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Sydney 41

2008 November 10

Cruising comforts wrapped in a high-performance package

From its plumb bow and flat forefoot to its oversized scooped-out wheel, racing-style cockpit and low-slung deckhouse, the Sydney 41 should be placed in the same category as other lightweight composite flyers like the Farr 40 and J/125, especially after examining the Sydney 41's impressive list of overall first-place finishes, from Cowes Week to the Queen's Cup. However, a closer look at the race results reveals another side of the Sydney 41. First overall in the notoriously rough Sydney-to-Hobart race, first in class in the unpredictable Fastnet Race and first overall in several long-distance races in the Indian Ocean-races that couldn't be considered light-air, around-the-buoy races-prove the 41 is an oceangoing boat.

By the numbers, the Sydney 41 displaces 14,350 pounds, making it 6,000 pounds heavier than the new J/125 and almost 2,000 pounds heavier than the Farr 40. (All three boats have an LOA of about 41 feet.) The Sydney 41 is not an oversized sport boat, which can be deduced immediately by simply dropping down below. Unlike her rocketship cousins, the Sydney 41 has a surprisingly comfortable interior that makes you believe the builder's claim that this boat is a cruiser that just happens to sail extremely fast.

Designed by Ian Murray and built by Bashford International near, not surprisingly, Sydney, Australia, the Sydney 41 illuminates the gulf between the American and overseas sailboat markets. Americans seem intent on separating their boats into very distinct racing and cruising classes, while overseas builders are quicker to translate success on the race course into cruising designs. The Sydney 41 was designed around the principle that performance is more important than rating, as speed is timeless and rating is subject to change. While the 41's hull shape is based on the latest grand prix thinking, it complies with the IMS racer-cruiser class rules. I sailed the Sydney 41 on a blustery Chesapeake day following the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, in October. It was an exhilarating ride.

In addition to building a full line of performance-oriented Sydneys ranging from 36 feet to 60 feet (the all-out-racer Sydney 40 was chosen as the Admiral's Cup midsize boat), Bashford International has been the Australian contract manufacturer of Hobie Cats since 1968.

The hull is a composite construction using Kevlar E-glass biaxial fabric, vinylester and epoxy resins and foam coring of varying thickness. The deck has a PVC core, with laminate and high-density foam supporting the flat areas beneath load-bearing deck fittings. The main structural bulkhead is solid fiberglass and the secondary bulkheads are composite. A fiberglass floor, coupled with the longitudinals, forms a structural grid in the bilge. The molded interior liners, with unidirectional fibers, stiffen the hull and help support the rig load. The high-lift, steel keel section has a lead bulb dangling more than 8 feet below the waterline. The externally fastened keel is attached to the hull with stainless steel bolts and is supported by a large, recessed backing plate. I was pleased to see that the balanced spade rudder is a composite construction around a tubular stainless steel stock, not a carbon fiber stock.

The tapered, triple-spreader spar and boom are extruded aluminum, a departure from the increasingly common and more costly carbon spars found on many high-performance boats. And while this may increase the pitching slightly, the alloy mast is flexible and easily controlled with running backs, checkstays and a hydraulic backstay. The standing rigging is Dyform wire, a departure from discontinuous rod rigging found on most race boats. A telescoping vang and Tuff Luff headstay foil are standard. Although the Sydney 41 sports a masthead rig, the primary horsepower still comes from the large, powerful mainsail. This allows for the option of flying relatively small, nofeberlapping headsails like most new sport boats. But the 41 is also set up with genoa tracks and can fly bigger headsails for those light air reaches.

The deck is clean and efficient, with most sail controls led aft through turning blocks and jammers on the deckhouse. Harken equipment is used for the internal mainsheet system, traveler, adjustable genoa sheet leads and spinnaker gear. The nonskid is molded into the deck and provides secure footing, and the sleek deckhouse is not much of an obstacle when on the move. Like other boats in this class, you find yourself looking for handholds on deck. The open-style cockpit is huge and relatively deep. It also has a transom, which sets it apart from other racers and large one-designs and more importantly, provides a bit of protection from marauding waves. The steering station, tucked behind the enormous alloy wheel and traveler deck, is well-designed, with molded foot supports and curved coamings for comfortable seating. The helmsman has easy access to the mainsheet and can stretch to reach the primaries if necessary

While I would not call the interior luxurious, it is a refreshing change from most high-performance ocean racing boats. You won't have to check into a hotel after the race. The layout features a double berth forward, with the head and hanging locker just aft. The saloon has a dinette-style table and settee to port and a straight settee to starboard. Unfortunately the chainplate tie rods pierce the forward end of each settee, limiting their usefulness as sea berths. Stout stainless steel overhead handrails run the length of the main saloon.

The port-side galley is small but functional with double stainless sinks, a two-burner stove and oven, a large icebox, and molded fiddle edges. The freshwater system uses a recessed floor pump to access two 26-gallon bladder tanks. The nav station and a wet locker are opposite the galley. The chart table is good-sized. A glimpse behind the adjoining instrument and electrical panel reveals tidy workmanship. Continuing aft, there is a private double cabin behind the nav station and a single berth behind the galley. Overall, the interior is brightÑthe molded areas are finished with a high-gloss gelcoat. There is just enough varnished wood trim sprinkled about to offset the Spartan design.

A three-cylinder saildrive by Yanmar is the standard power plant. Yanmar, which dominates the straight-drive diesel market, is also taking over the saildrive market. These smooth, quiet, lightweight engines are seawater cooled, which ultimately shortens their life span in salt water. A two-bladed folding prop is standard. The stainless steel fuel tank holds around 24 gallons; too small for long-range cruising needs. Access is good through both aft cabins and from behind the companionway steps. A 50-amp alternator is standard as are two deep-cycle batteries.

The Sydney 41 slipped along easily under power and, as we sped out Back Creek and into Chesapeake Bay, I observed that we barely made a wake, a sure sign of an efficient hull. The cool northwest wind was steady at 15 to 18 knots with the occasional 20-plus gust. Unfortunately the only headsail we had was a No. 2 and, with the full main set, we were a bit overpowered most of the afternoon. Our crew numbered just five, not the usual eight or nine, and it was obvious that the boat needed more weight on the rail. Still, it was impossible not to be impressed with the 41's speed, acceleration and power as we blasted toward the Bay Bridge on a close reach.

After riding the rail through a couple of tacks, including an exciting but moist beat that proved that the boat could track well at 30 degrees apparent, I took the helm. Despite the need to occasionally dump the stiffest gusts out of the main, the steering was remarkably light. When we kept the boat on its lines, we screamed, and the building bay chop did nothing to slow us down. We reached double digits on the knotmeter several times, especially when we cracked off the wind. Although the boat accelerated brilliantly, the wheel tension remained constant and a small adjustment resulted in an immediate course change, even when it seemed like the boat was on its ear. I always felt in control at the helm and it was easy to control the mainsheet. The advantages of a powerful main and smaller headsails became obvious as we quickly trimmed up after every tack, losing little headway. Unlike some of its lighter competitors, the Sydney 41 consistently maintained speed in the choppy seaway and I realized that these were ideal conditions for the boat. We raced the sun toward the western horizon, beating back toward the gilded spires of Annapolis and blowing by several boats in the process.

The Sydney 41 makes sense for sailors who demand top performance but who are not willing, either financially or philosophically, to commit to the almost throwaway mentality that grand prix level racing demands. The Sydney 41 is not a slave to a rating rule. With a functional interior and very low maintenance requirements, this is a boat that can be thoroughly enjoyed for a long time.