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Old 09-30-2012
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Re: Full or fin keel?

After scanning this blog, it is apparent that there are a quite a few folks out there who are able to rationalize their positions on fin vs. full keel based on what they own. "Love me, love my boat."

My current boat is is a 35' sloop with a weighted swing keel. It has other parts than the keel that impact its performance, like substantial form stability (less heeling) and inboard shrouds (allows better performance to upwind). It--like every boat--is a compromise and has its negatives, like less interior space to accommodate the keel trunk and more moving parts (swing keel and also a swing rudder). All of this allows the boat to float in less than 2' of water, but with drastically reduced maneuverability. I've sailed her from the Gulf coast to Maine over a period of 16 years and have found myself in a wide range of conditions and have to admit that I'm rather comfortable with the compromise. I've had her offshore and I've been in various conditions from light winds to sustained winds of 40+ kts.

On the other hand, I've sailed on many full- and modified full-keel boats ranging from a 26' Dolphin to a 42' Island Packet over the past 40 years. Most of my experience on full keel boats was as a bareboat skipper for a minimum of a week at a time and a lot of that was in the Caribbean, from Puerto Rico to Antigua. These keel boats were noticeably less responsive than the fin keel boats I've sailed. This could make for a challenge when tacking, for example, especially with the cutter rigged Island Packets. They also didn't do as well going to weather or in light air. On the other hand, they were more comfortable when the wind picked up to 20+kts, but some of that was due to their higher displacement. For some reason, all of the Island Packets I've been on (350, 370,380, 40, 420) required a heavy hand to steer. This might have been due to the steering design, rather than the keel, but the net result was fatigue and sore shoulders, so whatever tracking advantage is claimed for full keel boats was nullified. When going to weather, I would just use the motor. The fin keel boats--mine included--took a much lighter touch on the wheel and were more weatherly. This is a big deal on longer trips or in higher winds.

The one serious reservation I have about fin keels is their deeper draft, which makes anchorages smaller and some "shortcuts" unavailable.

There is no boat that does everything, so you pick your parameters and live with a compromise in either case. In my case, the swing keel and swing rudder needed an expensive upgrade (to make sure things move when necessary). These expenses would not be incurred with a traditional full keel (non-centerboard) boat. On the other hand, I have never needed help to get ungrounded.

My bottom line on fin vs. full keel is that to each his own.
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