Part 1 (this is a long story)
Why choose the Sea Pearl for an Everglades Challenge? The first and best reason was I (EB) owned one. RWB thought that was pretty convenient when he came up with the brilliant idea for us to form a team for EC 2013. It sounded good to me as I had plans to fix the boat up some for Florida coastal cruising. The Sea Pearl is no stranger to the EC. Over the years they have done well in class and overall, sailed single-handed or with crew. Right now, Bill Fite (Jarhead) leads the way with 6 EC’s done on his boat, Moonshadow. Most years he goes alone but he took a crew several times and finished 3rd overall several years ago with teammate, Ron Hoddinot. Both of those guys have been mentors to us during our short careers as “newbies” in the Tribe. They convinced us we can do well in this boat given the right conditions and a little luck.
My boat is hull #268. When I got it 2 and a half years ago, it was in good shape for basic cruising. It was set up as it came from the builder 24 years ago.
The boat was in sailing condition but not set up for speed and it lacked durable gear for what we expected to see in the EC. I named her Allez (pronounced Ahh lay). This is a basic French slang term used mostly in sporting events as a cheer. Roughly translated it means “go” or “let’s go”. I thought it was a fitting name for a boat that was designed to go anywhere without much time needed for rigging and other normal boat hassles.
The previous owner had added a new set of sails that were barely adequate for cruising. They were super flat and undersized.
The Sea Pearl is not a race boat, but it’s pretty fast on all points of sail for a 21′ cruiser. It’s long and narrow with an unusual hull shape of rounded bilges and flat bottom. That hull is easily driven and perfect for shallow water sailing and grounding on a beach. It is a Cat/Ketch rig with a well thought out and developed mast and boom set up that allows efficient roller reefing and furling. Most Sea Pearls, including Allez, are equipped with lee boards so the forward cockpit is unencumbered by a centerboard trunk. This convenience has it’s drawbacks as we’ll talk about later. The upside is the open cockpit allows for good roominess when sailing and a neat cabin when the camper top is set up. These attributes will pay off big for us when we’re tired and cold 2 days into the EC. Overall, we like the boat and think it’s an excellent platform for this race.
So let’s start with the areas we improved and why we did it the way we did. We realize that not all SP owners will agree with our opinions or the changes, but for us and the way we plan to use the boat, they make sense.
The first area we felt needed serious improvement was the rudder and tiller area. The stock SP rudder is a quarter inch thick hunk of aluminum about 3 feet long and 10″ wide. It’s rugged and OK for cruising but not efficient enough for race conditions. It had to go. We replaced it with a Rudder Craft replacement rudder. This company makes replacement foils for a large number of small boats. They are located in Idaho and pretty easy to deal with. They are familiar with the SP and recommended a Compac 16 rudder. It arrived a few days later and fit perfectly into the stock SP rudder housing. It’s a Naca foil shape made from high density polyethylene UV resistant material sandwiched over a 1/4 inch aluminum plate. We shimmed it tightly into the rudder stock with the provided plastic shims. The rudder requires a downhaul which was somewhat tricky to figure out and rig. Now the boat turns faster, steers easier and is more controllable in high winds. It makes the SP a dream to steer upwind with 2 finger control.
We continued on by getting some other unwanted gear off of the tiller assembly. The stock boat comes with motor mount installed on the tiller/rudder assembly. It’s clumsy and makes the boat have lee helm on one tack and weather helm on the other. We fabricated a “Baker Bracket” from plans published on the Sea Pearl Yahoo Group site. No motors are allowed on the EC but just getting the bracket off the rudder made a huge difference.
The next steering and handling improvement was getting the mizzen sheet cleat off of the tiller. This was simple and again plans and photos are available on the SP Yahoo site. We added a Harken “head knocker” block with cam cleat on the forward section of the mizzen boom. The we added a Harken Carbo bullet block at the end of the boom. We dead end the mizzen sheet on the bail at the aft end of the tiller, run it up to the turning block and then to the head knocker. Now we have better control of the mizzen sheet and don’t have to reach or look aft when trimming the sheet. This is a huge advantage in heavy air when you are fumbling and struggling with the old tiller mounted clam cleat , especially during a jibe. Now the mizzen and main sheet are close to each other and within easy reach of the helmsman.
We replaced the main and mizzen sheets with 3/8″ Salsa line from New England Ropes. This is a no stretch dynema core with a spun polyester cover. It’s super easy on the hands and doesn’t have a tendency to kink. These control lines combined with the new radial sails take the stretch out of the rig. Now when a puff hits, the boat responds. A huge change in performance.
We added 8 gear storage bags and turned the areas under the side decks into storage bins. 3 mesh gear bags are installed on each side of the forward cockpit and they hang down to just off the water ballast tanks. 2 bags have been added to the aft side of the bridge deck in the aft cockpit. Mesh panels have been installed with shock cord in the top hem along the underside of each side deck. These are much better than the teak slats installed to hold gear from falling out as they reach all the way up to the deck. These areas hold as much equipment as you can stuff behind them. The goal here was to avoid clutter in the cockpit areas and keep our personal gear from falling to leeward in heavy seas or when the boat heels excessively. Mission accomplished.
I’ll finish up Part 1 with a few words about the leeboards. As stated earlier, they work on this design by freeing up the forward cockpit space for camping and crew comfort. A centerboard trunk just wouldn’t work if you want to convert the forward cockpit to a cabin with the camper top. For the EC, we feel the camper top is essential.
The problem with the leeboards is they are too small. There just isn’t enough area or depth for the size of the boat. Sea Pearls don’t point very well and we feel that this is the culprit. It’s an area we have chosen to live with. Changing the design of the boards with modifications or building new ones is beyond the budget and time constraints. It would also be an experiment and could end up becoming a boat building nightmare. Right now sailing time is more important than trying to improve windward capability of the Sea Pearl. On a long beat, we’ll suffer. Reaching and running, we’ll do well and go fast.
In the next installment of The Boat, we’ll look at the sails, our electrical system(battery and solar panel) and how we plan to cook a hot meal or two. Also, a little bit on our navigation system. RWB played a big part in all of these important areas, so we’ll let him describe these systems.