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Design Review #872
Steelstar 60'

* The text below is a magazine article.  It is rather lengthy, therefore, you might want to print this page.

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      Principal Characteristics:

                                            LOA:   60'-0", 18.28 m
                                            LWL:   55'-8", 16.98 m
                                            Beam:   12'-7 1/2", 3.85 m
                                            Draft:   7'-10", 2.39 m
                                            Displacement:   26,300 lbs., 11.93 tons


Steelstar has been a long dream, born 35 years ago. Of necessity, the concept has remained continually on my mind ever since. It is at odd moments that the urge to pursue the matter overwhelms me, and to put a stop to this strange obsession, I have decided to bring Steelstar out of the drawer and see if the whole thing makes any sense.

I say 35 years ago because that is when I was introduced to some different and very interesting small boats, Black Soo by Van de Stadt, the Thunderbird by Seaborn, and the Faraman by Amiet. These hard-chine speedsters--light and fast--held a definite appeal, especially to me. The proof is in the numbers. Hundreds were built.

Then came Infidel (now Ragtime), my all-time favorite; the ultimate approach to the hungry, mean, long, thin downhill racer-chaser. What a boat! Twenty-two years later, she is still at it--faster than ever. I love her. My conviction is now to come up with Steelstar, the embodiment of all my feelings grown from watching these rags-to-riches kind of boats.

I have been fortunate to have developed a certain reputation myself for some very speedy sailboats, and therefore, I understand what makes a boat go fast.

Now with fast, there is also all the nonsense going on about the rating rules and their total state of confusion. I may as well consider Steelstar a cruising boat and work from there. This is not a cover-up. I fully expect Steelstar to be the fastest cruising boat of her size, but not a racer. Maybe she will be the closest thing these days to the old ideas of a cruiser-racer.

The other contradiction I have is about the construction material. I have chosen steel. Well, if I consider Steelstar the ultimate go-fast cruising boat, why not consider the ultimate cruising-hull material? But more about that later.

The Lines:

That was the evolution; now these are my thoughts. When I begin the design of a boat, I usually start with the lines. In most of my work, I am given a free hand, and this leads me to consider the lines first--the shape and the envelope of it all. Ever weight-conscious, the body is the answer to displacement, and volume is what it's all about.

The shape is simplistic, but don't be fooled by it. A hard chine is the answer with powerboats; they all are faster than sailboats, therefore, why not adapt something faster for a sailboat hull? I believe that if the beam is kept narrow, the single chine is excellent. Not only that, but also the answer to part of the philosophy of our concept--simplicity. However, simplicity does not come easily, and I must have spent more time on these lines than on any other boat I can remember.

The bow is elevated and sharp. The hollow waterline is dictated by the straightforward shape. The stern will knife through the water while the fullness above the chine will keep the deck dry. The V-shaped bow is kept for up to 30-percent of the waterline length, and then the flatness of the midship action takes over. Allocating two feet for hull depth, the section shows hard bilges and moderate deadrise.

The idea is to keep the volume in the middle to a minimum. The prismatic coefficient is higher that way, for ultimate speed. Fair and straight lines without volume distortion are the result.

The two feet of depth is also the minimum practical amount to ensure full headroom down below and decent accommodations throughout. Aft of the keel, the lines follow the chine and the centerline with very little change in deadrise. The beam is kept full very far aft, to keep up with planing speed downwind and to control the water separation upwind.

Short overhangs are the answer for faster boats built within a size limit. The emphasis is on waterline length, not much else. The transom is developed to present a certain personality, with the absence of reversed racing corners. (Why lose useful deck area?)

The freeboard is low but with a nice sheer line, and it is sufficient for this chine boat not to look boxy with either too high a hull, a trunk cabin or both. The reason behind it all is weight, and with steel construction why not save weight first where it is obvious: the topsides.

The Hull Material

The material considered might seem bizarre. Steel for a light-weight boat? But, why not? Of course we are going to get killed on the race course with lighter-ended boats, but on the other land, we can certainly be excused by saying that we are in a port/starboard situation by sinking any opposition.

