A Windy Weekend (Finally!)

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  • Stab self in the eye with a fork
  • Get a root canal
  • Prepare own income tax return, then write check  to the IRS for the balance due plus interest and penalties

File all of the above under the heading of “I’d rather [fill in one of the above] than …” Racing sailors have at least one more item to add to this list: trying to sail downwind on cruising boats that aren’t rigged with spinnakers. Apart from being painfully slow, cruising boats (and even race boats for that matter) often roll miserably when sailing deep angles under main and jib & main alone.  Ugh. This weekend I got a great surprise: our Sabre’s centerboard underbody means she isn’t a dullard going downwind without a chute. Actually, she runs dead downwind like a champ.

After two weekends of motoring to and from our destinations in nearly flat calm, I was eager to see how the boat would do in Friday’s 10-15 knot southerlies. I decided mid morning that I needed to put in for some time off and do some single handling. After lunch I packed up my work stuff and headed out into the Bay. Naturally, I started my trip by sailing upwind, tacking back and forth between the Eastern and Western shores.

Before long I was well past Thomas Point and, alas, what goes up must come down. If I was to get home I’d have to find out whether and how much the downwind cruising boat duldrums applied to our new baby. I had one reason to be hopeful: Le Saberage is a centerboard boat with a long, shallow keel. I’d heard from one of our local PHRF experts that the boat would perform surprisingly well downwind with the board up, so I decided to run dead downwind to see if he was right. As the breezes built slightly into the lower teens, I tacked and then bore away. Once I was headed pretty much straight downwind, I realized that the jib was just going to beat itself up behind the main, so I furled it before cranking the centerboard up.

What I noticed next really surprised me: Seb was really moving. Under main alone she was actually sailing pretty well. Better still, with the masthead fly pointed almost directly aft and a slight chop starting to build, she was rock steady. Hey, I thought. How about this. Inspired, I decided to give our whisker pole a try, so I rigged it up with the jib still rolled, then simply unrolled the jib to weather with the sheet running through the end of the pole. The next thing I knew  Seb had picked up another knot and was making very respectable speeds though the water, wing on wing, dead downwind. With no spinnaker. Even more incredible, she was rock steady, and her well-controlled motions meant that the poled-out jib actually stayed filled the vast majority of the time, instead of collapsing and banging full again. The whole experience was so calm that the autopilot could easily be engaged without making scores of battery-draining steering corrections. Fantastic! My speeds ranged from the upper 5 knots in the lulls to well over 7 as the puffs hit – dead down wind, right on the rhumb line. I couldn’t help but start fantasizing about long passages down the trade winds far, far from the Chesapeake Bay.

I’m not really sure why shoal draft keels seem to have largely replaced centerboards on new boats, because at this stage we absolutely love our centerboard. The big drawback we’ve noticed so far is the muscle it takes to get the board back up and the [slightly odd] tendency of this boat to roll when the board is fully retracted. We think the tradeoffs are well worth it. Friday was a perfect example of why: including  (rather than in spite of) the long spinnaker-free run back downwind, Friday was a terrific day on the Bay no matter the point of sail.

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The fun continued Saturday when our closest cronies joined Lisa and me for some stress testing in breezes ranging from the mid to upper teens. We found and marked a couple of water leaks to fix this winter, but other than that Seb was a champ all day. I think I can speak for our entire group when I say that the word “confident” sums up perfectly our impressions of the boat in fresh breezes. We’re eager to complete some open ocean passages next year.

Lisa and I wrapped up the weekend Sunday by bringing a good work friend (and his family) out for a day sail. Great times. The way our schedule is shaping up, we probably have just one more weekend to enjoy the Sabre before haul out. At that point we’ll be ready to take on the very long list of mainly minor fix-it items to prepare for next season in Newport.

7 thoughts on “A Windy Weekend (Finally!)

  1. I think I saw you guys out Sunday afternoon, on my way back from St Michaels, is the boat currently named Hula Girl or something like it?
    I was on the somewhat less prestigious Lancer 27 with the blue and yellow chute which took your stern a tad close for cruisers.
    As for sailing, you should have been out Friday night!! 25 to 27kts out of the south, we had a heck of a sail down!!

    1. Nope – she has blue painter’s tape over the name on the transom currently (we didn’t like the name the boat came with, but haven’t put new graphics on yet).I would have LOVED to have been out Friday night. Around 4:30 just as it was getting good I had to head in to be sure we got a spot in front of the Club. It was very tough to tear myself away from that sail! Ugh. Still I did get some good action during the day and had a ball. Plus it was exciting getting the main down and docking single-handed in those winds. Good times!

  2. Glad you got a nice breeze this week! The useful properties of the centerboard for downwind performance are more like they should be; the P-40 never really managed that! I take it your CB as part of the ballast since it’s heavy. 🙂

    1. I don’t believe the centerboard on this boat is actually balasted, it’s just a big f’ing boat so all of the loads are big!

      I’ve thought a lot about how this compares to the P-40, and it’s just too long ago for me to recall how that thing went downwind speed-wise. But I don’t recall it standing out either way. Of course I remember well that it was a nightmare to control when sailing deep angles vis a vis the yaw. The big difference here is that the Sabre 42 has a long, shallow keel into which the centerboard retracts. That, combined with a long and very shallow rudder skeg means she tracks exceptionally well. I bet this boat would be much faster downwind too because its a much more efficient hull form with the board up than the whale under body. And it doesn’t hurt that she weights 19,000 lbs compared to the P-40’s 24,000, and carries a lot more beam aft! Still for all of that I have a lot of affection for the P-40 (we saw one Friday night outside the Club ironically) because I think it was a really daring design. I still think they look terrific and I think the interior was really nice. But in the end the whale underbody doesn’t really offer any virtues I can think of (cheaper construction?), and of course, there was the minor matter of the structure forward of the main bulkhead being, er, under constructed for offshore work…

      1. Yup, all of that is quite right! I believe the whale shape added to handling issues by adding dirty flow turbulence rendering the upper rudder section useless at times. But it sure is a very pretty design, and a good coastal cruiser. The Saber has no ballast in the CB noted on the spec sheet, so I believe you’re right, just a big CB. It is a cheaper build but not as bad as the P-424. Friends coming back from Bermuda had to stop way and heave to due to scary hull twist!!

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