That whole "As an aside..." line was a throwaway that I was going to come back to. When I realized that I was getting towards book review length in that response, I left it.
What brought it about was a comment in Lavery's Ship of the Line (i, p. 121) where he says, "The dissatisfaction with British shipbuilding spread even to civilians, and a Society for the Improvement of Naval Architecture was formed by a bookseller named Sewell, after he 'was so impressed with the many grave complaints which reached him as to the inferiority of our warships as compared with those of France and Spain.' " Call me cynical, but I couldn't help being reminded of the old DIA publication Soviet Military Power back in the 1980s. In other words, their stuff is great and always works as designed, whereas our stuff is old, or worn out, or generally just not as good as theirs.
Cpt M and Phil are both on the money when you're talking about the differences in design between the French and British builders. French ships were built according to more scientific principles, and many (but not all) of the prizes sailed better than their British counterparts. What they did not have, however, was strong enough scantlings and deep enough holds to let them spend months at sea like British ships had to do. Lavery points out something, however that we don't consider in the usual conversations about this. "Why, then were they so popular among naval officers? Partly because they suited the immediate tactical needs of the 1790s." (ibid., p. 122-23) Since Howe didn't institute a close blockade of Brest, what he needed were ships that had the speed to catch the French, and that long term seaworthiness was a secondary consideration at that point. Also, "Almost all the criticism of British design can be traced back to the sea officers...." (ibid., p. 123). In contrast, "The officials of the Navy Board, the dockyards, and the various other organisations which helped keep the Navy afloat. . . were concerned with maintenance, reliability and cost rather than spectacular performance." (ibid.). Maybe, in retrospect (and with more reading), I should have said that the situation is closer to the perpetual conflict between aircraft/helicopter pilots and mechanics. You know, something like this:
"My aircraft isn't as fast as it could be."
"Maybe, but it also hasn't fallen out of the sky lately, either."