About Charles Doane

Charles Doane is an editor-at-large for SAIL, where he previously was a senior editor. He also served as managing editor at Offshore and associate editor at Cruising World. Charles has logged more than 40,000 miles as an offshore sailor, including six transatlantic passages and some single-handed passages. His blog posts appear courtesy of his website www.WaveTrain.net.

LAURA DEKKER: Not Just Another Teen Record-Breaker?

Laura Dekker departing Holland

Here we go again. It’s getting so you can write these “youngest solo circumnavigator” stories just by filling in some blanks on a form. Except in the case of Laura Dekker, age 14, who set out yesterday from Den Osse, Holland, on her 38-foot Jeanneau Gin Fizz Guppy on a shakedown cruise to Portugal with her dad, you pretty much have to throw most of your teen RTW sailor stereotypes right out the window.

For one thing, I don’t really get the sense the record is what motivates her. I think all she really wants to do is go on a long bluewater cruise by herself. She was born on a bluewater cruising boat, she’s been sailing her previous Guppy, a 28-foot Hurley 800, on her own in the English Channel and North Sea since she was 11, and her parents genuinely seem ambivalent about her plans. (Her mom, Babs Mueller, was until very recently dead set against the trip, while her dad, Dick Dekker, decided to support her only after failing to dissuade her.)

Plus, of course, there’s been the intriguing legal twist of the Dutch government’s virulent opposition to Laura’s float plan. It took Laura about a year to wriggle free of the supervision of Dutch child-welfare authorities, an effort that took a very dramatic turn last winter when she ran away to St. Maarten and had to be dragged back against her will. As an American, of course, my knee-jerk reaction to this kind of government interference is that it’s none of their damn business. And I do believe that. But Dutch authorities did make Laura jump through some useful hoops: they made her get a bigger boat with better equipment, they made her undergo sleep-deprivation training and complete a first-aid course, plus they mandated more solo shakedowns. If nothing else, the bureaucratic attempt to thwart the teen’s dream, and the work she’s done to overcome it, has demonstrated that this is indeed genuinely her dream.

Really, but for Laura’s age, it is not at all an unusual one. She doesn’t want to sail solo non-stop in high latitudes in the Southern Ocean like Abby Sunderland or Jessica Watson. She just wants to go on a standard westabout Milk Run cruise around the fat, warm part of the world where the sailing is easy, stopping whenever she likes to check stuff out en route. Hundreds of other sailors–many, I’d wager, with considerably less experience than Laura–set out on similar voyages every year. Indeed, Laura was born on one of those voyages. In a sense, I’d say, what her dream represents is not a need to confront danger, but a longing to return to the security of the womb.

Laura does have a website now, but it’s pretty basic and (so far) is not well maintained. She also seems to have a few sponsors, but you’ll see there is very little signage on her boat. Her current plan is to depart solo from Portugal (for the Canaries and thence the West Indies) after she and her dad finish tweaking the boat a bit. She needs to return to Portugal by September 16, 2012, if she wants to break the unofficial record (for youngest around, as opposed to youngest around non-stop) that Jessica Watson set this past May.

Two years is, in fact, a bit quick for a proper laid-back smell-the-roses Milk Run cruise. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Laura blows off the record attempt and stays out a bit longer than that.

The best video I’ve found of the departure is here. No blah-blah-blah from some ignorant TV reporter. Just Laura and her dad quietly dropping lines and heading out to open water. You’ll note Laura is at the helm and looks quite comfortable there. The only pix I ever saw of Abby Sunderland looking comfortable on her boat were very blatantly posed.

PS: In perusing the mainstream media coverage about this, I find an unhealthy focus on the danger of encountering pirates in the Middle East. Has everyone forgotten there is another way to get around Africa westabout??? Beating around the Cape of Good Hope is challenging, but not horribly so. Plus, you get to spend time in South Africa, which is a very sailor-friendly place.