Well, enough of that; the boat is in steel because I believe in this material for a cruising boat. Long overdue attention is now being paid to steel boats by long distance cruisers and the general public. The question of strength has never been an issue, of course. Everybody admits to that, but lots of maintenance, and heavy, sluggish boats have been the norm so far and therefore the drawback. Well, we are going to change that feeling.

Deliberately, I chose to design the steel scantlings to meet the American Bureau of Shipping's Offshore Racing Yacht Standards. This is because I do not want to be accused of using plating that is too thin, and therefore, achieving a weight advantage to the detriment of strength and reliability, which is what we are after in the first place.

The boat is built on a combination of longitudinal and traverse framing systems. Frames and stringers are placed judiciously to meet the intent of the rules as well as to give us the maximum advantage under the same ruling. The spacing of structures and thicknesses of plates were carefully chosen to ensure the best of both worlds: a strong, light steel boat. The material is mild steel, A.B.S. "A" grade, and the components are readily available. I kept a close eye on standardization; an uncomplicated order form is the result.

Besides the heaviness of steel, maintenance has been a big concern to most people. I must admit that I do not have this hang-up with the modern coating materials now available. Whether you have to cover wood, glass, aluminum or steel, everybody uses the same epoxy barrier coating paint; and they use it for the same reason, impermeability to water. So much for the exterior and the shiny gloss. It is clear, though, that the boat will have to be very thoroughly sandblasted and primed before getting her final coating of shiny paint.

For the deck, I have chosen marine plywood. With steel flanges and steel deck beams, the integrity and homogeneity of the structure is maintained, but the weight is greatly reduced by using plywood. Underneath the beams, another light ply is used for cosmetic reasons and to cover the foam insulation. The result is an instant finish by varnishing or painting and a smooth interior devoid of sharp steel edges. The coachroof is also fabricated with plywood laminates, in sufficient numbers to avoid beams. The use of inside hand rails and the companionway channel also add to the solidity of the coachroof.

The wood on deck, with two layers, will be self-fairing and devoid of butt blocks. Care will be taken to protect the edges, and the whole coachroof and deck will be covered by a light fiberglass cloth, epoxied and painted.

The Appearance

The looks of a boat are important to me, and the purposeful aspect of this boat will hopefully prove me right. Her gentle sheer, nicely rounded transom, sharp bow and hard chine will give away her origins. I have tried to give her a look familiar to many, like a fast commuter powerboat.

Overcoming the prejudices against both light boats and the material is not an easy thing to do. The convincing will come as we go along studying the rest of the vessel.

The Cockpit

I chose a midship cockpit for privacy and because it is a favorite among sailboat owners. It is also a lot easier to fit a midship cockpit properly on a 60-footer than a 40-footer. With this boat, there is no chance of looking too boxy or too high above water, and with the length available, the amount of spray reaching the cockpit should be kept to a minimum. The central location seems to be right, with all weight and controls concentrated in one place.

I got my inspiration from some of the more popular trimarans, their main feature being their cockpit location - smack in the middle. With all their systems and weight amidships, these small boats react much better to the sea, and with the

heavy gear being at the deepest part of the boat, it contributes to the stability of the trimaran. Well, the comparisons end there, but in my mind, we have a similar problem with a similar solution.

Then it occurred to me: Why build a cockpit at all? The inherent weakness in their construction plus the problems of drainage render an alternative highly desirable. Therefore, we have Barient "winch chairs" around the cockpit area - a very comfortable solution to the problem with a great savings in cost, weight, and complications.

The tiller is placed at the end of the "cockpit" and acts on the rudder quadrant through a rod linkage. A footrest and coaming run between the fore and aft coachroofs on each side.

