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C&C 121

2001 February 7
February 2001

This new cruiser-racer more than lives up to its storied lineage

Despite the fact that the new C&C 121 is a thoroughly modern boat, it left me feeling quite nostalgic during a recent test sail on Chesapeake Bay.

I learned to sail on Lake St. Clair in the '70s when Canadian- based C&C ruled the waves. A few slips away from my Bristol 27 was a red-hulled C&C 39, which is still one of my all-time favorite boats. It was sexy and looked fast just tied to the dock, all the while maintaining a certain elegance. It was owned by an engineer who worked at Ford designing experimental cars, and he had assured me the boat was absolutely state-of-the-art-a phrase that hadn't yet become hackneyed. I hitched a ride once, and as we clipped along at the seemingly indecent speed of 7 knots, I realized just how old my good-ol' Bristol really was.

Today's C&Cs are built by Fairport Yachts, the same Ohio company that produces the Tartan lineup. Although the boats are no longer built north of the border, the company is taking great pains to keep up the C&C pedigree. The 121 might just be the boat that will help C&C reclaim the magic that at one time made it the dominant sailboat manufacturer in North America.

The 121 is the flagship of the C&C Express Series and possesses that elusive combination of uncompromising performance and big, luxurious accommodations. Designer Tim Jacket should be commended. The 121 delivers-this is a legitimate racer-cruiser. Although, two questions remain. Will speed wonks, who seem more interested in one-designs these days, opt for a boat with a lovely interior and an aluminum spar? And will cruisers be intimidated by double digits on their speedos?

C&C hopes the answers are yes and no, in that order.

Even before we boarded the boat at Backyard Boats Marina, on Spa Creek, just across from the Annapolis City Docks, I spotted the striking baby-blue hull while driving over the bridge. And as we had a cool, breezy morning for the test I was eager to get sailing. Once clear of the moored boats, we canned the 38-horsepower Volvo MD saildrive and quickly hauled up the full-batten main and unfurled the genoa. All control lines are led aft to the cockpit underneath the deck, which keeps the cabintop clean. The acceleration was impressive as we charged toward the Eastern Shore.

C&C was a pioneer in cored construction-especially with the use of balsa-cored hulls-and was one of the first builders to use vacuum bagging. The 121 continues the progressive construction techniques that have been a hallmark of C&C for more than 30 years. The hull is laminated with E-glass and Kevlar. Vinylester resin is used to prevent osmotic blisters. The 121 comes standard with a 10-year blister guarantee.

Throughout the years of change and turmoil at C&C, one design and construction philosophy has remained constant: composite laminates are superior to solid. This statement is undeniably true, so long as the coring is well done and doesn't separate or delaminate within the hull. The new 121 is cored with Core Cell, a linear foam core that is exceptionally strong, light and, most importantly, water resistant. Core Cell almost eliminates the problem of water migration, the bane of older coring materials. C&C omits the core in high-stress areas around the chainplates, through-hull fittings and keel floors. The hull laminate is vacuum bagged, which distributes pressure evenly over the laminate while removing air with a vacuum pump.

The hull and deck are joined on an inward-facing flange that has an aluminum bar molded into it. The deck is set on the flange in a bed of 3M 5200 and then fasteners are drilled and tapped into the aluminum. C&C's trademark toerail is incorporated in the joint, and the aluminum bar acts as a full-length backing plate.

A structural grid and hull pan are bonded to the hull, and the bulkheads and internal furnishings are bonded with adhesives developed for the aerospace industry. A fiberglass integral web, spreading the rigging loads over a large area, supports the chainplate pods. Deck fittings are backed with 1/4-inch aluminum, which is tapped to allow fasteners to be set and removed for periodic servicing. C&C has put a great deal of thought into the future servicing of fittings, a real aid to the boat owner.

The 5,500-pound, high-lift keel is bolted to the hull. Either the optional 5-foot shoal-draft or 8-foot deep-draft keel is available. The rudder blade is elliptical with a foam core, and the rudder stock is stainless steel.