BoaterMouth link: here




Tackle on Lunacy's bent stanchion post

Having massaged the Insurance Gods to ensure the financing of more permanent solutions, I set out during my recent Solo Mini Cruise of Casco Bay to undo some of the damage inflicted on our poor Lunacy by the Big Bad Schooner Harvey Gamage. The ugliest bit, you may recall, was the bent forwardmost stanchion post on Lunacy‘s starboard side. The post is solid aluminum stock, perhaps an inch or more in diameter, so I knew it would take a Mighty Force (indeed) to make it more or less straight again.

A flash of inspiration rippled through my aging brain cells. Recalling the awful predicament of Bernard Moitessier, after the bowsprit on his steel ketch Joshua was bent in a collision with a freighter off South Africa during the legendary Golden Globe Race, I fastened a tackle to the injured post, fastened the other end to a strong point on my bow pulpit, then led the fall aft to a primary winch.

I quote from Moitessier’s seminal text in The Long Way:


The sea is still heavy in the morning, but the gale is over. At 2 p.m. the sea is all right again. The wind has dropped considerably, but there is enough filling the sails to keep us from rolling. I have prepared a large four-part block and tackle, with the spare mizzen boom to increase the angle at which the block pulls. I hinge the spar to the forward bitt with a shackle. No, that won’t do, another shackle is needed as a gimbal, so the spar can move both horizontally and vertically.

Good, that should do the trick. The spare staysail halyard serves as a topping lift. The rig is strong, and swings easily off the starboard bow. I run a 3/8-inch chain from the tip of the bowsprit to the outer end of the spar and secure the tackle opposite, with the line running back to the big starboard Goiot winch.

Moitessier illustration

Incredible, the power of a tackle on a winch. I feel I am going to start crying, it’s so beautiful… the bowsprit begins to straighten out, very, very slowly. I am wild with joy!

In applying such wondrous force to my little crooked stanchion post I knew I was taking a chance. The weld that held the post’s socket to the deck had been cracked in the collision with the Negligent Schooner. (Likewise with the next socket back, though that post–thank God–is still more or less straight.) I did not want to wrench the socket clean off the deck, so I cranked on my winch very carefully. Took a few turns, strode forward to check on things, then took a few more. Carefully, oh so carefully. I shifted the end of the tackle from the top of the post to its midpoint and back a few times, and eventually achieved this result:

Straightened stanchion post on Lunacy

Not bad, I thought. And I hoisted a cold one in memory of Bernard.

The obliterated bow light was much easier to deal with. Here you see the destroyed part and its replacement:

Broken bow light repair on Lunacy

The tricky part here was connecting the wiring, as one lead was corroded solid into its connection inside the old bow light and had to be trimmed back a bit before it could be freed. Fortunately there was just enough slack left over to insert the shortened lead into the new light’s connector. But the next time this happens, I’ll definitely have more of a problem to cope with.

All this took place while at anchor one morning at Little Chebeague Island, not too far north of Portland. My other major project that day was an attempt to scrub Lunacy‘s very foul bottom. Donned a wet suit and weight belt and in I went.

Cleaned the rudder and prop and maybe a third of the rest of my lady’s nether regions, then I wimped out. I’m getting too old to muck around under cold water for too long. And man… I sure am wishing I had more effective bottom paint. The E-Paint ZO I put on a little less than a year ago is pretty much useless now.

More on the Mini Cruise in future posts.

BoaterMouth link: here


Female sailboat mold

In my last missive on this subject I introduced the concept of building fiberglass boats in female molds, just like the one pictured here. Now we need to talk about the business of building up a glass laminate within a mold in more detail. To understand fiberglass lamination, it is best to focus first on simple solid laminates in which multiple layers of fiberglass fabric are built up to the thickness necessary to make a part strong enough to do its job.

Solid hulls were the rule in the early days of fiberglass boatbuilding and many are still found in both older boats and new boats. There is a popular myth that early glass hulls were built as thick as wood hulls because builders didn’t know how strong glass was and wanted to play it safe. This is not true, and you’ll often find solid laminates in older boats are a bit thinner than their owners like to believe. Still, early solid hulls were built very robustly and many show little sign of deterioration even 40 or 50 years after they were first created.


