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Olson 25

2010 January 16

A sporty classic offers the opportunity to go back to the basics on the race course

It is time to go racing once again, but we are looking for something a little different this time. We've done this dance before, from the squirrely IOR days to a brief (and expensive) campaign in a Farr 40. We want to get back to the basics-smaller crew, simpler boats-and our cash flow is not quite what it used to be. We need a small, affordable and easy-to-handle performance boat, the ultimate Wednesday-night boat.

We immediately think of the sweet boats that sailed Monterey Bay in the late 1970s and 1980s. The boats from Bill Lee, George Olson and the Moore brothers, like the Moore 24, Olson 30 or Santa Cruz 27. These were the first sport boats; the boats that brought the ultralight displacement boats to the production market. Our first thought was a Moore 24, and we looked at few boats, but they were pretty tired and after our enthusiasm waned our broker mentioned that he just got a listing for a clean Olson 25. We took a look and the boat fit our needs perfectly.

George Olson designed the Olson 25 in 1984 as a cross between the Olson 30 and more conventional designs of the day. Olson is an intriguing designer, he never finished a formal education and never received a naval architecture diploma, he just had an eye for and intuition of boats. But you can't question success, he drew many great boats, the Olson 25 and 30, the Moore 24, 30 and 40, and many others.

The 25 was originally built by Pacific Boats, and later by Ericson. The Pacific boats are considered better boats, as they are lighter with cored hulls and no headliner, and have more race-friendly stanchions. Ericson added a headliner to clean up the interior of the boat, but it made it much harder to move around and re-bed deck hardware. The Ericson stanchions also cant inward, making it harder to hike out. The weight difference makes for a slightly better PHRF rating on the Ericson boats (nine seconds on Lake Michigan) but the boats seem to sail to their ratings.
Our boat is a Pacific boat built in 1986 and has seen pretty light use, but it is lightly equipped. After a little negotiation we got the boat for $8,200, we'll need to spend some money to get up to speed, but we are well within budget.

The sails on our boat were pretty tired so we enlisted the help of our trusted sailmaker Peter Grimm of Super Sailmakers in Fort Lauderdale. We told Peter that we were looking to race competitively, but wanted durable sails at a decent price. Peter went to work and came back with a great proposal for us. Peter convinced us to keep the boat class legal. Even though we are mainly interested in PHRF buoy racing it will be nice to have the option to enter class regattas.

Peter specified a Dacron mainsail, to stay class legal and for budget purposes. Dacron will hold its shape for a couple years before declining, but will ultimately last longer than a laminate sail. The main has four battens, with the top one full length to prevent the sail from "hinging" when it luffs. It has just one reef for distance racing and cruising. The sail is loose footed and has class standard insignias, stripes and sail numbers. The sail cost us $1,500.

We went with two headsails, a 155-percent for lighter days and a 95-percent for heavy air days. The 155-percent is the largest allowed by class rules and under PHRF. Peter built the larger sail out of Dimension Flex 13P Pentex, a mylar film sail with Pentex fibers. This cloth gives us a good shape and with minimum weight. The 95-percent sail is Dacron for durability and cost purposes. This smaller sail will have three short battens to stabilize the leech in heavy conditions. The 155-percent cost us $1,640 and the 95-percent was $1,150. Both sails included telltales with windows, sail numbers, an Aramid leech cord and a sail bag.

Both of these new headsails are hank-on, which Peter felt was best for our boat. Wednesday-night racing is usually windward-leeward and typically crewed short-handed. The great thing about hanks is that when you dump the halyard you don't need to have someone on the bow to keep the sail from going in the water. At the bottom mark, no one needs to go to the headstay to load the sail into the feeder and watch it go up. There is no measurable speed difference between hanks and a foil on a 25-foot boat. You do lose the ability to do headsail peels, but no one changes headsails on Wednesday night races. You can change headsails, you just need to drop one first, the new sail will load right on top of the old one, once the new sail is up you strip the old sail out from under it. When sailing offshore you can even rig a downhaul to make sure a dropped sail stays down.
Our spinnaker was in pretty rough shape, so we decided to replace it too. Peter suggested a reliable nylon symmetrical spinnaker in 3/4-ounce cloth. This sail will serve as well for windward course work; if we find the need to do more reaching we'll get back with Peter for a dedicated reacher or a asymmetrical spinnaker. The chute cost us $1,200.

