2008 November 10

The updated version of this 1970s one-design is more than a simple retread

I should come clean before even beginning this review. I've always had a thing for the S&S-designed Tartan Ten. As a kid sailing on Lake Erie back in the 1970s I can remember when the first T-10s began showing up off Cleveland, Ohio: state-of-the-art racers, with sleek, flush decks, huge mains and powerful-looking bows. I was too young to realize they were a slap in the face of the IOR, a boat built for speed and sailability, and never mind the rules. I was also too young to recognize them as a whole new approach to one-design racing. I just knew they were cool. Especially when a dozen would come charging toward the line at the start of a race.

As a result, it was with mixed feelings that I first heard about the "new Ten" coming down the ways last winter, something that had been rumored among Tartan Ten sailors almost since the day the boat went out of production back in 1988, after just under 400 boats had been set loose on the water.

On the one hand, it was great news that such a fine boat was going back into production. But on the other hand, I couldn't help wondering if such an effort was doomed to fail. Back in the mid-1970s, the T-10 pretty much had the field to itself. But here in 2001 the water was beginning to look a bit crowded with one-design "sport boats." Farr 40s, Mumm 30s, One Design 35s: The poor Tartan Ten seemed more than a little dated. Could a 25-year-old design really hope to compete in the world of carbon fiber and bowsprit reaching chutes?

Having taken a sail aboard the new Ten, or "LS-10" as it's now called, I can safely say the boat is more than just a retread: It really is a new boat, and one that is more than capable of holding its own in a new century. In fact, taking out hull No. 1 on a warm, windy day on Lake Michigan, it felt like the state of Tens or T-10s or Tartan Tens or LS-10s, or whatever you want to call them, is as strong as ever, better than it's been in years.

On deck
The first thing you notice when looking at the LS-10 is its dramatically different profile. Whereas the original had an IOR-style flush deck with stainless steel handrails flanking a cavernous companionway, the LS-10 has a bullet-shaped deckhouse, a la the Farr 40, that not only provides increased headroom but changes the entire character of the boat in one fell swoop.

No more do you need to hunch over the secondary winches on the flat deck. They are now right up at shoulder level where they can be easily trimmed while keeping an eye on the rig and foredeck. The new configuration also makes it easier for foredeck crew to get from side to side during tacks since there are no longer those handrails to trip you up. And for cruisers-more on that later; yes, this is a cruising boat-the structure provides great back support, whether lounging in the cockpit or sitting on the rail. Aesthetically, if you were plunked blindfolded down on the deck of the new Ten and were told to identify the boat without looking up at the rig, you'd be hard pressed to figure out that it was a variation of the T-10. It's that different.

And this difference is not just limited to the obvious change of the cabintrunk. It comes out in details, dozens of details that have been changed or added to improve the comfort and safety of the boat both at the dock and under way. The side decks aft, for example, are slightly canted so the helmsman can sit comfortably. Chainplates, which used to be belowdecks, are now attached on deck eliminating what was once a source of leaks, and cutouts on the lazarette hatches provide footing for the driver when the boat is heeling. The old aluminum toerail, which ran from stem to stern in the original boat, has been discarded, but molded toerails and cutouts have been substituted so that a foothold still exists the entire length of the boat, a rarity in modern racers.

Along its inside trailing edge, the companionway has been carefully beveled to provide a fair lead for cross-sheeting the jib, and the aft portion of the companionway has been equipped with an ingenious new washboard locking system that both secures and seals the opening far more efficiently than a conventional hinged latch.

Perhaps most impressive are the sliding overhead companionway hatches and-don't laugh-the new drink holders, which line the boat's spacious 8-foot cockpit. For years, Tartan Ten sailors have bemoaned the clunky fiberglass, two-piece companionway cover as too flimsy to step on and a hassle to both install and remove. But that is now all in the past thanks to a new sliding system that not only makes opening up or sealing the space a snap, but when pulled aft, provides the perfect launching point for the spinnaker. The drink holders, although seemingly superficial, are a true stroke of genius. Six of them are molded into the side decks surrounding the boat's cockpit, each designed for easy draining and cleaning. At the new Ten's debut last winter at the Chicago Strictly Sail boat show, they attracted as much attention as the interior, and for good reason. Keeping cans in winch-handle holders can be iffy at best. And who hasn't been caught with a can of beer in their hand on a downwind leg when it comes time for a sudden jibe?

Finally, the LS-10 comes with a surprisingly large transom swimstep, which not only serves cruisers looking to take a dip, but is a genuine safety feature, given the Ten's high topsides. Previously, getting crew aboard could be difficult if not impossible, even in a dead calm.

According to LS-10 Boats President and 2000 Tartan Ten National Champion Rich Stearns, he and boatbuilder Paul Amon of Soca Sailboats in Trinidad spent hours going over a mock-up of the deck to make sure the real thing worked as well as the drawings. And the result is a boat that just feels "right." Everywhere you look there seems to be some new modification or feature. Everything makes so much sense. You can almost imagine the time spent on board, rounding off this corner, refining that upgrade, doing what was needed to get a real sailor's boat, one that anticipates every sailor's need in any situation.

Down below
This kind of smart design is also evident in the LS-10's interior. If you're the kind of sailor who insists on cherry veneers and swivel chairs, the LS-10 won't be for you. But if you're a sailor looking for practical accommodations in a boat that's a real sailer and not just a floating condo, then this may be the perfect layout.

