Originally published in several Maryland newspapers; 11/11/88
Test sailing the new boats
by Tom Dove
One of the perquisites of being a boat tester is that you can try out all the newest technology on somebody else’s boat without having to buy it. My wife, Pam, and I have sailed a number of new and interesting vessels on assignment from SAIL magazine and have been able to get an idea of which new ideas work and which ones do not.
We have been shipmates with wing keels, walkthrough transoms and continuous single-line reefing. We have also sailed boats with unusual hull construction and with offbeat rigs that are aimed at making shorthanded sailing simpler.
Our conclusion: some builders make it all work and some do not.
Since the 1983 America’s Cup, wing keels have become popular on production boats although the original Australian intent was purely to beat the Twelve-Meter Rule. Propeçrly designed keel appendages may allow a relatively shallow keel to approach the efficiency of a deep fin keel under certain sailing conditions.
We who sail on the Chesapeake know how nice it would be to have shallow draft and high efficiency combined. An ideal Bay cruiser would have a draft of less than one foot but would go to windward like a Boeing 737.
Design must be critical, because some wing-keeled boats slip sideways severely when going to windward in light air while others do well in similar conditions. When the wind increases, all wings seem to “bite into” the water better and leeway decreases, but I could not live with any boat that sailed like a styrofoam cup in winds below ten knots.
If you are considering the purchase of a wing-keeled boat, I advise you to test sail it under a variety of conditions, looking for excessive leeway as you go to windward.
Walkthrough transoms, on the other hand, are almost universally well executed. The idea is to combine the powerboaöt stern platform with the open transom of a racing dinghy. A walkthrough transom is a neat solution to the problem of boarding from a dinghy or from the water after a swim.
On most designs the stern is wide open to the water with its lowest step right at water level and a removable helmsman’s seat aft of the wheel is lifted out once you are at anchor. A hinged boarding ladder makes it easy to climb aboard, especially if the ladder has wide teak steps that are easy on the feet.
We have had mixed results with the popular single-line mainsail reefing systems on new boats. The spar designer intended to create a method of reefing that makes it easy to reduce sail area without leaving the cockpit, but the system jammed frequently for us, necessitating trips forward to the mast to clear the mess.
If I have to go forward anyway, I would rather keep my simple, old-fashioned method of reefing: ease the halyard, hook the tack eyelet, tighten the reef outhaul line and tighten the halyard.
Another disadvantage of leading all lines aft is that the cockpit becomes so full of halyards, sheets, reefing lines and outhauls that it looks like a pail of snakes. In addition, it is difficult to get efficient leverage on a winch mounted on the cabin top and a dodger may interfere with the winch handle.
We were considering rerigging our Ranger 33 so all lines led aft to the cockpit, but our experience on new boats has convinced us to leave the old rig alone and just to be careful as we move about on deck. As I stand by our mast to crank the halyard winches, I can see everything aboard and can exert a powerful force on the winch handle.
Pearson offers a nice self-tending jib on several of their models. This small foresail uses a single sheet and it makes light work of sailing to windward. Some sailmaker should be able to come up with a similar rig that could easily be retrofitted to older boats so we can enjoy the benefits of easy tacking.
Roller furling systems have been refined to the point of high reliability and are virtually standard on all modern sailboats.
Fiberglass hulls are more carefully engineered now than they were a few years ago. Jeanneau uses Kevlar for reinforcement in many of their boats and most builders are taking great care to lay up their hulls in a way to minimize blistering. Several have long warranties against gelcoat blisters.
It is interesting to see renewed interest in building boats of steel and aluminum. For boats over about 40 feet, metal construction makes sense if the skipper wants a strong, totally unitized hull that cannot leak or deform.
Modern epoxy finishes reduce maintenance on metal vessels and make them competitive with fiberglass in semi-custom and limited production designs like the impressive Kanter 42 we sailed in late October.
Whether you plan to buy a new boat or modify your old one, take a test sail to see if the newest technology is the best technology for you.
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