No water, no problem, with this shoal-draft pocket cruiser
I like shallow-water sailing," said Nick Hake, president of Hake Yachts and builder of the Seaward 25. "I like to glide across the flats and nose in close to the beach before I drop the hook. That's gunkholing. That's sailing." It's not surprising that the trailerable Seaward 25 has a draft of just 25 inches. What is surprising is the level of quality lavished on this pocket cruiser. "Just because it's a small boat, don't assume that the Seaward 25 is targeted for the first-time buyer," Hake said. "Most Seaward owners are already experienced sailors. Some are downsizing from larger, more system-oriented boats and others just share our vision of what a boat should be." That vision is summed up in a brochure that describes the Seaward 25 as a "pocket cruiser for adult audiences."
Nick Hake began building boats more than 20 years ago in a dingy warehouse near the Miami Airport. He jokes that if he had gone into another business and worked as hard he'd be rich. "The problem is," he said with a wry smile, "I love boats."
Don't feel too bad for him though. Today, his modern facility in Stuart, Florida, is turning out boats at a rate of one a week. In addition to the Seaward 25, Hake Yachts also offers the 19-foot Fox, the Seaward 23 and the innovative 32-foot Eagle centerboarder. Production of the 25 far outnumbers the other boats. In 1997, the boat was given a minor redesign and hull number 600 of the total production run will soon be launched.
Hake, who also designs all his boats, opted for a hull that strikes a traditional pose above the waterline but is quite innovative below. The Seaward 25 has a sweeping sheerline and a fair bit of freeboard forward. The topsides have subtle tumblehome sections down low, which extends the waterline beam, adds a salty look and offers some form stability. The springy stern features an outboard rudder assembly, and the nearly plumb bow, one of the results of the redesign, extends the LWL to 23 feet. This not only improves performance, but also creates more interior volume in the forward cabin. A short bowsprit accentuates the traditional look and is also practical as an anchoring platform. I like the fact that the forestay and stemhead fitting are not integral to the sprit.
Although the Seaward 25 is offered with an optional 4-foot, 2-inch fin keel, which is called the "Bluewater Model," it is clear that Hake is partial to the standard shoal-draft model. The essence of the boat lies in its shoal draft and easy trailerability. "Twenty-five inches is the key," Hake explains. "If a boat draws even a fraction more it becomes difficult to launch off most trailer sites."
Although most Seaward 25 owners leave their boats in the water at slips during the season, they like the flexibility that a trailer offers. Distant cruising grounds are easier to reach via the highway, and there is no reason to pay winter storage fees when your boat would be just as happy sitting in your driveway. Also, if severe weather is forecast, you can pop the boat on the trailer and haul it out of harm's way.
The Seaward 25 has what Hake calls a low-aspect keel with an aft wing. The main section has reverse draft, meaning that it is wider at the bottom than the top, which allows the ballast to be concentrated down low. By locating the wing aft, laminar flow is forced over the main keel section, improving its efficiency. Incidentally, it also allows for the boat to be pulled on and off a trailer much easier than if the wing was located farther forward.
A first glance at the stainless steel portlights and husky cleats and traditional styling might have you expecting the Seaward 25 to be a typical moderate-to-heavy-displacement pocket cruiser, à la the Com-Pac 25 or Pacific Seacraft Dana. Looks, however, can be deceiving. The Seaward is dramatically lighter, displacing 25 percent less than the Com-pac and 50 percent less than the Dana. In fact, with a displacement of 3,600 pounds, the Seaward 25 is only marginally heavier than a Catalina 250.
I joined Hake recently for a test sail aboard a new Seaward 25. We launched the boat in the company's Manatee Pocket testing area and sailed the wide expanse of the inland waterway near the St. Lucie Inlet. The conditions were ideal for the Seaward. It was a warm Florida spring day, the east winds were steady at 15 knots and there was a lot of shoal water around.
We hauled up the main and optional 135-percent genoa and, with a joy that only small boats provide, sailed away from the dock. While the Seaward 25 offers the ease of handling and overall lack of fuss associated with most small boats, it also has several features usually reserved for larger boats. From wheel steering to diesel power to hot and cold pressure water to the surprisingly comfortable interior, the Seaward has the feel of a larger boat. I could happily spend a few weeks aboard a Seaward 25 exploring a bit of thin turquoise water in the Bahamas.
Hake insists that quality is an abused term. "If you have stainless steel portlights does that mean you are a quality builder? Maybe, maybe not, quality must run deeper than that."
In terms of the Seaward 25, quality manifests itself in the construction process. The hull is solid fiberglass with 3/4-ounce triaxial unidirectional cloth used throughout. Stiffening is attained by the use of Coremat, a mix of microballoons, for stringers, and extensive use of molded interior liners and pans. For the most part, the deck is also solid fiberglass.
In flat areas that need stiffening, PVC foam is used for coring instead of the more common balsa. The great advantage of PVC foam coring is that it doesn't break down when exposed to moisture. Hake is determined to keep wood out of his hulls and deck. The structural hull liner is vacuum bonded to the hull for strength, although it limits access to the hull, which is the Achilles' heel of all liners. The hull and deck are joined on outward turning flanges, forming an inverted J, and bonded chemically and bolted on 6-inch centers. This down-turned joint is unlikely to leak and quite strong due to the form and the amount of joined surface area. There is a useful rubrail about a foot below the deck line.
