For our test, Peter Bentley teamed up with Europe Class hopeful, Laura Baldwin and LDC Racing Sailboat's supremo, Martin Wadham, to take the K6 demonstrator for a spin. November was not an especially nice month for sailing and listening to the wind howling round the temporary portacabin changing rooms at Hayling Island Sailing Club only served to confirm the bleakness of the day and the venue (though it must be said that the new club now under construction looks like it should be very good indeed).
Rigging and launching is a doddle and the three of us managed to get the boat rigged and into the water with no dramas. Getting the sails up, the keel down and the rudder in proved no more difficult and we were soon on our way. On scrambling aboard it soon becomes clear that this really is a keel boat with stacks of stability. Indeed so stable is the K6 that according to Martin Wadham, "it took five people standing on one side and a fair bit of tugging on the rig to get the prototype to capsize" in order to satisfy the statutory test requirements.
This stability comes into its own going upwind where the K6 is sailed keelboat style, slightly heeled. Hiking out helps the speed and hiking out hard makes you go faster still. Two big people hiking out hard looks like the best bet of all and the initial idea was to have a crew weight limit to keep things from getting out of hand. Experience racing the K6 has led LDC to reassess this and it seems that the really big guys are at a big enough disadvantage in light airs and down wind in a breeze to make this an unattractive option. In 2002 the class expects to race with no weight limit.
Upwind might be fun when you are racing with lots of tactical options and plenty of hard work for the crew to do (mostly hiking out) but on a boat test what we want is thrills. And that means going downwind. Chichester Harbour is not a big place at the best of time and with the tide half way up and the K6 drawing around four feet our options were limited. Not so limited that we did not at least try and get the kite up. With Martin hauling on the halyard the sail popped out of the chute in no time and we were off. Now the K6 was undoubtedly performing like a dinghy. The (uncalibrated) TacKTicK instruments zoomed up to 16 knots and we were off. Right back towards the shallows.
But this is a keel boat, I thought, surely we can sneak it up enough to make it round the channel marker and back into deep water. Err, no. With the speed of a striking cobra, the K6 heels just that bit too much, the rudder stalls and we are lying on our side with the sails flapping wildly. Inane grins on our faces, we set about sorting things out. Ease the sheet and let a few feet of halyard run and she pops back up onto her feet in no time. The boat has told us all we need to know - I'm easy to get along with, but please don't push me too hard.
Treat her right and the K6 is gentle and easy to sail. Force her to do what she does not wish to do and she growls like a lion. But it is only a growl, the K6 does not bite. Even in the midst of a broach the K6 is manageable and she simply lies over at 45 degrees leaving the crew plenty of time to sort things out. It is however at this point that you first realise the boat has no gunwhales. For now, this means nothing to hold on to when the boat is heeled just that bit too far. Later, as we are to learn, it means there is nothing to keep the waves out going upwind.
After not too much drama, we are on our way towards Itchenor at very high speed. 16 knots on the clock was just like riding a bike on smooth tarmac. Thanks to the high clewed kite, visibility isn't an issue and the sheet load remained easily manageable even in big gusts. This is pretty much true of the whole boat with just the right amount of purchase on everything to make it easy to pull without too much friction. "More lightly loaded than my Europe," reported Laura. Crew weight position makes a difference as you might expect, but even with the weight too far forward there was no tendency to go down the mine, even in big gusts.
Downwind in a breeze, it really is apparent-wind sailing with well timed coordination between the kite trimmer and helm a prerequisite for top performance. Getting the kite down proved no harder than getting it up with the whole sail disappearing down the chute with just a few big pulls.
Long, light easily driven hulls are always a good route to upwind performance and the K6 only serves to reinforce the point - but boy is it slow compared to going down the way. Make no mistake though, this is a real helmsman's boat. precise on the helm and perfectly responsive without being so light as to feel like a computer game not a boat.
The long thin unsupported topmast whips and flicks around as the boat bumps through the waves and punches through the gust and although it does respond well to fine trimming, the speed of response from the rig really does help to make the K6 and easy boat to sail upwind. The only problem is you have to hike hard to get the best out of it.
Were it not for the need to have someone in the camera RIB we could well have sailed three up and the combined total crew weight of around 210Kg this would have given us would not have been wide of the mark as far as top performance goes. As it was we munched our way upwind just fine with 150Kg on the rail but I did get the feeling we would have been destroyed on a long beat.
Now Chichester Harbour is hardly the Southern Ocean and with the breeze from the south west and the tide on the flood, it might best be described as 'flat'. What waves there were did however seem to find a way to launch themselves around the bow and with no gunwhale to stop them the crew's face seemed to be the aiming point. Wet it may be but the water that does get into the boat simply drains out over the transom without need for bailers, transom flaps and the like.
