Boats & Gear

BRISTOL CHANNEL CUTTER 28: A Salty Pocket Cruiser

Bristol Channel Cutter 28

THIS IS A VERY TRADITIONAL CRUISING BOAT that evokes a strong emotional response from most sailors, but is also surprisingly functional and performance-oriented for a vessel of its size and type. Conceived by Lyle Hess, the BCC 28 is based on earlier Hess designs built in wood--specifically Renegade, a small gaff-rigged cutter that won the Newport-Ensenada Race two years running back in the 1950s, and Seraffyn, the famous 24-foot Marconi-rigged cutter that Lin and Larry Pardey sailed around the world during the 1970s.

Built in fiberglass by Sam L. Morse Co. of Costa Mesa, California, the BCC first appeared in 1976. The company went through three changes of control before finally closing its doors in 2007, at which time Cape George Cutter Marine Works, based in Port Townshend, Washington, acquired the molds for both the BCC and its smaller sibling, the 22-foot Falmouth Cutter, and announced it would continue building both boats. In all, over 125 Bristol Channel Cutters have been built to date.

With its long bowsprit, long keel with a full forefoot, and nearly vertical stem and stern, the BCC evokes classic pilot cutters and working boats that plied British waters during the 19th century. Unlike those old British boats, however, the BCC is much beamier relative to her length, with relatively hard bilges and a flat run aft. This makes her very stable (her AVS is 133 degrees) and allows her to stand up well to a large press of sail. The sail plan, though relatively low aspect, is large enough to take full advantage of this, thanks to the bowsprit forward and boomkin aft, which together add nearly 10 feet of length to the base of the rig.

Bristol Channel Cutter 28

Bristol Channel Cutter 28

By modern standards you cannot call the BCC a fast boat, but for a 28-foot boat with a full keel its performance is exceptional. Owners have reported maintaining average speeds of nearly 6 knots during long ocean passages. Daily runs as high as 180 miles have been logged on trans-Pacific cruises; at least one owner, aided by a strong current to be sure, has reported a 24-hour run in excess of 200 miles. The boat, thanks to its long keel, also tracks well and has a good motion in a seaway.

None of the boat's speed can be attributed to a lack of weight, as its construction is heavy and nearly bombproof. The hull is solid handlaid laminate composed of up to 10 layers of mat, woven roving, and cloth. Laminate thickness varies from 3/8 inch at the sheerline, 1/2 inch at the waterline, to nearly 1-1/2 inches at the bottom of the hull. Exterior layers are set in vinylester resin to retard osmosis and many hulls also received an optional epoxy barrier coat at the factory.

The deck likewise is a heavy glass laminate with a 1/2-inch plywood core throughout, joined to the hull on a generous inward flange that is bedded with 3M 5200 adhesive sealant and through-bolted every 5 inches with fastener holes staggered to spread the load. Inside there are no less than four full-height bulkheads tabbed to both the hull and deck with fat 6-inch margins. The main bulkhead is drilled out every 18 inches all around its perimeter with the tabbing on either side bonded together through the holes to lock everything in place. There are also three-quarter bulkheads to further stiffen the structure; all interior furniture is likewise tabbed in place with 4-inch margins. The lead ballast is internal, carefully encapsulated in resin and glassed over in the bottom of the keel.

Thanks in part to all those bulkheads, the BCC's interior feels neither open nor spacious. This is aggravated by the short, narrow cabinhouse, which terminates just aft of the keel-stepped mast. Inside the house there is a full 6'1" of headroom (on some boats there is even 6'6", as this is offered as an option), but moving forward you need to stoop to get to the small forward cabin, which again has headroom, but only under the raised scuttle hatch.

BCC 28 interior

Though the interior feels chopped up and segmented, it has volume and is cleverly designed to make smart use of what space there is. The furniture is riddled with useful storage compartments, and the berthing is well conceived. In addition to the quarterberth aft to starboard, there is a pilot berth in the saloon to port that pulls out to form a full double. Another optional berth can be inserted in the forward cabin in place of the standard workbench; there is also an option wherein the entire saloon can be transformed into a giant queen-size berth. Though compact, the interior is well lit and ventilated, thanks to the traditional butterfly hatch over the saloon, numerous opening ports, that lofty scuttle forward, and a pair of full-sized dorade vents.

BCC 28 interior

BCC 28 interior

The BCC's systems are simple and should be kept that way. Many boats don't even have pressure water, though most do have a bulkhead heater to keep things cozy down below. The earliest boats had undersized 13-hp Volvo diesel engines; later ones have 27-hp Yanmar engines, which work much better.

By far the most daunting thing about the BCC is its price. It is an exceptionally well-crafted vessel, with superb joinerwork below and scads of quality hardware on deck, all of which costs good money. Early on (up to hull number 26), Sam L. Morse Co. sold bare hulls for owners to finish, and these should sell at a significant discount. But a factory-finished BCC is built like a piece of furniture (so goes the cliché), and though these cost a lot they do hold much of their value over time.

On the whole these boats are so carefully built there are few, if any, chronic flaws to repair or worry about. The biggest bother is keeping up with all the brightwork. On later boats all the exterior wood is mahogany, so it does need minding. Among other minor improvements the new builder, Cape George, is again making all the exterior wood teak, so if you really want to neglect your brightwork you can pony up for one of these. Cape George is also again offering bare hulls for owners to finish, so if you feel inclined to fit out your own piece of furniture to cruise the world in, you are welcome to try that, too.

BCC 28 drawing

Specifications

LOA: 37'9" (including bowsprit and boomkin)

LOD: 28'1"

LWL: 26'3"

Beam: 10'1"

Draft: 4'10"

Ballast: 4,600 lbs.

Displacement: 14,000 lbs.

Sail area

-100% foretriangle: 556 sq.ft.

-Full working sail: 637 sq.ft.

Fuel: 32 gal.

Water: 64 gal.

D/L ratio: 347

SA/D ratio

-100% foretriangle: 15.28

-Full working sail: 17.51

Comfort ratio: 36.92

Capsize screening: 1.67

Nominal hull speed: 6.8 knots

Typical asking prices: $90K - $200K

Base price new: $295K

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