My colleague Lenny Rudow loves to make fun of sailboats. They’re slow, they go around half tipped over, they’re covered with complicated lines and bits of hardware that all have ridiculous names. And they’re slow. Did I mention that? He’d want me to mention that twice. Six knots doesn’t even register on his gauge. Six knots is something you do while you’re idling down a channel.
But when I was growing up in sailboats, and for most of my adult life in them, six knots was pretty good for a certain type and size of sailboat, maybe 25 to 35 feet long, with a displacement hull that might be induced to surf down a wave once in a while; generally solid, comfortable and, with a bit of breeze, able to reel off one nautical mile every ten minutes, day in and day out. Their theoretical hull speeds were around six or seven knots, and that’s about what they did. You knew what you were getting.
Among my favorite six-knot boats is the Freedom 30, designed by Gary Mull and built by Tillotson-Pearson starting in 1986. The other Garry involved was Garry Hoyt, an innovator in the world of sailing, who was responsible for the tall, freestanding carbon-fiber spar and the self-tacking jib’s internal wishbone. The whole sailplan – a very large mainsail with full-length battens and a pronounced roach, combined with that small, easily controlled jib, anticipated today’s cruising sailboat designs by about 15 years. Beating to windward was simply a matter of shifting the wheel and settling into an easy groove, the sailplan nicely balanced by Mull’s hull shape and advanced underwater foils. In light air the boat was underpowered, but with anything like a moderate breeze, it was pure joy to sail. (I can picture it now: “Finding Joy at Six Knots: The Lenny Rudow Story.")
Down below, the Freedom 30 could sleep four comfortably, five and maybe an extra pipsqueak in a pinch, and the accommodations were well-built, especially the joinery, which was top-flight for a production boat. Meanwhile, Freedom 30s were tough as nails. The Bitter End Yacht Club used to have a fleet of them in Virgin Gorda, and they were used day in, day out for decades as charter cruising boats, sailing school boats, flotilla tour boats, and Pro-Am one-design racing boats. They stood up to everything that ham-handed guests and aggressive racing crews could do to them, with no more than expected maintenance. I visited the BEYC in the fall for about 14 years to teach guests big-boat sailing in the Freedoms, and to run people to Anegada or the Baths or some other magical place, and we went in all winds and weather. I got to know those boats very well, and the more I sailed them or worked on them, the more I appreciated them.
I see that the Bitter End Freedom fleet has finally been put out to pasture. Meanwhile there are three Freedom 30s listed on YachtWorld at the moment, two from 1987 and one from 1988. If the ones we used to wrench around in the Caribbean are a baseline, I'll bet those coddled Freedoms will be around long after Lenny learns to love the tilted and the slow.