UMSC Fleet Replacement Report Paul Townsend 1 Oct 2007
Over the summer of 2007, the University of Michigan Sailing Club has been evaluating possible replacements for our double-handed sailboat fleet. Eight candidate boats were selected for evaluation based on criteria outlined here . Each boat was brought to the club and the members were encouraged to sail the boat and fill out an evaluation form. What follows is my opinion based upon the trials. While I am a member of the UMSC board and the Fleet Replacement Committee, this report is my own and does not (necessarily) represent the views of the board or the committee.
This started as an exercise to figure out where I stood by putting all my evaluations in one place. Once it got to a certain point, I figured it couldn't hurt to share it with others. So here it is.
I came up with about a dozen criteria and evaluated each boat on a four point rating scale: Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. Two of the eight boats (Hunter 140 and the Mutineer) didn't really meet the criteria so they are not included in this report. The results for the remaining 6 boats are summarized in the table below. Details on each criteria follow.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the demo schedule I couldn't spend as much time in each boat as I would have liked. I have sailed the Albacore and the JY-15 extensively and feel I know both those boats quite well. The other four boats' evaluations are based on only a couple of hours experience, so my opinions may be a bit off-base as they're based on limited experience.
NOTE: The JY-15 as tested was a club model with the turbo rig & non-standard
sails. Some have reported that the "stock" JY has better handling. I have
not yet had a chance to sail one in more than 5 knots so all I have to go on is
the club model - I hope to take a new (standard) JY out in more wind in the
next week or so. If warranted, I'll modify the ratings accordingly.
Comfort - Is it pleasant or painful to sail? Do you hurt at the end of the day?
Perhaps I've been spoiled, but I dislike kneeling. I dislike squatting with my knees up around my ears. And I don't like to scooch around the bilge on my butt. If I have to do any of those things in order to sail a boat it will lose points in the comfort category.
The 420, the Albacore, and the Jet14 all have a cockpit geometry where you sail in a sitting position and cross the boat on your feet, so these three get a Good rating. Adding to the comfort factor is that all three of these boats have a centerboard trunk, so that when the crew needs to sit in the middle of the boat, the crew can actually sit in the middle of the boat instead of kneeling or squatting.
Sailing a JY is all about squatting with your knees around your ears, kneeling on the cockpit floor, and scooching around on your butt. I find my knees ache for days after sailing one. It get's a Marginal rating.
The Snipe with it's narrow cockpit, mid-height freeboard, and deep floor was much better on the knees than the JY. The crew position was a little cramped, so it gets an Acceptable.
The V15 seemed a bit more comfortable than the JY, but still has the kneeling/squatting/scooching problem. I say "seemed" because the real test is how my knees feel after 6 hours of racing, and until I've done that I can't say for sure. I'll tentatively give it a Marginal.
A brief digression on pain: sailing is an athletic activity, so some amount of pain is expected. No pain, no gain as they say. I have no problem with sore muscles from exertion, or the occasional bump, scrape, or bruise. Actually, the sensation of sore legs from a day of serious hiking is rather pleasant. Knee pain is something else entirely - when you abuse your knees they don't get stronger, it's just damage. Hence my aversion to kneeling and squatting. That said, comfort is one of those things that's highly individual. YMMV.
Handling - Does the boat go where you want it to go? Does it respond predictaly to input from the helm, sail trim and boat balance?
The Snipe had the most precise handling - a smooth neutral feel on the helm, nice response to boat balance and sail trim. When we encountered a header, a little lean inward and a subtle adjustment of the tiller was all it took to keep the boat on it's lines. Most maneuvers were like that - a little direction and the boat responded precisely. Part of this "elegant" feel of the helm is probably due to the tiller length - it's very long, making a nice lever arm to the rudder. Good.
The V15 and Albacore had a similar feel to the Snipe and are not too not far behind. Smooth & balanced helm (as long as you avoid the swept-back beaver tail rudders found on older Albacores). The Jet 14 suffers a little from it's swept back rudder, but still rates good. The 420 rates good as well.
The Alb and the 420 were the best roll tackers. The Jet 14 hull shape should roll tack well, but I found the cramped cockpit impeded crossing the boat with vigor. Perhaps I just needed more time to practice.
One of the things that really stood out from the trials is that every single boat that we tried handled significantly better than the JY. The forces from the sails, foils and hull just don't line up, causing the boat to heel, round up and otherwise wander all over the place. It's like the boat has a mind of it's own and wants to misbehave. You have to make gross movements with the tiller and fling your weight around just to keep it upright and going in a straight line. On a lake with steadier wind, this might not be such a problem since you might have the chance to "dial it in". On our lake, it makes the boat balky and unpredictable. Poor.
