This West Coast one-design, still actively raced, is a lot of boat for the buck
Here is a quick quiz question for connoisseurs of classic plastic boats. What was legendary naval architect Gary Mull's very first independent sailboat design? No, not the Ranger 26 or 22. Give up? It was the Santana 22, and it turned out to be one of his most enduring works. According to boatbuilder Tom Schock, Mull approached him in the men's room of the St. Francis Yacht Club during a break in the San Francisco Bay Big Boat Series nearly 40 years ago.
"I had no idea who Gary Mull was," Schock said with a laugh. "But he insisted that the drawings tucked under his arm would be a great boat for the bay. Mull explained that he was an apprentice with Sparkman & Stephens in New York, but he was really a California kid who grew up sailing on the bay. I took the drawings with me and after the series showed them to my father." The rest, as they say, is history. The Santana 22 went into production in 1966 and W.D. Schock Corp. built about 800 boats before it was finally taken off line in 1978.
In an unusual twist for an old boat, W.D. Schock Corp. took another look at the Santana 22 in 2001. "Retro is in," Schock said. "Besides, people have been pestering us to build new 22s for years." The company gave the boat a complete makeover and put it back into production. The new boats have the same hull, keel shape and sailplan so they can compete in one-design racing against the first generation 22s, but they also feature updated hardware, materials and cosmetic changes. We'll review only the older boats, which are terrific values and can be purchased for about the same price as a decent life raft. However, it is nice to know that if you get hooked on the Santana 22 a new boat is a viable option. Ten new 22s have already been sold in less than a year.
The Santana 22 is a handsome little boat with nicely proportioned lines. In some ways-and I know this will offend some-it is a better looking boat than the Cal 20, the Bill Lapworth classic that some say inspired Mull's design. Instead of a raised flush deck, it has a low-profile cabintrunk with two large portlights per side. Both boats feature long cockpits, but while the Cal 20 has an outboard rudder and transom tiller, the Santana 22 has a spade rudder and cockpit tiller.
Below the waterline, the Santana 22 has a sweptback fin keel that accounts for 1,230 pounds of ballast, creating a ballast-to-displacement ratio of almost 50 percent. Like the Cal 20, the Santana can stand up to a blow, and not surprisingly, there is an active fleet on blustery San Francisco Bay. Unlike the fractionally rigged Cal 20, the Santana 22 is a masthead sloop with a working sail area of 217 square feet. One of the best features of the boat is that it appeals to a wide range of sailors, from an inexperienced couple or family looking for a first boat to competitive sailors looking for an affordable and exciting one-design and PHRF racer.
Nothing defines original construction quality better than a careful look at how well a boat has held up after years of hard use. These small but tough boats have held up very well indeed.
"When we started the process to reintroduce the 22, we talked with the local fleets and looked at a lot of the old boats up and down the California coast," Schock said. "Many of the boats were more than 30 years old, and they are still sailing three nights a week. I guess it wasn't a bad idea to put so much glass into them."
The 22 hull is solid fiberglass and, like Schock says, heavily laid up. The deck is balsa cored. One of the improvements on the new 22 is a better hull-and-deck joint. On the old boats the joint was covered by a somewhat flimsy rubrail and vulnerable to impact.
The keel was cast iron, and the original keel bolts were galvanized iron. According to Schock these bolts had a life expectancy of about 30 years, and most boats have been retrofitted with stainless bolts. The mast is deck-stepped, and most boats have been fitted with a support post. That is another improvement on the new 22. Instead of a compression post, an athwartship fiberglass deck beam supports the mast and opens up the interior. The interior isn't fancy, but the two-compartment arrangement with four berths is all you need.
What to look for
Most Santana 22s have been raced hard for years, which is the perfect recipe for revealing a boat's flaws. Steve Seal, who was a consultant for the new 22 project and specializes in supplying parts and advice for old Cals and the Santana 22, (and who, incidentally, attended high school with Schock and Bill Lee) suggested carefully inspecting a used 22's spars and standing rigging. The original chainplates were aluminum and they tended to elongate and corrode over the years. A chainplate failure can lead to a dismasting. If the chainplates have not been changed to stainless steel, it should be the project on the top of your list. Seal also suggested upgrading the standing rigging, especially the lower stays that at times carry the most load. The original boom section was too light and occasionally failed under load. While it is likely that the section has either been replaced or upgraded, be sure to find out. The gooseneck fitting was also a bit undersized.
