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labatt 11-15-2007 11:44 PM

Safety of larger centerboard boats
Larger Little Harbor's and Bristol's (53's) are both centerboard/keel designs. From my understanding, a Little Harbor was lost this past year on its way down the coast during a major storm. I've heard people question the safety of a centerboard design vs. a fixed keel in a major storm. Any thoughts?

sailingdog 11-16-2007 01:01 AM

Personally, I don't think a properly maintained keel/centerboard boat is any less safe than a fixed keel, provided the centerboard is properly designed and has a positive locking mechanism to prevent it from retracting unintentionally in a rollover or knockdown.

If the centerboard is heavily weighted and there is no positive locking system to keep the centerboard in position, then the danger posed by the centerboard in a rollover or knockdown situation is fairly high.

Valiente 11-16-2007 01:03 AM

Just the obvious ones: a centerboard trunk is usually hard to service and it is hard to examine the pin and associated lifting gear to judge its condition. I love the idea of centerboards, but I would have concerns about accessing that mechanism unless I thought the design of it was inherently stronger than the rest of the boat. This is because in certain situations you don't want it stuck up or down, and if down, do you have the confidence that the lateral forces of rolling off a wave top can be borne by that pins and/or gear and/or cables, or that the trunk itself can remain intact should the keel come loose in the trunk, but not completely off.

Having said all that doom and gloom, I believe that if anyone has the larger cruiser/centerboard equation correct, it is likely to be Bristol. They make excellent boats. Little Harbors I know less about.

Killarney Sailor (Bruce) just bought a Bristol 45.5. He may have some comments on big centerboards.

Jeff_H 11-16-2007 08:40 AM

I am a big fan of keel/centerboard boats for distance cruising. Proper engineering seems to be pretty easy and from my experience and research, problems with the better built big centerboard boats is pretty rare.

Obviously, like any shoal draft boat, there are some trade off in performance (stability and speed) that comes from the increased ballast weight that is required to achieve equal stability on a boat where the ballast is carried vertically closer to vertical center of buoyancy. Still and all, the S&S, Brewer and Hood designed centerboard boats seem to be well thought through and offer a good compromise that permits bigger boats to sail in shallower draft venues.


JohnRPollard 11-16-2007 09:19 AM


I agree that in theory centerboards are a good solution for larger cruisng boats that desire deep-draft upwind performance while retaining the ability to "gunkhole" in coastal areas. My experience with centerboards is limited to smaller cruising boats such as the Tartan 27, which performs very admirably with that configuration.

However, I recall reading some years ago an article by John Kretschmer (a well-known and respected delivery skipper, and frequent contributor to various sailing rags) in which he briefly discussed keel-centerboard arrangements in off-shore cruisers. The article wasn't about centerboards per se (I think it was merely about a particular delivery he made), but the large cruiser he was deliverying had a centerboard and he mentioned in the article his standing orders to the crew: DO NOT lower the centerboard. Apparently Kretschmer had been burned too many times by malfunctioning and canterkerous centerboards while sailing off-shore. He no longer deploys them while deliverying boats, even if it means reduced upwind performance. The boat he was deliverying in that article was a very well-respected (and expensive) make of sailboat.

I like to keep things as simple as possible, which is why I shy away from centerboards (even though I sail in an area where I could really benefit from one). Even beyond my personal preference, centerboards also don't seem like the only or best solution out there. There are a number of designers of boats in the 50+ foot category who've been able to strike reasonable compromises between draft, stability, and performance without resorting to centerboards or impractically deep draft keels.

[P.S. I am wondering if your post may be an indication that the deal on the HR53 fell through? If so, maybe we could talk specific boats/builders over in the Buying a Boat forum. I would be happy to share my short-list, but I don't want to clutter your/this thread if your question is strictly academic).

T34C 11-16-2007 09:31 AM

While a CB boat has more moving/working parts that can and sometimes do malfunction, I would agree with Jeff H that the real difference isn't much different than comparing a deep draft boat to a shoal draft. (If it is a quality design.) That being said, if I were delivering someone elses boat and didn't have any idea about the condition and maintainence of the CB, I wouldn't lower it either. Why risk a posible malfunction while off shore.

killarney_sailor 11-16-2007 09:39 AM

I would not pretend to be very knowledgeable about centerboards since I have not even taken possession of my Bristol yet. In buying this boat I was not particularly worried about the centerboard arrangement since it is something that can be over-engineered pretty easily and Hood designs and later Bristol build quality are well-regarded. A consideration is having draft less than 5 feet on a 45 foot boat.
I have been told that there are three distinctly different uses for the board
1. going to windward in light to moderate conditions - I was told that it is a good idea not to use it when it is really blowing - not entirely sure when really blowing starts however.
2. to provide a convenient way to balance the helm in different conditions
3. to have a couple of feet of board down when creeping into really shallow water as an early warning system

Anyway, give me a year or two and I can give a better answer.

ehmanta 11-16-2007 10:48 AM

I've been sailing my Tartan 37 c/b for over a dozen years now and have experienced some heavy gales (30 to 50 knots)with her and I will not use the board when it pipes up too much. First reason is that this boat sails very nicely without the board and is very stable. Second reason is that I don't want the board bouncing around with the wave action (there's no way of locking it down) and the third reason is that "if" something goes wrong with it, I don't want to mess with it when its blowing like stink. The downside of not using the board is in its ability not to point quite as high, I loose about 5 to 10 degrees depending on conditions.
I think that if a centerboarder is well designed, I wouldn't hesitate for it does open up a lot of water to you. Apart from older Tartans, there's Bristol, Older Morgans, Hinckleys, Little Harbors, Shannon and many more respected builders putting out centerboarders.
Hope this helps....just my two cents worth.

camaraderie 11-16-2007 12:14 PM

For FULL TIME world cruising I don't like the idea of a center board boat because it adds complexity and stuff that can and does break underwater with repairs requiring a haulout that you may not be able to get to with the board down in a remote place.
I don't think there are any safety issues with a well built large centerboard boat but the repair issue is a significant one in my mind for world cruising. I probably will buy a centerboard boat for the draft advantages in my next boat...but that will be a coastal boat.

ehmanta 11-16-2007 12:36 PM

The risk of something happening is real; although, the repair/breakage issue of centerboards would be minimized with annual inspections. In twelve years, I have not had an issue, I have replaced my pendant line every other year and inspect the fittings at haul-out.I had to repair the board once due to water infiltration, but that's part of the maintenance. I know of several full time cruisers with boards, especially those in the Bahamas. There are pro's and con's to centerboards and if your cruising grounds have skinny water then it makes sense......

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