Boats & Gear

CRUISING SAILBOAT EVOLUTION: The Emergence of "Alternative" Cruising

Orion under sail

We have already discussed an early elite cruising vessel, Cleopatra's Barge, and the development of high-end yacht design in the 19th century. Now it's time to turn to the "hoi polloi," the unwashed mass of middle-class (and upper middle-class) sailors who were also determined to enjoy "messing about in boats," and who, ultimately, had a much bigger impact on the development of the sport.

One important pioneer was a stern British stockbroker named Richard Turrell (R.T.) McMullen, who, in 1850, at age 20, decided to teach himself sailing and commissioned the construction of a 20-foot half-decked cutter named Leo. Over the next 41 years he cruised throughout the British Isles and across the English Channel in a series of purpose-built vessels, the largest of which, a 42-footer named Orion (see image above), was a classic deep-draft, narrow-waisted British cutter.

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INFLATABLE SAILING DINGHY: Dreaming of the DinghyGo

DinghyGo under sail

Is there a cruising sailor anywhere who doesn't dream of having a tender that can double as daysailer? The only problem with this dream is you really need to have a hard dinghy to make it come true. And hard dinghies--let's face it--aren't nearly as useful and convenient as inflatable ones. They're nowhere near as stable, can't carry as much stuff, are much too heavy, and are hard to stow.

But hold the phone sports fans... the DinghyGo 2, a Dutch-built inflatable sailing tender that will hopefully appear here in the U.S. in the next year or two, may be just what we're looking for.

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HAX AND FLAX: Navico Electro-Junket in the Florida Keys

Junket boats underway

I spent much of last week at the Hawk's Cay Resort in Florida hobnobbing with a large clutch of my fellow marine journos (a.k.a. the "hacks") and an even larger clutch of brand and tech gurus from Navico, the marine electronics conglomerate, courtesy of PR mavens Rus Graham and Andrew Golden (a.k.a. the "flacks"). It was, I think, the largest marine-industry junket I've ever attended, with a total of 24 hacks running around in nine different test boats being chased by two different photo boats. And, yes, of course these chaperoned love-fests are inherently incestuous, but they are also exceedingly educational.

Navico, in case you hadn't noticed, has been in serious PacMan mode and has gobbled up a number of marine-electronics companies over the past several years. In the process it has made itself into the largest player in the recreational market and has distilled what were once seven rather diffuse brands into a pure nucleus of three well-established power brands: Lowrance, Simrad, and B&G. The idea moving forward is that each of these will develop and market products specialized for their respective niches, as in Lowrance = smaller fishing boats, Simrad = larger power cruisers and sport-fishing boats (and also commercial vessels up to 300 gross tons), and B&G (of course) = sailboats.

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VALIANT 40 DELIVERY: Small Gale and a Bird En Route to the Chesapeake

Valiant 40 under sail

Just back from helping from helping me mate Jeff Bolster sail his Valiant 40 Chanticleer down to Norfolk, VA, from Newport, RI. This being phase two of his four-step campaign to take the boat down to the West Indies for the winter (phase one having been a short jaunt from here in Portsmouth, NH, down to Newport, accomplished by he and his bride Molly). Jeff, you may recall, bought this iconic fiberglass cruising machine--the boat that in many ways made Bob Perry as a yacht designer--just last summer. Immediately afterward he managed to do a pissload of work on it, including repowering it, before taking it down to the W'Indies and back last season.

We left Newport Friday morning, after a cold front barreled through, and carried the post-front northwesterly, which had much more west than north in it, out Narragansett Bay, past Block Island across the mouth of Long Island Sound, and out past Montauk into the ocean proper before sunset. Friday night was a real shitfight. The wind at least cranked a bit more northerly, so we had it almost on the beam, but it blew hard--30 knots with gusts to 35--and the sea was ungodly.

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DEHLER 38: A German Cruiser/Racer Reborn

Dehler 38 sailplan profile

Dehler was one of a few venerable European sailboat brands that ran out of oxygen during the Great Recession. You may recall that many of their quick, durable, well-built cruiser-racers got sold on this side of the Pond over the years. Hanse Group, which evidently aspires to be the General Motors of European boatbuilding, bought the remains of the business a while back and this Dehler 38, which just debuted in Annapolis, is the first all Hanse-built model they've put out. It was the very first boat I test-sailed after the show, and I have to say I was impressed by its performance.

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ATLANTIC 47: MastFoil Rig In Action (Sort Of)

Atlantic 47 under sail

Ever since I first talked to designer Chris White earlier this year about his new MastFoil rig I've been anxious to try it out. I've always been very interested in unconventional rigs, and this one seems particularly promising, so of course my outing aboard his new MastFoil-rigged Atlantic 47 apres-show in Annapolis last month was perhaps the one test sail I was most looking forward to. Unfortunately, the wind was much lighter than I would have liked, blowing only about 5-7 knots, so I still can't say anything terribly definitive about how the rig performs.

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GUNBOAT 60: The Future Is Now

Gunboat 60 under sail

My post-Annapolis test-sailing dance card had a great mix of boats on it this year. At the total opposite end of the spectrum from the simple and diminutive Paine 14, I found this high-end sweetheart. Like many of you, I've been reading about Gunboats for years and have walked through a few tied to docks, but I've never actually sailed one, so I was looking very forward to this test. It is, however, an ineluctable law of sailing journalism that the more you look forward to test-sailing a boat, the less wind there will be during the test. Case in point: when Peter Johnstone plucked me off a dinghy dock in Eastport in one of his fancy Pure tenders and swooped me out to the Gunboat 60 way out in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, the true wind was only blowing about 5 knots.

I studied the bay's glassy surface, and my heart sank, but Peter didn't seem particularly concerned. Sure enough, as soon as we boarded the boat and unrolled its big black carbon screecher, we were trundling easily upwind at speeds in excess of 6 knots. A little later, when the true wind piped up to 7 knots, we were running off under an A-sail at 8 knots.

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PAINE 14: An Updated Herreshoff 12-1/2

Chuck Paine

Pardon the void in my personal blogosphere here, but I'm just back from Annapolis, where I was test-sailing boats for the comic after the big show closed down. By far the most relaxing test I did was with designer Chuck Paine (see photo up top) aboard his new Paine 14, a sweet little daysailer based on the old Herreshoff 12-1/2. We had a great time ogling moored boats and chatting up a storm as we ghosted up and down Spa Creek in the few cat's paws of wind that presented themselves--exactly the sort of thing a boat like this is designed for.

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