Boats & Gear

CRUISING BOAT EVOLUTION: The Golden Age of the Cruiser-Racer

Bolero under sail

Last we reveled in this topic we examined how early cruising boats sailed by more middle-class yachtsmen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were often working boats that had been repurposed. This marked the beginning of a trend in which the nexus of mainstream yachting shifted inexorably away from the upper crust of society, which mostly viewed yachting as a social activity, toward less affluent, more Corinthian sailors, who practiced it as a sport. Interestingly, one thing that helped precipitate and accelerate this was a growing interest on the part of small-boat cruising sailors in the sport of ocean racing.

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2014 NEWPORT INTERNATIONAL BOAT SHOW: Gunboat 55, Varianta 37, Salona 33, C&C Redline 41

Gunboat 55

I spent yesterday cruising the docks at the show in Newport and was particularly pleased to have a chance to get aboard the new Gunboat 55. You've got to hand it to Peter Johnstone--he is not one to rest on his laurels. After sailing the Gunboat 60 last year at Annapolis, I was impressed by how willing he's been to rethink what a Gunboat might be. Given the great success of the first generation of boats, a lot of builders would have been very happy to just do more of the same. The 60 is definitely a different sort of Gunboat, but the new 55, a very elegant open-bridgedeck design, is something else entirely.

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GARCIA PASSOA 47: French Metal Surfboard

Passoa 47 under sail

Aluminum centerboard cruisers like this are not often seen in North America, but they are common in Europe, particularly in France. Garcia Aluminum, a highly respected French builder, now reorganized as Garcia Yachting, often works on a custom basis but also builds to several standard designs. This Passoa 47, drawn by Phillipe Harle, is very representative of its species. Unlike the keel/centerboard boats most Americans are familiar with, these French boats have integral centerboards descending directly from their bilges. They draw very little water when their boards are up and make great coastal gunkholing boats. They stay upright when aground and can be driven straight on to a beach if desired. They also carry a great deal of fixed internal ballast in their bilges and are self-righting, thus are also suitable for ocean sailing.

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OPEN 60 REFIT: Great American IV Ready to Sail

Brian Harris on GA4

While dropping in occasionally at Maine Yacht Center over the winter to keep tabs on my own boat, I always had half an eyeball on Rich Wilson's new IMOCA Open 60, Great American IV (ex-Mirabaud), which was undergoing a refit for Wilson's 2016 Vendee Globe bid. Recently, MYC general manager Brian Harris (see photo up top) gave me a nickel tour and told me about all the work they'd done.

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DUTCH BARGE RACING: Demolition Sailing

Racing barge

Who says you need a modern go-fast boat with foils to make sailing really exciting? Check out these video clips of traditional Dutch barges, called skutsjes, which were originally used for hauling cargo in Friesland and are still actively raced today. What blows me away in the first one are the guys to leeward with the sounding poles. Looks like a much dicier job than bowman! Note also the major TV sports coverage. Very impressive that. You can tell the Dutch have their priorities straight. Also... there's a nice collision at 3:21.

Funny thing about Dutch, I tried translating the YouTube video description in a couple of different online translation programs, and Dutch translated into English looks just like Dutch in the original Dutch. Maybe someone who speaks Dutch can explain that to me.

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MAINE CAT 38: Minimalist Performance Cruising Cat

Maine Cat 38 quarter view

Speaking of catamarans, this is a new Maine Cat launch coming up this year that I'm looking forward to. I love cats like this--lean and mean and simple, with enough accommodations that you can really go somewhere in them, but not so much that the boat gets fat and slow. This is an open bridgedeck design, similar to the Scape 39 Sport Cruiser I sailed across the South Atlantic a few years ago, but not quite as severe, with some serious hardtop shelter on deck. Basically it looks to be an open-air saloon. Or a huge pilothouse. Take your pick.

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CRUISING BOAT EVOLUTION: From Work Boats to Yachts

Colin Archer ketch

In our last episode in this series, we described the genesis of the Cruising Everyman in the mid- to late 19th century. These were sailors who were not aristocratic bluebloods looking to flaunt their wealth, but a simpler breed of more middle-class sailors who enjoyed cruising under sail for its own sake. These are cruisers we can easily relate to today, and what most interests us, of course, is the sort of boat they most often went cruising in.

For many sailors of more modest means who wanted vessels that were both substantial enough to survive a bit of weather and large enough to live aboard for limited periods of time in some comfort, the easiest and cheapest thing to do was simply to buy an old working boat and refurnish it. Some paint, some furniture tacked in down below, and perhaps some rig alterations could quickly transform many such boats into perfectly serviceable cruisers. It helped, of course, that working sailboats everywhere were steadily being replaced by power vessels, and thus were available at reasonable prices in ever-growing numbers.

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GEMINI 3000: A Very Affordable Cruising Cat

Gemini 3000 under sail

The Gemini, the first production cruising catamaran ever built in the United States, was born from the ashes of a terrible fire that in 1981 destroyed the molds for the successful Telstar 26 folding trimaran that multihull enthusiast Tony Smith had just brought over from Great Britain. Eager to save his new Maryland-based business, Performance Cruising, Smith immediately started building catamarans instead, using molds for an old British cruiser, the Aristocat, designed by Ken Shaw back in 1970.

The original Gemini 31, appropriately named the Phoenix, was rebranded with minor changes as the Gemini 3000 after the first 28 hulls were launched. In all, 153 of these boats (including the first 28) were built from 1981 to 1990, when the 3000 was discontinued and replaced by the Gemini 3200. All subsequent Gemini models built by Performance Cruising, including the 3200, the 3400, and two 105 models, though they grew slightly, have the same basic hull and deck form and interior layout as the first. A total of nearly 1,000 Geminis have been launched over the past quarter century, making them the most popular American-built cruising cats to date.

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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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