The latest addition to the fleet combines proven principles with contemporary practices
Spend any time at sea and you quickly learn that conditions can change rapidly out there, and not always in predictable ways. That truth has always played a key role in educating the midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, and for most of the past 50 years a key part of their experience has been to spend time sailing on the Academy's fleet of 44-footers. While the design of these yachts has changed over the years—the first fleet, 44-foot yawls designed by Bill Luders, was followed by 44-foot sloops designed by McCurdy & Rhodes—the mission has remained unchanged: To use sailing to build leadership skills and learn the benefits that come from working as a team.
These sloops (the Navy calls them Sail-Training Craft, or STCs) work hard; some of them log as many as 250 days a year under way, including competing in major offshore races. This is why the Fales Committee, the group that reviews all aspects of the Academy's sailing program, decided a number of years ago that it was time to take a fresh look at the program and consider a brand-new design with specifications that would include new technologies, equipment, and any improvements in gear for sailhandling and trimming.
Some things, of course, would not change—for example, overall length and stem and transom profiles would be the same, as would the navy-blue color of the hull and belowdeck accommodations that provide berthing and living spaces for a crew of eight midshipmen and one or two officers. "An important consideration in maintaining these benchmarks," says Cdr. Jay Cavalieri, the Academy's Director of Sailing, "was that the new design's profile, which had proven itself over the years, would be instantly recognized, even from a distance, by every former midshipman."
"But there have also been some genuine improvements," says Pedrick Yacht Designs's Gram Schweikert, the principal designer for the project. "Although we had to consider that every change to the platform would be an evolutionary adjustment, we have managed to lengthen the waterline slightly over the previous models despite the restrictions that are imposed by the stem and transom angles. We also tweaked the hull shape slightly and removed the skeg that was on the earlier designs." Schweikert concedes that with a half-load displacement of around 30,360 pounds, the new Naval Academy 44 must be considered "fairly heavy by modern standards."
The hull laminate schedules, developed by an in-house Academy naval-architecture team led by Paul Miller, are relatively thick, especially in the keel sump (these craft are, it must be remembered, used primarily as training vessels), but the glass materials in the hull and deck are state-of-the-art. There's a Corecell core, and vinylester resin is used for bonding via the SCRIMP process. A 21/2-inch plastic toerail, capped with a stainless strake, runs the length of the topsides at about the same height as the cove stripe that was a feature of the earlier yacht. The toerail is not an aesthetic device, but is there to assist all docking maneuvers.
The cast fin keel has a slightly deeper draft than the earlier models, resulting in a lowered vertical center of gravity and thus increased stiffness. An efficient spade rudder makes the yacht more maneuverable under sail and power.
While the rig's general proportions remain unchanged, there are some interesting improvements. "We've raised the height of the boom and also made it a little longer," says Schweikert, "and that has allowed us to move the main traveler from its former midboom sheeting position on a track mounted on the bridgedeck just aft of the companionway hatch. That location made it a potential safety hazard for anyone moving through the companionway."
In the new design, the bridgedeck is eliminated and the traveler moved aft to a position just in front of the wheel. The primary and secondary winches are in the same location as they were on the previous 44s, even though cockpit layouts on contemporary raceboats tend to be configured a bit differently. "The overriding issue here," says Schweikert, "was to have a working area where eight people can all learn to maneuver the boat and the sails. The winches, for example, are positioned so everyone has a chance to do something—grinding, tailing, and so forth—and to see the tangible results of those efforts under sail."
"The yacht handles very well," said Cavalieri after helping a crew of middies deliver the first 44 to be launched from the Rhode Island builder to the Academy's Sailing Squadron dock in Annapolis at the end of October. "Of course, as with any new yacht, it will take a little time to sort out the small details so we can get up to the speeds we know we can achieve."
NAVAL ACADEMY 44
Designer: Pedrick Yacht Design
3 Ann Street
Newport, Rhode Island 02840
Tel. 401-846-8481, www.pedrickyachts.com
Builder: Pearson Composites
373 Market Street
Warren, RI 02885
Displacement30,360 lbs (half load)
AuxiliaryYanmar 54-hp diesel w/ 2-blade Maxprop
Sail area-displ ratio16.77