Cruiser-racers are brilliant boats for super-fast passages - until you wipe out at 15 knots, Dick Durham discovers
In the March 2014 issue of Yachting Monthly, Dick Durham accompanies reader Chris Rustom on a cruise round the Solent aboard his Stewart 37.
What’s she like to sail?
The Stewart 37 is like the best fairground ride, the one you were too scared to go on as a kid – she is all thrills and seriously fast. But she’s skittish, too, and when she gets up on the plane, you need full concentration to keep her direction stable, with her trailing bulb fin keel and semi-balanced spade rudder. The slightest hint of weed on the rudder blade can throw her steering out. My hosts suggested this might have been the cause of my wipeout, but I think they were just being kind.
That said, if you do broach, it’s not a catastrophe: she is easily brought under control by luffing her back to life then bearing off again. The huge rig sports a double-spreader mast, keel- stepped with a rod kicker. The headsail track is hard up against the coachroof for impossibly close windward work. In this, she reminded me of sailing the excellent Arcona 410 – which costs six and a half times more! All the running rigging is led back to the cockpit and she sports a part-adjustable backstay.
Sailing a boat like this will sharpen up your skills and keep the helmsman on his toes. I found myself having to think further ahead.
What’s she like in port and at anchor?
Clearly a boat used to marinas, Ding Dong has no bow roller, but it would be easy enough to get one fitted. However, at anchor she would need a serious amount of chain and a decent-sized pick to keep her on station in blustery weather because her top hamper and light, flat-bottomed, buoyant hull would take a running sheer at the anchor cable as the wind caught each side of the bow. She has a semi-open transom stern and a rather incongruous-looking bathing ladder – nevertheless very useful for getting into and out of a tender, and for man overboard recovery.
Her accommodation is laid out in a seamanlike manner. It reminded me of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s Clipper boats in its functionality: no fuss or bother, just secure and practical living and sleeping space. There’s no saloon table – it would be simple to fit one with drop-leaves between the seats, but Chris and his crew are the sort of sailors who grab their grub and dine on the chart table or in the cockpit.
Would she suit you and your crew?
In a nutshell, she’ll suit the sort of crew who sail for the sheer joy of sailing – she’s emphatically not a floating caravan. She’s tough enough to go anywhere and capable of making astonishingly fast passages, with effectively double the range of a typical modern cruiser – great if you want to explore far and wide but can’t take more than two weeks off work.
She’s ideal for dinghy sailors trading up, delivering as much fun as, say, a Merlin Rocket, but on a larger scale. A crew with only basic boat-handling skills would need to sail gingerly in light airs at first, to get the measure of her, but once in the groove, they’d soon gain confidence in her sea-kindliness and strength.
Her draught is excessive for folks who like to get away from it all up a lonely river. Many small ports and some anchorages just aren’t deep enough. One day, a British boatbuilder will realise that high-performance boats can have centreboards. In the meantime, the French have no end of craft that tick both boxes.
With a few modifications, such as a bow roller and a few soft furnishings, she’d make a terrific high-performance cruiser.