Practical Boat Owner

Sailing in the sands

Shoal-draught yachts – whether with twin keels, centreplate, lifting or pivoting keel – have always enjoyed an enthusiastic following. Indeed the plot of Erskine Childers’s classic novel The Riddle of the Sands hinges on the fact that the Dulcibella, which is described as being ‘thirty foot long with a draught of four foot, or six foot four inches with the centre-board down’, can navigate and hide in the tidal shallows around the Frisian Islands.

The flat-out racing owner might opt for a deep single keel to achieve the optimum combination of low centre of gravity (CG), good (high) pointing and minimum leeway – as will most blue water voyagers.

But many sailors enjoy the creek-crawling convenience and low-cost moorings made possible by shoal-draught yachts, of which some of the best examples in recent years are twin keelers designed and built in France.

British builders pioneered the move into twin-keel production cruisers in the early 1960s, while yacht builders across the Channel stuck resolutely to a single-keel format. They offered the options of deep and shallow draught fixed keels or lifting keels. So the British yards that majored on twin-keel GRP boats had this big market very much to themselves for many decades.

As the years passed by, twin-keel designs evolved and their sailing performance improved. On one memorable demolition derby of a Round the Island Race, a David Thomas-designed twin-keel Hunter Horizon 32 took the heavy winds in its stride, occasionally hitting 12.5 knots under a storm spinnaker borrowed from another Hunter. This comfortable twin-keeler didn’t just win its class – it won its entire division.

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