The Interior

Now let's go down below. The companionway slides open, and the galley is to port, toilet to starboard. It took me a long time to decide what to do with these two most important features of life aboard. I could have put the toilet further forward, closer to the guest cabin, or placed the galley somewhere else, but common sense saved me. Looking at these two things from a systems point of view, there was no escape but to place both near the nerve center: the engine. Sensibly, only one head is installed, with sink, toilet, and shower that are all very simple and light. By the way, most of the interior is made up of wood (plywood, that is) and is non-structural because the steel construction does not require additional strengthening. All pieces are half thickness, and the savings are great in terms of weight and cost. Basically, the interior is made of light partitions stiffened by wooden cleats.

The galley has the normal combination of sink placed near the centerline (as is the sink in the toilet area), three or four-burner stove with oven, and an ice box with engine-driven refrigeration unit.

As we go forward, the settee area is to the left. (We are inside the boat; I think I can say "left"). Behind the backrest, there is a good sea berth, or, without the backrest, a double berth. Underneath, there is a water tank, and stowage can be found forward toward the L-shaped seat. A table sits on the centerline.

To the right, I have a combination of "pizza parlor" dinette, doubling as a chart table and navigation area. Let me explain; knowing where you are is certainly one of the most important aspects of sailing, and therefore, the navigation area is of the utmost importance at sea. So we have a full-fledged chart table with seating on either side. Across and all along the hull is the electronic instrumentation, as little or as much as you want. (Two meters of it if you wish, enough to satisfy a Maxi.) When you arrive at the dock after the voyage, instead of a navigation space with little purpose, just clear the table, and voilą…another sitting and eating area. And if you connect it with the centerline table, you can increase the length of your guest-list for dinner.

Forward of the saloon and past the mast is the forward double cabin, featuring a full-size double berth, a seat, and a hanging locker.

Do not expect to find a lot of teak or mahogany here; the accommodations are very comfortable, but this boat is not the Queen Mary. At the foot (forward end) of the berth is a simple curtain to divide the cabin from the forepeak area, which may be adapted for sail stowage or what you will.

Retracing our steps back to the cockpit, we can now go into the aft cabin. Another sliding hatch here, and a vertical ladder takes you down to a modest aft cabin with two berths, one single and one convertible (same system as the saloon berth). There is also a hanging locker and a dresser/chest of drawers. Following the lead of the forward double cabin, there is a curtain to separate the living quarters from the lazarette.

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The Deck

A platform for life above, the deck is a very important aspect of any boat. Leaving aside the condominium part down below, we are now on the playground for work and play - all the same time hopefully.

Earlier I set the cockpit in the middle, we know why already. However, in addition to affording greater privacy to the two cabin areas, the midship location helps to centralize the sailhandling systems and provides convenient access to the "nerve-centers" of sailing (mast, boom, and sails). Notice that all winches are placed either on the mast, the forward coachroof or the aft cabin. With the good height of the coachroofs, I did not see any point in placing winches on deck.

With the coachroof extending forward of the mast, access to the mainsail and spinnaker pole fittings is a little easier and permits one to reach a little higher. Further forward, on centerline, there is a fitting for the babystay, the staysail stay, and further yet, the headstay. A bow roller and two cleats complete the picture. A vertical windlass is a nice addition and can double up for sailhandling as well.

Aft of the cockpit we have turning blocks on either side with stoppers for jib and spinnakers, and further aft a couple of cleats and a stern roller for an anchor aft. You will notice the number of hatches is kept to a minimum (three), and there are no opening portholes. The idea is to supply air by numerous solar-powered, mushroom-type vents, a much cheaper and more efficient alternative to the ventilation problem.

I want to mention something about the aft deck - what a wonderful place to put a picnic table with a few chairs around it. This space also makes a good spot to stow a 10 or 11-foot dinghy, or with a mattress set around the central latch, it would make a fine tanning salon. All in all, lots of possibilities, and the main reason for the clean, long spread aft of the coachroof.

