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Cabo Rico 42 Pilothouse

2005 June 7

Robustly built and handsomely styled, this Chuck Paine cruiser is itching for blue water

The new Cabo Rico Pilothouse 42 presents something of a conundrum for sailors, just what kind of boat is it? Robustly constructed, it is a proven bluewater passagemaker. At the same time, however, there is something about Chuck Paine's low profile pilothouse and soothing sheerline that provides an air of elegance and a sense of grace that sets the 42PH apart from other hardcore cruisers. There is nothing stark or severe about the boat. And then there is the interior. The practical engineering features and innovative layout are overshadowed by a symphony of blond Costa Rican teak and stunning joinerwork. But don't be fooled by the 42PH's comeliness, this boat is the real deal when it comes to ocean sailing, capable of contending with any of the notorious headlands in comfort and style.

Cabo Rico has been building boats in the Central American country of Costa Rica for nearly 40 years. The company is best known for the Crealock-designed 38 cutter, a legitimate classic that is built on a limited basis these days, and for its homegrown plantation teak joinerwork. In addition to the Cabo Rico line that includes models ranging from 36 feet to 56 feet, it also builds the sleek David Walters-designed Cambrias, and the versatile Northeast 400 motorsailer.

"Our workforce is unique," said company President Fraser Smith. "Our average employee has been with us for at least 15 years. They're our greatest strength." Every Cabo Rico is built on a semi-custom basis.
I recently test sailed the Cabo Rico 42PH in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I was joined by Tadji Rodriguez, Capt. Mike Ungurean and Fraser Smith. The hull is identical to the traditionally decked 42. Paine describes the refined full keel hull shape as a New England-style hull, and traces its pedigree to its Crealock-designed sisterships. I like the 42's clipper bow.

"Yes, the clipper bow looks lovely," Smith said, "but it is functional as well. It keeps the boat dry, and a dry boat is a safe and comfortable boat."

The wind was light as we cleared the docks behind Cabo Rico's U.S. office. We raised sail in the turning basin and steamed out into the Atlantic looking for wind. We eventually rustled up an onshore breeze, shut down the Yanmar and headed south toward Miami. Before long we were sailing at 6.5 knots, skirting the edge of the Gulf Stream.

The details
The 42PH hull is laid up to massive scantlings. A layer of Core-Cell foam is sandwiched between numerous layers of fiberglass, making for a strong and moderately light hull. The deck is also composite construction, with Baltek balsa used as the core material. In keeping with the times, you won't find teak decks on the 42PH, unless of course you really want them. Cabo Rico's overall engineering is impressive. As an example, all through-deck fittings are mounted in a radius of solid laminate, fasteners don't puncture the core, eliminating the potential for delamination.

The hull and deck are joined with a classic boxjoint, featuring inward and outward flanges and incorporating the raised bulwark and teak toerail. Bonded both chemically and mechanically, this is not only an incredibly strong way to marry the hull and deck but this also creates a joint that won't leak. The raised bulwarks also provide secure vertical surfaces for mounting stanchion bases.

Structural bulkheads are tabbed to the hull throughout their perimeter. You won't find molded liners in the 42PH. Beneath the cabin sole, a solid fiberglass subfloor and solid fiberglass stringers eliminate any chance of wood rot in the bilge. A beefy fiberglass bridge that keeps the mast end well clear of any bilge water supports the keel-stepped mast. The ballast is internal lead, placed in the keel cavity that is an integral part of the hull, and then fiberglassed over. This eliminates the need for keel bolts and allows the weight of the fuel and water storage to be kept low in the hull. The debate over internal and external ballast seems to have waned as fin keels have for the most part carried the day in sailboat design, but for a serious cruiser I still prefer internal ballast.

On deck
The cockpit seats are nicely sculpted and offer excellent lower back support. Although all pilothouse models suffer from reduced visibility from the outside helm station, Paine's low-profile pilothouse limits this compromise. There are a couple of aft lazarettes and a cockpit locker to port for more than adequate deck storage space. The mainsheet traveler is mounted forward of the companionway, freeing up cockpit space. and all sail controls are led aft.

