Registered: March 2008
Review Date: Fri March 28, 2008
||Would you recommend the product? Yes |
Price you paid?: $8,750.00
| Rating: 8
Very Fast, Inexpensive, One-Design Racing on Lake Ontario
Sitting Headroom, No Galley, Not Suitable for more than weekend Cruising
Spunky Kirby 25 - Grown-up Laser offers exciting one-design racing and spartan cruising for sailors on a budget
(copied from class website: www.kirby25.com)
If boats were characterized by their maturity, that's to say a lively dinghy is like a wilful child, a stately schooner like a graceful old lady, then the new Kirby 25 is an adolescent. She's spirited, light on her feet, plenty of fun, but admittedly not yet old enough for comfort. Scooting along in a fresh breeze a passenger gets the impression that he's on a grown-up laser. The lightness of the tiller, liveliness of the hull and even the ruffled texture of the deck are somewhat similar. If the Kirby had hiking straps there would be a lot of owners hanging happily over the side.
Harbour Yacht Sales, a West Vancouver Dealership, kindly loaned us the Kirby for a six day boat trial that would take us across Georgia Straight, through the northern Gulf Islands and back to Vancouver by way of Porlier Pass. Ideally, we thought, the best way to get an idea of a boat's performance and comfort is to spend a little time with her.
Mirage yachts of Pointe Claire, Quebec, build the Kirby on a production basis. The boat is the brainchild of designer Bruce Kirby and is obviously aimed at the same market as the successful J-24, a one-design popular on the eastern seaboard but yet to take off on the West Coast. To my knowledge no "J's" have turned up on the local racing scene and only recently has a dealer taken on the line in British Columbia. Seaworthy Development (Laser/Taser dealer) planned to bring one in during August and another two in the fall. So far seven Kirby's have been sold in British Columbia.
Although the Kirby has basic facilities for cruising (berths for four), she's unmistakably meant to appeal to the younger racing sailor on a budget, who wants to sail boat for boat with 1/2 tonners for under $17,000. The local dealer hopes that enough boats will be sold to inspire one-design racing. Apparently class rules have already been laid down.
Before and then again after our six day excursion I had the opportunity to race on one of these fleet-hulled Kirbys. The boat was thoroughly rigged for competition and the skipper had already captured several successes,or near successes,in local racing. I found like many of the new thoroughbreds it's essential to "keep her in the groove". Not only is fine sail trim important but crew weight and placement is critical as well. In moderate to heavy conditions the crew has to be on the weather rail, in light airs they should be amidships on the lee side. This factor was really brought home later when I was racing on another boat, a 33-footer, side by side with a Kirby for most of a reaching leg. The Kirby was holding us boat for boat most of the leg but suddenly fell back when a crewmember moved, perhaps somewhat quickly, from the lee side into the cockpit. This motion was just close enough to destroy the balance. In stronger winds it is possible for all crew to sit on the weather side, This is facilitated by leading the Genny sheet across her cabin top for trimming from the windward winch. On the boat we were sailing the skipper also made both double-ended reefing lines and cunningham accessible from the weather side. So a foredeck won't have to spend excessive time forward the spinnaker is set from a cloth basket hung in the companionway. This system is extremely efficient and I am surprised that it's not used more often on boats this size. In the right conditions it's said that the Kirby will get up and surf. We didn't have the "right conditions", but the claim is totally believable when you see her out of the water. Underneath she's flat all the way aft and a likely planer if there ever was one.
In PHRF competition it's not unusual to see a Kirby up with the 30-35 footers. She is fast. The skipper of the boat we sailed intends to race her in the 1/2-ton fleet at the two major level class regattas this autumn. Apparently the addition of an oversized mainsail beings her in at the 1/2 ton level. At 2900 pounds the Kirby weighs 400 pounds less than a San Juan 24 and 1100 less than a race-ready Thunderbird. Pound for pound about the only designed and built racing boat under 25 feet that regularly does better than the Kirby is a well sailed Martin 24. Martins are also considerably less expensive, probably because they don't have as many of the finishing touches (inner liners mainly) that Kirbys incorporate.
After racing a Star class sailboat for a couple of years I've come to accept the vexations of running backstays. Gybing a Star in heavy winds is akin to attempted suicide. If the deck sweeping boom doesn't get you, the falling rig will. Moreover, the manouevre invariably occurs at a gybe mark with about six other boats in close proximity. Fortunately the running backstays are not as critical. In fact the boat can be sailed quite safely without them. Their main advantage is for tensioning the forestay and adjusting sail shape. With its fractional (3/4) rig the Kirby is an easy boat to handle. Even the largest 150% Genoa comes around without too much effort. In lighter winds it can usually be brought in as tight as necessary by hand.
Her cockpit arrangement is practical. A centrally positioned traveller makes separate areas for crew and helmsman and is conveniently located for adjustment by the skipper. Seats either side will accommodate four, probably only in port since the crew would be scattered hither and yon across the decks during racing and cruising. Instead of toerails the stock boat comes with two tracks either side for fairlead adjustments. This setup works well for racing and cruising, but, as we have discovered, has a shortcoming in port when coffee cups, sunglasses, pots and so forth tend so slip, unchecked over the unbulwarked sides. A sailor used to the security of a toerail or low bulwark will have to keep a tight fist on his personal knick-knacks, and keep his feet inboard unaided.
