Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Marlow Hunter 40 Review

Early last year I saw an article about the acquisition of Hunter Marine by Marlow Yachts. Like many sailboat builders during the Great Recession, Hunter found itself in some financial difficulty and was rescued by a stronger company. Sailboaters may not be familiar with the Marlow brand because it is a powerboat company. They build boats in Asia and market them globally. Marlow Yachts are widely respected and I think they will bring much more than a cash infusion to Hunter. Hunter's aging product line needed an update and I suspect that there was some Marlow influence in the design and production of their first new boat, the Marlow Hunter 40.

When I first saw the drawings of the MH40, I thought this boat had better be fast because it's not good looking. But a couple of months later I saw one on a mooring in Catalina and must say that the boat is indeed much prettier than the drawings indicate. From a purely aesthetic point of view, it is an exceptionally bold design statement with its powerboat-like hullform and sharply detailed deck. I think this boat blurs the line between power and sail by incorporating powerboat features into a sailboat. Only time will tell if this is the start of a new trend or not.
Spacious cockpit, massive transom and hardtop dominate the view from astern

Beginning with the deck, it's hard to get past the knife-like window design. I think some will like it a lot and others might find it a bit too stylized. The cabin trunk itself is low and sleek, with the cockpit coamings integrated into the roof line. The cockpit is very large with twin wheels, a large dropleaf table amidships and a stainless steel arch that incorporates a bimini and mainsheet traveler. The transom incorporates a large trap door that folds out to make a swim or boarding platform. I'm not a fan of this arrangement and I've been told that Hunter will incorporate step into the transom so boarding from a dinghy won't be quite the challenge that this configuration presents.

Hunter is the only production cruising boat builder I know of that still uses the Bergstrom & Ridder rig. We've all seen Hunter boats with the diagonal shrouds that go both ways (diamond shrouds), and some with deck struts as well to support the rig. Properly done, the B&R rig is set up without a backstay which is how the MH 40 is built. This arrangement allows for a large mainsail but it also puts a lot of compression load on the mast, especially when flying a spinnaker. All of this is fine if the system is well engineered, and the fact that there are hundreds of Hunters sailing with this rig attests to the quality of this arrangement. With all that said, I still prefer a basic two or three spreader rig and a backstay for cruising. The MH40 can be ordered with a classic mainsail, but my guess is that the vast majority of these boats will be set up with a roller furling mainsail. Notice that the traveler is mounted on the bimini. It appears to me that Hunter, like some other sailboat manufacturers is trying to make the sailing of the boat as labor free as possible. I guess that's a good thing for many people but I like to sail, to trim my sails and to get the best out of them. That is certainly possible with this arrangement, but whenever I'm on a boat with the sail controls removed from where I think they ought to be, I feel distant from the actual sailing of the boat.

The hull of the MH40 takes the concept of chines to the point where there is little difference between the aft sections of this hull and those of a powerboat. This certainly makes for a lot of interior space aft and Hunter took full advantage of it to create a beautiful aft stateroom. With a displacement of 19,700 pounds and sail area of 910 square feet, the MH40 sports a D/L of 188 and a SA/D of 20. This is indicative of a moderately heavy boat with a fair amount of sail area.  The keel options include a deep one of 6'-8" draft and a shoal version with 5'-2" draft. The boat should move well in light air and the hard chines will provide a good deal of initial stability as the breeze builds. On the other hand, the hull appears to be quite full in the bow and the chines give it more wetted surface than a more conventional design. I think the MH40 is going to be an excellent boat under power and I would opt for the largest engine they offer. There are more than a few builders these days that are pushing their products in this direction, and it makes sense for boat buyers who love the idea of sailing to their weekend destinations but are constrained by time deadlines.

Hard chines and massive wings on the keel.

