Friday, September 28, 2007

Classic Plastic - The Boat That Changed Everything!

When the selection committee of the American Sailboat Hall of Fame considered boats for induction this year, one boat was an instant consensus pick. No question, no argument, no doubt. No wonder--it was the Cal 40, the boat that changed everything.

When I assigned a young staff member to write a profile of the Cal 40 and told him that when it was introduced in 1963 it was considered a radical and possibly dangerous racing design, he gave me one of those "jeez, he's lost it" looks. I couldn't blame him. The Cal 40 doesn't have the predatory look of today's ocean racers, no angles, sharp edges or towering fractional rig. But, make no mistake, it was a pred tor, one that preyed on conventional thinking.

The Cal 40's gently dipping sheerline, curve spoon-bow, counter stem and squatty sailplan gave it a deceivingly soft appearance. But there was nothing soft below the waterline. In an era of wineglass-shaped hulls with deep, stack bilges, the Cal 40 had a shallow dinghy-like hull with firm cheeks. The keel was a fin. The rudder-gasp!-was not attached to the keel, and this was heresy.

Conventional wisdom made the rudder a hinged extension of the keel. On the Cal 40 it was a freestanding spade at the end of the water line. What it did back there was to give the helmsman exquisite control of the boat, particularly in fast off-wind sailing. Perhaps the reason it had not appeared earlier on big boats was that offshore boats of the time were rarely in danger of going fast enough to need a spade rudder.

The Cal 40 needed it. While other displacement boats were at the mercy of the law of hull speed, the Cal 40 thumbed its nose at it. The shape of the hull and its appendages combined with relatively light weight gave the boat the ability to get up on the waves and surf. Sailing 40-foot boat had never been so thrilling. Read more...

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