Types of fiberglass fabric

As I mentioned last time, the major ingredients in any solid laminate are resin and fiberglass fabric. Various types of fabric have different properties and different types are usually used together in the same laminate. The crudest fabric is chopped-strand mat, or mat, which consists of fibers chopped into strands up to 2 inches long that are laid down in a random pattern and pressed into a spongy, felt-like material. The fibers are held together by a light binding adhesive, usually a polyester powder or polyvinyl acetate emulsion, that dissolves when exposed to resin.

Fiberglass fabric, chopped mat

Mat is easy to work with because it wets out quickly and is bulky. This makes it possible to build up thickness in a laminate with minimal effort. Mat also bonds well with other layers in a laminate, particularly other layers of mat that are still wet with resin, as the fibers from each layer can then intermesh with each other. Because it becomes quite malleable after its binding agent dissolves, mat is particularly good for working into crevices and corners in a mold. Because the fibers in mat are randomly oriented it is equally strong in all directions, but because the fibers are also very short, it is not as strong as fabrics with longer continuous fibers.

Chopped fiber can also be laid down in (or on) a mold with a chopper gun. This device cuts continuous bundles of fiber called rovings into short strands and spits them out into the air while simultaneously expectorating streams of resin and catalyst. Pull a trigger and a gooey mass of catalyzed resin mixed with chopped fiber spews forth from the gun. Though messy to work with, chopper guns make it easy to build up laminate quickly.

Fiberglass chopper gun at work

In the early days it was common to see entire boats built of mat, and after the advent of the chopper gun in the mid-1960s it became even easier to build hulls of nothing but chopped fiber. Such hulls are perfectly sound if built thick enough to compensate for the short fibers they contain. However, because they are thick and contain a lot of resin, they  are quite heavy and have poor strength-to-weight ratios.

The next coarsest type of fabric is woven roving. Here bundles of fiber–those rovings just mentioned above–are woven together at right angles into a loose, bulky cloth. Though the fibers are crimped by the weave of the cloth and so lose some unidirectional strength, they are long and continuous and thus much stronger than the short fibers found in chopped-strand mat if they are oriented in more-or-less the same direction as the load being imposed on them. If the load path, however, runs at an angle to the fibers, their strength decreases proportionally. Any woven fabric with fibers oriented at 0 and 90 degrees is weakest when resisting loads imposed at a 45 degree angle. In such instances, woven roving is in fact weaker than chopped-strand mat. Because of the thick, bulky weave of the cloth, woven roving is also harder to wet out with resin than is mat. Its knubbly surface, once the resin has set, also bonds poorly with other layers in a laminate.

Fiberglass fabric, woven roving

One very good way to build up a laminate is to alternate layers of woven roving and mat, as the two fabrics complement each other very well. This was the best practice in the early days of fiberglass boatbuilding and is still viable today. Because they are often used together, there is also a popular composite fabric, known as combi-mat, which consists of a layer of mat pre-stitched to a layer of woven roving. Like mat, woven roving is bulky; it quickly builds thickness in a laminate, but also takes a lot of resin to wet out. A traditional woven-roving/mat laminate, though it has many virtues, is therefore still heavy compared to other more sophisticated laminates.

The finest sort of fiberglass fabric is cloth, in which individual fibers, rather than bundles of fibers, are tightly woven together. A wide range of weights and weave patterns are available, including numerous sophisticated satin weaves and knitted cloths that minimize the crimping of the fibers, thus enhancing their strength. Because it is a finer fabric than mat or woven roving, cloth takes less resin to wet out, which reduces laminate weight and increases strength-to-weight ratios. Because it is woven, however, its strength still varies depending on the angle of the load path imposed upon it.