Marlow Hunter offers the 40 in two and three stateroom configurations. You can see how those chines in the hull contribute to expansive accommodations aft. I'm impressed by the size of the aft cabins in both versions, but the single aft stateroom could be described as luxurious. The galley is large and there is adequate seating and living room in the main salon. The forward cabin is snug but adequate and everything is finished with Hunter's usual attention to detail.

Overall, I have to respect the bold styling of the Marlow Hunter 40 and I think there is definitely a market for a good coastal cruising sailboat that can provide reasonable sailing performance as well as a good turn of speed under power. These days people have precious little time for relaxing at their favorite cruising spot and the MH40 may be just the right combination for today's busy cruising family. It's good to see the Hunter name survive and I wish them all success with their new line of boats.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Finisterra Update 11-15-13

Over the last couple of months I've been busy with mostly non-sailing issues but have found time for a few projects aboard Finisterra. In early October I made the decision to rewire the 12 volt system from the batteries to the main DC panel.  The system worked OK as it was, but over the years the previous owner had added various extras to the boat and instead of routing them through the main DC panel or installing an auxiliary DC panel, he simply ran the leads directly to the batteries and used in-line fuses on an ad hoc basis. The result was battery terminals with multiple wires leading to individual components. To further complicate matters, the house bank had been connected to the starting battery in such a way that they could not be isolated from each other. In other words, we really only had one great big bank of batteries that included six 6V deep cycle AGM batteries and a single 12V AGM starting battery. Our solution was to bring in Peter Dugan of Pacific Marine Electric to sort it all out. Together we created a new wiring system from the batteries to the main switches and installed a new auxiliary DC panel. The result is a much cleaner wiring arrangement that enables us to isolate the starting battery and provides an auxiliary panel for all the extra equipment the previous owner and I have installed. In the process we got rid of about 50 pounds of heavy gauge battery cable and have a clean and understandable system, which makes me happy.  Once the wiring was complete I fabricated a cover for the batteries so I could access the raw water pump without sitting directly on top of the battery terminals.

Battery cover is elevated to clear the battery terminals. It's a good place to sit while changing the impeller on the raw water pump. Finisterra is equipped with six 6V deep cycle battery and a single 12V starting battery.

I also finished the installation of the solar panels. They are mounted on a stainless steel tube on the aft end of the bimini and secured in place with Magma barbecue mounting brackets. This way I can adjust them through a range of about 120 degrees to align them with the sun as needed. The Magma brackets make it easy to remove the panels if necessary.

Three 50 watt solar panels. Having the ability to adjust them to face the sun  as needed vastly improves their efficiency. Since all of our lighting is LED, the primary consumer of electricity is the refrigeration system.
To augment the solar array we also carry a Honda genset.  Notice the GAM single sideband antenna on the port backstay.
Juice from the solar panels is routed through a GoPower charge controller mounted on the aft bulkhead in the quarter cabin.
One of the key elements of a good passage is having a snug, warm and secure place to sleep when you're off watch. Unfortunately Finisterra was not built with any good sea berths so I improvised with a lee board in the quarter berth. It's made of African Mahogany and slips into anodized aluminum brackets. It converts the king size quarter berth into a nice, snug sea berth.

Nothing beats a good place to sleep when you're underway.

Security is always an issue here in the States as well as abroad. To help keep ourselves and our gear safe, I installed a security system that incorporates sensors, called Pulsors, bonded to the underside of the deck and hatches in strategic locations. The Pulsors can detect slight fluctuations in the deck, such as from the weight of a person stepping aboard, and trigger the alarm. I'm not sure how well it'll work against the bad guys but I've scared myself a couple of times by not disarming it before climbing aboard.

