X-Yachts' X-35 follows the hugely successful X-99, which has been a firm favourite of cruiser racers for years. But does it live up to its younger sisters reputation?
When it comes to serious numbers in one design yachts, the X-99 rates as one of the most successful designs of modern times, with 600 built since 1985. But after 21 years, the company that created one of the few big-boat classes to have ISAF status has launched its replacement, the X-Yachts X-35.
Given the huge success of the X-99, it’s clear X-Yachts have set themselves a very high target if they are to get anywhere near repeating this success.
But while no specific numbers have been issued on what X-Yachts expect of this class in years to come, it’s clear they are planning to use a similar technique to kick-start the class.
More than a year ago and with little more than a few drawings to go by, 42 boats were sold in the first month of 2005.
Plans for the launch of the new model involved a distribution strategy to ensure that fleets stood the best chance of sowing the seeds from which future local classes would grow.
After a long wait and much talk, the first few boats are now in the water and the class is close to taking off.
Partly through computer graphics being what they are and partly for reasons of cosmetic modesty, the X-Yachts X-35 isn’t much of a surprise when you first see her.
In fact, she doesn’t stand out at all at the dock – at best she looks typical of a modern X-Yacht.
She has a simple open cockpit, a large wheel and a pair of cockpit seats flanked by shallow coamings. However, she offers a great detail in terms of her control line layout and setup.
Closer inspection reveals that, although she doesn’t have a large overlapping headsail and therefore a second set of tracks, she lacks few of the controls of a Beneteau First 34, they’re just incorporated more discreetly. The mainsheet is a good example.
You may not think it is necessary to have a ‘German’ mainsheet system (where the mainsheet is led back along the side decks to a pair of winches fitted on either side of the cockpit) on a boat of just 35ft. I certainly didn’t.
But having just a 2:1 purchase in the mainsheet system keeps the amount of rope in the system to a minimum and helps keep the cockpit clutter-free. The system also means a fine tune is not required, reducing the clutter even further.
On top of this, the mast man can bounce the sheet at its forward end at leeward mark roundings to help rapid sheeting of the mainsail.
Having started out wishing for a more conventional system of blocks and tackles for the mainsheet, when I tried it aboard the Beneteau I didn’t like it.
The layout of control lines on the top of the coach roof is another example. Here, jammers are staggered lengthwise to make il easier for more crew to reach them from the weather rail.
Such attention to detail suggests that the X will be an easier boat to handle under pressure than the Beneteau.
But elsewhere are clues that this has been at the expense of some practical issues. The lack of an anchor locker won’t trouble many racing sailors – some may see it as an advantage – but the lack of any cockpit lockers could become a nuisance.
Such details on deck turn out to be clues to an accommodation layout that is lacking in several areas once you step below decks and first impressions are of a small interior.
Overall the layout is a simple one, with galley to port, nav station to starboard and a pair of simple settee berths either side of a fixed saloon table.
However, the X-35 has a forward double cabin, which although roomy enough to be used, will no doubt be a waste of space for racing owners.
Having said that, one of the reasons for incorporating such a cabin is to enhance the boat’s value later in life when the heat of the racing scene may have eased.
The same reason for the liberal use of teak in the interior instead of wipe-clean mouldings as was the norm in the IMX-38 and fair enough.
What I found less easy to understand was why the lifting backs to the saloon seating hadn’t been set up to provide an upper berth.
With full-width chainplates and no lockers or shelves (although these are an option), there are no obstructions to what would make a decent-sized berth to weather. Or, at the very least, a good and secure place to stow gear and kit bags.
Moving aft, the galley is small and awkward to use, the access to the afterberths restricted. And the top of the engine box has a curved surface and to my mind misses an opportunity to provide handy stowage for winch handles, blocks etc, just where you can get at them.
The lack of stowage is an issue throughout this boat apart from the cavernous space under the forward bunk, which clearly wouldn’t get used in racing trim.
On the starboard side, the outboard facing chart table is large and conveniently shares worktop space with the fridge to provide shy navigators with even less reason to come on deck. Overall, I was disappointed with the layout of this boat below decks.
Yet I also have to admit that for all my criticisms and given her primary objective, the accommodation would still not count for much in my own final analysis.
The X-Yachts X-35 has a sandwich-construction hull and deck, using a combination of biaxial E-Glass and a vinylester resin. Throughout, she is built to the same high standards as the rest of the fleet.
With X-Yachts’ trademark galvanised steel gridwork providing the primary load carrying structure in the bottom of the boat, suggesting she’ll be every bit as robust as her sisterships. Whatever the other criticisms, longevity still counts for a lot.
Subtle under sail
If chalk and cheese describe the differences between the X-Yachts X-35 and the Beneteau First 34.7, the expression will also suit the match between the disappointment of the X’s interior with the way she behaves under sail.
I’ve yet to test an X-Yacht that doesn’t feel good on the wheel and the X-35 is no exception. She’s finger-light, even when pressed, she’s sensitive, responsive and has more gears upwind than you’ll know what to do with at first.
She might be plain on the outside but she’s anything but when it comes to sailing her.
Although she’s a doddle to handle in the broad sense, it takes no time at all to realise that she’ll be a very tricky boat to sail well.
To get the best out of her you’ll need patience, total concentration, a magic marker, plenty of tape and a waterproof notebook and pen.
So subtle is the feedback through the wheel that you’ll need to mark and jot down key settings and numbers to build a picture of what makes her tick.
In my opinion, this is just what you need for a good one-design class where performance benefits and top results are achieved through the hard work of crews rather than some technical advantage.
She feels quite a tender boat too (much like the X-99), a fact borne out by her higher sail area:displacement ratio when compared to the Beneteau.
In just 10 knots of wind and clocking 6.8 knots in flat water she feels fully powered upwind – anymore and you’re dropping the mainsheet traveller down the track.
But while she might feel slightly tender, she remains under control on the helm.
The seating positions for helmsman and crew works well for all. And the control line layout works as well as it looks both upwind and down to make this a very nimble boat around the corners of the racecourse.
In addition, what impressed me was the attention to detail. Such as the rings in the guardwires through which the traveller lines run to keep them to hand.
Or a shockcord retrieval system to pull the spinnaker guy in towards the foredeck to make end-for-end gybing that bit easier for the foredeck crew.
Details like these come as standard. Impressive stuff and a good indication of where the heart of this boat really lies -racing.
The X-Yachts X-35 may have been designed with one-design racing as the main focus but, depending on how her IRC handicap shapes up she could prove to be a highly competent racer in the handicap scene as well. Something the X-99 never quite achieved on an international scale.
But if all this talk of racing is a little too hot, bear in mind that current X-332 owners are among the new boat’s target market.
Which should provide a rich source of secondhand 332s on the market, albeit with a ‘frequently raced and rallied label’.
First published in the May 2006 issue of YW.
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