The points you bring up are good ones. I have not completely thought thru how I will use this swing keel, other than to raise it when entering shallow water (Duh
). And as you point out, the PO did not always do this when there was just a sandy bottom. The surveyor indicated there was no structural damage here, just paint rubbed off from sand.
There are inboard inspection ports. This one provides access to the keel pin.
There are others that provide limited access to the lifting mechanism.
The swing keel arrangement is not totally unique to these boats, check out the Southerly line of sailboats at Northshore Yachts
These are fairly new and expensive with not much of a used market yet. There is also a boat called the Nightwind 35, but I am not sure of the manufacturer. It also has a swing keel and I am told it would terrorize the racing community whenever it showed up because of its downwind capability, I think. Although I am not sure you are allowed to change the position of your keel when racing. I have never raced, so I don't really know those rules.
In our home sailing grounds (Pamlico sound and the Neuse river) I am planning (hoping?) that the half down position will provide enough pointing ability as the water tends to be pretty skinny down there (in spots). We have friends with a Tartan 37, which draws 4'2" with the board up, and that is the way he sails it just because he can. Although we did notice that it tends to steer straighter (less side to side motion) with the board down. I certainly considered Tartan's as potential boats, but that depth was a bit tight for our creek and the 34 did not improve on that much (I think it draws 3'9" with board up). There are many other models with shoal draft, from Pearson to Beneteau's, but there was just something about this boat...
I did try to compare boats by their ratings (amongst other things; did I say I did spreadsheet?), but I have not found any racing rating for this particular model. Using the best numbers I have for its I,J,P,E; I calculated an R value of around 150 and a Disp/LWL of around 250. So its a medium cruiser, which is what we were looking for, and not much different than the comparable Tartan models.