A 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.