Other items to check include the previously mentioned keel bolts and rudder play, which seems to be a common problem. The stainless steel rudder post may need better bearing support in the fiberglass rudder tube, which is a hot topic of conversation on the Santana 22 owner's Web page.
The Santana 22 cockpit is ideal for racing but can get uncomfortable on longer sails. The coaming boards tend to hit you in the small of the back, and the shallow design of the well makes it hard to brace or stretch your legs. On the plus side, all major sail controls can be easily reached from the helm, and in fact, the boat is set up for easy singlehanding. The sheet winches are mounted on molded islands, and the mainsheet traveler is aft, allowing for efficient end-boom sheeting. Most boats are rigged with backstay adjusters within easy reach of the helmsman.
The side decks have a fair bit of camber, which seems awkward when the boat isn't heeled, but is really a practical feature while under sail and also creates more room below. There are usually two sets of headsail tracks, one on the coachroof for upwind work and another on the rail. There are teak grab rails on the coachroof and some owners have mounted another set on the foredeck, both for safety and for lashing sail bags.
Depending on how actively a boat has been raced, it may or may not be set up with lifelines. The nonskid on older boats is likely to be well worn. The stemhead fitting is rather small, and some owners have retrofitted a bow roller for cruising. Author John Vigor has a detailed description of this upgrade on the owner's Web page.
"We looked at several different interior options for the new 22 but finally decided that the original arrangement still worked the best," Schock said. Or as one owner put it, "Anyway you slice it, the interior is bare-bones." The interior consists of two full-length berths forward, two full-length settee berths in the saloon and a surprising amount of elbowroom. If you go back to the Cal 20 comparison, the Santana 22 seems downright spacious.
You will likely find a variety of owner modifications as some boats have been set up for cruising and may include an imaginative galley and even a fold-out table for navigation. There is good storage below each bunk and in lockers. Most boats are fitted with porta-potties, one of mankind's least noble inventions. The headroom is what manufacturers used to call with a straight face "full-sitting" headroom.
The Santana 22 is set up for an outboard engine. A clever cutout in the transom allows the motor to be efficiently mounted down low yet still easily lifted out of the water. Schock noted that the transom is strong enough to support the new four-stroke engines. Engines on most used boats will range from 4 to 10 horsepower.
Outboard engines are notoriously fickle, so if you have any doubts about the engine do yourself a favor, bite the bullet and purchase a new model. Performance under power is adequate, and the Santana 22 is so nimble under sail that powering is usually only required when maneuvering in close quarters or when trying to get home on a completely calm afternoon.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the reason the Santana 22 has remained so popular is that is a great performer," Schock said with more than a little pride. "The boat is well known for its ability to handle heavy weather, but it is not a slug in light air."
The Santana owner's Web page and the San Francisco one-design association page are filled with advice for making the boat perform better throughout a range of conditions. John Skinner contributes an excellent piece on tuning the rig and making subtle adjustments while under way.
The Santana one-design association has two classes, one with spinnaker and one without. Both classes are popular, and races along the California coast will often see more than 20 boats turn up at the starting line. On the wind, the Santana 22 is fairly stiff, although it helps to be able to shift the crew to rail when working toward the windward mark. Off the wind, the boat has terrific steering control because the spade rudder is located well aft. The beam in the mid and aft hull sections also keeps the boat balanced and cuts down on rolling. The Santana 22 can carry sail in breezy conditions, and the masthead spinnaker really gives the boat punch while reaching.
The Santana 22 is what sailing should be all about. With new and used versions, it offers the proverbial best of both worlds. It is a well-built, spirited boat that can be purchased for less than $3,000 on the used boat market. It is a perfect first boat, and with active one-design associations, especially on the West Coast, you can develop and hone your sailing skills without breaking the bank. If you find that you love the boat but would like a new, less maintenance-intensive version, you can order a new one.