Are keelboats for cruising dead?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Vineet, Jun 6, 2021.

  1. Vineet
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    Vineet Junior Member

    Is that it? Have full keel cruisers been permanently eclipsed by the flatter hull, wide transom, twin rudder surfers? I keep reading the arguments for the modern designs redefining what seaworthiness looks like in boats. I have doubts and questions.
    One is this:
    This new concept of seaworthiness is absolutely married to the functionality of technological advancements in weather/wind prediction. What happens when your electronics fail? What happens when the weather predictions are just wrong or shift faster than your boat can get around?
    I am dubious for another reason:
    The automobile industry pushed the SUV because they made more money from them. The extra cost of production/inputs for SUVs compared to traditional cars and trucks was translated into greater profits per unit by overselling them as safer, cooler, more desirable beacons of conspicuous consumption. How much is this a factor in this new brave world of ocean going cruisers?
  2. bajansailor
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    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

    I don't think that keelboats for cruising are 'dead' - they do have a keen and enthusiastic following, however the majority of sailors nowadays want (or think they want) something more stereotypical like a Beneteau / Jeanneau / Bavaria.
    And to be fair, the average BenJenBav does do the job 'better' than the average keelboat - when the typical 'job' is day sailing between anchorages, and there is a requirement to have a large ergonomic and comfortable cockpit with an effective bimini awning that can be kept up while sailing.
    In addition, the BenJenBavs are cranked out on an assembly line, while the traditional keelboat cruisers have always effectively been individually built, and this will inevitably put the price up.
    And there are still many long keel cruising yachts out there, in good condition, for sale, for the people who want to buy them.
    When you compare the cost of one of these against the cost of a new boat, which might be 3 or 4 times as much (or more) then it becomes more difficult to justify buying a new full keel yacht. Some are still built, but not many.

    Re seaworthiness, if I had to beat to windward in a gale, then I would prefer to be in a heavy (and more comfortable) long keel yacht, rather than a beamy light twin rudder sled - the sled would be pounding terribly.
    Conversely, if I had to sail downwind in a gale or a storm, I would generally prefer to be on something like a sled, rather than a long keel yacht.
    I crewed on a lightweight racer on a transatlantic delivery trip 9 years ago, and we had a F 10 (gusting 11) storm behind us between the Azores and England.
    We hoisted a small staysail and surfed along downwind all the way to Plymouth under perfect control, with this small sail pulling us along nicely.
    Along the way we passed a couple of traditional cruising yachts that were hove to - they were safe, but they just had to ride it out.
    And the majority of sailors are fair weather sailors (who deliberately sets out in a F 8 or 9?) making short passages.
    And weather reports are generally very accurate nowadays, even the longer term forecasts - we knew that we would have a gale catching up with us when we left Horta in the Azores, but we figured that we could just run with it, and we had lots of sea room.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2021
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  3. Vineet
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    Vineet Junior Member

    Thank you for the detailed input. Now my question for you is how would you feel about being a single handed sailer on the sled in similar conditions?
  4. bajansailor
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    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

    I have never been singlehanded in such conditions (ok, I have never sailed singlehanded, apart from in dinghies) - however all of the singlehanded racing boats, ranging from the 6.5 metre Mini Transat boats up to the Vendee Globe boats seem to manage ok?
  5. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

    Production boats with full length keels intended for cruising were a minority fifty years ago, replaced by then "modern" boats with fin keels and separate rudders.

    What is an SUV today? Most SUVs today have much more in common with "passenger cars" than "trucks". The auto industry builds and sells what customers are willing to pay for, which frequently is not what auto enthusiasts or critics of the auto industry would prefer.
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  6. Milehog
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    Milehog Clever Quip

    The area I learned to sail is notorious for 25-35 knot wind against the current. Steep, short and deep waves are normal. Numerous times my little 22' fin keel sloop would sail neatly to weather by 30'-35' full keel boats stuck hobby horsing in place.
    I know which boat would take care of me on a lee shore or clawing away from the worst part of trouble.

    Much of the graceful beauty of old designs was driven by restraints on wood's abilities to turn corners.
    You need to have prints of your beloved clam crushers on the wall and a modern hull under your feet.
  7. Rumars
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    Rumars Senior Member

    There are still yards catering to this market, you can still buy a new Folkboat or a new Rustler 36. If you believe the "long keel is better" mantra, there is no reason not to go to sea in one. Of course some people believe in the absolute opposite and go to sea in true centerboarders, and they are more then happy.
  8. Milehog
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    Milehog Clever Quip

    The entertainment value of watching a full keel-attached rudder boat trying to back down with any semblance of directional control is not to be missed.
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  9. CT249
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    CT249 Senior Member

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  10. tlouth7
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    tlouth7 Senior Member

    I think this is a flawed premise. Certainly avoiding extremely bad weather is an advantage of faster boats, but it does not follow that a faster boat will do worse if it does encounter those extreme conditions.

    Also there is a big gap between twin rudder fin keel yachts and "sleds". For example Hallberg-Rassy have moved to twin rudders in their latest blue-water cruisers, but the boats are still relatively heavy with conventional underwater shapes.
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  11. BlueBell
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    BlueBell . . . . .