Fiberglass fabric, cloth

Fiberglass cloth is both expensive and quite thin, thus is not a cost-effective material for building up bulk in a laminate. Normally it is used in the body of a laminate only in small boats or in race boats and high-end performance cruisers where saving weight is a priority. It is sometimes used as an outer finish layer in laminates in larger general-purpose boats, as it does not “print through” a surface coating of gelcoat as easily as woven roving. Most builders, however, prefer to put chopped-strand mat under gelcoat because it is much cheaper.

Some quality builders not only use cloth under gelcoat, but also to sheath a hull’s inner surface to further improve finish quality and increase overall strength. Cloth also may be used to reinforce heavily loaded areas of a hull and is very commonly used to sheath wooden hulls and/or decks.

Yet another even more sophisticated sort of material is known as unidirectional fabric. In a “uni-di” fabric the glass fibers are laid out parallel to each other in bundles that are lightly stitched together or held in some binding or seizing. Because the fibers are not kinked or bent by weaving and all run in the same direction unidirectional strength is maximized. Because they are packed close together and are neatly aligned, much less resin is needed to wet them out. By carefully aligning uni-di fabric along anticipated load paths, builders can thus greatly increase a laminate’s strength-to-weight ratio. By orienting layers of uni-di at specific opposing angles, multidirectional loads can be supported as efficiently as possible. As with combi-mat, multiple layers of uni-di can be pre-stitched together to create a biaxial fabric (two layers of uni-di oriented in two different directions), or even or a tri- or quadra-axial fabric. Uni-di or biaxial fabric is also often pre-stitched to chopped-strand mat (this is called a “stitch-mat” fabric) as the mat, again, improves the bond between layers in a laminate.

Fiberglass fabric, stitch mat

Like regular fiberglass cloth, these directional fabrics are quite expensive. Mass-production builders thereforeuse them sparingly, if at all, and only in specific high-load areas, such as around frames and stiffeners, chainplates, mast steps and partners, and keel stubs. Those building race boats or high-end performance cruisers are much more likely to use these fabrics to reduce weight and maximize strength.


Exotic Fabrics

Not all fabric used these days to build laminate boats is made of fiberglass. Over the past 15 years both Kevlar and carbon fiber, which are much stiffer and lighter than glass, have appeared in more and more race boats and high-end performance cruisers. Kevlar is extremely impact resistant, thus is often used as a reinforcing material, particularly around the bow, which is most likely to be involved in collisions. It can also, however, be difficult to work with in a laminate because it does not like to bend and is hard to wet out. As far as I know, no one has ever built a boat of any size entirely out of Kevlar. It is common, however, to see large boat hulls reinforced with Twaron, an aramid fiber very similar to Kevlar, or with glass-Twaron hybrid fabrics.

Kevlar fabric

Carbon fiber, meanwhile, has become the most popular material for building the lightest, fastest, most cutting edge race boats. Not only are entire hulls now built of carbon fiber, but also masts, booms, rudders, spinnaker poles, steering wheels, and all manner of small components. Carbon fiber, in a word, is trendy. Its sleek, black finish personifies all that is cool and hip in modern-day yachting, and there is a tendency now to assume that anything must be better if it’s made of carbon fiber.

But carbon does have an Achilles heel. It is very stiff and light, but it is also very brittle, has low impact resistance, and is not resilient. Unlike a fiberglass laminate, which bends and flexes quite a bit before breaking, a carbon-fiber laminate hardly flexes at all when subjected to severe loads. Up to a point this is good, but when it does reach its breaking point, carbon fails suddenly and catastrophically. It also fares poorly in collisions and other sudden point-loading situations.

The fragility of carbon fiber has been amply demonstrated. In the past 10 years or more, three different all-carbon America’s Cup boats have sunk after experiencing critical structural failures. At least two large carbon racing cats have had their bows suddenly break away. And the list goes on.

For a cutting-edge race boat, where small advantages are very important, building in carbon is a no-brainer. For a cruising boat, however, even a serious performance cruiser, it makes little sense. Other sophisticated materials–most notably S-glass (that is, structural grade glass, as opposed to the more commonly used electrical grade glass)–work much better. An S-glass laminate is just 2% heavier than an equivalent carbon laminate and is three times as resilient.

