Performance Cruising: The Right Boat in the Right Hands

I once heard performance cruising described as 'ordinary cruising with attitude'. I knew what he meant, but it might also be described as 'cruising with the emphasis on fast, efficient sailing'.

'Fast' though, is a relative term, but I think it's fair to say that all seasoned cruisers try to get the best out of their boats, be they aboard a heavy-displacement plodder or a light-displacement flyer.

But most of us sail our boats with more than a nodding regard for crew comfort when the conditions become lively. We're inclined to put a reef in well before the boat demands it, willingly sacrificing some speed for creature comfort.

On the other hand, the performance cruiser is more likely to keep driving the boat hard towards its destination, intent on maximising hull speed until its clearly no longer appropriate to do so. His (or her) attention to sail trim will approach devout.

Such cruising sailors are unlikely to favour heavy displacement, long-keeled boats for cruising.

Their preference will be for moderate-to-light displacement fin-keeled craft, with slippery easily-driven hulls. And a fixed prop would soon be replaced by one of the feathering or folding varieties.

Whilst it's true that many modern mass-produced light displacement sailboats look the part, their lightness may well be the result of a desire to reduce build costs rather than to optimise durability and performance. You might want to think twice about driving them hard to weather in challenging conditions.

Sailboats for Performance Cruising

But there are plenty of sailboats that can rightly be described as true performance cruising boats. Designed with fast easily-driven hulls, efficient sail plans and built with high-tech, lightweight materials for strength and robustness, these boats are fit for purpose.

Boats of this type have much in common with racing machines but are optimised for cruising, and often by a crew of just two people. The main cruising concessions are:-

  • their draft will be much reduced from that of a deep-keeled race boat, in the interests of anchoring practicality;
  • As a consequence, the mast height will be reduced to maintain the righting moment;
  • They will be fully fitted out below and equipped with accessories for easy sail handling and comfortable living aboard.

In the right hands they're capable of impressive passage times and can take advantage of a weather window that would be marginal at best for an 'ordinary' cruising boat. 

The following are four such boats...

Of course there are many more, but these are those that shared a Caribbean anchorage with our boat Alacazam during the 2017 sailing season and fell victim to my camera.

Clicking on the pics will reveal the specifications of each boat. Note their long waterlines, relatively high sail-area/displacement ratios and low displacement/length ratios—a clear indication of their performance capability.

These four boats are all sloops, but the Outbound 46 and the Aerodyne 47 are solent rigged, not cutters as they might appear to be at first glance.

I have to say that I found the Aerodyne 47 particularly mouthwatering...

Performance Cruising Catamarans

Many production catamarans, particularly those intended for chartering or family cruising, do not perform as well as you may expect them to. The reasons include:

  • a low bridgedeck, which maximises headroom below but prevents the unobstructed flow of water between the hulls;
  • high windage, resulting from flying bridges and sheer accommodation-providing bulkiness;
  • overloading, through maximising the number of revenue-earning berths.

Of course, there are exceptions:

Gunboat 62 high performance cruising catamaranLight, Simple & Quick—The Gunboat 62 High Performance Catamaran

High Performance Sails

Clearly there's little point in having a high-performance hull if the sails that drive it provide anything less than their maximum power and efficiency.

Nothing is more performance-sapping than a stretched, baggy sail. Sails in this condition:

  • are impossible to trim effectively;
  • cause the boat to heel more than they otherwise would;
  • provide reduced drive;
  • contribute to excessive leeway.

Performance sailboats deserve the robustness and durability of molded or laminate sails, which will retain their shape for the lifetime of the sail.

In fact they'll delaminate and generally fall apart before losing their shape. This is exactly opposite to the way in which woven sails deteriorate, which stretch and lose their shape long before their construction becomes an issue.

Laminate & Molded Sails for Top Performance...

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