience working in meat markets? While these alternate paths are intriguing to consider, Perry’s focus on yacht design never wavered.
A Self-Taught Legend
Despite not having formal training in yacht design, Perry’s dedication and passion drove him to become a legend in the industry. He attributes his success to his strong focus and determination to achieve his dream.
Robert Perry’s contributions to the maritime world are vast and influential. His emphasis on performance in cruising boat design has left an indelible mark on the industry. With thousands of boats sailing the seas bearing his design, Perry’s legacy is a testament to his passion, innovation, and expertise.
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