Carbon fiber, like Kevlar and Twaron, is also sometimes used as a reinforcing material within a fiberglass laminate. This makes good sense in theory, because carbon is very good at resisting compressive loads, but it must be done very carefully. Because carbon is so much stiffer than glass, a local carbon reinforcement must be properly engineered and installed or it can actually increase stress under certain loading conditions.

BoaterMouth link: here

RADICAL BAY 8000: Biplane Rig Catamaran

Radical Bay catamaran

Ian Morse of Radical Catamarans has just launched his very first boat and, man, it sure is… radical. I’ve always been intrigued by this sort of parallel, or biplane, rig, so I had lots of questions for him when we talked the other day. He was, however, a bit tentative about some of his answers, as he still hasn’t figured out exactly how best to sail this thing. It’s been in the water just six weeks, and Ian’s been out sailing on it just six times, and the learning curve is still pretty steep.

For example: “We’re still learning how to tack,” he explained. “She comes around very easily when the boat is lightly loaded. But it’s much harder when we have a lot of people on board. One trick, I’ve learned, is you have to turn the boat slowly through the wind. You really need to minimize the drag created by the rudders.”

Another thing Ian’s playing with is headsails, one on each mast. Though the boat is designed to sail primarily under just its twin mainsails, Ian has found it is markedly faster, in both light and stronger winds, with jibs up front. His current plan, when he finally introduces this 26-foot coastal cruising speedster at the Annapolis show in October, is to offer the boat with twin jibs that furl on their own luffs as an option.

The basic idea of the biplane rig has been around for a while, understandably so, as it makes a ton of sense. By far the biggest structural challenge in engineering a conventional “monoplane” catamaran is supporting the enormous compression loads imposed by the mast on the middle of the main beam between the hulls. By splitting the rig onto two freestanding masts planted in the hulls, loads are greatly reduced and are shifted off what is inherently the weakest part of the boat and on to the strongest parts. The structure connecting the hulls can thus be much lighter. On the Radical Bay 8000, for example, all that is needed between the hulls are three light aluminum tubes. This (among other things) makes the boat easy to disassemble for trailering.

Quite a few one-off biplane cats have been built over the years. Several have been hot high-performance machines, like Crossbow II, the 60-foot cat that set the world sailing speed record back in 1980 (36 knots, which stood for six years until it was finally topped by a wind-surfer), and Team Phillips, the ill-fated 120-foot super cat that Pete Goss put together for The Race in 2000, which ultimately fell apart and broke up at sea during a shakedown passage.

Model of Crossbow II

Team Phillips under sail

Several others have been home-built cruisers, like Pete Hill’s 38-foot junk-rigged biplane cat China Moon (the building of which, as I understand it, had something to do with the dissolution of his marriage to author Annie Hill) and Gary Lepak’s similarly junk-rigged “Dragon Wings” design.

Dragon Wings

What’s truly radical about Ian Morse’s boat is that he proposes to build it on a production basis. As far as I know, no one’s ever done this before. And in speaking with him, I was truly surprised by the extent to which he’s flying by the seat of his pants and just figuring stuff out as he goes along.

Ian got interested in the Radical Bay 8000 design at arm’s length and decided to start building it without ever sailing one, though he did first conduct some tests by putting a pair of wind-surfer sails on a Hobie beach cat. The boat’s designer, Australian Jeff Schionning, already sells it in kit form to home builders, and the kit consists of a series of pre-cut balsa-cored glass panels that are glued together. Ian purchased some plans, built Hull No. 1, fabricating all the panels himself, and has used No. 1 as a plug for a female mold from which he’ll pop more boats with resin-infused Corecell-cored hulls.

Along the way he’s tweaked the boat in significant ways. His current experiment with twin jibs is just one example. He has also replaced the fixed booms specified by Schionning with wishbone rigs (an idea he got from sailing aboard the Presto 30 at the Miami show last February) and has worked out a new way to control the booms and the shape they impart to their sails with forward-facing mast tracks instead of choker lines. He’s also looking ahead to perhaps developing a spinnaker of some description that can be flown between the masts.