The 121's cockpit is designed for efficient sailing. The standard wheel is a 48-inch destroyer type, and our test boat was fitted with the 54-inch optional model. Either way, the Edson rack-and-pinion steering system is exceptional. The steering is tight and there is plenty of feel. The primary winches are set well aft and easily reached from the helm, a tip-off that the boat is not just designed to be sailed with a large crew. Every control line is led aft from the base of the mast under the deck to the cockpit. As noted earlier, these keep the cabintop clean. But I confess I still like to see my lines. The cockpit seats are comfortable, and there is good foot support when heeled. There is a large locker to starboard and additional storage beneath the helm seat. There is also a swim step astern, with a ladder, another sign that there is a soft side to this speedster.

You do appreciate the hidden running gear when you make your way forward. The molded nonskid provides good traction, and there are stainless grab rails on the deckhouse. There is no provision made for anchoring, so if you intend to cruise the boat you will need to add the optional bow roller and windlass. There is, however, a molded anchor locker with an overboard drain.

Roller furling is standard, and the foil headstay is easily converted to racing mode. The furling drum is neatly tucked below deck, allowing the jib to be tacked low for performance.

The deck hardware is all first rate. I would definitely select the adjustable genoa leads, as opposed to the standard pin-stop cars, as well as the rod vang. The mainsheet is a four-part purchase and the traveler is over the companionway for midboom sheeting. In a stiff blow the powerful main might be overloaded, requiring more purchase.

The standard sails include a full-batten Dacron main and 135-percent Dacron roller genoa. Naturally if you plan to race the boat seriously you will need to upgrade the sail inventory. The mast is anodized aluminum, which I think is a good choice for keeping the cost under control. Carbon spars on any boat up the price tag dramatically. The anodized boom includes single-line slab reefing as standard. The rig allows the option of flying masthead chutes to provide plenty of oomph off the wind.

The varnished cherry interior is nicely arranged and beautifully finished. The fine entry is evident in the forward cabin, although there is still plenty of room for a double berth, hanging locker and storage shelves. The saloon features a U-shaped settee with a drop-leaf centerline table and a straight settee opposite. A close inspection of the cherry-trimmed cabinets reveals dovetail joints and handsome overall craftsmanship. While it would be challenging to find enough storage space for a long passage, the area above and outboard of the settees can swallow up extra provisions or an optional TV/VCR locker.

The galley is to port and includes a standard two-burner stove with oven and 12-volt refrigeration. There isn't a lot of counter space, but what you put on the counter will stay put-the fiddle edges are stout. The nav station is opposite the galley and set at an angle. The electrical panel is outboard, and there is plenty of room for instrumentation on the forward panel. The head is behind the nav station and includes a separate shower stall. This is good placement for the head; the motion is less volatile and it can double as a wet locker. One good head in a 38-foot boat is a better arrangement than two cramped spaces without any elbow room.

There is a large, athwartship double aft, tucked under the cockpit, with a hanging locker and additional storage under the bunk. This will likely be the best sea berth on the boat. Ventilation includes six overhead hatches, although the one in the aft cabin is small. The deckhouse design doesn't lend itself to opening portlights.

Access to the Volvo MD 2040 38-horsepower diesel is quite good. The saildrive comes standard with a fixed prop, although many owners have opted for a folding prop. The engine was quiet and smooth as we motored out of the harbor at more than 6 knots. The fuel tank holds 35 gallons, which just may last all season. Additional tankage includes two 40-gallon water tanks and a 20-gallon waste tank.

The northwest winds were gusty, which gave the 121 an opportunity to show off its impressive acceleration. Sailing close-hauled, the boat had a nice motion as it sliced through the water at close to 8 knots. The helm was nicely balanced and the steering easy. There was no tendency to pound. In winds ranging from 12 to 15 knots, we were consistently sailing above 7 knots. Cracking off onto a close reach, you could feel the quick response as the boat powered up. Although we were sailing fast, the boat was surprisingly easy to handle. The helmsperson can easily trim the headsail from the leeward side. Unfortunately we were not able to fly a spinnaker, but I suspect that the 121 will have good off-the-wind performance as well.

The C&C 121 delivers great sailing performance. It also happens to have a comfortable, well-thought-out and tastefully appointed interior. When you include innovative construction and high-tech materials in the package you realize that the C&C 121 is the logical expression of a storied lineage.