Zippiness - Does the boat accelerate? Does it plane? Is it fun?
The V15 has the best zip factor. It accelerates nicely and planes in less
wind than any of the other boats. Good
Note that these results above could be predicted by looking at the sail area and the weight of the boat. More area & less weight directly translate into a zippy boat.
Beginner Friendliness - Is the boat stable? Does it handle predictably? Is it forgiving of mistakes? Does it take hours of practice just to keep it upright and going in a straight line?
What's most important in a beginner boat is:
The 420 is probably the best boat overall for a never-ever. Responsive to steering, but it won't run away with them. Plus you can roll them over almost 90 degrees and not capsize. Good.
The Albacore with it's high final stability (see capsize ratings) make it especially friendly for beginners. Good.
The V15, Snipe and Jet14 rate Acceptable. Nothing special, nothing terrible. I could be easily persuaded into turning all three into Good ratings.
The poor handling of the JY makes it hard for beginners. It's excessive weather helm means that a dropped tiller usually results in the boat spinning around in one boat length and either capsizing immediately, or continuing to spin until it accidentally gybes and then capsizes. Marginal.
BTW, one of the things that I did not consider when evaluating "beginner friendliness" is how many control lines were on a particular boat. Yes, I understand that staring at a cockpit full of spaghetti is daunting for a newbie, but all of the boats under consideration can be outfitted as a "simple" club boat. All that go-fast cordage is there to eke out another tenth of a knot in certain conditions, none of it is necessary to just go sailing. We can (and will) leave most of it off a club boat.
Suitability as a teaching platform - Similar to Beginner Friendliness, but from the instructor's perspective. How is it to teach in?
Again, the 420 takes top honors here. The big roomy cockpit and the highly stable hull means that the instructor can prevent the student from dumping the boat.
Likewise, the Albacore is roomy, and gives lots of warning before going over. Additionally, there's room for a second or third student in the boat which could lighten the load on our instruction team. I really enjoy teaching in this boat - I know it's not going to capsize so I can relax and talk my student through whatever trouble spots occur.
In third place is the V15 - roomy and very flat making a stable platform in light air. More likely to capsize if it's blowing, but still gets a Good rating.
A cramped crew position reduces the Jet14 and the Snipe to Acceptable.
As for the JY, the poor handling and propensity to capsize means that the student can dump the boat before the instructor has a chance to do anything about it. I want to provide a safe, fun experience for my students Ė I canít reliably do that with a JY. Marginal.
Casual Sailing w/ Friends or family - Your brother-in-law shows up with his wife and kids. They've never been in a boat before but think sailing might be "neat". Can this boat stand this challenge?
OK, this is why we bought the CL-16s, but here's the skinny: The Albacore can function as a roomy day sailor, easily taking four people. With that much ballast in the boat, it's not going over unless it's really blowing. Good.
The other boats rate Acceptable.
Light Wind Performance - Who wants to sail in light wind, anyway? Well, we get a lot of light wind days, so let's see what happens when the wind is light.
This is pretty highly correlated with "Zippness" - a light boat with lots of sail area will do well here. A heavy underpowered boat won't.
As expected, the Albacore, JY and V15 take top honors. Slight edge to the Alb if there's motorboat chop since it powers through that better than the others. In flat water, the edge goes to the V15. Good.
Snipe and Jet14 are Acceptable. The sluggish 420 is Marginal.
Medium Wind Performance - What we sail in most of the time, so probably the most important.
The V15 planes more readily than any of the other boats. That factor alone is probably enough for it to be tops in this category. As it approaches a plane and then accelerates the feel of the boat doesn't really change - it just goes faster and you don't have to do much with the helm or boat balance to keep it on an even keel. (shifting your weight back will help it to plane) Good.
The V15 is followed by the Alb and the Snipe, respectively. Both have good performance across the medium range of winds, with the Albacore planing earlier than the Snipe.
The Jet 14 starts to move well, so it takes fourth. Good.
The 420 remains sluggish. Acceptable.