Engines and Systems

"Under the cockpit" area is what has previously been referred to as the "nerve center" or the boat - the engine. Actually this space is a real engine room, on the principle that the only time you really want to see an engine is when it needs fixing, and when they are found to need fixing, marine engines need fixing in a hurry. This engine room, therefore, is spacious enough to enable work to be done without ripping the boat apart and enables all the systems (and their weight) to be centralized in the boat. The engine of choice for Steelstar is the 44-horsepower Yanmar 4JHE, a lightweight diesel with all of its routine service points on the starboard side. The drive is through a straight shaft, to keep weight down and to provide complete access to all the drive-train components. As with the rest of the boat, simplicity and reliability (both eventually leading to light weight) are the key words in this set-up.

Alongside the engine are the batteries - 3 of them. One is reserved for starting purposes, and the other two for "house" use. The main distribution panel is next to the chart table, requiring a short wiring run from the power source and remaining fairly central to the system. Electrical appliances have been kept to a minimum without sacrificing the usual creature comforts, and there is ample space to install shorepower units or a small independent generator.

The plumbing system is designed along the same lines as the other systems aboard - simplicity and reliability are uppermost. With any three units requiring a water supply, and one of these (the head) requiring only salt water, the complete system is very simple indeed. Both sinks are close to the centerline and drain through a common fitting (thus keeping through-hulls to a minimum). The water tanks are of the flexible type, thus again keeping weight down, with the added attraction that they can be removed during the winter for cleaning or repair without the need for dismantling the saloon.

Rig, Mast, and Sails

The sail plan is half of the boat. (It is said that Ted Hood starts his designs by drawing the sail plan.) Normal enough for a sailmaker, but it also shows the importance accorded to the real "engine" of a sailboat. I have chosen deliberately to give Steelstar plenty of horsepower. Why not? Sails can always be taken down, but to raise a mast is another matter…

I prefer a large sail plan to a large hull, one varies as the cube; an expensive proposition, and both going in opposite directions as far as performance is concerned.

Tall rigs these days mean incredible complexity - fragile, with five spreaders, and requiring a maze of wires to hold it all up. I want to get away from all that. Having had my share of super-sophisticated rigs, I would be the first to admit that there is no room for those aboard Steelstar. Easier said than done!

First, let's look at what we want to achieve - the elimination of as many components as possible to increase reliability and efficiency. So, let's have a single-spreader rig with a slight twist. The sail plan here is a "slutter" (sloop-cutter combination) so the rig is divided into two distinct parts. First, there is a lower part to support the staysail. Because of the smaller panel lengths, the compression is reduced, and the increased angle of the shrouds together with a lower spreader location helps us to further reduce the mast and rigging loads.

The swept-back spreaders allow for good genoa sheeting angles, while acting in part as a runner to tighten the headstay. The stability of the whole rig is ensured by carrying the shrouds out to the gunwale. This is a relatively narrow hull, so why not take advantage of all the available beam when locating the shrouds and chainplates.

About swept-back spreaders…on a "normal" boat, some loss of efficiency occurs because the boom is not allowed to square off downwind. With Steelstar, this is hardly even a problem because this type of boat does not go directly downwind without a considerable loss of speed (although with a whisker pole on the genoa she should be able to beat most boats). No, you would normally reach with the apparent wind slightly forward, and therefore, the boom would be sheeted closer to the centerline with no spreader interference.

Second, one thing you want to eliminate on a cruising boat are running backstays - real nuisances - and this is why I have come up with a jumper stay or strut located above the staysail fittings, instead of adding another set of athwartships spreaders. This jumper stay is on the forward side of the mast, to take the pull of the jib stay, and its angle has been carefully chosen to allow it to perform the duties of spreaders and jumper at the same time. The wires are connected to the intermediate shroud terminals to further equalize the compressive forces. The mast section is aluminum, and of conservative dimensions. The elimination of many tangs, spreaders and yards of wire brings its weight down to be on a par with many racing rigs. It seems strange, but the truth is that most high-tech mastmakers have no idea what their spars weigh when all set up with their fancy gear. They could be in for quite a shock, or maybe they do know but are keeping very quiet and waiting for the inevitable day when that high-tech spar hits the deck. Well, let's get back to our own problems.

