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Old 03-02-2004
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Bristol Channel Cutters

I guess the first question is "Where do plan to sail this boat?" and the second is, "What do you plan to do with the boat?"

I assume you are talking about the Lyle Hess designed Bristol Channel Cutter 28. The Bristol Channel Cutters are a reduced scale, yacht-ized interpretation of an approximately 100 year old working water craft that in its day had an excellent reputation for seaworthiness. The interpretation is quite liberal and so it should be seen as a type unto itself but the basic design principles of the BCC 28 represent the best thinking of 100 plus years ago with but a few tips of the hat to the things learned since.

There are two ways to look at a boat like this.

On one hand, in their day (i.e. circa 1880-1910), these boats represented a reasonable standard of speed and a pinacle of seaworthiness. The sea has not changed in 100 years so why should yacht design? These boats have successfully ventured offshore in a wide range of conditions and so are a proven quantity. They offer quite a lot of carrying capacity and interior space for a 28 on deck boat. They are comparatively easy to handle in a wide range of conditions. They are simply rigged. The better finished ones are an absolute jewelbox, beautiful to see and touch from every angle.

On the other hand, if you are of the other mindset, we have learned a tremendous amount about seaworthiness, performance, and ease of handling in the 100 years since this was represented a highly sophisticated design. If you are in that camp, you might liken this to driving the best 1910 era automobile of that era. It would be a great car for that era but there would be a lot of shortcomings that have been addressed in more modern designs. Like any traditional design, this was a design that reflected the limitations of materials and knowlege of that era. We have better materials and knowledge and so no longer need to live with those limitations. We would no longer use 1910 methods of surgery, why would we use 1910 sailing technology?

Continuing that line of thought, these are extremely short boats for their weight, so they have all of the maintenance costs, and difficulty of handling large sails, etc of a longer boat but with few of the advantages in accommodations, motion comfort, performance, or seaworthiness of the longer design.

It is all in how you see things.

In some kind of objective sense, these boats really are about as good as a small traditional cruising boat can be. Some were owner built and so the interiors and rigging can vary quite wildly in build quality, but the hulls and decks were generally robustly constructed. Most that I have seen have been nicely constructed. The interior layouts have varied from layouts that varied from a very romantic and nice coastal cruising/liveaboard layout that probably would not work very well offshore, to about as nice an offshore layout as you could fit in a boat this length. For a boat of this type they offer a fairly high amount of performance. They have a nice slow pitching and rolling movement which is very appealing to many who venture offshore.

They are not without negatives. No matter how you look at these boats, they are obsenely expensive for what they actually offer taken on any objective scale (of course objectivity typically has little place in selecting a sailboat). Most have a tremendous amount of wood on deck and so are comparatively high maintenance for a boat this length and from my perspective would be a deal killer if I was thinking about long range voyaging. They are next to useless as sailboats in winds under 8-10 knots or so. By any modern standard they are quite slow and do not point or run very well. They roll and pitch through mercilessly large angles and can pitch themselves to a dead halt in a short chop and moderate winds. Thier high drag means carrying a lot more sail than a boat this length would typically need to carry meaning a lot more sail to trim. That is no big deal offshore when you are typically deciding which day, if not which week, you will be tacking, but makes them a bit of a pain in the butt for coastal cruisings constantly changing conditions. In most respects these boat are as expensive to maintain as 35 of so footers. Most yards that I deal with charge a premium to paint the bottoms on boats like these because there is as much surface to paint as a there is on modern 35-38 footer. Burned by having bowsprits and dinghies in davits taking up a lot of un-paid for dockspace, more and more marinas are charging by overall length so in many cases you would be paying dockage for a 36 footer and only getting the advantage of living aboard a 28 footer. Because of their high drag to length, these boats are also fitted with engines that would be adequate for a much longer boat, and so require the fule capacity of a longer boat. While the many of the interiors fitted to these boats are really neat, they are dark, cramped, and poorly ventilated when compared to the better more modern offshore designs.

I guess I would summarize it like this, if your primary concerns are aethetic, you are a very experienced sailor, you prefer spartan but beautiful accomodations, you have no concerns about finances and you are planning to spend a lot of time making long distance voyaging, then a boat like the BCC 28 might make sense for you. If your goals are mainly coastal cruising or island hopping, with a less frequent jump offshore, and you are a less experienced sailor, if you want all of the comforts of home, and you are a bit budget challenged then a longer more modern boat of a similar displacement might make more sense for you.

Respectfully,
Jeff

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