Most sailors might recognize yacht designer Carl Schumacherís work by way of the nearly ubiquitous Express 27. Heís also the creator of the Express 37, the Alerion Express (20, 28, and 38), the Olson 911S, and numerous custom sailboats. The Alameda, CA-based naval architect has quietly remained at the forefront of boat design for almost three decades, a longevity he says that is partially responsible for his now being "busier than ever." SailNet checked in with Schumacher recently to find out about some of the projects heís got in the offing and to get his take on trends in the world of sailboat design.
SailNet: Weíve been seeing a number of your newer designs on the scene in recent yearsóthe Synergy 1000, the Outbound 44, and a few custom designsóand it appears that youíre pretty busy these days?
Carl Schumacher: The first Synergy 1000 was launched two years ago. Most of the other stuff Iíve been doing is custom work, and lately Iíve been busier than Iíve ever been. Iíve got at 77-foot cruising boat thatís being built at Timeless Marine up in Seattle, and a few other projects going on, but theyíre all daysailing or cruising designs right now. I think that the demise of a good handicap rule along with other factors have limited the number of custom racing boats that are being built these days.
Five years ago I did an IMS boatóRecidivistówhich was a stripped-out machine at 39 feet, and not long after that I drew Swiftsure II, a 54-foot light displacement boat that was meant to compete against the Santa Cruz 52s. I really think that those are the last two race boats that have been designed for Bay Area customers. I mean theyíre good boats; Recidivist won her class in the í97 Big Boat Series, and Swiftsure II won that event three times. But it seems that the days of custom racing boats are on the wane.
CS: This design has a pilothouse, but itís still a light-displacement boat. Itís being laid up with a carbon-fiber skin and balsa core for both the hull and deck and the inside of the hull has a red cedar skin. Itís truthfully a big-budget, no-holds-barred boat. And on the other end of the spectrum Iím working on a boat for an old client of mine. Heís asked me to create a 23-foot Alerion-Express-like boat for daysailing. It will be an open daysailer, but decked over. Its hull shape is like the Alerion Express 20, but it will have a keel centerboard arrangement because it will be sailed in New Jersey. This one will be built by Mark Lindsay ant Boston Boat Works; it will be stripped-planked and finished clear.
SN: Weíve been hearing about a 40-foot daysailer-racer youíve designed? Whatís that boat all about?
CS: Iím doing a fun, 40-foot daysailer in the Alerion-Express style for a longtime customer of mine. This boat is under construction right now at Ian Franklin Boatworks in Christchurch, New Zealand, and we hope to launch it here in San Francisco Bay in April.
The boat is 40 feet long, but itís pretty much all cockpit. It has an enclosed head and thatís about it. Itís got a classic teak coaming and traditional lines. The owner, Glenn Isaacson is going to race the boat, but itís not really designed to race. It will have one of the Garry Hoyt self-vanging jib booms so the rig is set up with non-overlapping headsails and no runner. I did a 46-foot racer-cruiser named Surprise with the same kind of rig and in three years itís got close to 20,000 miles on it without encountering any problems. I simply think this sail plan is really versatile. Having small, non-overlapping jibs and a larger mainsail is an excellent cruising rig and you can race it well. Weíre doing the same rig on the 77-footer.
SN: Are we going to start seeing more of this sail plan arrangement?
CS: Well it doesnít fit every boat. The key for maintaining performance with this approach is that boat has to be really light because you donít have the power of a genoa. When I talk to people about setting up boats, whether cruisers or racer-cruisers, and they start talking about putting a lot of interior in the boat or opting for something other than high-tech construction, I have to tell them Ďdonít use this rig.í Heavier boats that use this rig experience a real drop off in the performance upwind beginning at about eight knots of wind speed and less. On Surprise, at 10 knots of true wind, the boat does well and above that it just flies, but anything less than eight is slow.
So for Glennís boat, I got it straight with him up front just what it was that he wanted the boat to be, and that was the fastest vessel possible in the style of the Alerion Express. It still has a deep fin keel with the bulb at the bottom along with a carbon rig and swept-back spreaders. So it should race pretty well, and thatís good because I think that Glenn is just too active a sailor not to race.
SN: So whatís next with this boat?
CS: Well, Iíve got to try to figure out what Iím going to recommend as a PHRF number. I havenít run it through the VPP stuff yet, but I will to give some guidance to the PHRF committee here. It should be a pretty competitive 40 footer.
SN: What about other arenas? Have you ever been tempted to design Open 60s like those in the Vendee Globe?
CS: I follow those events, as a designeróyouíre crazy not to. I follow the Americaís Cup too just to see what Ďs going on. But with the kind of work that Iím doing nowÖwell from a hardware standpoint thereís a lot to be learned, but from a hull shape standpoint not so much. What Iím doing now is all about seakindly hulls, and if youíre trying to blend speed and seakindliness, well thereís just too many aspects that donít jibe.
One interesting new development for me is that Iím getting some exposure to multihulls. I havenít done anything more than some consulting recently, but my friend John is talking about getting another boat, and he wants a multihull. I did some work for a big 52-foot cruising cat that Gino Morrelli designed, and another client is getting a power catamaran built, so Iím working with him to make sure that he gets what he wants from his designer. I actually have some roots in multihulls. When I was in high school I worked for Rudy Choy who was a good friend of the family. Iíve always been interested in multihulls, but I just went another direction.
CS: Yes. I now own a Mercury, which is a lot of fun. Itís a great class; no one really has anything to prove, so itís very mellow. I used to race Star boats, I mean a long time agoÖin the wooden mast days. These boats are somewhat similar in that they race with two people, they donít use spinnakers, and the rig tuning is fairly sophisticated, but the hull shape is very low-tech [itís a 1939 design] and the boats sail more like displacement boats than ULDBsÖ.You donít really steer the Mercury, you kind of suggest to it that it should go off in a certain direction. Upwind they feel nice, but are a bit sluggish downwind and they don't track well. But it is still sailboat racing, everybody has the potential to go the same speed and the racing is very tactical. For me the real attraction of this class is the people who sail the boats, and the racing venues, which include some of the most picturesque places on the West Coast. Iím finding the competition very close and tough.
SN: Whatís down the road for you?
CS: I hope to keep designing interesting boats. Right now, well, the economy is good, so people are buying boats. And, Iíve kind of always felt that I get points for longevity. Iíve toughed it out for a long time and I guess people start to say, ĎWell heís still around, maybe weíll get a boat from him.í So, I hope to stay busy.
IACC Boats Unveiled by Bruce Kirby
Vendee Globe Speed Machines by Brian Hancock
The Pros and Cons of Smaller and Lighter by John Kretschmer
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