A look at the canting keel yachts at Cowes Week

Stephen Fein’sFull Peltis arguably the most extreme boat at Skandia Cowes Week this year. At just 36ft, the ’49er on steroids’ is usually found inspiring serious buyer’s remorse among the owners of bigger Class 1 boats. And she’s just one of three very different canting keelers here this year. So are we likely to see a lot more ‘swingers’ at Cowes?

“I think it’s inevitable really,” saidFull Pelt’s designer Jo Richards. “If you’re going to move ballast it’s significantly less grief than water. The swing keel takes a second and a half to move to the centre position. You don’t start firing it until just before the tack. From a tactical point of view it gives you a lot more options.”

“Will they become more popular? Definitely, yes,” enthused Hans Backman, owner/designer of the new Backman 21 sportsboatSkandia Creativity. “The main reason is the system is starting to work now. Especially on my size boat. The mini Transat boats have done all the basic engineering. We’re taking their experience and putting it into a day racing boat.”

“The nice thing about a little boat like that is you do away with all the complications of hydraulic systems,” said Richards.

“Handling the keel is so easy,” agreed Backman. “Even Marie my wife has no problems in any conditions to cant the keel. It’s very similar to tacking the jib, and it’s not harder work. In breezy conditions it’s more difficult to get the jib in than the keel.”

So does it make sailing more fun? “If you’re going to put a canting keel in, it’s because you’re chasing performance,” said Richards. “If going fast is what you enjoy then yes, it’s a lot of fun. But there are many ways to enjoy sailing. You could have as much fun in an X-One-Design. It’s just one up from poo sticks really! But I think that if you want a light, high performance boat a canting keel is a must.”

“It makes it more interesting.” adds Backman. “We’re very much on a learning curve, but the advantages are definitely there. We trim it during sailing. We use it from non canted to fully canting. We adjust it on the beat. We trim the keel as we trim the sails. We start with the crew weight. When the crew weight is not enough we start canting the keel. We need the keel area at lower speeds to create lift. At higher speeds the canard is enough and we can start canting the keel. And yes we lift the canard too, downwind.”

Full Peltis a little different in this respect. “In anything more than four knots we have the keel fully canted,” explained Richards. “It’s like sailing a dinghy with two people on the trapeze. When one person would come in we get one person to come in off the rail. They [the Max Z86s] are apparently trimming theirs constantly. Our’s gets put there and that’s it. We just pump it up and go sailing.”

Another boat throwing her weight around out there is Iain Hall’s Schock 40 WraithSkandia Contribution. “We’ve got a very different appendage package from the Schock 40,” explained Richards. “They’ve got a forward rudder, an aft rudder and the swinging keel. We’ve got a simple daggerboard aft of the keel. It’s a lot more automatic. We’re quicker downhill, but we’re much lighter. We’ve been pretty level going upwind. But you still have to get the shifts right.”

“At the moment it [the keel] works against the rating, but we’re not sailing the boat to its full potential at the moment,” admitted Hans. “I mean, we’ve only had three days on the water! What really hits us at the moment is that we’re so light. Weight costs us a lot according to the current rule. That will always come back to canting keel boats because we can make them so light as well with the canting keel.”

For Richards, there are other issues. “Catching a huge amount of weed is one of the problems of having an extra appendage. With a light, high performance boat likeFull Peltwe’re losing as much as two or three knots. It’s less of a problem on a big Swan with a normal keel. Most of the weed slides off and a little doesn’t make much difference. We’re going to have to put weed slashers in for sailing around here.”

One thing for sure: we may have the technology but there’s still lots to be learnt about how to use it. Richards concluded: “Everytime we go out we’re going faster, but it’ll be a few years before we know how to get the best out of her. That’s life though.”