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Bent out of Shape

That’s how I feel after looking at some of today’s design ideas for onboard berths.

It was the mid-1960s, I’d been shaving for a year, and I had cut myself both times. I was enamored of Playboy magazine, not for the centerfold (really!) but for the interviews and highbrow advice to young men like myself: “What to do if your date wants to bring her mother?”

I was most intrigued to find out that Hugh Hefner spent long days (and nights, presumably) on a round bed atop which he sorted images of models and edited interviews with everyone from Miles Davis to Hunter Thompson.

Two things recently caused me to reflect on that round bed (which also rotated, I recall). First, I’m still recovering from three big boat shows where I plodded through an endless number of boats. Second, a friend just took delivery on a new 50-foot trawler and wanted me to see it.

As a result, I have a question for today’s boatbuilders and designers: What is it you don’t get about beds?

You weren’t raised by wolves, and you don’t sleep on the floor. Why are you inflicting five- and six-sided beds on boat owners? I can’t figure out which end is for my head and which is for my toes.

Aboard one boat, when I got to the master stateroom, I laughed out loud. The builder had created a berth that angled from one corner diagonally (“See, you can walk partly around on both sides”). I applaud side access, because I hate losing all my dignity crawling over the foot of the bed in the middle of the night after a trip to the loo, but this bed had no fewer than eight sides—although a couple were curved, so I don’t know how they should be counted. The brochure claimed it was a king-size berth, but that must be for a Napoleonesque king, because my tape measure showed it to be a full 8 inches shy of the 80-inch length of legitimate king and queen mattresses.

If you don’t mind sheets and blankets that come adrift in the middle of the night, stop reading right here. This may be information overload, but I prefer fitted sheets. I’ve never been a person who, ashore or afloat, just throws a pile of sheets and blankets on a bed willy-nilly and creates a burrow.

I grew up knowing that V-berths were up in the sharp end, and so the berth had to be pointy, but the sometimes-tangled feet were nice in a companionable sort of way. My mother dealt with the V-berth on my various boats by simply taking a cheap sheet from Sears or Woolworths and running it through the sewing machine so it would stay tight all night. I can’t imagine having asked her to knock out a seven-sided sheet.

As a kid, I washed boats at a local marina, and I remember a 1950s Chris-Craft motoryacht that had a wonderful aft stateroom for the owners. This, of course, was in the era when Ozzie and Harriet slept in separate beds, and this boat had twin berths set so far apart that it should have been called a Chaste-Craft. But the berths were square, and fitted bedding could be bought at JCPenney.

Something designers and builders also forget is that a person is taller (longer) when sleeping, because your feet droop. And you probably want a pillow, too. If you don’t want your face stuffed against the headboard and your feet in the breeze, you need at least the 80-inch length of a king or queen berth.

I’m also not a fan of athwartships berths. In case you hadn’t noticed, boats roll from side to side. Unless you like sleeping on a weirdly moving slant board, find a boat with berths running fore and aft.

The recent boat shows were packed with boats that had multisided berths, so perhaps there’s a new market about to emerge for custom-made sheets and blankets. Surely, a cottage industry has sprung up to solve this problem, just so designers and builders can wedge a berth into an odd-shaped area.

As you shop for your next yacht, try not to laugh at multisided berths: It hurts the feelings of the sales folks. And before you sign on the dotted line, be sure that you and your boating partner stretch out on the berth. At the same time.

Hefner died in 2017, and a respectful amount of time has passed, so I’d also like to ask that builders and designers return to simpler berth shapes. Then, we can all get some sleep.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 issue.