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Old 08-25-2002
JeffH
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Pilothouse--Are Builders Missing Market?

About 10 years ago, a lot of manufacturers of cruising oriented boats jumped on the ''pilot house model'' bandwagon. There was a market for pilothouse equipped sailboats but it is a comparatively small one.

To begin with, it is very hard to design a pilothouse for a boat under about 38 to 40 feet and still have it make sense in terms of an interior layout or deck plan. The market for boats over 38 feet is quite small. (There are less than 3000 new sailboats over 30 feet sold in this country each year and way more than two-thirds of those are under 36 feet.)

Adding a pilothouse option to an existing design is more complicated than simply producing a new deck mold. For one the height of the pilot house and its raised sole, means a higher center of gravity and additional weight. This means that the boat should get more ballast if the boat''s stability and it''s motion comfort is to remain the same as it had been. Of course this also means more weight.

With all of this added weight greater care must be taken to remove weight from somewhere else or the boat will sit low on her lines. That means either less tankage or more expensive cored interior components or the more typical situation that the boat sits lower in the water. In most cases these boats end up heavier and with more drag and so really need more sail area (and more ballast) to sail as well as thier non-pilot house sisters.

Most manufacturers end up reducing sail area rather than increasing ballast. So, instead of adding more sail area in most cases the builder uses the same mast but raises the boom to clear the pilot house and then reduces the size of the recommended jib to keep the boat in ballance.

As a result, in most cases, you end up with a boat with a less comfortable motion, less capacity and poorer performance and, since these are limited production boats, they typically sell for an often significantly higher price.

Then there is the issue of actually sailing with a pilothouse. I found it next to impossible to sail from within a traditional pilot house as visibility of the sails is very limited, you can''t feel the breezes, you needed to walk out of the pilothouse pretty frequently to make sail adjustments,(in the normal spring, summer and fall sailing season) it was quite a bit hotter down below in the pilothouse rather than in the breezes on deck. Steering from on deck, the pilothouse really obscured the view forward which meant jumping back and forth across the cockpit to keep watch. (That may have been a function of the specific pilot house boats that I sailed on.)

Lastly, with the advent of soft cockpit enclosures, so popular with the ICW ''snowbirds'', which can be fitted in northern climes and then removed in the tropics, the need for a pilothouse model is further limited.

Like so many things in sailing, pilothouses certainly have advantages for people who predominantly sail in harsh environments. But those advantages come require some compromises that are not insubstantial and which few sailors are willing to make.

Jeff
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