Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beneteau 423 First Impressions

We took possession of our new 423 last weekend and renamed it 'Finisterra'. Yesterday we went for our first sail and finally had an opportunity to try the boat on all points of sail under power and under working sails. Here is a brief summary of what we discovered.

We left the slip in the downtown marina and took advantage of the flat water and light air in the turning basin to see how the boat maneuvers in forward and reverse. Finisterra is equipped with a Slipstream 3 bladed folding prop. We found that it operates smoothly when going from neutral into forward or reverse and provides plenty of thrust in forward. Outside the marina we saw 7 knots with the Yanmar diesel running at 2,200 RPM. Since it's a folding prop, it takes some throttle to get the boat moving when backing down, but overall performance is good. We had a three blade feathering prop on our last boat and it would occasionally snag some seaweed, so I think this prop is a good compromise for our purposes.

Sailing conditions were excellent with about 12 knots of breeze that built to about 16 in the afternoon. I unfurled the mainsail and I have to admit that it's awfully easy to operate the in-mast furling system. We puttered around under the mainsail only for half an hour. It's a tiny thing with a hollow leach and no battens but it has fairly good shape and pushed the boat along at about 5 knots in 15 knots of wind on a beam reach. I was pleased to see that it is in nearly new condition. With the 140% jib set, the boat came alive and we drove upwind with the apparent wind angle at about 40 degrees and about 7.5 knots of speed. Later, as we bore off to a close reach, the speed increased to about 8. Easing sheets a bit more, we put the boat on a beam reach and saw 8.5 on the knotmeter. Bearing off further brought the wind on the port quarter and our speed dropped as we expected. At all times the helm was light and well balanced, and perfectly responsive. Sailing back toward the marina the wind fell to about 5 knots as we approached the marina entrance and the boat ghosted along very nicely. I rolled up the jib and fired up the engine, then furled the mainsail just before entering the marina. All almost too easy. Our berth is near the head of the gangway and the fairway is narrow so it's a tight turn into our downwind slip but the boat maneuvered easily and we made our first landfall perfectly.

Having designed, built and sailed a number of racing yachts, I expect my boats to perform well. There is no need for a cruising boat to be a slug in terms of performance or handling and the B423 meets my expectations. I struggle with the idea of in-mast furling. I prefer the strength and simplicity of a full battened main and slab reefing and will likely convert this rig. Other than that, we're very pleased with the boat.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Catalina 385 Review

A conservative approach to the modern cruiser

As we continue our search for a new boat we would be remiss if we didn't take a look at the new Catalina 385. Catalina Yachts moved out of its headquarters in Woodland Hills, California a few years ago, undoubtedly motivated as much by the dismal business climate for boatbuilders in this state as by the fact that the bulk of the sailboat market is nowhere near California anymore. They are now headquartered in a large and modern plant in Largo, FL where the 385 and all their other models are built.

The 385 is an interesting departure if you consider that its main domestic competitors, Hunter and Beneteau have fully embraced a modernistic approach to the styling and design of their boats while Catalina has taken a more traditional approach.  To get a sense of these differences, click on the Beneteau Oceanis 37 http://www.beneteauusa.com/Sailboats/Oceanis/Oceanis-37 or take a look at the Hunter 39 http://www.huntermarine.com/Models2011/39/39Index2011.html .

That is not to say that one design philosophy is better than the other. There is plenty of room in the ocean for all kinds of boats and I am sure that Catalina is dead certain of the market segment they are pursuing, and doing so with a good deal of success. Some may say that their designs are uninspired or stodgy, I disagree, they are inspired by a market segment that has made them arguably the most successful homegrown boatbuilder in the country. So let's take a closer look at the 385 and learn what it is that makes this company so successful.

The hull shape of the 385 is rather traditonal compared to its competition. Notice on the sailplan that bow is raked about 45 degrees and in the accommodations plan, the beam is concentrated more amidships than the Beneteau or Hunter. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. The trend seems to be toward boats with very wide transoms. This allows for lots of space below but does affect the sailing qualities of the boat. As the boat heels the bow is forced down and the rudder is pulled up. I think there is an optimum ratio between beam aft and beam amidships for different types of boats and perhaps Catalina feels that they've gone far enough in that direction.

