A Kindly Boat

8 Dec

recent offshore delivery on a high-performance catamaran got me thinking about the things that really matter in a sailing boat—specifically, the design, build and equipment elements that combine to make a boat a pleasure (or not) to sail. For a cruising boat, especially, these attributes are encompassed by the term “seakindliness,” which is not quite the same as “seaworthiness.”

When creating a new boat, a naval architect first provides a hull form that will give the best all-round performance possible under the terms of the design brief provided by the builder. The builder then makes sure the boat is constructed within the parameters specified by the architect, and to complete the package, the boat is equipped with a high-quality rig, steering and auxiliary systems. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. In real life, a slew of compromises always dilutes these lofty ideals, except in really high-end boats whose owners are willing to pay for above-average construction and equipment. Still, if a boat is marketed as a cruiser, you have a right to expect it to convey you and your family in a safe and comfortable manner in a wide range of conditions—it should be capable of going to sea, aka seaworthy. But is it seakindly?

You may have your own ideas about this, but to me, a seakindly boat will have an easy motion in all sea states and will be neither slow in light air nor tender in heavy air. It won’t roll metronomically running downwind in a seaway, and it won’t slam like a barge going to weather in a chop. It will rise like a duck to a following sea, and it will knife through the waves with near-surgical precision. The helm will be neutral, and there will be little spray reaching the cockpit. The five nausea-inducing horsemen of the sailing apocalypse—heave, surge, roll, pitch and yaw—will be conspicuous only by their absence. The boat will accommodate all the extra gear, fuel and water you can pack aboard—both above and belowdecks—without any of these characteristics being altered in the least.

Such a boat doesn’t exist, but it’s fun to dream.

I’ve actually sailed plenty of quite seakindly boats. I’ve also been aboard many more sweet-sailing vessels that I wouldn’t care to sail in heavy weather simply because of avoidable snafus like poor deck and cockpit ergonomics and wide-open interiors with nary a handhold in sight. I guess these fall under the category of seaworthiness. Having owned one, I’ve found that full-keeled monohulls, the type of boat traditionally hailed as the epitome of seaworthiness, are not necessarily more seakindly than a number of fin-keeled designs I’ve sailed. Of late I’ve also been impressed by how well the modern catamaran can sail compared to my unfortunate first experiences with two hulls some 25 years ago.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on seakindliness and seaworthiness, and how these influence your choice of boat. 



  1. Jason Deal

    Brad, I couldn’t agree more. I am fortunate enough to be the current keeper of Deguello and I can attest to her seaworthy and seakindly attributes. We have encountered some unpleasant conditions offshore and have been impressed by the old girl, she is now fully 29 years young and in fine form. I have also had about 25 days offshore on a 30 year old trimaran that showed impressive qualities. Multihulls have come a long way in last 2 thousand years, why did it take so long for Europeans to wise up?

  2. Brad Saunders

    I have an extended stern Crowther #95 cruising cat and would class her as seakindly for a few of the issues noted. While my experience is largely coastal, the SW chop on a SW storm swell is testing. The boat is a pilot house design giving you good protection in heavy seas and the rig is modest.

    Going to windward in this stuff is challenging in any boat (have done so in a 9m Tri smaller 7.5 cat and mono) but the boat does so with aplomb if you sail wider angles which I can improve with a motor assist over the wave crests. I say I’d prefer my cat as the bash south was with a newbie young family and we were using the autopilot with fuss from no one, games at the saloon table, kids comfortably snoozing or keeping themselves occupied in their cabin. Sure beats the corkscrewing of the mono and even the Tri in the same conditions.

    Downhill in the same stuff you can run into the back of chop at this length but in some ways with more experienced crew I’d still even pop spinnaker in normal conditions for here to over 25kn as the boat feels like a bit of drive would push you on through.

    So are cats seakindly well yes, challenging in beam seas only because of an indignant slap sideways when you’re used to relatively nice behaviour. The design is 25yo design so of the era … but the designer a legend. He showed with the 85 and his own boat Deguello the the concept fully developed into performance cruising category was way ahead of its time and I suppose the DNA continued by Catana but more refined accommodation. I’ve heard the same biased argument on cats for years. Now I’ve had a large one I would say “nuts”. My wish … taller stayed rig, longer boards to help windward performance and longer hulls by a bit … oh Deguello … more volume and perhaps moderate deck and saloon changes … oh a Catana …. or some of the later Lock designs that owners modded and have sailed all over. There’s a reason as a marina designer we’re allowing more for cats.

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