With our sails in order we needed to attend to our next go-fast topic: the bottom. Our bottom was solid, but not in race-boat form. Our first task was to strip the old bottom down to the gelcoat. We did this with a combination of stripper, Peel Away, and good old fashioned sanding. This took a few weekends and cost us about $275, but we now had a clean bottom to prepare. Our prep started out with a little filling and fairing to get a nice, smooth bottom. We used thickened West Epoxy and a lot of sanding with a longboard. After a few more weekends, we had a smooth, race-ready bottom. We protected our bottom with Interlux Interprotect 2000E and two coats of VC17m Extra with Biolux. The fairing, barrier coat and paint cost us $325 but was a very worthwhile investment.
Our sails and hull are golden, so we now need to connect them with some top-notch running rigging. The rigging that came with the boat was OK, but modern cordage is far lighter for a given strength, and far less elastic-we'd rather use the power of the wind to push the boat than to stretch some rope.

We started off with halyards. To keep things in budget we decide to use New England Ropes VPC, which has a blended core of Vectran and polypropylene covered with a high-quality Dacron cover. It is a very nice rope and costs just $1 per foot in 5/16th-inch, but has a 4,000-pound tensile strength and very low elasticity. We had our local rigger fabricate a jib, main and chute halyard. The main halyard was 70 feet, with a Wichard headboard shackle spliced on and a reeving eye on the bitter end to make the halyard easy to install. The other halyards were similar but used Wichard Snap Shackles, and our rigger included a halyard ball on the spinnaker halyard to help reduce masthead chafe. The cost for the halyards was $390.

Sheets were next on the rigging list, and we replaced the main and jib sheets. Our spinnaker sheets were in good shape, the prior owner had recently purchased a nice set of tapered Spectra sheets. We decided to use Samson Apex, a single braid rope made of Dyneema and polypropylene, for the mainsheet. It is a very easy-to-handle rope and is relatively kink-free. We chose 7/16th-inch diameter; stronger than what we needed but we find a larger rope easier to handle. The cost for this, with the splicing, was $90. We chose New England StaSet in 3/8-inch for our jib sheets. Our rigger nicely whipped the ends, and the total cost was just $70.

Our standing rig was in pretty good shape, but we decided on a couple changes. Our headfoil was pretty tired, the foil had taken a beating in a few boatyard wars. We decided to get a new headstay, which cost us just $75. After talking with some other Olson 25 owners we decided to upgrade the backstay and adjuster. The backstay does not provide a lot of mast shaping, the double spreader rig with inline shrouds doesn't really allow for that, but it really lets you precisely control headstay tension. We decided to replace the standing part with 3/16-inch Spectra single braid, and added a multipart purchase to adjust it. We double-ended the purchase and led the ends to cam cleats at the ends of the traveler. The backstay cost us $250 for the cordage, blocks, cam cleats and splicing.

We don't really need too many electronics for our purposes but decided to get a new handheld GPS and a VHF radio. We have always had good luck with Icom radios so we decided to go with them again. The Icom M72 was our choice, a six-watt submersible handheld with a really good lithium-ion battery. This radio should hold up well under all conditions and the battery will last for distance races. For the GPS we chose a tried and true model from Garmin , the GPS72. This unit is a no-nonsense GPS with a four-color gray display and WAAS technology. Nothing fancy but we will always know where the buoys are.

The Olson 25 will be our Wednesday racer for years to come. It is a boat that we can very competitively race, a perfect platform to introduce new sailors to the magic of racing, and great boat to daysail with the family.

Project list and cost summary

1986 Olson 25

Retrofit budget:
1. Sails:
Headsails $2,790
Spinnaker $1,200
2. Bottom $600
3. Sheets $160
4. Backstay $250
5. GPS $115
6. VHF $199

Total retrofit work $5,314
(64% of purchase price)
Grand Total $13,514


Garmin, www.garmin.com, 800-800-1020; Icom America, www.icomamerica.com, 800-872-4266; Interlux, www.yachtpaint.com, 800-468-7589; New England Ropes, www.newenglandropes.com, 800-333-6679; Peel Away, www.peelaway.com, 212-869-6350; Samson Rope, www.samsonrope.com, 800-227-7673; Super Sailmakers, www.sail-depot.com, 800-541-7601; West System, www.westsystem.com, 866-937-8797; Wichard, www.wichard.com, 866-621-1062.