Having covered 100,000 miles in his aluminium centreboarders, Jimmy Cornell explains why he rates them so highly for adventure sailing

Both Aventura III, an Ovni 43, and Aventura IV, a Garcia Exploration 45, were aluminium centreboarders. Having clocked some 100,000 miles with them, including passages to Antarctica and the North West Passage, I can state unequivocally that for safety as well as convenience, a centreboard is a great advantage on a cruising boat.

In my case, the choice of aluminium for a boat intended for exploring areas off the beaten track was logical, and so was that of a centreboard. One of the main reasons for the latter was to increase my cruising options. The ability to reduce draught instantly is also a safety factor, as it allows access to a protected shallow spot if needing shelter in an emergency. Also, with a flat bottom, the boat can dry out.

Another advantage is that the board can be used for sounding when entering an unfamiliar anchorage, a new meaning for the term ‘sounding board’. While in the North West Passage we hit an uncharted rock quite hard, but the centreboard did its job and swung up, scraped along the top of the rock, then dropped back into its lowered position. The only damage was to my ego, but any other boat would have been in serious trouble!

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Both yachts have integral centreboards, so that when fully raised, the board retracts into the hull. The ballast is also internal, with a ratio to displacement of 32 in both cases, which is similar to that of most modern cruising yachts. This brings considerable performance advantages.

The main role of the board is to provide lift when sailing close-hauled, and to reduce leeway when reaching. With the board fully down Aventura III drew 2.4m, and, when trimmed properly, it could point as high, or almost as high, as most fixed keel cruising boats. With a draught of 2.8m with the board down, Aventura IV performed even better than her predecessor.

To take full advantage of this special feature, a centreboarder needs to be sailed quite differently, both on and off the wind. This is when the centreboard becomes a true asset as it allows the wetted surface to be reduced. The technique is to lift the board gradually as the apparent wind goes past 135°, and continue lifting it up to the point where the board is fully retracted. This is, for me, the greatest advantage as the risk of broaching is virtually eliminated.

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The absence of a keel to act as a pivot in a potential broaching situation means that the boat does not tend to round up when, in a similar situation, a fixed keeled boat would do just that. This has allowed me to keep the spinnaker up longer than I would have done otherwise.

With the board up, steering the boat in strong winds was easy, as there was no keel to act as a pivot if the person at the helm made a mistake, or a large wave forced the boat into a broach. With a flat bottom and no keel, Aventura III acted just like a large windsurfer, with the rudder having no difficulty keeping the boat on course. Aventura IV has twin rudders so tracked even better and was a joy to helm.

Alloy alternatives

If you are considering an aluminium centreboard, make sure to read our head-to-head test of the Allures 40.9 and Ovni 400. If neither of those suit, you probably need to go up a level in size and price, to the more semi-custom options offered by shipyards such as Garcia, Boreal or even KM. It is pertinent, however, to note that many of these traditional monohull brands are now branching out into the multihull market too.

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Photo: Morris Adant

Garcia 45

Designed in collaboration with Jimmy Cornell to transit the North West Passage, this model set a new rugged standard for mid-size exploration yachts. In inclement weather, watchkeeping can be done from a completely protected position at the forward end of the cockpit, or from the helmstation inside the pilothouse.

Price: €498,000 (ex. VAT)

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Boreal 44.2

Boreal is a brand born from the experience of Jean-François Eeman, who spent six years sailing around the world with his four children. The new 44.2 will replace the ten-year-old, award-winning, Boreal 44. It has the same interior as the 47.2 (pictured), but with a single helm and rudder and a more enclosed cockpit.

Price: €485,520 (ex. VAT)

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Garcia Explocat 52

Garcia is maintaining its exploration focus with its first catamaran. Once again there is plenty of protection on offer. A hard-top runs almost back to the transom and there is a complete interior navigation station similar to Garcia’s monohulls. The Explocat also has a forward cockpit accessible from the saloon via a watertight door.

Price: €1,159,000 (ex. VAT)

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Vaan R4

Vaan is a new brand, which uses recycled and sustainable materials – its first 42ft R4 is due for launch in early 2021. The aluminium hulls are formed from drinks cans, road signs and window frames, it uses cork decks and the upholstery is made from bio fabrics. It’s offered with electric propulsion and an optional regeneration system.

Price: €399,000 (ex. VAT)

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Allures & Ovni catamaran update

Plans to launch the first Allures multihull, the aluminium hulled and glassfibre decked C47.9 (above), have been put on hold due to the success of its sister company’s new Explocat 52.

Ovni’s multihull solution, meanwhile, is the Ovnicat 48, which has been on the drawing board for a couple of years but has yet to be built.

First published in the October 2020 issue of Yachting World.