More on the Contessa 26

Cavendsyh flying across Tampa Bay on a blustery winter day
Cavendsyh flying across Tampa Bay on a blustery winter day

So many people love the Contessa 26 that I have decided it is time to dedicate part of setforsea to this design.  I am just learning how to better organize things around here, and one of the changes that I have made is to create a Contessa 26 category, which can be found in the toolbar to the right of this page, that contains all of the posts that I write pertaining to this versatile little boat.

More videos:  I have posted most of the video log style clips that I took while sailing my Contessa 26, Cavendysh, out of the Great Lakes in fall of 2010.  I didn’t take many videos during my time on the rivers, or out on the ocean because I was running out of storage space, and was more interested in taking pictures and writing about the experiences.  The ones that I have can be found the Contessa 26 playlist on the setforsea Youtube channel.

More pictures:  I will add more pictures of Cavendysh and make a gallery on the Contessa 26 page.

More stories:  Some of the log entries and experiences on Cavendysh are worth writing about–like the time I took the mast down singlehanded… in the middle of a huge storm.

Idle Queen in art

The Idle Queen bowl
The Idle Queen bowl

Idle Queen has been immortalized in pottery now…

I have been to a lot of museums over the years, and some of the things that have survived the best from thousands of years ago are pieces of pottery.  Even when there are only shards because a piece has been broken, they are still recognizable.  Where the pottery was painted and glazed, the finish has often survived in good condition.  So, I like to think that the painting that I did of Idle Queen on this bowl will be around for a good, long time to come.

This bowl is the product of my second visit to a pottery studio where you get to paint your own pieces.  There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to figuring out what the glaze is going to do after it is fired, so I am pleased with how the Idle Queen bowl came out.  The experience was more fun than I had anticipated, so I am looking forward to visiting the studio again in the future.  Maybe I will even try visiting a place where I can experiment with the pottery itself instead of just painting on pre-made pieces…  Then again, the last thing that I need is another hobby.

Update to Sirocco sale page

The information on “Sirocco is FOR SALE” page has been updated with a huge new gallery of pictures and a few short video tours of the vessel.  Please take a look and let me know what you think.

A foggy day in mid November on Long Island Sound
A foggy day in mid November on Long Island Sound with Sirocco floating in grey space.

A couple of new videos

Here are another couple of videos from when I was sailing my Contessa 26, Cavendysh, on the Great Lakes in October of 2010.  These two were taken on Lake Michigan while sailing upwind under a double-reefed mainsail and small (85%) jib.  I haven’t started trying to edit the videos yet, so there is no fancy soundtrack or anything–just me talking to the camera while sailing alone in a small boat on a big body of water…

On motoring efficiency

Cavendysh and Sirocco
Cavendysh and Sirocco facing each other. Sirocco weighs three times as much, but motors in a flat calm at almost the same economy as the smaller Contessa 26.

Many sailors pride themselves on how little they can use their engines, but any boat equipped with an auxiliary will end up motoring some percentage of the time.  Being able to motor somewhere is a big part of the reason for having the engine, right?  My last three boats have each come equipped with auxiliary engines, and I have used them at times to travel a good many miles on rivers, canals, and in confined channels.  Sometimes that meant motoring all day, and I would begin to wonder just what I was getting out of each gallon of fuel consumed.  With fuel prices currently over $4 per gallon this subject is on my mind frequently, especially now that I have moved to a much larger boat.  So, I pulled out my logbooks and did a little figuring.

Here is Cavendysh on stands next to Sirocco.  From this angle it is a bit more apparent how much heftier Sirocco is.
Here is Cavendysh on stands next to Sirocco. From this angle it is a bit more apparent how much heftier Sirocco is.

The three boats that I am comparing are a Contessa 26, which weighs about 5400 lbs; a William Atkin “Ben Bow”, weighing about 17,000 lbs; and a Dreadnaught 32, weighing in at 20,000+ lbs.  They are all powered by inboard diesels.

One of the things that I had enjoyed most about my trim little Contessa 26, Cavendysh, was that she was very efficient both under both sail and power.  I figured that would be the case when I bought her.  Efficiency was one of the reasons that I chose the design.  For power, she carried a little one-cylinder Bukh diesel engine that made all of 9-hp.  The propeller was a 2-blade fixed model.  I could motor all day at 4 knots with that little one-lunger banging away and only burn a couple of gallons of diesel fuel.  Cavendysh returned about 20 nautical miles per gallon on calm water at that speed.  Pushing the throttle forward farther resulted in a big drop in economy.  She returned about 10-12 miles per gallon at 5 knots.  I motored quite a lot when I had the mast down heading south from the Great Lakes.  My efficiency through the water over 150 hours of motoring worked out to about 20 nautical miles per gallon of diesel.  That number reflects varied conditions–sometimes I was motoring into wind and chop, and sometimes I had the wind behind me (when the mast was down), but overall, that is pretty stellar economy.  The little Bukh could run for ages on just cupfuls of fuel.

