Over the past two decades, Cornish Crabbers Ltd. has established an international reputation for the quality of its boats, which are built in Rock, in North Cornwall, England. The 22 follows in the tradition with a strongly built, hand-laid-up hull designed to take the wear and tear of repeated groundings at low tide or lying at a mooring all season. Even the deck fittings and rubrail reflect an expectation of hard, if affectionate, use. From the beginning, Crabber designer Roger Dongray has progressively refined his conservative designs with constant feedback from satisfied owners, who value the Crabber blend of tradition and surprisingly good performance. This conservatism pays off handsomely in the new Cornish Crabber 22, introduced to the North American market last fall by Britannia Boats of Annapolis, Maryland.
The 22 is all business, a beautiful little ship with high topsides, wooden spars and a bowsprit, and like her smaller and larger sisters, she is redolent of Cornish working boats of yesteryear. You step down into a deep self-bailing cockpit with seats so embracing that you are tempted to grace it with the old-fashioned Victorian term "well." The traveler lies astern but within easy reach of the helm. Sitting at the mahogany tiller, you have a clear view forward whether under sail or power, despite a cabinhouse that allows more headroom below. This is an important consideration in our often crowded waters.
Secure in a breeze
Wide side decks with nonskid provide easy access to a small but practical foredeck. Here the 22 excels, with a well-thought-out anchor locker, a hawsepipe with the opening set facing aft, and a massive chrome sampson post and cleat-part of a beautifully fabricated custom fitting that also holds the inboard pivot pin for the retractable bowsprit. This is a foredeck made for the kind of anchor work that serious gunkholers relish. In harbor you can secure lines to four sensible cleats at the corners of the boat and your springs to two large cleats amidships.
The bowsprit can be retracted in a few seconds by undoing a pin and sliding it back. It can also be pivoted vertically, in Dutch style. The designer has ingeniously set the mast in a tabernacle for lowering the rig using the jib halyard with the pivoting bowsprit used as sheer legs. Small wonder, since many Crabbers end up in Dutch canals and other inland waterways. The ease of rigging is important in a trailer yacht such as the 22, a boat that positively begs to be towed behind a midsize truck or sport utility vehicle.
The 22 is a weekend boat designed for a couple with a small family. The interior is functional with a full-length bunk on either side of the permanent cabin table, which is set on the centerboard case. The lowering mechanism for the centerboard is accessible through a side port in the case, and is controlled from the forward end of the cockpit. A V-berth forward with an optional center filler piece provides more sleeping room. A door allows for an enclosed head situated between the bunks. The head is either a Porta-Potti or a marine toilet with holding tank. The Porta-Potti may be a more versatile solution for a family when the children sleep forward. A large forward hatch provides ventilation.
Just inside the companionway, the galley space has a two-burner alcohol or gas stove. With a countertop and hand-operated water pump with a bucket that serves as a galley sink to starboard, you can certainly handle simple meals, with the water supply coming from jerrycans set in the cockpit locker.
The 22 is designed as a basic but well-equipped boat that can be customized later at minimal cost.
Under way with ease
I sailed the 22 on a lovely fall day with a southerly wind ranging between 5 and 10 knots. There was a light popple on Chesapeake Bay, much of it from passing powerboats. We raised the main. The staysail and jib were set from simple roller furlers, which worked like a dream. The gaff-rigged main may seem daunting at first but the secret is to set the peak first, then trim the throat to suit the air. The halyards lead conveniently to the starboard side of the companionway. Jib and staysail sheets run back to the aft edge of the cabinhouse through cam cleats and require no winches. Everything on the 22 is low-tech.
At first we slatted in the choppy waves with only sporadic breaths of a southerly. But when the sails filled, the 22's fine bow showed a remarkable ability to ease her way over the chop, even in the lightest breeze. We saw some wind about half a mile ahead. A turn of the key and a touch of the starter button on the control panel behind the helm brought the Yanmar 10-horsepower inboard, located under the companionway, to life. Three-quarters throttle had us moving at 5 knots in the choppy water with surprisingly little noise until the southerly finally filled in and we could take off on a close reach, Yanmar-less.
The 22 settled to work at once, heeling slightly, then steadying and accelerating smoothly. We had no speedometer or GPS on this brand-new boat but I estimated we were soon making 5 knots. The high topsides make this a dry, comfortable boat, which will look after her crew when the wind pipes up. The first reef is tucked at about 12 to 15 knots-pretty typical for a boat of this kind. First reef the staysail, then the main. Everything is reefed in seconds, with pull-lines identified with colored plastic bobbles within easy reach of the cockpit. There are few reasons to go forward when under way. Even reefs can be taken in from the main hatch. Thus, the 22 is ideal for a couple or a singlehander.
A kindly motion
As the breeze strengthened slightly, we came onto the wind. The boat pointed well, was sensitive to minor puffs and was light on the helm. An occasional slap of a wave against the bottom came from the short bilge runners that ensure the boat stays upright when grounded, an important attribute for a shallow-draft yacht used to grounding at low tide. She tacked slowly in the light air, as is natural for a boat of this configuration, but there was never any danger of going into stays. We eased off the wind and headed back to port, the boat slipping easily through the water with a kindly motion. If anything, the 22 is a trifle undercanvassed for light summer conditions, but an optional light genniker will help you make the most of calmer weather.
The Crabber 22 is not the fastest pocket cruiser on the market, nor does she claim to be. However, she is certainly one of the strongest and best built, with a practical layout and rig that will appeal to weekend sailors. And when the weather pipes up suddenly, you can bless the easily handled gaff rig and deep cockpit, which will keep your crew safe and comfortable.
The 22 is an easy-to-maintain small yacht that has a mild turn of speed, good manners at sea, with the ability to tuck into a shallow anchorage when small craft warnings are flying or a magical sunset offers a peaceful epilogue to a long day afloat.