We have covered the rig athwartships, so how about fore and aft? A single backstay comes from the masthead, dividing in two above the boom and going to the transom corners. The idea is to keep the stern and pulpit open with plenty of room to slide the dinghy on deck. Forward, we have the headstay (fixed, and with roller furling gear), a removable forestay for the staysail, and the inner forestay (in fact one of the pole lift halyards). And that's it!

Oh, and one more thing…many mast breaks occur through fitting failures rather than through improper wire sizes or mast sections, so all the links are specified for the next highest load rating.

The boom features an internal reefing system as well as an external one and is kept under control by a serious vang. The absence of travelers is also to be noticed. No traveller is needed because the mainsail leach tension is set with the hydraulic vang. This is essential for maximum control. The backstay should also have hydraulics, and this go-fast system is one of the few things aboard to be borrowed from the racing fleet.

About the sails and sail inventory: I am all for having as few sails as possible. Sails are expensive, and should therefore be made well, so as to last in the first place. I would suggest a genoa on the roller furler, a mainsail, trysail, and a storm jib (this latter to be set on the staysail stay). The staysail could have an internal wishbone and be really bulletproof, the real workhorse of this sail plan. Add a spinnaker for fun, and you are all set with a polyvalent, well-balanced cruising rig. Six sails is all it takes.

One comment about the mainsail: I have restricted myself to only two full-length battens, way up the top where they count for increased roach. More would be unnecessary in my view because they would be heavy and might interfere with the aft lower shrouds. The trysail is an important sail because, if well designed, it can be an asset to safety as well as performance-not a combination usually associated with a storm trysail but well worth trying.

Now a word about a "normal" sail inventory. No sailmaker will agree with me, but I would limit myself to the old standard of mainsail, #1 genoa, #2 genoa, #3 jib, #4 jib, trysail, light-weather spinnaker, and heavy-weather spinnaker. That's it, and I don't want to hear about anything more about it!

The Rudder

Elliptical in planform, the rudder is a straightforward, no-nonsense spade. I know, and would be the first to admit, that the cruising boats nothing is better than a skeg-protected rudder, but I have to allow myself a little elbow-room for reasons of weight and convenience, and I believe that the simplicity of our blade overwhelms the disadvantages in this case. The surface area is generous, and it is set well aft to ensure two-finger steering under all but the worst conditions. The rod steering connects to a tiller mounted on deck in the area of the "cockpit". Why a tiller? Again, simplicity is uppermost in my mind, and comfortably installed in one of the chairs previously described, I think you should be able to handle the tiller and the martini at the same time. Wheel steering would be easy enough to install, I suppose, but…

In really bad weather, you can just sit on the deck, feet braced against the footrest and your back resting against the coaming, and enjoy the ride!

The Keel

If the rig is important to drive the boat, then the keel is equally important to keep the sail plan working at its most efficient. No one likes to sail with too much heel, and we are all aware that on a light boat like ours (and with the rig as tall as it is) stability is not usually the strong point. This is why I always emphasize keel design so much, because very often the keel is at the center of all the forces involved.

The first thing to do is to get the weight down as low as possible, and therefore, the entire amount of ballast should be concentrated at the bottom of the shell. Since this would translate into a potato shape at best, it is important to streamline the volume into a form acceptable to the flow of water. This is the genesis of the "winged keel", developed to smooth the flow and to increase stability.

Our keel is bolted to the hull rather than welded, in case an atoll-seeker comes too close to his atoll and faces the choice of losing either his keel or his shirt. We want this boat to go fast, as well as far and wide.


In conclusion, I would like to stress the following points: First, the entire design and engineering philosophies of this boat are based on sound principles. Second, performance predictions form an integral part of our architectural approach and serve to further enhance an owner's ability to get the most from his yacht. And third, I want this boat to go fast and safe, based on her strength and integrity, and far and wide based on her ability.

Steelstar is now unveiled and awaiting the audacious owner.









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This site last updated: 
Monday, March 21, 2005 14:34 - 5 GMT