A view of Sirocco with her freshly refinished bottom.  I still have to peel the tape off...  Sirocco has a full keel with a deep forefoot.
A view of Sirocco with a freshly refinished bottom.  Sirocco has a full keel with a deep forefoot.
Looking at Sirocco head-on while she hangs in the slings.  Her fine underwater lines are apparent from this angle.  The very bottom of her keel is narrower than that of the Contessa 26, which contributes to her relative efficiency.
Looking at Sirocco head-on while she hangs in the slings. Her fine underwater lines are apparent from this angle. The very bottom of her keel is narrower than that of the Contessa 26, which contributes some to her efficiency.

When I moved to Sirocco, the “Ben Bow” designed by William Atkin, I was prepared to spend a lot more for fuel.  The new boat was almost three times the displacement of the Contessa, but also longer on the waterline (28′ versus 21′) and with a much fuller keel.  The big full  keel meant a lot more wetted surface, which results in more drag as the boat has to overcome more friction with the water.  The engine in Sirocco was a big jump up too–a 28-hp three cylinder Beta diesel driving a three-blade fixed prop.  However, I was surprised to find that my mileage over the last 150 hours only dropped to 15.2 nautical miles per gallon.  That was running mostly between 4 and 5 knots, and mostly in calm water, although at least 10% of that was motoring into headwinds, which consumes a lot more fuel.  Sirocco was also capable of motoring at over 6 knots, but would burn 2/3 of a gallon per hour at that speed (9 miles/gallon).  Motoring at 4 knots in a glassy calm I could still get 20 miles per gallon out of Sirocco–about the same fuel economy as the Contessa, but much more efficient because Sirocco weighed three times as much.  I was more comfortable on the larger boat, as well, and the engine was much quieter.

This is a good view of Idle Queen to show off her long, shallow keel.
This is a good view of Idle Queen to show off her long, shallow keel.

My present boat, Idle Queen, at 20,000 lbs, is definitely the biggest and heaviest of any boat that I have owned.  She is also the most lightly powered.  Her inboard engine is a 15-hp, two-cylinder Beta Marine engine that drives a 3-blade fixed propeller.  That gives her 1.5 hp per short ton (2,000 lbs) of displacement–relatively less than half as much power as either of my last two boats, which were both very close to 4 hp per  short ton.  Would this drastically different setup change the economy of motoring in a calm?  Well, I don’t have as much data yet as I do for the other boats, but it seems that at 4 knots in a glassy calm Idle Queen gets very close to 20 nautical miles/gallon!  At 5.5 knots on flat calm water, Idle Queen seems to burn around .5 gallons per hour, giving an economy of 11 miles/gallon.  I need more data to be sure that figure is accurate, as it was taken over relatively few hours, but I have enough data to be close.  

I am surprised that all of the numbers are so similar across such different boats and engines.  I really thought that the Contessa 26 would come out far ahead of the bigger boats, but that was only true when motoring into wind and waves–hence the better overall economy of the Contessa.  Even then it was not as great a difference as I had expected.  The numbers show that moving displacement hulls at relatively low speeds in a flat calm is really quite energy efficient.  There are many factors at play here, but I think that the biggest surprise is that I can move a 20,000 lb boat in calm conditions at about the same cost per mile as a 5,400 lb one as long as I keep the speed to about 4 knots.

The next biggest surprise is that the larger wetted surface of Sirocco and Idle Queen really didn’t translate into a much greater cost per mile under power.  Modern boats are made light and with small keels and rudders to improve their efficiency by reducing wetted surface.  At least as far as economy under power is concerned, the difference is not as big as I had thought.  Granted, even the Contessa had a relatively full keel, but she had less than half the underwater area of the other boats (measured by how much bottom paint it took to paint her).

When the wind and waves come up, the smaller boat requires much less energy to keep her moving, and then her fuel economy is much better than the bigger boats.  Motoring into wind and sea is frustratingly slow as well as expensive.  Idle Queen’s fuel economy quickly drops to about 10 nautical miles/gallon with only a 12 knot headwind and small chop.  Motoring into 15-20 knots and a bit of sea will take her right down to 2 miles/gallon or so.  I have only tried this for a short while, so my figures might be off a bit, but you get the idea. 

My estimated long-term figures are based on actual volume of fuel added to the tank versus engine hours and average conditions.  Still-water economy was measured in calm water (no current) by GPS, on glassy calm sections of canal, and the fuel volume was taken by sounding the tank.

