The new Presto 30 is a rare and spectacular example of what a talented naval architect can do with an old but practical idea. The design is an evolution of an 1885 Biscayne Bay sharpie created by Commodore Ralph Munroe, a South Florida businessman who was also a passionate naval architect.
Though Rodger Martin’s Presto 30 resembles Munroe’s boat, also called Presto, it is a true 21st century craft. With its rounded chines, long waterline and topside flare, it is fast, easy in a chop and dry. With the board up it can float in a few inches of water, yet its internal lead ballast makes it stable under sail.
The boat’s hull and deck are reinforced with Core-cell, so it is light enough to trailer behind a van or pickup truck. The laminate is set in vinylester resin—you can have it resin-infused, if you prefer—and carries a 10-year anti-blister guarantee.
There’s a sizable engine well at the forward end of the cockpit and the motor lowers into the water on a pulley system. When it is hoisted up, a watertight door fixed to the bottom of the drive leg closes the well aperture, creating a smooth hull surface. There’s one minor refinement still to come. The engine well on hull #1 needed better ventilation to feed air to the engine.
Builder Ryder Boat Works, based in Maine, clearly did the job right. I found perfect glass work, solid assembly and neat, simple joinery throughout. This is a boat that should last for generations.
The anchor locker is simple and clever: just an open bin with a drain, so when you’re docking or anchoring, you can sit comfortably on the foredeck with feet securely in the well while handling lines. (Do be careful, though, not to get a foot wrapped in the bight of a line.)
The cockpit is large and the seats are comfortable, making this a pleasant daysailer. There’s a boarding door in the transom and I was delighted to see that stanchions and lifelines are optional.
The Presto’s rig designer, Phil Garland, who co-owned our test boat with designer Rodger Martin, is the co-founder of Hall Spars, so the Presto’s sail system is something special. The standard rig carries traditional-looking triangular sails (though the carbon fiber spars are utterly contemporary), while the “Performance” sail plan, as found on our test boat, comes with square-topped heads and full-length battens. Whether the boat is a schooner or a cat/ketch is a fertile topic for discussion. But both Phil and Rodger refer to the forward sail as the “main” and the aft sail as the “mizzen,” so it’s officially a ketch. There is no jib, but you can fly a mizzen staysail between the masts if you really feel the need for more power.
Both sails fly on wishbone booms, and with only two sheets and no jib, trimming and tacking are simple. Also, with no stays to support the mast, there is little to go wrong.
The interior has a V-berth and two settees. There is also a small, slide-out stove and sink. Drawings for the latest boats show an enclosed head and a small galley in place of the long settees. The Presto 30 is a classic camper/cruiser, not a yacht, and the cockpit seats are sized for sleeping. There is only crouching headroom below, but an optional lifting “Sky Top” cabin roof improves the headroom near the companionway. The joinery is simple but perfect. There are six opening ports plus a forward hatch for ventilation, and the entire space is bright, attractive and functional.
Rodger Martin is best known for his cutting-edge race boats. He has designed the Aerodyne and Quest series of performance boats, as well as many one-off ocean racers, including Duracell, Arco Distributor and Coyote. He says he created the Presto 30 for himself—so you can be sure it’s not a slug.
Pine Island, on the southwest coast of Florida, was a perfect place to test-sail the boat, with shoals everywhere. We motored out the two-foot-deep channel without a care, lowered the centerboard, raised the outboard into its well, and sailed away. Though the rig is simple, we had a surprising amount of control over sail shape using the halyard, outhaul and “snotter.”
The scant 6-knot breeze was adequate, and the lightweight craft accelerated easily to better than half the wind velocity while heeling about 20 degrees. Tiller response was light, and the boat tacked effortlessly through 90 degrees. Martin regretted not bringing the mizzen staysail, but the working sails moved us along well. He said that in a good breeze with a lighter crew, the Presto will jump up on a plane.
I was pleasantly surprised at the easy motion through the occasional motorboat wake, which is a product of the rounded chines, fine entry and long waterline.
The Presto 30 should also be competent in rough stuff. Plotted stability curves show a positive stability range of 145 degrees with a small area of negative stability. As the wind increases, Martin recommends a first reef in the mizzen at about 15 knots, followed by a reef in the main at about 20.
Because the prop is nearly amidships, the boat essentially pivots around it, making for a turning circle of about one boatlength. Little of the propwash reaches the rudder, so you must have some way on in order to steer. In reverse, the lack of propwash results in an easily handled tiller that does not “kick.” It’s probably unlike any other boat you have handled under power, but it is predictable and simple once you get accustomed to it.
The 8hp outboard provides plenty of power to drive the boat to hull speed. The soundproof engine box, plus the naturally quiet Yamaha motor, resulted in a silent ride, except for the air intake fan, which Martin is redesigning. An 8hp Westerbeke inboard diesel is an option.
The Presto 30 is a heartwarmer for those who love nifty small boats. Sail this responsive, well-made craft for a dozen miles or so, then anchor in a cove where the loudest noise is the squawk of a great blue heron 10 feet away while supper bubbles gently on the little stove. If you are hankering to get away from it all and live simply, this is the boat to do it in