And while the JY moves along and planes at about the same point as the Albacore (and in less wind than the Snipe), it's poor handling starts to come to the fore as the wind increases. As you approach a plane, and then get up on the plane everything changes and the boat becomes a handful to keep balanced. In upper medium winds (15 knots) with the balkiness of the helm and the poor form stability of the hull it's a feat of acrobatics just to keep it upright. Planing in a JY gives one the feel of being on the verge of disaster. Some find this exciting. My take is that it shouldn't be this dicey. I give it Acceptable, because of the low-medium wind performance is good. In upper-medium winds it would rate marginal to poor.
High Wind Performance -
We didn't actually have high wind on any of the demo days. So the ratings in this category have to be based on prior experience (JY, Alb, 420), or extrapolation based on upper-medium wind performance & speculation based on boat specs (Jet14, Snipe, V15).
I can tell you from experience that the Albacore handles high wind with aplomb. The tunable rig allows you to depower the sails and stay upright when it's blowing the dog off the chain. It's regularly raced in 30+ knots. Good.
My experience is that the JY is basically unsailable in over 15. The poor handling it exhibits at lower winds turns into a wrestling match in a blow. The boat heels, bucks and rolls unpredictably. The only way to cope is with lightning-fast reflexes and a lot of meat on the rail, and even that isnít enough. Thereís a fairly narrow range between planing (fun) and unsailable. Poor.
I've witnessed the team sailing the 420s when it's scary windy, so based on that observation, the 420 gets a Good.
We had the Snipe out in upper medium winds, and it handled that without becoming squirrley or balky, so I would assume that as the wind increases nothing serious changes. A smaller sailplan, heavy daggerboard, plus depowering options leads me to think it would be Good.
The Jet 14 also gets a Good for the same reasons as the Snipe. Keep in mind that this is speculation at this point.
The V15 is a lightweight boat with a lot of sail area, so one would expect it to be more of a handful as the wind builds. It's sail controls are not as powerful as those found on the Snipe/Alb/Jet so the ability to dial it down would be correspondingly limited. The things I look for to agressively depower (a tapered mast, a powerful vang, a powerful rig tensioner) aren't there. I did note that the Portsmouth handicap table shows a blank in the high wind column, which implies to me that it canít (or they donít) race in high winds. All the other boats under serious consideration (except the JY) have high wind ratings. So, I'm going to call it Acceptable with a question mark.
Capsize Avoidance - How easily does the boat go over? Do you have time to save the boat when it heels way over, or does it happen in a flash?
Part of the evaluation process was to capsize each boat intentionally to see what it's like to right. One of the more humorous moments came when we sent out a team to capsize the Albacore and it took them six attempts to make it go over - they were actively trying to capsize it, and had difficulty. Why is this?
The reason is that some hull designs have a lot of final stability. (sometimes called secondary stability.) This is a fancy boat-design term that merely means that the boat remains stable when heeled. In the case of the Albacore, at about 35 degrees of heel it reaches an equilibrium point where it takes a lot more force to tip it any further. The boat heels, but doesn't tip further (usually - in enough wind it will go all the way over).
If you'd like to learn more about form stability, I'd recommend this excellent article which is about kayaks, but the principle is the same. The short version is that some hull shapes have lots of final stability, and some don't - in general, round hulls have the most and flat boats have the least.
The 420, the Jet14 and the Albacore all have this final stability built into the hull shape. Good.
The Snipe is flatter (hence less final stability) , but the hard chines, smaller sail plan and heavy daggerboard contribute to stability and earn it a Good rating too.
The V15 is the only boat that capsized accidentally in the demo trials. The very wide flat hull doesn't provide much final stability, and the lightweight hull and larger sailplan make it more capsize prone. Acceptable.
The JY also lacks final stability, but the poor handling and excessive weather helm means that it reaches the point of no return more readily than any other boats. It's a capsize machine. Poor.
Capsize Recovery - How hard is it to right the boat? Can you do it single-handed? Does the boat turtle? How hard is it to get everyone back in the boat? How hard is it to bail out the cockpit?
The 420, the Jet 14 and the Snipe are all easy to right single-handed, don't turtle immediately, and come up dry or mostly dry. Good.
The V15 turtles, but can be righted by one person (with a little more difficulty). It comes up dry. Not as good as the three above, but still Good.
The Albacore doesn't turtle easily and can be righted easily by one person. It comes up full of water, which must be bailed out, or if it's reasonably windy (i.e. windy enough to capsize in the first place) the boat can be sailed dry. After capsize, it sits low in the water, so it's the easiest boat to get back into - you don't climb so much as swim back into the boat. Acceptable.