So far Ian is quite pleased with his boat. He’s seen boat speeds nearly equivalent to wind speed in light air and has averaged 10 knots plus sailing in 15 to 17 knots of breeze. Max speed while surfing so far has been over 14 knots, and Ian thinks all these numbers can be significantly improved once he truly gets the hang of sailing the boat and gets his headsails sorted out. (Note that Jeff Schionning claims the boat’s top potential speed is actually around 20 knots.) Ian’s also found that the boat’s structure is much stiffer than he expected, given the slender cross-members, and that it is uncannily stable, thanks to the low center of effort of the split rig, which is distributed both to windward and to leeward.

Accommodations, for those of you interested in such things, are unavoidably minimal. As you can see here, the narrow asymmetric hulls, each of which is fitted with a daggerboard, have little room for interior amenities. The exterior space between the hulls, meanwhile, is all net, save for one thin solid strip of laminate set between the center and aft cross beams (though a totally solid bridgedeck can be specified if desired).

Radical Bay 8000 interior

This is not a boat for lazy cruisers who are married to comfort; it’s for the edgy ones who want to sail fast and live simple. I, for one, look forward to exploring the concept in more detail at Annapolis in the fall.



LOA:  26’4″

Beam:  18’10″

Draft (boards up):  1’0″

Sail area:  441 sq.ft.

Displacement:  2,425 lbs.

Expected base price: $119K

(Note: If you love this idea, but must have more boat, be advised there is a new 34-foot Radical Bay 1060 design by Jeff Schionning that Ian also hopes to produce in the future.)

BoaterMouth link: here

VIDEO UPDATE: Whale Falls on Sailboat (Some More)


Boat damaged by whale in Cape Town

I have just spent more than 24 hours during this weekend’s Downeast Challenge (Marblehead to Rockland race) listening to fellow crew and SEMOSA member Charles “May I Cast Off Now?” Lassen explain to me that the now famous whale-jumping-on-boat photo on which I blogged earlier is naught but a clever Photoshop image. Mr. Lassen posits the couple involved somehow negligently damaged their boat themselves (see above) and the fake photo is part of an insurance scam. He claims to have trusted informants in Cape Town researching this theory now.

Many others online have made similar assertions. I therefore look forward to hearing some very creative explanations of how this video of the event was created.

I’ll have a report on the sailboat race as soon as I get done messing around on Lunacy for a few days.

The Saint promo image

Meanwhile, what I’m really wondering about this whale rumpus is: why do Paloma Werner and Ralph Mothes of the Cape Town Sailing Academy have that cool Simon Templar logo all over their boat?

BoaterMouth link: here


Alessandro di Benedetto ARRIVED: Non-Stop RTW Voyage in Smallest Boat Ever is Now Complete

Di Benedetto website screen shot

Just a few hours ago that crazy Italian guy, Alessandro di Benedetto, arrived safely in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, thus completing his solo non-stop circumnavigation of the world. He now holds the world’s record for smallest boat (21 feet) ever to do this. The fact that he was dismasted and has been sailing with a jury-rigged mast since before he rounded Cape Horn makes this feat especially phenomenal.

So far the only recognition I find of his return is the simple one-word statement on his website: Arrived. Right over a tracking map that puts him on the Brittany coast. Though I do imagine there must be some kind of wild party going on there right now.

I’m outta here to do some sailing myself (an overnight race from Marblehead, Mass., to Rockland, Maine, followed by a mini solo coastal cruise) first thing tomorrow morning. But I’ll let you know more about Alessandro’s voyage as soon as I can.

I’m particularly interested in getting some details on and hopefully photos of that jury-rigged mast. Here’s one shot I found, taken from a ship in early June, of him underway under the reduced rig:

Alessandro di Benedetto under jury rig

Just amazing!