The Catalina 385 shows a more traditional approach to hull design than its competitors
The rest of the exterior of the boat is nicely designed and very much in keeping with the conservative philosophy in the hull design. The cabin trunk is pure Catalina, with it's trademark windows and familiar T-shaped cockpit. Notice the vertical battens in the mainsail, indicating an in-mast furling system. In spite of the fact that practically every production builder uses this arrangement, I'm not a fan. I prefer a fully battened mainsail with slab reefing.  Catalina's conservative approach to the sailplan is carried through to the almost masthead rig with fore and aft lowers. Notice that the mainsheet traveler is at about the midpoint of the boom, with a block attached about three quarters of the way aft of the mast. This arrangement will allow for a mainsheet-free cockpit but does put a lot of load on the boom and cabin top.

Here are some dimensions:
LOA (hull):  38' - 2"
LWL: 34' - 5"
BMAX: 13' - 1"
Draft (deep keel):  6' - 10"
Draft (shoal keel):  4' - 8"
Disp. (deep keel): 15,500 LB
Ballast (deep keel):  5,200 LB
D/L (deep keel):  169
Sail Area: 676 sf
SA/D:  17.0

The T-shaped cockpit with walk-thru transom looks like a comfortable place to be. Notice the instruments. Those mounted to starboard will be hard for the helmsman to see when driving from the port side. This is a popular, if impractical, arrangement.  The problem is that you have to be sitting aft of the wheel to see them. A better arrangement is to locate them above the companionway so everyone can see them.

Going below, the accommodations plan carries on the conservative theme, which in my opinion is a good thing. The galley is big and well designed, with plenty of counter space and double sinks. The aft cabin features a king size bunk with plenty of storage space under, a good sized seat and plenty of locker space. Also notice that access to the engine appears to be good on the port side. I'm a big fan of good engine access. The main cabin is quite spacious. I'm glad to see that the designer didn't try to squeeze too much into this area, but I prefer a dedicated nav station instead of the small table at the aft end of the dinette. I guess this is a nod to the the fact that navigation and chart work are not very important in this coastal cruiser.

Catalina 385 galley

The head, located forward of the main bulkhead is also spacious, with access from the forward cabin as well as the main cabin. The forward cabin contains a large V-berth and plenty of storage. Once again, it's nice to see that the Catalina design team didn't try to stuff a 42 foot interior into a 38 foot boat.

Cat 38 Accommodations. Plenty of open space and a nice arrangement for weekends at the island.

The Catalina 385 is, in my opinion, a nice balance of traditional and modern design. There's plenty of living space and reasonably good performance here along with what I would call American styling. That's refreshing.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Honcho Sold

The Honcho at the shipyard, ready to be hauled out and packed up for the road trip to Anacortes.

Last Friday we finished up the paperwork and handed the keys to the Honcho over to her new owners, who will have her hauled out and trucked to Anacortes where she'll be relaunched. From there she'll sail to her new home in Sidney, BC, Canada.

It was bittersweet to see the boat go because we had such an enjoyable four years with her. But all things must end, and with the Honcho off to her new home we are ready to begin to search in earnest for our next boat, which is the first step toward new sailing adventures. We were very fortunate to have found the Honcho, a boat that had been lightly used by her previous owners. We'd like to find another boat that has had no modifications or 'upgrades' so we can start with a 'clean slate' and set it up for offshore cruising with top quality equipment.

Over the last few months we've looked at quite a few boats in person and online. We really liked a Delphia 40GT that we found in San Diego, but it was sold a few weeks before we could make an offer on it. I've reviewed several boats in previous posts here that caught my eye, but so far we have not settled on a particular make or model. At this point I would say the Beneteau 423 comes closest to what we're looking for. It seems to embody that balance of design, construction, performance, comfort and budget that we're looking for, and is the benchmark that we've been sort of measuring other boats by. If we weren't constrained by a budget I'd say the Hallberg Rassy 412 would fit the bill nicely, but of course our budget can't handle that much boat. But a boat of that ilk is what we're looking for. I'll keep you posted as we wander around the country searching for the perfect, or almost perfect boat.