The boat has both an enclosed head and a small galley with a sink and one-burner stove aft of the V-berth. It sleeps six in all, and the bunks are a genuine 6-feet, 3-inches throughout, which can go a long way to make you get over that lack of joinerwork after the lights go out.

The quarter berths are both wide and easily accessible, a huge improvement over the original boat, in which getting into a sleeping spot aft made you feel like a woodchuck burrowing into his hole. The engine compartment is both elegantly set apart and easily accessed through a molded housing, which makes it so you don't feel like you're sleeping on the deck of the engine room.

In terms of headroom, the LS-10 is a bit cramped forward, and taller sailors will have to stoop to get in to the V-berth. But there is still 5 feet, 5 inches of headroom in both the galley and head areas, which is where you begin to really need it.

Farther aft, the huge companionway opens up the saloon providing truly unlimited headroom and more light and ventilation than a battery of portlights or dorade vents. For those who worry about rain and bugs, Stearns said he is currently building a large dodger, extending forward almost to the base of the mast, which will provide protection from the wind and effectively extend the saloon both outward and upward, making it much larger than it appears.

Stearns noted, almost with a sense of pride, the fact that there is basically no woodwork below, greatly simplifying upkeep (although trim is offered as an option). The galley counter is molded from a Corian-type material, and the companionway steps are elegantly shaped with a molded-in nonskid. Even the sole, which can be completely removed so it won't be scratched or dinged during repair jobs, is built of imitation teak and holly. And while this might provoke gasps of horror from many boat show veterans and brochure junkies who are convinced that more is better in terms of wood, the overall effect down below is surprisingly warm and inviting, and refreshingly practical.

If there is a down side to the boat, it is that is doesn't have a tremendous amount of storage space. There are no hanging lockers, and although there is storage space below the saloon berths, a good pair of lazarettes and decent shelving in the saloon, the V-berth will inevitably take up the slack in terms of storing both sails and gear.

Still, when my wife and I go cruising, that's often where we end up throwing our things anyway, there or in some big quarter berth with pretty flowered curtains. The LS-10 would never be mistaken for a live-aboard. But for a couple, a couple with two kids, or two couples who get along, there's plenty of room. Don't be fooled by all the talk of performance and one-design racing. This is a genuine cruising boat, in the tradition of the cruising boats of old, which were meant for sailing as well as entertaining.

The saloon is also unusual for its lack of deckhead handholds. Again, Stearns said they haven't yet been included because he doesn't know if they're necessary. He noted that with the boat's narrow beam, it's just as easy to brace yourself against the low side of the inside of the cabintrunk as it is to grab a teak handle hanging off the high side.

"We don't want to rush things," he said, referring to a number of finishing touches like handrails and portlights. "If we give the boat to five people for six months they'll come back with all kinds of great ideas."

Given the job the LS-10 people have done so far, there's no doubt these changes will be dealt with effectively. If old Nat Herreshoff were alive today, I think he'd be pleased as punch with the LS-10, expect maybe for the fact that it's got a little too much headroom.

Under sail
Out on Lake Michigan, the new Ten performed with the same stability and precision as the original. In 12 knots of breeze the boat tacked easily and tracked well, whether to windward or downwind with the chute up. This should have come as no surprise since the mold was taken from the 1978 and 1999 T-10 national champion Dora. Like the original Ten, the LS-10 has clean lines, a deep keel and a small skeg in front of a large semibalanced rudder. Its construction is also the same, consisting of a fiberglass and balsa sandwich, which provides for a stiff, light hull.

Sailors whose only experience has been with heavy cruisers can't imagine what it's like to sail this kind of boat. Many T-10 sailors refer to their boats as oversized dinghies, and the boat's quickness and light helm do make it feel nimble and responsive. These are boats that can plane at 16 knots and more under spinnaker when the conditions are right, and this in a boat with a 27-foot waterline that was designed a quarter century ago.

Today, small jibs and large mains are taken for granted. But putting the new boat through its paces, I was reminded of just how much sense it makes for easy sailing, especially with a smaller crew. The jib went cleanly from side to side, and the main traveler was close at hand right in front of the helm. The primaries are a bit of a reach for a singlehander, but because the jib is so easy to manage, it can easily be brought under control with the Harken self-tailers that come standard with the boat. Stearns and the other folks at LS-10 Boats never tire of relating how 90-year-old Buddy Buker thinks nothing of taking out his T-10 Barquita by himself whenever he has trouble drumming up crew.

Under power, the LS-10 moved effortlessly, thanks to the boat's 18.5-horsepower Yanmar powerplant and Martec folding prop, which provides noticeably more power than the original Ten's power plant, which in some cases was as low as 7-horsepower.

Afterward, Stearns related how his company is trying to market the new boat and confessed he is having trouble finding a "niche" in which to place it. On the one hand the boat is a natural one-design racer-no fewer than 48 boats showed up for the Chicago NOOD regatta this past summer-but it has also been making waves in the context of PHRF with an impressive victory this year at Block Island Race Week. Other older Tens have scored victories at the Rolex Cup and the Heineken Cup racing under the CSA rule in the Caribbean. Then again the boat is a true contender as a performance cruiser. Hmmm … Maybe they should just call it a damn good boat.