UPDATE: Finally found a news story on Alex’s return at YachtPals. Also a photo:

Alessandro di Benedetto finishing RTW voyage


BoaterMouth link: here




Whale and boat on Table Bay, South Africa

Cynics at various online forums are insisting this must be a Photoshopped image, but I don’t think so. News outlets in South Africa are reporting this as fact: on Sunday a large southern right whale hurled itself on to a 33-foot steel sloop belonging to Paloma Werner and Ralph Mothes, who run the Cape Town Sailing Academy. This occurred in Table Bay. The whale reportedly was uninjured, but the boat didn’t fare so well.


Boat damaged by whale in Table Bay

As you can see here. Lots and lots of damage, but the steel hull is intact. Which, again, is a good argument for sailing a metal boat.

Those of you who sail in Table Bay should take note. The southern right whale, which likes to breed in the area, is reportedly doing very well these days, with its population increasing at close to its maximum reproduction rate. So little incidents like this are more likely to happen in the future.

BoaterMouth link: here


SPARKMAN & STEPHENS: Classic 48-Foot Sloop


Sparkman & Stephens Classic 48 profile

Just had a conversation last week with Bruce Johnson, chief designer at S&S, about this new “modern traditional” concept design they’re floating. Bruce describes it as a scaled-down version of the 56-foot S&S sloop Anna that was launched at Brooklin Boat Yard in Maine back in 2007. Apparently Anna has inspired some lust in the hearts of more than a few sailors (Bruce mentioned in particular a group in Martha’s Vineyard) who have nevertheless balked at her price tag. Where Anna cost about $2 million to build, Bruce estimates this somewhat smaller vessel can be had in cold-molded wood for about $1.15 million, or in fiberglass for somewhere south of a million.

Not that I expect too many of you have that kind of change lying around. But you can dream, can’t you? Personally, I could look at the lines of boats like this all day without getting bored.

Back in the summer of ’07, when Anna made her debut, I had a chance to sail both aboard her and her much older cousin, Dorade, the famous 52-foot yawl with which Olin Stephens first established his reputation way back in 1929. This was an enormous treat, of course, and it gave me a chance to closely compare the “modern traditional” sailing experience with the “vintage traditional” experience.

The most obvious difference between the two boats was their speed potential. With her much lighter cold-molded hull, carbon spars, rod rigging, and thoroughly modern underbody (very similar to the lines for the Classic 48 you see here), Anna was considerably more nimble than her full-keel, carvel-planked, wooden-sparred predecessor Dorade. The difference was neatly quantified in that summer’s classic Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, which was held on the fog-enshrouded waters of Jericho Bay in Maine. Anna had the best elapsed time in the event, followed next by Dorade, which was seven minutes slower over a 16-mile course.

Anna‘s helm also has a much lighter feel to it, exactly like any other well designed modern boat with a spade rudder turned by a wheel. Though I didn’t get a chance to steer Dorade (we were racing, and I was relegated to working the mizzen mast), I could tell that handling her tiller must be a work-out in various conditions. Though, I have to say, her owner at the time, octogenarian Edgar Cato, did seem to relish the job.

Edgar Cato steering Dorade

Sailhandling on Anna was also much easier, in spite of the fact that she carries hanked-on headsails. First, because she’s a sloop there’s just one sail to handle forward. On Dorade, which carries both a jib and staysail, tacking is definitely more of a production. Indeed, at one point during our NYYC Squadron race, when the wind was strong enough that only we wanted the jib up during a hard beat to weather, the foredeck crew still hoisted and doused the staysail before and after each tack, as this made it much easier to get the jib quickly around the staysail stay.

Foredeck of Dorade

Anna also boasts electric sheet and halyard winches. These make it possible to easily singlehand the boat, a feat that would be nigh on impossible aboard a boat like Dorade.