The JY turtles immediately unless the crew is very fast to get on the centerboard. Once turtled, the small centerboard provides little leverage against the very beamy hull, so it takes two people to right it, and my experience at the club is that many members can't right it even with two. While it's difficult to right, it does come up dry once you do. A bare minimum for "acceptable" is that sailors be self-reliant and not have to rely on outside assistance. Since it's not a self-rescue boat in many situations it rates Marginal.
Overall Durability - How well will the major components (hull, spars, foils) of the boat stand up to club usage?
Like the high wind sailing criterion, these ratings are based on a combination of experience with the boats I know (JY, Albacore, 420) and speculation based on inspections & hearsay for the boats I don't (Snipe, Jet14, V15)
I know that the JY takes a lot of abuse and comes back for more.
The Snipe and the Jet14 are fairly conventional GRP design, without being excessively thin & lightweight. 30 year old boats are commonly raced in both classes. I'm unaware of any community club usage for either of these boats, so I'm not sure how they'll stand up to club use. Basically solid, but without the track record for durability in a club situation. Acceptable.
The V15 is much lighter than any of these other boats. Lighter weight
usually implies a tradeoff with durability. It was redisigned a few years
ago to correct some of the hull issues in earlier models. My take is that
it would be no more or less durable than the Lasers. But since I'm not
convinced of this, it gets a Marginal with a big question mark.
Amount of Maintenance Required - This is the minor piddly stuff that you do to keep the boat in service - lines, blocks, fittings, minor dings in the hull, etc
The JY is mostly a trouble-free boat, especially when it comes to fixing minor scrapes in the hull (you don't have to do this very much.) It's simple controls mean that there's fewer things to break, so fewer things to fix. Good.
The other boats get an Acceptable here, mostly due to the expected amount of minor glass work from collisions.
JY-15s & 420s go for about $5500.
V15's are about $1000 more than that.
A new Snipe is about $9k - perhaps less for a simply rigged club version.
We don't have pricing on the Jet 14 yet, but expect it to be similar to the Snipe.
Most Albacores are built in Canada, and the Canadian dollar has surged against the US dollar recently, making these boats 50% more than they were a few years ago. A basic Alb from Ontario Yachts is just under $10k CAN, with a full-on raced rigged model going for just under $13k. There's a US builder that may be less expensive. No pricing as yet.
So what to make of all this? The truth is that every boat design is a compromise, and finding the right boat is not so much a matter of finding the "best" as it is finding the one that makes the right compromises for that particular situation.
In our case, we're looking for boats that are durable, inexpensive, and sail well. As the saying goes, we get to pick any two out of the three. The JY is inexpensive and rugged. The V15 is inexpensive and sails well. The Albacore is durable and sails well.
What's most important? Cost? Durability? On the water performance? Some combination of the three?
I did not crunch the evaluations into an "overall" rating, since the result would be meaningless. Each of the six boats has something going for it, and each has it's drawbacks. We've got to look at them one at a time.
If you've read this far, thanks for listening. If you'd like to do your own analysis, I've prepared a blank boat-matrix form here. Feel free to download it and fill it out - it's not homework, and you don't have to turn it in or anything. Of course, I'll read any and all feedback & opinions that comes my way, just as I've read every single boat evaluation form. Communications on this subject will be shared with with the board & fleet replacement committee unless you ask me not to.
Thanks to everyone who has participated in the fleet search process so far. I look forward to some interesting discussions.
The Boats as Tested
Unfortunately, we could not obtain new boats for all the demos - obviously that would have been best since it would be more of an apples-to-apples comparrison. Instead we tried the boats that were available. Is it fair to compare a 30 year old model X with a brand new model Y? No, not really, but life's not fair. I've tried to look past the "shiny new" factor, but I can't say for sure if I was succesful. Anyway, here's what they were:
420 - various boats from the UM Sailing Team's fleet. 10 to 20 years old. These are "Club 420s", not the spin/trap outfitted International 420.
Albacore - One 30 year old non-cored Skene and one 22 year old foam cored Ontario Yachts model. The latter was owned by a community sailing club in Toronto for 22 years.
Jet 14 - A three year old like-new boat built by JibeTech. Fully tricked out with all the racing gear and spinaker.
JY-15 - boats from the UMSC fleet ~ 12 years old. Turbo rig. Non-class legal sails from Quantum.
Snipe - ~20 year old boat on loan from Midwest Sailing. Not sure of manufacturer. Fully raced rigged.
Vanguard15 - brand new boat with brand new sails.
Links & References