We are used to hearing about our national treasures, Brits who have appeared on our television screens, in film or have been part of our national consciousness for so long that they are part of the fabric of life. For anyone involved with yachting, Bill Dixon is a name synonymous with yachts – sail, power and now multihulls. Production, custom and superyacht, the list is long.
Face to face, he twinkles with fun, enthusiasm and a love of yachts – large, small, iconic and ordinary. Throughout his career he has put his finger on the nub of what is needed in the market and produced literally hundreds of designs that are all aimed at making yachting a joy, comfortable, safe and secure and easy for us all to manage.
ROYAL DENSHIP 80 OPEN
Meeting Yacht Designer, Yachtsman & Yachting Treasure Bill Dixon
We visited Bill at his design office in Hamble where he works with his wife Christine and now his son – naval architect Matt. The full team have been in place for a long time – partner Anders Berg, naval architects Marie-Amélie Renard Prince and Simon Cole and Project designer Martin Elerts. A friendly place, full of light and imagery of projects past and present. The office looks out across ranks of moored yachts, many of them conceived and developed by Bill and his team.
Bill grew up in Exmouth; Dixons of Exmouth was the family boat-building firm. He grew up sailing dinghies on the Exe and always knew that for him, boats were the future. After the inevitable Yacht and Boat building degree, he started an internship with Angus Primrose, a then successful designer on the South Coast. His first assignment was to design an Ostar Kit boat called BARE BONES – as a student – what a challenge!
Angus Primrose was the designer of the Moody production range of sailing boats, with their flared bows and distinctive lines, built at Marine Projects, sold on the site where Bill’s office now sits. Bill had a brand new idea, unheard of in yacht design. The walk through centre cockpit yacht – before his new idea, aft cabins were accessed through an uncomfortable companionway with steep steps from which you fell onto the berth. To make a cup of tea you emerged from your cabin, navigated the hatch, padded across the cockpit to the main accommodation hatchway and did it all again. The Moody 333 was the first walk through on the planet. Today it is hard to imagine that no one thought of it before…
SIMON, MARIE-AMÉLIE, BILL AND MATT OUTSIDE THE OFFICE AT HAMBLE
Since those days, the Dixon name has been linked to Moody which is a world class brand, starting at Marine Projects – also the home of Princess, and then to Hanse where a new generation of thoroughly 21st century Moodys are produced. From Bill’s first Moody design – the Moody 28 with Primrose, through a range of practical cruising yachts (who doesn’t instantly recognise the 31, 425 and 54) to a new generation. This includes probably the most notable of them all (apart from the 34/346 in number terms Bill’s most successful sailing design) – the ground breaking Moody 45DS with deck saloon, thrusters front and back and automated rig. The theme running through all these designs are comfort, ease of handling and safety.
But of course there is much more than Moody. There are a swathe of builders whose yachts have the Dixon badge – Johnson, Pearl, Hylas, Sealine, Royal Denship, Taswell, Peri and so many more.
Modern technology with the use of CAD and better communication has speeded things up a lot. However, this has given the hard working design office more to do as they now provide all drawings, systems details, space planning interior and exterior, and also manage all the detailing that goes into the build of a production yacht. The design office in a production yard has been superseded by the Designer’s office. Bill’s team provide drawings that go straight to milling and fit out with little yard intervention between.
On the walls of the sunny office are yacht imagery and awards a plenty, a number of them for the custom yachts designed by Bill Dixon. It is a different kind of commission working for individual owners – two LIARAs, and a swathe of other well-known yachts and super yachts. For Bill it is the mighty (it was the 1990s) 115 foot YANNEKE TOO built at Camper & Nicholsons that was impactful for his career. Those days, he says, are over for the most part as production and semi-production yards are focused on building ever-larger yachts. They are able to deliver levels of customisation not possible previously, and new custom build has risen exponentially in cost. It is a brave yachtsman who commissions a custom yacht today.
The relationship between the yacht designer and the client is a symbiotic but complicated one and whether yard or individual, people with vision and passion are what Bill believe make his designs a reality.
Of course the yacht business is nimble and ever changing and Bill thinks that the most important innovation that we will see in the next 5 years is the development of solar and hybrid technologies that will reduce the use of fossil fuels on-board yachts. There is much to be done with seawater battery regeneration and a host of other nascent scientific developments in the works, but five years is too short a time span to see us done with fossil fuels in yachting.
So what do you love most about being a yacht designer, I ask. The twinkle twinkles a little more brightly and a grin appears – ʻCreating a new design where we look at the brand that we are designing for, look at space planning below decks and above, the services and capabilities that she will need and gradually evolving the first draft of the new yacht. I don’t start with a hull design although I have a rough draft. I look at what the yacht will become holistically, how she will be used, and deliver that important comfort, ease of handling and safety to her owners. That’s for sure the best part of my jobʼ.
The challenges of modern technology are legion with cost and capability marching hand in hand. From design board to milling machine is a big ask, as are the challenges of retaining attractive styling whilst taking complexity out of the mould and other initiatives to drive down cost. The simple look that is so appealing is so very difficult to achieve on a budget, and the need for designs to follow the brand image are all tricky balancing acts.
For a man and his team with all these 21st century challenges, they all look super cheerful. Of course, for the man that brought yachting the walk through and so many other innovations, the twinkle is very much up to the challenge. As we leave, he turns his attention back to a multihull design whose name for sure we will know well sometime quite soon, and the innovator starts work…
Bill has owned a Moody 28, Eclipse 33, Moody 36 and a Moody 47.