Side deck aboard Anna

If you want to get a better idea of the economics of owning a vintage classic as opposed to a modern classic now is a good time to compare prices. As Bruce pointed out during our conversation, there is currently a glut of great old S&S boats on the market. This is only a small selection:

Manitou (62′ yawl, 1936)-$1.2M

Skylark (53′ yawl, 1937)-$795K

Argyll (57′ yawl, 1948)-$763K

Baruna (72′ yawl, 1938)-$499K

Petrel (70′ yawl, 1938)-$275K

When examining such numbers, bear in mind that maintaining a truly vintage boat will cost a heap more money. The low asking prices for Baruna and Petrel, for example, likely reflect a need for several hundred thousand dollars worth of refit work. And the older the boat, the more frequent that need. Dorade, which recently sold for a price I hear is not too far south of a million, needed very thorough refits (costing, I imagine, a very large percentage of her total value) in both of the last two decades.

In describing his conception of this new 48-foot sloop to me, Bruce freely admitted that he sees it very much as a high-end daysailer. He envisions a boat with hanked-on headsails, no gen-set, and no accommodations forward, save perhaps for two pipe berths. Commissioning owners can, of course, fool with the concept a bit, but if you’re looking for a cruising palace with lots of systems and living space this is certainly not the boat for you.

Sparkman & Stephens Classic 48 accommodations

LOA:  47’10″

LWL:  35’5″

Beam:  12’0″

Draft:  7’0″

Displacement (half load):  26,300 lbs.

Sail area: 1,050 sq.ft.


PS: S&S has been putting a lot of effort lately into the blog on their website. If you’re a big S&S fan be sure to check it out from time to time.


BoaterMouth link: here





Plastiki arrives in Australia

Some Australian news outlets reported yesterday that Plastiki, the unique 60-foot plastic catamaran constructed of 12,500 plastic bottles, had “come to grief” some 200 miles off the east coast of Oz and was in the midst of being rescued. The crew of Plastiki, meanwhile, have adamantly insisted they are fine and merely called for a tow a bit sooner than they originally expected. As of this moment, the vessel is safe in Moloolaba (having been towed in by the Aussie Coast Guard) and is on schedule to conclude its voyage in Sydney this weekend.

Plastiki‘s “grief,” it seems, stemmed from a disabled engine and her complete inability to sail to windward. Rather than be driven north against their will, it appears the crew preferred to be towed closer to their intended destination of Coffs Harbor.

In certain respects the distinction between being rescued and assisted is purely semantic. But semantic distinctions are very important when the whole purpose of a voyage is to generate publicity. The brainchild of 31-year-old eco-adventurer David de Rothschild, Plastiki was designed and built to highlight the folly of modern plastics consumption. The vessel departed San Francisco on March 20 and crossed the Pacific to Australia, a distance of some 8,000 miles, in 122 days. The route was intended to transit the North Pacific Garbage Gyre, where ocean currents have concentrated large amounts of trash, including much plastic.

Plastiki eco catamaran

Though Plastiki has indeed succeeded in generating a fair amount of media buzz (and does look very cool!), she is also (as her most recent adventure demonstrates) fairly useless as a sailboat.

Plastiki underwater view

I mean, seriously, you call this a hull??? Even thousands of years ago mankind was capable of crafting vessels much more hydrodynamic than this.

I can’t help thinking that perhaps Plastiki‘s mission would have been bit better served if she had been designed to sail reasonably well. After all, getting towed hundreds of miles by a fossil-fueled vessel ain’t exactly “eco-friendly.”

BoaterMouth link: here

SHARKTOPUS: A Lethal New Species


Sharktopus attack

Marine biologists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have announced the discovery of a bizarre and extremely dangerous species of man-eating shark. Designated formally as Lamniforma Octopoda, the sharktopus, as it is referred to colloquially, has been cited in a number of lethal attacks on swimmers over the past month.

Officials at WHOI have urged all those spending their summer vacations on or near the water to exercise extreme caution at all times. The sharktopus, they say, has exhibited an alarming ability to exit the water while seeking prey. Press here to watch a video detailing the feeding habits and origins of this fearsome creature.


WARNING: Elements of this report might be satirical. Farcical even.

BoaterMouth link: here