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post #4 of Old 08-11-2004
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Keel Anxiety!

To some extent the answer to your inquiry depends on where you live in Florida. If you are on the east coast, then you can get by with a slightly deeper draft than the west. On the west coast a draft of 5 feet or less is preferable. You can get by with drafts appoaching 6 feet on the east coast.

The more time that I spend on wing keeled boats the less I like them. The performance and motion comfort difference is really larger than I am comfortable with. I know that there are a lot of folks out there that love their wing keels, but for me they are way too large a compromise. I am a big fan of keel centerboarders for truely shoal draft circumstances. That said, on either coast you should be able to get by with a reasonable draft for a 27-28 footer and so a wing keel should not be necessary.

For the record, if the Pearson 27 was designed to sail a ideal heel angle of 15 to 20 degrees, that is an enormous heel angle for a comparatively modern boat. If the Pearson 27 was really intended to sail at a 15 to 20 degree heel angle, I personally would eliminate the Pearson 27 on that basis along.

In any event, the following is an exerpt of a piece that I wrote for another venue. There is a lot of estra ''stuff'' in there that is not relevant to the discussion at hand but it may prove helpful in your decision making process.

Full keels:
These earliest keels pretty much ran from the point of entry at the bow, to the aft most point of exit at the stern. Those are full keels in the fullest sense of the word.

They have some advantages; they theoretically form a long straight plane, which keeps a boat on course better (greater directional or longitudinal stability). If you run aground they spread out the load over a larger area reducing the likelihood of damage. Once really planted they keep the boat from tipping over fore and aft. They are easier to haul and work on. You can spread out the ballast over a longer distance and so they can be shallower for the same stability. You have a greater length to bolt on ballast so it is a theoretically sturdier and simpler connection.

They have some disadvantages; a larger portion of the keel operates near the surface and near the intersection of the hull and keel, which are both turbulent zones. They also have comparatively small leading edges, and the leading edge is the primary generator of lift preventing sideslip. Because of that they need a lot more surface area to generate the same lift. Surface area equates to drag so they need more sail area to achieve the same speed. Long keels tend to be less efficient in terms of lift to drag for other reasons as well. As a boat makes leeway water slips off of the high-pressure side of the keel to the low-pressure side of the keel and creates a turbulent swirl know as a tip vortex. This is drawn behind the boat creating drag in a number of ways. The longer the keel, the bigger the vortex, the greater the drag. So they need more sail area again to overcome this drag. To stand up to this greater sail area the boat needs more ballast and a stronger structure, which is why long keelboats are often heavier, as well. (Of course, then the spiral starts again as more sail area is needed to overcome that additional weight as well. It is the classic weight breeding more weight design cycle) Full keels tend to be much less maneuverable.

Fin keels:
By the classic definition of a fin keel, any keel whose bottom is less than 50% of the length of the boat is a fin keel. Fin keels came into being in an effort to reduce drag. Cut away the forefoot or rake the stem, as well as, move the rudderpost forward and rake it sharply forward and pretty soon you have a fin keel.

Today we assume that fin keels mean a separated rudder (skeg hung or spade) but in fact early fin keels had the rudder attached creating a worst of all worlds situation. They offer all of the disadvantages of both full and fin keels, but with none of the virtues. Unknowing or unscrupulous brokers will often refer to boats with fin (or near fin) keels as full keel if they have an attached rudder.

Fin keels with separate rudders seem to be the most commonly produced keel form in the US these days.

Fin keels have some advantages as well. They have less drag as explained above so they typically make less leeway and go faster. You can get the ballast down lower so in theory they are more stable for their weight. They are more maneuverable. They take better advantage of the high efficiency of modern sail plans and materials.

They have some disadvantages as well, many of these have been offset or worked around by modern technology but at some level they are still accurate critiques. They have less directional stability than long keel boats so the tend to wander more under sail. Since directional stability is also a product of the dynamic balance between the sail plan and underbody, in practice they may actually hold a course as well as a full keel. In general though you can expect to make more course adjustments with a fin keel. It is sometimes argued that the lower helm loads requires less energy to make these corrections so a fin keel may also require less energy to maintain course. This I think is a product of the individual boat and could lead to a debate harder to prove than the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

Fin keels are harder to engineer to withstand a hard grounding and when aground they are more likely to flop over on their bow or stern. (Although in 37 years of sailing, I have never heard of anyone actually experiencing this.) Fins typically have deeper draft. They are easier to pivot around and get off in a simple grounding.

Shoal keel
A shoal keel is just a keel that is not as deep as a deep keel. Today the term seems to be applied mostly to shallow fin keels. Shallow full keels seem to be referred to as shoal draft boats. A shallow fin is a tough animal to classify. Like a fin keel with an attached rudder, I really think it has few of the advantages of either a deep fin or a full keel and has many of the worst traits of both full and fin. This can be partially offset by combining a shallow fin with a centerboard, which is a neat set up for shoal draft cruising.

Bulb Keel:
A lot can be done to improve a shallow fin. One way is to add a bulb. A bulb is a cast metal ballast attachment added to the bottom of the keel. They concentrate the ballast lower providing greater stability and sail carrying ability than a simple shallow keel. Traditionally bulbs were torpedo or teardrop shaped. They have been re-contoured to provide some hydrodynamic properties. Recalling the discussion on tip vortex from above. Shallow keels need to be longer horizontally than a deeper fin in order to get enough area to prevent leeway. This means that a shallow longer fin would generate more tip vortex and more drag than a deeper keel. The bulb creates a surface to turn the water aft and prevent it from slipping over the tip of the keel thereby reducing tip vortex. This does not come free since a bulb increases frontal area and surface area.

Wing keels
Wing keels are a specialized type of bulb keel. Instead of a torpedo shaped bulb there are small lead wings more or less perpendicular to the keel. These concentrate weight lower like a bulb and properly designed they also are very efficient in reducing tip vortex. There has been some discussion that wings increase the effective span of the keel when heeled over but this does not seem to be born out in tank testing of the short wings currently being used in production sailboats. Not all wings are created equal. They potentially offer a lot of advantages, but they are heavily dependent on the quality of the design and I really think that many wing designs are not really working to their potential.

Then there is the whole grounding issue. In 2002, the Naval Academy did a study of keel types and grounding. They found that the popular perception that wing keels are harder to free is accurate. In their study, wing keels were extremely harder to free. Straight fins were much easier to free, especially when heeled, and the easiest keel to free was the bulb keel.

Keel Centerboards are a wonderful choice for coastal and offshore cruising. Properly designed they offer nearly the performance of a fin keel, and yet permit access to shallower venues. They can be partially raised to precisely control the center of lateral resistance and therefore offers the ability to have a very neutral helm and great tracking in a wide range of conditions. Properly constructed they have proven to have a long service life. Keel-centerboard boats really proved themselves offshore during the late 1950’s and into 1960’s.They fell out of popularity with the advent of the wing keel in the early 1980’s. The downside is that they are a little harder to maintain, and because the ballast is closer to the center of buoyancy they require more ballast and so end up requiring a higher overall displacement, a higher ballast to displacement ratio, are more tender, or some combination of the three.

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