Pulsors are about 3 inches long and can be mounted almost anywhere.
Another project was to build a seat for the companionway. This is a nice place to be when you're on the midnight watch, or when you have a cockpit full of guests. On the night watches it is the warmest part of the cockpit and provides excellent protection from the elements,  a good view forward and easy access to the sailing instruments. The autopilot remote and I-Pad are also within easy reach. Or we can turn around and face the cockpit, using a drop board for a back rest. It's made of teak and is secured in place with a couple of rigging pins.
The companionway sill on the B423 is high enough that it's easy to bark your shins when going below. This little seat makes that a thing of the past. 
I set the height of it so that a standard square boat cushion works perfectly for it.
I pondered whether to install an AIS system on Finisterra for a long time. After all, I've made many a long passage without it in the past, so do we really need it now? Well, yes we do. In some ways it beats radar for sorting out what other vessels are out there. It takes less power than a radar and we can display it wirelessly on our laptops, I-Pads, GPS and smart phones. I chose a Vesper XB8000, which includes a VHF receiver and transponder and dedicated GPS receiver. Installation was quick and easy, all I needed was to install the VHF and GPS antennas and provide 12V power to the unit. Because it works through its own WIFI network I was spared the expense and aggravation of wiring all our displays to it. I could have connected it to the masthead VHF antenna by installing an antenna splitter, but I like my systems to be stand-alone and autonomous from each other, so I mounted a separate antenna on the bimini.

Vesper XB8000 wifi enabled AIS. receiver/transponder. Very cool!
The latest addition to the fleet is our new Hobie Mirage i9S inflatable kayak. I love this thing! We've tried several different types of kayaks in the past, both inflatable and rotomolded, and none really met our needs until we found the i9S. The average inflatable kayaks are slow, track poorly and are just no fun to paddle. The rotomolded unit we had for a while paddled fairly well and was certainly rugged enough, but it was a big, bulky thing. I really couldn't accept having such a thing strapped down on the foredeck or hanging from our lifelines, so I was thinking of not having a kayak at all, which wasn't a very good solution either. Then we found this little Hobie. Right from the start I liked the propulsion system better than a double bladed paddle. It uses leg power to drive a pair of fins so it sort of swims along, leaving your hands free to do more constructive things, such as fish, or sip a cocktail, or wave to admirers as you glide past them.
Pedal powered and quite civilized, the little Hobie has earned a place aboard Finisterra

The boat comes with a paddle for emergencies, or if you want to go really fast you can pedal and paddle at the same time. But I found it to be perfect for relaxing jaunts around Alamitos Bay and I look forward to cruising it in far off places as well. The propulsion system is easy to install and comes with its own storage bag. The hull weighs about 45 pounds and fits neatly in the starboard cockpit locker when it's deflated.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lolita becomes Cinnamon Girl.

I am pleased to report that my little wooden boat, formerly called 'Lolita', has a new home in the San Francisco Bay area and a new name that I think fits perfectly. Her new owner, Mariellen Stern has given her fresh varnish and a bunch of other upgrades and she's now ready to race. Here are some photos from her days in Newport Beach:

Cinnamon Girl as she looked in 2007.

Cinnamon Girl sports traditional lines above the waterline combined with a fast bottom.
With her deep fin keel and spade rudder, Cinnamon Girl is deceptively quick.
I designed this boat way back in 1978 for a client that wanted a traditional looking boat for cold-molded construction. I could not bring myself to draw a full keel on it so we compromised with a shallow-ish fin keel and skeg-mounted rudder. Twenty years later I found her in a warehouse in Signal Hill in a sad state of disrepair and bought her on the spot. I brought her back to my shop and rebuilt her in my spare time. In doing so I deepened the keel and put a new spade rudder on her. A few years later my plans changed and I put her in storage while I focused on other projects and went cruising.

Fast forward to 2013, it was time to either refit her again or find a new home for her. Fortunately, last April Mariellen came into her life. She had known this boat many years ago and loves it as much as I have over the years. After several years in storage the varnish on the hull and cockpit was in rough shape, the bottom paint was gone and there were a few other issues that needed attention. I had always sailed the boat in southern California where the winds are relatively light and only raced it a few times so it was very simply rigged, but for sailing and racing in the San Francisco bay area, we thought some additions were necessary. These included a new 100% jib set on a roller furler, rigid vang and improved reefing system among others. Here are some photos of  the work in progress:

Lolita survived the road trip from Costa Mesa to Richmond, CA

Topsides are prepped for new finish .