Our test boat was fitted with the optional self-tacking staysail boom, an arrangement that clutters the foredeck but sure makes sail handling easy. The double-spreader rig is of moderate proportion and the cutter plan features around 1,100 square feet of sail area. The sail area/displacement ratio of 16.88 translates into a boat designed for bluewater sailing. Our boat, hull No. 2, also included a Schaeffer roller boom with an articulating luff track that allows for reefing off the wind. The standard sailplan calls for a high-cut, roller-furling yankee to accompany the staysail, eliminating the need for an overlapping genoa. This is an effective plan for sailing across the wind and makes reducing sail easy in a blow. However, for deep reaching in the trades a poled out genoa is the usual, low-stress alternative to an asymmetrical chute. The standing rigging, which includes increasingly rare fore and aft lowers, is heavy duty, and mechanical terminals and a solid vang are part of the standard package.

Stainless steel handrails mounted on the pilothouse, tall and well-supported lifelines, and the raised bulwark lend a real sense security when going forward, even in heavy weather. The deck hardware is oversized and the double stainless steel anchor rollers and stemhead fitting is well designed. An electric windlass is standard.

Down below
The interior plan is innovative and, considering that this is a 42-foot boat with a modest beam and a real turn to the bilge, the available space is cleverly utilized. Remember, too, that no two 42PHs will be exactly alike as owner input is a key ingredient in every boat.

Dropping below, you enter the pilothouse, and it really isn't much of a drop, more like a couple of easy steps. The inside steering station is to starboard, and surprisingly, the visibility is quite good. The helm chair is comfortable, you can actually sail the boat from below, which is not always the case with pilothouse models. This feature will really pay dividends when motoring on gloomy days on the inside passage, up a Norwegian fjord or along a Patagonian channel.

Across from the helm station is a table and shallow C-shaped settee. This is a delightful, well-lit and ventilated spot to sit, have a meal and take in the world outside. The genius of the design is what lies beneath and behind the settee. It ingeniously lifts up and reveals a workshop. I like the idea of a workroom, which just may be the most useful space on any serious cruising boat. A surprisingly large double aft cabin is tucked away to starboard.

Continuing forward, the galley is down and to starboard. The counters are finished in Corian and there is plenty of locker space behind and a separate pantry opposite. Across from the galley, our test boat was fitted with a settee and a single unit washer and dryer hidden behind a lovely teak panel. There was also an additional small, easily accessed freezer. This space can also be a third sleeping cabin, an office, or whatever your heart desires. The systems throughout the boat, from lights to latches, are absolutely top quality. The standard equipment list is comprehensive, and ranges from a large inverter to an SSB counterpoise system laid into the hull. And of course, there is all that beautiful teak to admire. Cabo Rico's teak is light, almost honey colored, and when combined with the natural light of a pilothouse design the interior feels bright and airy.

The owner's stateroom is forward and includes an island queen bunk with dressing seats on either side and storage below. This cabin is truly elegant, and a large overhead hatch and opening port lights provide superb ventilation when sitting at anchor. Indeed, I have grudgingly come to realize that the philosophy of placing the owner's stateroom forward makes sense. Underway, the aft cabin and the pilothouse settee offer excellent sea berths, and when you reach your destination, the forward cabin is cool, private and spacious. The en suite head includes a large separate shower stall and tile flooring.

A 56-horsepower naturally aspirated Yanmar diesel is standard and provides plenty of power for the roughly 27,000-pound 42PH. Primary access is below the pilothouse sole and most maintenance items are readily accessible. The sound insulation is amazing, it was hard to hear if the engine was running from the cockpit, and more than tolerable from below. The 72-gallon fuel tank has integral baffles and an inspection port and clean out tube for dealing with contaminated fuel. Range under power is more than 500 miles.

Under sail
Back out on the Atlantic, the sailing was easy. The helm was light as we eased along on a gentle reach. A confused swell would have made a lighter, flatter bottomed boat bounce about uncomfortably but the 42PH barely noticed the chop. A seakindly motion just may be the most important design feature on a cruising boat. A boat that pounds will wear down the crew and is also hard on gear and structural integrity. The 42PH has a soft ride.

Eventually the wind came alive and we were able to put the boat through its paces. Sailing on a close reach, we clipped along at 7-plus knots in about 12 knots true. Hardening the sheets, we sailed capably to 35 degrees apparent with very little helm. It takes awhile to adjust to seeing over the pilothouse. Overall, I was impressed with clean deck leads and how the boat came through the wind efficiently for a long-keeled cutter. Cracking off onto a broad reach, we maintained speed and control although the apparent wind dropped into single digits.

The Cabo Rico 42PH combines the attributes of a well-proven hull shape with brilliant engineering and comfort of a pilothouse design. Of course, practical features aside, the handsome 42PH will also draw compliments wherever it goes.