After this week’s test sail of a deep-draft Sabre 36, I thought it would be fun to take a moment to pause and reflect on the Sabres I have sailed so far and how they compare! And I thought I’d rank them based on how enjoyable I found them overall.
#1 Sabre 42 keel / centerboard.
Pros: I might be partially biased because of all of the great experiences I had on my own Sabre 42 over several years, but for my money this boat is simply delightful on every point of sail. She handles beautifully upwind in waves because of the fine bow entry and long beam run aft. She’s excellent downwind with the centerboard up – even without a spinnaker and is pure magic when you do hoist a kite. Her crazy small 4.6′ draft with the board up means you can anchor super close to a Bahamian beach or reach other shallow destinations like Swan Creek in Rock Hall, Maryland. With the optional varnished teak interior, these boats are luxurious below deck and have ample water & fuel tankage for coastal cruising. In the mid 1980s, this boat was among the larger, more expensive performance cruisers and I love the nostalgia of thinking back to that age when I am aboard one.
Cons: These boats have lots of roll in exposed anchorages or mooring fields due to the shallow draft with the board up. When you lower the board the roll stops, but then the board clunks side to side and there is no sleep to be had anyway. Plus the board would be at risk of fouling with the anchor chain or mooring so we never left it down after a sail.
Under sail, there is too much balance in 42’s the rudder foil for my taste which means there is essentially zero feel through the steering wheel. The 42 exhibits lots of yaw on a broad reach in ocean swells, and she doesn’t point as close to the wind as the deep draft Sabre models like the Sabre 36.
Centerboards require both regular maintenance (cleaning the board and trunk during bottom cleanings, being left in slings so the centerboard can be painted, with each bottom job etc) , and regular inspection of the cables, sheave boxes, and conduits. These maintenance issues are the primary reason why centerboards have gone nearly extinct on modern production boats in favor of winged shoal draft fixed keels. But it’s a pity, because keel centerboard boats sail infinitely better than boats with the poorly designed shoal keels that have become the norm.
Sum Up: On balance, subjectively, this is still the most enjoyable Sabre I have sailed so far. The penalty imposed by the keel / centerboard as far as point is really only experienced when trying to head dead upwind, and the way the boat accelerates and performs while heading off the breeze just a few degrees makes up for it. She’s fantastic on reaches and off the wind as well.
#2 Sabre 36 deep draft.
Pros: Absolutely perfect rudder balance upwind. She has the ideal amount of weather helm when close hauled, and the rudder foil has an ideal balance between feel and load on the wheel as opposed to the keel / CB 42’s numb helm. In other words, the 36 has literally perfect steering. She points easily 5-10 degrees higher than the 42 keel / centerboard and makes essentially the same speed. Her simple, open interior layout is ideal for a casual coastal cruiser.
Cons: From my perspective, it’s just the size relative to the 42 that puts the 36 in second place in my ranking. As soon as you bear off just a bit from close-hauled on the 42, you really feel the power of the boat as she is able to accelerate by using her sail area, waterline length, and displacement – something that’s not as true with the 36. There’s nothing other than the difference in size between the two boats that makes this difference, so it’s in no way a knock on the design of the 36. From my perspective, though, if I arrived at a marina with a 15 knot breeze blowing and both boats were tied up next to one another, the 42 is the boat I’d take out. If, on the other hand, on that same evening it was a windward-leeward beer can race, or if my next destination were dead upwind, I’d take the 36 in a second!
Sum Up: If you’re use case is coastal cruising, daysailing, and the occasional weekend beer can race, the deep draft 36 is a delightful boat that won’t disappoint you. These boats are also significantly less expensive than the 42s.
#3: Sabre 34 deep draft.
Pros, Cons, Sum Up: Clone my comments on the Sabre 36, because it’s basically the identical boat, just a little smaller. The 34 is a fantastic sailing boat but she’s so much smaller than the 42 that I just keep wanting more speed than her waterline can deliver. For some reason the 36 feels notably faster – more so than 2 feet of additional length would imply. Oddly, although the boat’s statistics don’t support the following subjective impression, the 34 feels stiffer than the 36 to me for some reason. The 34 is a great, entertaining little boat for the same use cases as the 36.
#4 Sabre 425 wing keel.
Pros: Identical to the 42 keel centerboard except for the keel (see below). More headroom than the 42 due to raised freeboard. You get additional portholes in the hull of this design too.
Cons: Exactly like the Hylas 54/56, these shoal keels need a lot of speed through the water to begin lifting and to liven up the helm. Both the Hylas 56/54 and the 425 need to be going at least 6 knots through the water for the short keels to start lifting and for the helm to go from lee, through neutral, and eventually to the right amount of weather helm to be fun. So from my perspective, the 425 is very much like our Hylas in the sense that it isn’t very entertaining to sail until the winds come up.
Sum Up: Same as for the 42, except for the keel.
#5 Sabre 36 keel / centerboard.
Pros: Nice helm and sailing dynamics upwind. Simple, open interior layout ideal for a casual coastal cruiser.
Cons: This boat struck me as crazy tender. It just seemed to lay over as the winds came up and made notably more leeway than the 42 did (the 42 made exactly zero leeway with the board down). These dynamics baffle me because it’s the identical design language as the 42, just scaled down – yet somehow the design just doesn’t translate well to a boat this size.
Sum Up: It depends on what your priorities are. If you cruise in very shallow waters where you need this boat’s 4′ draft and the 6.3′ draft of the fin keel would be too much, then maybe the keel / CB is the boat for you. But if sailing dynamics and performance are your focus go for the deep draft!