  12. CT249
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    CT249 Senior Member

    The above post inspired me to re-read "Seaworthiness" and IMHO it's very biased and disappointing. Marchaj seems to lack objectivity; he even spends a couple of paragraphs ranting about Americans and Brits as being people from countries lacking logic. That's more racism than anything that should be contained in a book on naval architecture.

    It's also interesting that he says that seaworthiness was ignored by the IOR and by almost all rules apart from the first Linear Rule, which is rot. The first Linear Rule created some very unseaworthy boats, which is why it was dumped. Secondly the issue of the seaworthiness of IOR boats was not "forgotten" or ignored before the '79 Fastnet. It was very much a hot topic.

    He claims that three people drowned aboard Grimalkin in the 1979 Fastnet, which again is wrong. How weird that someone can pick out a design for detailed criticism when getting such basic issues as the number of dead and the way they died wrong. Did he read what happened to Grimalkin at all?

    In his avid desire to find villians he ignored the fact that a non-IOR design Ohlson 35, for example, suffered as many deaths in a pitchpole as Grimalkin suffered after rolling. Apparently people who die because a non-IOR boat flipped don't count, but those who die after an IOR boat flips do. Why is the pitchpoling of Flashlight not examined as the rolling of Grimalkin was?

    No where is there any examination for other reasons for the high accident rate of small boats examined; for example the fast Class V boats and the slower Class IV boats suffered badly, which may be because they were together in a particularly bad bit of the storm and the big boats and slower Contessas were out of the epicentre. He mentions the 1984 Hobart enquiry but not the 1977 one which showed that the half tonners were actually in general extremely tough and unlikely to suffer trouble.

    Also utterly missed is the very high death rate amongst non-IOR boats in the storm. Everyone aboard died when the only entry in the Multihull Fastnet flipped. Several (I think it was 5 or 6) died on one or two cruising yachts (reports differ). That's interesting in itself, because if the death of 15 sailors from 303 racing boats is seen as a disaster then how can the death of several people on cruisers not be seen as an even worse disaster, because we can safely assume that there were not 303 cruising yachts, or even 100+, in the same area at the same time.

    The fact that Marchaj concentrated on the problems of one boat that lost two people (one from a head injury and then further issues during an inversion, one from medical issues and hypothermia) but ignored the problems of non-IOR boats that lost as many or more people seems to show that he was not unbiased.

    He also uses many quotes. It's interesting that the quotes that support his case seem to go unexamined, whereas those that don't are subject to some sneering remarks. Overall the book seems so biased that one must assume it would never pass muster as an academic paper or a true scientific examination of a problem.
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  13. wet feet
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    wet feet Senior Member

    I suspect CT249 has done something that few others have; he's actually read the book.I have long had a feeling that a large number of people have dipped into it in search of opinions that mirror their own prejudices and skipped the rest.Then those opinions have been trotted out in numerous articles,letters to boating magazines and forums with reference to the pages that have been skimmed and the "indisputable facts" contained therein have been accorded undue reverence while avoiding the detailed scrutiny above.
  14. sharpii2
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    sharpii2 Senior Member

    The modern, twin spade rudder, short, deep keel boats are seaworthy enough. And they are certainly faster-especially upwind.

    But I think they are far too vulnerable to keel and rudder strikes. These can happen from running aground, or by colliding with floating debris.

    Some of them have dropped their keels. Others have dropped their rudders.

    For my money, I find them too risky--not from the storm, but from hitting something while in the storm.

    I think there is a good middle ground between the old crab crushers and the newer speedster. And that's the kind I would get.

    In the old days, length of the keel was discribed by the fraction of the WL its length took up. So there were full keelers, 3/4 keelers, 1/2 keelers, and so on. Back then WLs were shorter, so this system worked well. Nowadays, it might create some confusion, as WLs are longer.

    I'd go with a 1/4 to 1/2 keeler. I'd certainly want to have the top of the keel, with a 1/4 keeler, to be as long as the keel depth.

    I'd also prefer a solid skeg in front of the rudder too.

    BTW-I read ... THE FORGOTTEN Factor all the way through. And I still have a copy. Now that I have had time to get more perspective, I think the title should have started with:


    A boat can be quite seaworthy, but be quite terrible in the sea kindliness department.

  15. rangebowdrie
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    rangebowdrie Senior Member

    True enough.
    Whilst their have been many so called "Colin Archer" type cruising boats built by a myriad of companies over the years, a close inspection of the lines reveals that the difference between beam on deck and waterline beam is not all that great,, this is a factor that can contribute to a sea kindly nature.
    In contrast, the original Archer "rescue boats", and many of his pilot boats had quite a difference between WL/Deck beams.
    This gave them a better beam/length ratio for "upright" sailing in lighter air, as well as some "shoulder" to immerse when heeled to gain stiffness as the wind picked-up.
    However, when in truly extreme conditions the massive amount of reserve buoyancy inherent in the designs also could lead to violent motion,, you'll be safe, but you better hang on tight.
    In the 1930s, an ex-rescue boat was caught in a hurricane and was pitchpoled.
    A crewmember in the cockpit was lost, and the rigging was sprung, but she continued on her way otherwise undamaged.
    Also, (and I've forgotten his name,) a guy from France converted one of the Bic 12 meters for cruising and sailed it single-handed from France to Tahiti,, claiming that it was a "great sea-boat",, I can understand that, I'll bet it was sea kindly, but probably gave a wet ride.
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