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Alerion Express 33

2007 May 7
May 2007

A sweet mix of simplicity and sailability make this a desirable daysailer

I have had the privilege of sailing a wide array of boats for SAILING Magazine Boat Test. From nimble dinghies and daysailers, to custom-built rocketships and world cruisers, to productions boats of every ilk, I have conducted more than 100 boat tests during the past 18 years. And like Lothario, I find something to admire in just about every boat I sail. I understand that I am paid to critically review boats for the benefits of our readers, to point out the good, the not so good and occasionally the bad, but you must be driven by a profound respect of sailing and sailboats to bring the proper perspective to the job. And while sailing any new boat is intriguing, every now and then I am simply blown away by the combination of form, function and romance that only a sailboat can define. Such was the case with the new Alerion Express 33.

It was a docile February morning as we slipped our lines at Miami's Bayside Marina the day after the boat show. Our plan was to ease into the Intracoastal Waterway and head south toward Biscayne Bay. This would provide photographer Walter Cooper with a nice backdrop, the glass menagerie of high rises that shadow the waterway, before the real test sailing would begin in the bay.

The wind was light and I suspected we might have to power to negotiate the narrow channel and to get enough way on to fill the sails for the photos. Not so. No sooner had we cleared the marina markers, than we quieted the diesel and rounded up onto the light southeasterly breeze. The full-roach main went up without a hitch thanks to the electric winch and the lack of a backstay. We jibed, gaining way promptly, and then unfurled the small fractional jib controlled by a self-vanging Hoyt jib boom.

Shifting from a close reach to a beat and back again, we happily negotiated the narrow, twisting channel. The only problem was that we were going too fast, speeding past our photo backdrop. No problem, hauling in the main we promptly tacked. This maneuver required a simple turn of the wheel and not much more of the waterway than the Express 33's LOA. I doubt one of the obnoxious powerboats crowding the channel with us could have turned any quicker. It took a few seconds to trim up the self-tending sails and then we accelerated north.

The details
The Alerion Express 33 is the latest model from the crew at Newport R&D. From a design perspective, the 33 is a scaled-down version of the handsome Alerion 38. From a practical perspective, the Express 33 blends the daysailing mindset of the popular Alerion 28 with the interior elbowroom of the 38. This sweet mix of simplicity and accommodation makes the 33 perfect for a weekend escape. Of course the Express 33, with its ease of handling ethos is also ideal for an hour's sail after work. And I confess, although the interior is pared down, I'd be rather content cruising for a week, greedily spending hours at the helm of this exquisite sailboat.

Alerion's Garry Hoyt has coined the phrase, "select sailing," which he sums up as "sailing on your own terms, when it best suits your schedule, your mood, the weather, etc." I like that concept. The new Alerion Express 33 is all about sailing, pure sailing, there is no secret agenda. When you feel the need for an attitude adjustment just hop aboard, slip the lines and get underway.

The sleek hull shape combines low freeboard, just the right touch of sheer and a slightly raked bow entry. The short cabintrunk, with two oval ports on each side, blends naturally into the linear flow of the boat. The term "nice lines" fits the Alerion 33 like a sailing glove. Below the water there is not much wetted surface. The keel section has an integral bulb to keep the center of gravity low. The keel is a one-piece lead casting alloyed with antimony for hardness, and externally fastened to a molded keel stub. The spade rudder blade has an elliptical profile and is a composite construction with a stainless steel stock.

The Alerion Express 33 is built by Pearson Composites, employing its patented SCRIMP infusion molding process. This is the company that also builds J/Boats, and there are similarities between Js and the Alerions. The composite hull consists of fiberglass with both biaxial and unidirectional E-glass fibers, end grain balsa as a core, and vinylester resin as the active agent. The hull and deck are joined on a flange and bonded with Plexus MA 550. The joint is covered by a full-length teak toerail. Bulkheads are tabbed to the hull and deck. The elegant appearance might suggest that the Alerion Express 33 is on the fragile side. Not so, this winsome boat is a solidly built yacht.

On deck
With a separate helm station in the cockpit the Alerion Express 33 is designed for ease of handling and can be singlehanded without a lot fuss. You won't need to round up a crew when you go sailing. The electric sheet winches, such as they are, and the mainsheet controls are perched on coamings just forward of the helm. You can sail quite efficiently without shifting from the comfortable perch behind the wheel. In fact, as we zipped about the waterway the crew forward of the binnacle simply lounged about as the helmsman steered and trimmed.

It takes a moment to get used to the utterly clean deck layout. The standard boat comes without stanchions and lifelines, and although you can order them as options, they would alter the sleek profile. And really, there's not much reason to leave the cockpit while underway. Hoyt notes that the absence of lifelines makes it much easier to dock the boat when sailing alone.

Our test boat, hull No. 1, was fitted with optional teak decks. And yes, they are expensive, a $22,000-plus add-on, but they sure glistened and provided secure footing. Hoyt expects less than half of the boats will leave the factory with teak decks.

All new 33s will have a carbon mast by Hall Spars along with an aluminum boom. The standing rigging is continuous rod. As noted earlier the fractionally rigged 33 is set up without a backstay. This allows for a full-roach, almost catamaranlike main, and it really powers the boat. Hoyt calls it the "turbo rig." Running backstays would help stabilize the rig when running before a stiff breeze with big seas. Our test boat was fitted with a Harken mainsheet traveler and roller furling headsail system.

Down below
The interior of the 33 is spartan by design but tastefully appointed just the same. The practical mix of mica and solid teak trim gives the boat a Down East feel. The plan is basic. There is a V-berth double cabin forward with an enclosed head just aft. The main cabin includes settees port and starboard with shelves behind. Ventilation is provided by a deck hatch forward and opening stainless steel portlights. The galley is tucked along the main bulkhead and includes a small single burner stove, a single sink and 12-volt refrigeration compartment. Manual water pumps are standard. I like the overall simplicity of the systems, the Alerion 33 is built for sailing, not for sitting below dockside.

There is good access to the 20-horsepower Yanmar diesel with a saildrive. A two-bladed folding prop is standard. The aluminum tank holds 18 gallons, which is probably about a year's worth of fuel. The electrical system includes an isolated starting battery and a single house battery. The panel is behind the port side settee.

Under sail
I was reluctant to give up the helm and yield the boat to writers from other magazines, who were so anxious to the test the new Alerion Express 33 they were buzzing around us like vultures in their photo boats. I lingered and put the boat through a series of jibes and tacks, we were showing off as most of the new sailboats heading out of the marina were still under power. Then the wind perked up a bit, to around 10 knots true, and we took one last long tack south.

Trimming for maximum speed on a close reach we touched 7 knots, then 7.5. The ride was silky smooth. There was just a slight heel. With each puff you could feel the acceleration in the seat of your pants and on the rudder, translated through the finely tuned Edson steering system. The Alerion Express 33 talks to you, and if you listen the message comes through loud and clear, "It's all about sailing."