A head-on view of Idle Queen while she hangs in the slings.  Her very shallow keel is evident, as well as her almost barrel-shaped (round) underbody.  This semicircular section, along with her shallow keel helps keep wetted-surface low.
A head-on view of Idle Queen while she hangs in the slings. Her very shallow keel is evident, as well as her almost barrel-shaped (round) underbody. This semicircular section, along with her shallow keel helps keep wetted-surface low.



A few projects

The foredeck hatch of Idle Queen. The blue square in the foreground is a solar panel. The hatch is not actually attached to the boat because all of the wood trim has rotted away.

Having an old boat and a small budget means that things aren’t always going to be perfect, but there are a few things on Idle Queen that are going to need some attention before I take her out on any long trips.

To try to bring Idle Queen up to a “yacht” standard of finish would end up just being frustrating and expensive, and I would not get the chance to leave port any time soon.  It would take years to rebuild and refinish her.  Instead, the goal is to keep things strong and simple.  First, there is a lot of cleaning to do.

Battery box
The heart of Idle Queen’s electric system.  Some marine electricians would recommend that a few things should be done differently here. Alligator clips for attaching the navigation lights are not shown…
Engine room
View of the engine room. The main fuel tank is the box to the right of the picture. Duct tape and string holds most of the plumbing together, but amazingly it all works.
The galley on Idle Queen is very simple, with a one-burner stove that uses butane cartridges, a sink, and an icebox. There is refrigeration installed, but it doesn’t work.
Idle queen head
Looking into the head compartment. The companionway stairs are to the right of the frame. The dogs that close the porthole in the head are all broken.
Staysail outhaul
This is the staysail outhaul. It works, but is not very easily adjustable… It’s a good thing that there are lots of lashings, because the blocks fell off when I touched them. The aluminum boom was corroded through.


Idle Queen as I found her
Idle Queen as I found her.  She looks pretty good from this side.

It seems that one of the universal problems aboard small boats is not having enough room–not having enough storage space for clothes; tools; toys; spares; fuel; awnings; safety gear; etc…  Immediately after finding a storage solution for a particular piece of gear, a new thing arrives that just has to be kept somewhere aboard and the challenge of finding a place to put it begins.  I strive to keep my boat as simple as possible, but it still seems that there is never enough room aboard.  When the space is shared, such as when guests come aboard, the problem compounds.  The obvious solution to this problem is to have a bigger boat.  A boat just a few feet longer than the current one sounds about right to a lot of people.  This is such a common phenomenon that there is even a name for it:  three-foot-itis.  Three-foot-itis is when a boat owner decides that his or her current boat is inadequate, but that a boat three feet longer would be just the ticket.  There is no other solution in the owner’s mind.  A bigger boat must be found.

I succumbed to the above described boat-owner’s malady and have been working on Idle Queen for a while now.  Idle Queen is a Dreadnought 32 built by the Dreadnought Boatworks of Carpentaria, California.  She is three feet longer than Sirocco.

Deck view of Idle queen
Idle Queen as I found her–the view on deck


The space problem was just one part of what drove me to this boat, however.  Cost was the other driving force.  Everyone knows that bigger boats are more expensive, but in this case, I took a big step down.  Sirocco, my last boat, is a beautifully finished boat.  She has teak trim and bronze fittings and beautiful joinery.  Idle Queen is home-finished with plywood and plexiglass and latex paint.  I found her moldering in the back of a boatyard.  She had been for sale so long that the sign had faded and broken.  She is heavily-built and practical though.  Because of her rough-and-ready working finish I won’t feel bad keeping her going with whatever I happen to scrounge or buy when things break.  I don’t have to worry about a “yacht quality” finish.   Strong and cheap will do it.

Idle Queen as I found her--not in pristine condition...
Idle Queen as I found her–not in pristine condition…

I will start getting some more pictures up in the near future and maybe some videos to document progress on Idle Queen‘s rehabilitation.  My goal is to have a safe, strong, inexpensive voyaging yacht with this project.

Idle Queen dinette
The dinette in Idle Queen on the first day that I went to see her. It was a bit depressing below and difficult to breathe because of all the mold in the air.
Idle Queen cockpit
Cockpit view of Idle Queen when I found her. This photo does not show the pool of water that was in the forward corner of the cockpit slowly leaking into the diesel fill.

Sirocco is for sale

Sirocco silhouette sailing upwind New Year's regatta
Sirocco silhouette sailing upwind New Year’s regatta

Update to post:  Sirocco has been sold.  Thanks for looking, and please read on if you would still like to learn more about this unique vessel.

For lots more pictures, videos and more detailed description, please visit the Sirocco is for sale page here.

After a long period of debate and a lot of internal reflection, I am finally officially putting Sirocco up for sale.  The asking price is a very modest $19,500 to encourage interest in this unique vessel.