Several coats of Interlux Perfection are applied. The hull is made of cold molded fir and mahogany.

Once the topsides were finished, fresh bottom paint was applied.

With work on the hull completed, the boat was relaunched. The next step was to refinish the cockpit.

It was no small job to refinish the cockpit. Notice the old style Barlow winches.

Mariellen stands proudly with her new Cinnamon Girl

Cinnamon Girl in her element.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

America's Cup Observations

It's clear that the AC/72 boats represent the most significant advances in yacht racing in a generation. While small boats like the Moth have been foiling for years and other large multihulls have been using foils that are adjustable for cant and rake, the 72's are arguably the first to combine foils, wing masts and sophisticated foil control systems in in a truly competitive package. It is also important to note that there were no significant gear failures during the regatta. That is a testament to the highly developed design, engineering and testing programs of both teams. I think this bodes well for the future of the Cup competition. Once again, I have to confess that before the event I was among those who felt that this event could very well be a dismal failure. After witnessing the spectacular racing I changed my mind in this regard.

I watched every minute of the racing on TV and think it was extremely well presented. Journeyman sports announcer Todd Harris did good job in spite of having no real yacht racing experience. Sure, he made a few goofy comments but he also frequently acknowledged his lack of experience in the sport and didn't try to come across as an expert. I thought that was a refreshing departure from previous AC announcers. NBC relied on a cast of true sailing experts to deliver insightful commentary and I thought they all combined to deliver a quality sporting product.

What about the crews? Without access to the inner workings of each team we can only speculate on what occurred within them as the regatta progressed, but the indications are that the American team had not spent nearly as many hours on the water, in the boat they would race in the finals, as the Kiwis did. This became glaringly apparent when a Team Oracle crewman fell overboard before the start of the first race. Another interesting facet of the American team was the body language of two key members of their afterguard, John Kostecki and Tom Slingsby. We don't know what that interpersonal relationship was like but it was obvious that things improved when Kostecki was replaced by Ben Ainsley. This is not to take anything away from Kostecki as he has had  a long and illustrious career as a professional sailor. But sometimes personalities don't mesh regardless of the skills and talents of the individuals and perhaps that's all there was to it. In any case, the shift from Kostecki to Ainsley made a significant difference and in my opinion was a key factor in Oracle's eventual victory.

It was compelling personal drama to see the juxtaposition of confidence in the two crews as Oracle began racking up wins against the Kiwis who came within a few puffs of wind of winning the event when race 13 was abandoned with the ENZ ahead with less than a mile to the finish line. When that race was re-sailed later in the day, the Americans began their improbable march to 9 points and the Cup. As the Kiwis suffered loss after loss their confidence was replaced first by concern, then worry and finally desperation. At the end of the event the strain and despair were evident on the faces of the ENZ team, especially that of Dean Barker, whose helmsmanship could not be faulted except on the starting line where he was frequently bested by Spithill. The Kiwis made few tactical errors and only one glaring boathandling error when they nearly capsized.

It was also interesting to see how the Americans continued to improve daily while the Kiwis seemed to remain constant in terms of boatspeed. I can only attribute that to the fact that Oracle was the faster boat and it took several races for the Americans to learn how to sail it to its optimum potential, while the Kiwis had the slower boat and couldn't get much more out of her.

In the aftermath of the event, Team Oracle accepted the challenge from an Australian group for the next America's Cup competition. We don't know what kind of boats that regatta will be sailed in, but given the spectacular racing we witnessed in AC XXXIV, I'm looking forward to some incredible technological advances and exciting racing in the event to come.