Big, fast, and beautiful Page 2

They are starting to appear at many of the big boat regattas sailed off Newport, Cowes, Cannes, and other ports around the world. Often you see two or more running side by side under a cloud of sail to the finish as their crews strain to snatch every bit of power from the passing gusts and lulls. They’re not purebred racing boats; they’re the latest generation of performance
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Even so, if you are serious about racing, your performance cruiser you should think hard about leaving the charcoal broiler, those two cases of wine, and the storm anchor ashore. Weight and performance are inextricably linked. Even on boats this size.

Although Alan Andrews is a distinguished designer and a charter member of the West Coast’s famous go-fast “sled” fraternity, he’s equally at home discussing the important features of these larger cruiser-racers. He’s watched design and rating-rule fads come and go over the years and compared them with the constant core components of displacement, sail area, and draft. For him, one of the more interesting developments is that the materials now available to builders make it possible to create a boat that has two different configurations; one more performance oriented and one with more cruising amenities. But ironically, that flexibility can also create uncertainty. “You have to be honest with yourself and really know where you want to be on the spectrum,” says Andrews. “To have a successful boat you need to decide early in the process how much time you want to spend cruising and where you want to cruise, and how much time you want to spend racing and what kind of racing you are going to do.”

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A boat with a lot of sail area, he continues, almost certainly will perform reasonably well. But you need to know who will be handling those sails and in what conditions. “You must be very sure about this, particularly when you are looking at a boat this size,” he says. And the reason is not only because of the large loads involved but also because of stability issues that come up when sailing to windward. “If you have a boat with a conventional keel, somewhere around a third of the boat’s potential upwind stability is going to come from crew weight. That’s why you might see as many as 16 people perched on the windward rail of a dedicated raceboat this size.” That’s fine for some, says Andrews, but if you like to race with your kids and their friends that has a huge effect on the boat’s stability and how much sail you can put up. That, of course, directly affects how competitive you will be against your peers.

Bill Tripp is a designer who is also very familiar with the numbers that make up the DNA of an all-out raceboat. Although he’s well-known for his modern super-yacht styling, he is equally at ease shaping the lines and interiors for 50- and 60-footers now being built by Solaris Yachts. For Tripp, the truth usually is found in the numbers. “The great designer Uffa Fox once said the great thing about a racing boat is that it’s focused: There’s no confusion about what the goal is.” But establishing the numbers for a performance cruiser isn’t quite as easy, and Tripp agrees that the ratios can vary. But there’s no doubt in his mind about what the baseline is for a pure raceboat. “In today’s world,” he says, “if a boat can’t plane it’s not a raceboat. I’m sorry, but that’s the new paradigm.” If you want to get more specific, Tripp considers a Displacement–Length ratio of 70 as a pretty good starting point for raceboats this size. Though that number may change with the individual design brief, Tripp’s assessments are clear. “If a boat can be cruised but can also plane,” he says, “it’s a racer-cruiser. If it can be cruised but it won’t plane, it’s a cruiser-racer.”

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Tripp also agrees that achieving good overall performance is a puzzle with many different pieces. These include carbon spars, composite rigging, deep keels, and lighter construction. All these features help lower a boat’s center of gravity, and in the end that is what creates an optimum environment for carrying sail.

But that, of course, again raises the question of who is going to trim those sails on the upwind and downwind legs? And who is going to get up on the windward rail to help hold the boat down? You probably won’t know the answer until you decide whether it’s more important to bring along the kids, the barbeque, and the cases of wine— or leave them ashore and break out the snatchblocks and spinnaker sheets.

Download a PDF of the table showing comparisons between the performances cruisers for sail area, LOA, displacement, LWL, and more.

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