The Nitty Gritty
Ease of Sailing
Easy to sail but not just so easy to sail perfectly. This is a boat that will hugely reward experience and practice while just once in a while reminding the inexperienced and unpractised why they need to go sailing more. That's not to say that experienced crews only need apply. Aside from her performance, the K6 handles like a keelboat rather than a dinghy and there is no fear of capsizing or indeed even taking a swim unless you are very careless. In short a boat that could be sailed by any competent club sailor which will serve to reward the very best.
Systems and Layout
As with so many of the new generation of boats,the layout, fittings and systems have all been well tested at the prototype stage. Indeed the market for out-of-the-box boats is now so sophisticated that it would be hard to sell anything that did not come up to scratch in this department.
The carbon mast is so light that rigging even single handed need hold no fears. The keel hoists on a tackle fitted onto the mast at the spreaders and though a little untidy when not in use it works well enough when needed. The rudder drops simply into an aluminium stock supplied by Holt and slides up and down easily enough while staying down when you want it to.
All the primary controls come to the centre console with the self tacking jib sheet also led back here. Perhaps surprisingly there are two cleats for the jib in the place of a more usual single swivel cleat. You can tack or gybe and leave the jib cleated but you'll have to swap over once you want to trim again. A three-to-one purchase hidden away under the deck makes this a simple task.
A mounting point for Tacktick compass, log and depth sounder is built-in with the kit itself listed as an option. The good news is that with the power for it all coming from the sun, you don't need a battery.
Returning to the beach is easy enough and with practice one of the crew could lift the keel while the other held on, barely waist deep in the water. The trolley is a work of art in itself with a large moulded tray both supporting the boat and guiding it into the correct position. As with so much of the K6 design, LDC have resisted the temptation to go cheap and have opted for the reliable, sensible and safe option of a separate launching trolley and trailer. Hopefully this should reduce the incidence of seized trailer wheel bearings and lost wheels.
Down wind in a breeze the K6 is simply a blast. Fast furious and perfectly under control. Make no mistake though, this beast is a thoroughbred not a donkey and if you do get it wrong, expect to pay the price. If you do take a tumble though it's far from hard to get back on. Upwind sailing is positively pedestrian by comparison, though still fast enough for a small keelboat.
Top notch throughout. Fittings are almost all from Holt with a few specialised items from other manufacturers "where they do something better" as Martin Wadham puts it. The carbon rig from Super Spars appears well designed and built. Sails from Hyde are up to their normal high standards.
Almost without exception, where there has been a compromise between price and quality the decision as come down o the side of quality. For example the keel is a fully encapsulated lead bulb which is both better performing and more durable than a cast iron version. Similarly, the entire rig is carbon , not just the mast and spinaker pole.
The one blot on the landscape concerns the two inspection hatches in the front of the side tanks. Like all hatches of this type they leaked - not enough to cause any danger but definitely enough to make your sandwiches soggy.
By choosing epoxy resin as a primary construction material, LDC have virtually guaranteed that the K6 will have a long life. Early boats suffered problems with the rudder stock but this has now been upgraded to a stronger design. Perhaps more significantly, LDC upgraded all existing boats free of charge. It's hard to beat that for customer service.
The huge overlap at the hull to deck join and a lack of gunwhales removes on of the most vulnerable parts of the boat which should significantly reduce the scope for both racing and dockside damage.
The year-old demonstrator used for our test has led a hard life and still looked good.
Quality of Race Circuit
The existing RS Racing circuit is held in very high regard by those who compete in it and LDC's plans should ensure a similar set-up for the for the K6. Expect a mixture of stand-alone race events and multi-class regattas next year.
Value for Money
At £15,500 the K6 is not cheap, but then again set against some of the more sophisticated dinghies it starts to look quite reasonable. Take the excellent quality of construction, the top specification fit-out and the high reputation of LDC into account and it starts to look rather good. Add in the longevity of an all-epoxy hull structure and this is a boat that really seems good value. According to Martin Wadham demand for second hand boats is so high that selling anything that comes along is simply a matter of ringing up the next name on the waiting list and waiting for the cheque to come in the post.
|Manufacturer:||LDC Racing Sailboats|
|Review Category:||Mono-Hull Keelboat|
|User:||Club national racing|
|Description:||Small two- or three-person racing keelboat|
|Weight:||280Kg (616lb) ready to sail|
|Sail Area:||19.7sq m (210sq ft) main & jib.|
29sq m (310 sq ft) spinaker
|Build Quality:||80 %|
|Ease of sailing:||70 %|
|Anticipated Durability:||90 %|
|Systems and Layout:||70 %|
|Quality of Race Circuit:||70 %|
|Value for Money:||70 %|
LDC Racing Sailboats
England S053 4BW
Tel: +44 (0)23 8027 4500
Fax: +44 (0)23 8027 4800