Sabre 42 Design Elements

By Rich

Editor’s Note: when we sold Le Saberage, we set up a full website to market her. As part of that site, we created a page detailing the Sabre 42 design elements. I enjoyed creating the content so much that I thought it would be fun to adapt and reprint it here on svrover.com. The timing was also appropriate given that Sabre’s founder, Roger Hewson, was recently interviewed for Sabre Yachts’ upcoming 50 year anniversary celebration. As part of that interview he said in no uncertain terms that the Sabre 42 was the best sailboat the company designed during his tenure:

Given our experiences with the Sabre 42, we’re not at all surprised this design was Hewson’s favorite! So we thought it would be fun to reprint our reflections on the design here. 

The Sabre 42’s design is typical of the mid-late 1980s racer-cruiser era that produced boats with a principal focus on sailing performance as opposed competing considerations such as maximizing living space below. The Sabre 42 was offered with either a deep draft fin keel or the highly desirable keel-centerboard configuration. Ours was was delivered with the centerboard.

A review of the hull form drawings in the Sabre 42 brochure here will show a comparatively fine entry, with maximum beam notably aft of amidships. That fine entry allows the Sabre 42 to cut cleanly through chop, reducing pitch and improving performance.

She carries the ideal amount of beam aft to the transom – enough to ensure stable tracking downwind under spinnaker but not so much that wetted surface grows undesirably large. The Sabre 42’s design was very similar to peer designs of the era from Baltic, Swan, and others, all of which represented a breed of yacht with very good performance and with outstanding handling characteristics.

But Roger Hewson, the Sabre 42’s designer, clearly had a broader focus than pure performance when drawing the Sabre 42’s lines: he obviously intended for her to be comfortable and safe in the open ocean. A look at the Sabre 42’s forward underbody reveals this priority. Note the comparatively deep “knuckle” where the bow plunges straight down under the water line before turning aft when viewed from the side. This deep “forefoot” to the bow, and the relatively steep “rocker,” or curve to the underbody heading back to the keel (again, when viewed from the side), both serve one goal: to reduce or eliminate pounding when sailing upwind in steep waves.

By combining this deep forefoot and rocker with generous deadrise in the 42’s forward hull, Hewson succeeded in his goal: the 42 proves to be nearly impossible to pound when sailing upwind in the open ocean. While all yacht designs represent tradeoffs, pounding when sailing upwind and poor tracking when sailing downwind represent two vices that ocean sailors will want to avoid whenever possible. On both points the Sabre 42 design scores extremely well. She is resistant to pounding, as we have seen, but she also tracks extremely well downwind. Two primary design elements serve this goal. First, the lead keel component of the keel-centerboard provides the longer-chord length, shallower foil desirable for excellent tracking when sailing downwind. Second, Hewson drew her underbody to include a long, shallow “rudder skeg” that smooths the flow of water and directs it aft to the rudder.

While a long-chord length, shallow keel form is desirable for downwind tracking, upwind performance is rewarded by the opposite: a short chord-length, deep foil that will allow the boat to turn nimbly down the back face of waves while offering a preferable lift to drag ratio. By allowing the centerboard to be lowered when sailing upwind, the Sabre 42’s keel-centerboard design offers the best of both of these worlds.

Best of all, the Sabre’s 8’6″draft can be reduced to a mere 4’8″ by winding up the centerboard when shallow anchorages are encountered.

Here’s an example of this shallow draft being put to good use when our 42 was anchored just off of the beach in Chub Cay in the Bahamas!

Putting It All Together: Sailing The Boat!

The Sabre 42 is a superb performer on all points of sail. Upwind she is delight – tracking beautifully, cutting smoothly through chop with minimal pitch, and making absolutely no leeway with her draft extended fully to over eight feet.

As the breeze builds she continues to balance out beautifully as the main is reefed down, and even sails with a perfectly balanced helm under jib alone, as shown below. Note the size of the chop and her stubborn refusal to pound even when provoked.

Below is a video of the 42 during a lively beat upwind from Annapolis to Rock Hall on the Chesapeake. With the centerboard extended to its full 8’6″ draft she makes quick and fun work of uphill passages like these … yet the board can be raised so she can tuck into shallow anchorages other yachts her size wouldn’t dare to enter. On this occasion that anchorage was cozy little Swan Creek, which was reached just in time to enjoy a rum-and-tonic sundowner at anchor before heading in to town for dinner.

Below: a short video of an exhilarating beam reach to Cat Key just south of Bimini in the Bahamas.

Below, beam reaching to Tangier Island on the Chesapeake in a 20-25 knot westerly. What a blast!

Below: She performs beautifully under spinnaker. She has plenty of rudder for gusty broad reaches and tracks superbly. An asymmetric spinnaker can be tacked to the stem or a guy can be run to pole the tack aft a bit for deeper running.

Below: safety at sea is a function of safe, predictable handling in open ocean conditions. This video was shot during a downwind run in the Atlantic ocean heading northeast toward Block Island in the spring of 2015. Despite winds into the low 20s, the 42 is light and easy at the helm, tracks perfectly, and surfs willingly. Note the calm tones of the crew’s voices during their conversation.

Contemporaneous Media Links For The Sabre 42

Magazine sail tests from the late 1980s:

Review 1

Review 2

Review 3

Magazine advertisements from the late 1980s:

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