Designing the Shaw 9 metre: How does the process of design inform the development of a 9 metre racing yacht?

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Shaw, Robert
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Master of Design
Unitec Institute of Technology
de Groot, Cristiaan
Masters Thesis
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
Yacht design
design processes
Racing yachts
ANZSRC Field of Research Code (2020)
Shaw, R. (2011). Designing the Shaw 9 metre: How does the process of design inform the development of a 9 metre racing yacht? (Unpublished document submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Design). Unitec Institute of Technology. Retrieved from
This aim of this project was to explore how the process of yacht design informed the development of a 9 metre racing yacht with a canting keel. It explores the interrelationship of art and science in the process of developing the fastest yacht of its size and type in the world, with particular reference to accessibility in terms of cost, quantifiable performance and the user experience (handling characteristics and ‘feel’). The theoretical framework is based on the action research model described by Zuber-Skerrit (2001). This was in keeping with the concept of yacht design utilising a design spiral, in which each aspect of the design is explored and refined in turn, before a further iteration is developed, explored and further refined. The lack of a complete, recognised methodology for designing racing yachts has resulted in an environment which does not foster innovation, relying instead on engineering techniques which impose limitations on the design process. Designers are also limited to some extent by tradition — following what has gone before — as well as being hampered by class and rating rules. This project explored and defined a new methodological framework, blending the empirical knowledge obtained through scientific techniques with experiential wisdom and artistic input. This project involved the design development, construction and on-water testing of a 9 metre canting-keel race yacht, its appendages, rig and sails. The design was developed from first concept to a fully realised vessel, enabling thorough experiential investigation to ascertain its success. The designed output from this project was a 9 metre yacht with a reasonable design and construction cost which has consistently outperformed larger and more expensive boats. It signals that in a field increasingly dominated by mathematical models and computer-based predictions, there remains a powerful role for experiential wisdom and artistic input in creating high-performance yachts.
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