Sirocco is a William Atkin designed “Ben Bow” cutter.  She was professionally built in Airex-cored fiberglass by Falstron of Sarasota, FL, and first launched in 1981.  Her build quality is first-rate, and only the best materials were used throughout. The hull is faithful to the “Ben Bow” lines, but the rig is that of a modern Marconi cutter with a bowsprit.  This gives her plenty of sail area while keeping the rig height modest and gives her a look very much like the popular Lyle Hess Bristol Channel Cutters.  The deck is built on laminated beams and is sheathed in fiberglass.  The nonskid media is set in epoxy.  She has traditional finishing touches, including bronze portholes and cowl vents (set on teak dorade boxes); teak deck hatches; and teak cockpit coaming.  The heavily-built rudder is set on oversized bronze gudgeons and pintles.  The underwater portion of the hull is barrier coated with epoxy.  This is a solidly built, confidence-inspiring cruising boat.

Down below the layout is very practical and easy to live with.  Access to the engine room is through doors beneath the companionway ladder.  Immediately forward of the ladder is a full-sized chart table to starboard with the icebox below the forward portion.  The galley is to port, and features a 2-burner stainless Shipmate stove with oven, and a nice, deep sink.  Forward of the galley, two settees face each other in the saloon, with storage in seat backs and outboard.  The main saloon can be converted to a large double bed by adding a filler between the settees.  Forward of the mast is the head and another berth to port, which can be converted to a double.  The head is to starboard, with additional storage.  There is a spacious anchor locker and storage area in the very forward end of the ship with plenty of extra hanging room for spare lines, etc.

Auxiliary propulsion is provided by a 28-hp Beta Marine diesel engine driving a 3-blade propeller.  The engine has less than 2,000 hours.  Recent improvements to the machinery include a new cutless bearing; new bronze stern gland with dripless packing; new shaft coupling; new flexible coupling; new engine mounts; and new ball joints and ends on the shift cables.   Valve clearances were checked at 1950 hours and everything is within specifications.

Systems are simple and easily accessed for maintenance.   The well-insulated icebox has electric refrigeration.  The galley faucet is supplied with pressure fresh water.  The manual head flushes to a holding tank or directly overboard.

Electronics include a fixed Standard Horizon VHF; Raytheon speed and depth sounder; Raymarine ST-4000+ autopilot with electric linear drive; and Garmin Oregon 400C GPS chartplotter.  Additionally, there is a flat-panel LCD television; DVD player; and installed stereo system.  The masthead tri-color light and anchor light are LED, and the anchor light has a sensor for automatic operation.

Ground tackle includes a 35-lb CQR anchor on 40′ of 3/8″ chain and 250′ of 3-strand nylon rode.  Anchor handling is assisted by the manual windlass.

The spars are aluminum painted with Imron polyurethane.  The main mast is stepped on a massive support at the level of the cabin sole.  This keeps the heel of the mast out of any potential bilge water, preventing corrosion problems.  There are two deep reef points in the main sail.  The yankee is roller furling, set on a Profurl roller furling unit that can also be used for reefing.  The staysail is hanked on to the inner forestay and has a storage bag.

Also included is a 7-foot Eli Laminates rowing dinghy that fits on the cabin top.  This dinghy has been reinforced with extra layers of fiberglass and epoxy on the chines to take the abuse of being hauled up beaches, etc.  New main thwart installed in 2011.

The “Ben Bow” design was William Atkin’s own cruising boat–the one he did for himself and his family.  She is a beautiful little cruising boat that is just right in proportion and balance.  What designer wouldn’t pay extra attention to detail on his personal craft?  She sails well and with a good turn of speed, has a very kind motion in a seaway, is dry, strong, and has an inviting interior.  There is little else that one could ask of a good cruising boat.   The video below shows her underway in perfect conditions one hundred miles off the coast of  South Carolina.

Trying something new- Videos!

Ready to begin
Cavendysh at the dock in Dunkirk, NY, just before getting underway ahead of a nor’easter.

We are now well into 2013 and I hope that the new year is off to a great start for you.

I left off quite a while ago here with pulling Sirocco for a bit of a freshen-up and routine maintenance.  Quite a lot has happened since then!  I will get busy filling things in soon, but first wanted to try sharing some videos from my trip so far.  I will put links to the new videos here on the blog, starting with this one from the first day of my trip out of the Great Lakes in 2010 aboard Cavendysh.  

This first video was taken not long after leaving Dunkirk with a forecast nor’easter bearing down on Lake Erie.  I was in high spirits while taking this video, as we were making great speed and the lake was still pretty flat.  We made good time–covering 129 miles that first day out in up to near gale-force winds.  My stomach definitely protested the boisterous conditions when it got windy and rough overnight.