What about the cruising aspects of this boat? Well, if the cruise is blessed with fair weather and you are able to spend much of your time walking on deck, the Kirby isn't a bad compromise. And if the weather does close in for a day or two, the addition of a simple boom-tent gives standing headroom in the companionway as well as additional covered area in the cockpit. During our six days we found that there was sufficient storage for just about everything we took along. Cool, hull-chilled lockers under the midship berths provided adequate space for a weeks food and a large cavity under the companionway was convenient for stowing our Coleman stove, water carrier and pots and pans. Personal gear and sleeping bags were stowed in the quarter berths where they couldn't roll around while sailing, A fiddles ledge above port and starboard backrests was suitable for books and other small items. The boat we were sailing was used primarily for racing and, apart from a home-made mini -galley and bucket in the head, was bare of the usual amenities. New owners contemplating limited cruising might want to install a proper marine toilet and perhaps a slide-out galley under the companionway. A conventional galley isn't essential, though, and we fared quite well with a simple propane Coleman stove, ice-chest and plastic washtub. When and where possible we cooked ashore on a portable barbeque.
The berths are comfortable, with just enough width and plenty of length. There is ample sitting headroom but of course not nearly enough for standing. In the forward compartment movement is accomplished in the crouching position. There are backrests either side and the option of a folding table to port. Forward of the mast is a partly closed off head-cum-sail locker. Here there is enough room for a centrally located marine toilet and four or five sail bags on molded shelves either side. We managed to squeeze a deflated inflatable dinghy in this area as well.
If there was one thing that bothered me more than anything else it was getting at the outboard auxiliary. With stanchions and permanent backstay both in the way it is extremely difficult to operate, usually at its most awkward as you're hurtling toward a dock unable to reach the reverse shifter. Perhaps the best solution to this problem would be to put extensions on both throttle and shift mechanisms. Although the controls were a nuisance, the engine, a 6 hp Johnson, was just the ticket, puching us along at about five knots while burning very little fuel. One sensible addition would be to install fiddles for the fuel tank in the after end of the cockpit sole, otherwise the tank tends to slip back and forth in a seaway.
Aft of the cockpit is a presently unused, decked- over space which would make a dandy lazarette. A simple hatch here would open up storage for fenders, bucket and lines, all of which end up in the already cluttered interior. I wondered whether there was a reason other than economics why the designer or builder hadn't arranged for this.
The Kirby is a keen sailor, in fact under certain conditions she'll try sailing at anchor, with all sails stowed. One evening at Pirates Cove (DeCourcy Island) a stiff northwesterly sprang up, causing several boats to drag anchor and most crews to maintain an anchor watch for a few hours. With plenty of scope the lightweight Kirby held easily. The only problem was that the wind caught her topsides and swung her one way and the other all too readily. Ideally this would be corrected with a stern anchor, however after a little experimentation we found that a plastic bucket hung over the transom was also effective, slowing the swing considerably. I should add that this problem of sailing at anchor is common to most, if not all, light displacement fin keel boats. In any windy anchorage you'll find that the heavier, full keel cruising boats are much more steady.
During our six day expedition we had a variety of conditions, from next-to-nothing southerlies to booming northwesterlies. The Kirby was at home in all of them. For a while we sailed under mainsail alone which seemed, on a reach, almost as fast as with both sails and we scooted along at about 5-6 knots in 12-15 knots of wind. A pleasant consequence of sailing under main alone, in any sailboat, is that the skipper can easily see where he's going. There are many good things to be said about a smart little racer/cruiser (small c) like the Kirby, best of all her performance. All too many cruising sailors scoff at the merits of a fast hull, saying that they would sooner opt for comfort and not worry about when they get to their destination. This is all well and fine, particularly if the owner has plenty of time, but take care the sailor who's ever had anything to do with a really talented sailing boat.
Here's a story to illustrate the point: After a wonderful three hour reach from Pirates Cove to Telegraph Harbour on Thetis Island we secured the Kirby a few slips away from a shiny, obviously new 21-foot motor-sailor. A while later the owner stopped by and we chatted for a few minutes. It didn't take long to realize that all was not wine and roses on the motor-sailor. Yes, she was very comfortable and yes, she powered along well; the problem was that she didn't sail worth a damn. The new owner had moved up, or was it sideways, from a relatively spunky Cal 20 and was having difficulty getting used to the motorsailer's step backwards in performance. It had taken him about the same time to sail from nearby Lady-Smith as it has us to come almost twice the distance from Pirates. He wasn't a totally happy sailor. This is not to say that the motorsailers do not have their place; of course they do. The warning is for owners of lively cruiser/racers contemplating a move to something more comfortable with a little less speed; don't be surprised if there are a few withdrawal symptoms.
The Kirby is not all things for all people, but if you're one who's interested in some genuinely exciting sailing and limited cruising in a well-made Canadian boat, she's definitely worth a second look.
Niagara 26 "Panache"