Sailing Comment After 1000 Miles

by Walt Schulz

I have just returned from sailing the 53 HPS down and back to the Annapolis Boat Show in Maryland. It is about 470 miles one way from Bristol to Annapolis traveling the offshore route around Montauk, Long Island. So in the month since we launched the 53 on September 17, 2009 I have had the first hand opportunity to test both the sailing and livability issues on my new design. Depending on whether you are sailing with me or just reading about the trip it was certainly the ultimate sea trial for the 53 HPS concept. I have a 40 year reputation for being a magnet for bad weather and the recent offshore trip was definitely no exception. On the passage down to Annapolis we encountered every wind and sea condition from no wind, headwinds, beam winds and following winds. The wind gusted up to 30 knots off the coast of New Jersey with the wind mostly on the beam. We had a full mainsail up with the working jib during that period.

Coming back from the Boat Show we ran right into a major low pressure front that produced winds gusting over 45 knots with 10 to 12 foot seas near the mouth of the Delaware River. The seas in that area are notorious for being almost vertical and spaced very close because of the shoals. I will not blow smoke and say that I was comfortable and happy in those wind and sea conditions. I will say that we never had to put foul weather gear on and were able to handle the boat safely from the inside helm position. We had a double reefed mainsail and working jib up and used the starboard engine running about 1500 RPM to punch through the mess. The engines in the 53 are inclined 5 degrees inboard so it is possible to run the leeward engine for extended periods with the boat heeled at 15 degrees, although the beamy 53 never heeled more than 10 degrees except in big rollers. I was able to keep the average boat speed above 7 knots over the bottom in spite of the violent seas which lasted for almost six hours. We were able to make the passage back to Bristol in 49 hours with an average speed of 9.5 knots. Not bad, considering my previous record for the fastest passage back from Annapolis set in 1981 aboard a Shannon 50 was 51 hours.

How would I sum up my 1000 miles in a 53 HPS? It was easily the most civilized passage I have ever made in four decades on the water considering the terrible weather. I have far too many years being cold and wet in an open cockpit of a sailboat and the inside helm station on the 53 HPS definitely made a very difficult passage almost pleasurable. Since the 53 is a geometrical design blowup of the Shoalsailer 35, the sailing and powering performance was both gratifying and predicable. The big surprise was the sheer comfort aboard during the worst of the weather conditions. Obviously size and weight really matter whether coastal cruising or offshore trips. A 50,000 pound boat doesn’t get tossed around in extreme weather like a 15,000 pound boat or a 30,000 pound boat for that matter. I have always felt that fatigue was the real enemy at sea. Sure, a well built, strong boat is important, but physical fatigue creates mental anxiety that can easily lead to poor judgment and deadly mistakes. Boat motion, ease of sail handling, mechanical and twin engine redundancy, simple docking exercises and general creature comfort are all critical components that make a vessel truly seaworthy because they eliminate potential fatigue. I would take the 53 across the Atlantic Ocean with just my wife in a heartbeat after my recent sailing experiences. The 53HPS offers a dimension in safety, seaworthiness and luxurious comfort I have never experienced in any sailboat…ever.


Walt Schulz at Annapolis