The keel is curious in that it is molded separately from the hull out of heavily laminated biaxial glass, and then filled with ballast, which is covered over by a resin slurry for total watertightness. Two 5/8-inch stainless threaded rods are embedded into the keel. The rods act to guide the keel in place and to help secure it, but the real strength comes from an adhesive bond and layers of fiberglass that marry it to the hull.
By molding the keel, Hake is able to achieve the exact shape he wants and can keep the overall draft to acceptable limits. He insists that his keel joint is stronger than a conventional external keel and can take a hard grounding, offering as evidence the fact that it is not uncommon to beach a Seaward 25. I confess, it had no problem with a soft grounding that occurred with yours truly at the helm.
Back on deck, we began close tacking our way through the narrow mouth of the Manatee Pocket. Although I questioned the need for wheel steering in a 25-foot boat, Hake assured me that 90 percent of his clients choose the $1,800 option.
Even with the wheel and pedestal taking up a bit of space, the Seaward 25 has a great cockpit. The seat backs are nicely angled and there are lockers port and starboard. There is also a practical fuel storage locker aft. The portable 6-gallon tank can be removed for filling at a service station, thereby avoided the hassle and need to pay marina diesel prices.
While the view from the helm is more than adequate, the view from the catbird seats on the stern rail is exceptional. The mere fact that a small, light boat has a pushpit stout enough to mount seats speaks to the overall quality of the boat.
The deck is easy to navigate and I'm sure the nonskid would be functional when wet, which is not always the case. While not overly wide, the side decks are secure due to grab rails on the cabintrunk and inboard mounted shrouds. An advantage of the high freeboard forward is that it allows for molded bulwarks, which is a wonderful safety feature in a small boat. From the stout anchor roller, to the four post cleats, to the chain hawsepipe, I found the stainless hardware on deck to be impressive.
The mast, which has an air draft of 33 feet, is designed to be stepped by one person and an optional gin pole-based mast raising system helps. Unfortunately, the fractionally rigged mast was already stepped when we arrived. Hake recommends the full-batten main and as a result has developed an interesting feature on the masthead. To avoid cutting down the main roach, the backstay is led to an arm protruding aft from the mast. The result is a flat head and more sail area without needing to increase the height of the mast, which of course is designed in conjunction with the shoal draft. The entire design has been ingeniously created around those precious 25 inches of draft.
The shrouds are mounted on the trunkhouse sides, allowing for the genoa tracks to be placed well inboard. The result is tight sheeting angles for windward work. The four-part mainsheet system is a midboom arrangement (really more of a 3/4 boom), but offers plenty of purchase while still being clear of the helm. When singlehanding, Hake likes to sail the Seaward 25 with a self-tending 100-percent headsail and a boom. Our test boat was fitted with a roller-furling genoa, a nice option for the fickle breezes along the Florida coast.
Not surprisingly, the interior of the Seaward 25 is well thought out, with 5-foot, 9-inch headroom in the saloon. More headroom could be obtained by raising the trunkhouse but that would raise the center of gravity which would ... yep, you guessed it, add more draft. Starting in the bow, the forward cabin has a large V-berth, with bunks that are 7 feet long, a hanging locker and a storage shelf that might double as a desk. The saloon features a bulkhead-mounted table and settees that convert to a clever athwartships double berth.
The galley is to port and offers a large sink, an optional two-burner Origo nonpressurized alcohol stove and an icebox. Space is at a premium in a small boat, so small touches can make a big difference, like using the top of the icebox as a cutting board. A tiny quarter berth is aft of the galley, or as Hake calls it, a 1/8th berth. It's a cozy corner for a kid, or more likely, a useful storage area. The head is opposite the galley and plumbed for a shower. If buyers opt for the larger of the two Yanmar diesels, hot and cold pressure water can be added. The most striking feature of the interior is the excellent ventilation. All eight portlights open and there is a good-size hatch forward.
Although an outboard is the standard power plant, almost all Seaward 25 buyers opt for an inboard Yanmar diesel. Two choices are available: the single cylinder 1GM 10 hp, which will push the boat along at near 6 knots; or the 2GM 20 hp, which allows the Seaward 25 to skip across flat seas at close to 7 knots. The only real advantage of the larger engine is that it allows for hot water to be piped off the heat exchanger. Both engines are extremely efficient, and the 6 gallons of fuel translates into a range of well over 100 miles. Access is to the engine is actually quite good and the stuffing box is reached through the cockpit locker. The standard PYI dripless shaft seal helps reduce maintenance.
After testing out the boat's grounding capabilities and seeing how easily the 10-horsepower Yanmar extracted the boat from the sand bar, we reached the comparatively open waters of the St. Lucie River. The wind was ideal and we bolted north on a close reach. The steering was light, and the boat sailed flatter than I expected it would. Once we cleared a particularly ugly shoal, we eased the sheets and broad reached a bit before hauling everything in to tack.
The Seaward 25 came through the wind cleanly and accelerated rapidly as we hardened the sheets. The boat is easy to singlehand. All sail controls are just a reach away from the helm. Hake suggested we close the coast to give Walter, who was on the beach, a nice angle to shoot from. My instinct was to head out toward deep water, but instead we sailed close enough to read Nikon on Walter's camera. "Don't worry," Nick Hake assured me, "there's at least three feet of water around here." And of course that was more than enough; all we needed for a great sailing experience was 25 inches.