A Sea Gaucho and his Falmouth Cutter 34
After sailing the globe aboard his Bristol Channel Cutter, a craftsman settles down in Canada to build the "best" design of Lyle Hess. From "Yachtstyle" from our September 2010 issue
In the morning, we took Half Lucky out on the waters adjacent to Ladysmith.
Normally I prefer to test a new boat in heavy wind conditions, but I'd repeatedly read stories that claimed that the designs of Lyle Hess showed a surprising turn of speed in light air. I confess to feeling somewhat skeptical that a relatively heavy-displacement vessel with the large wetted surface of a full-length keel with a draft of five feet one inch would move sprightly in the five to 10 knots of wind we encountered.
But Hess had a knack for solving such problems. He incorporated more powerful sections than he had in the 28 and employed a firm turn to a high bilge. This additional form stability and a .35 ballast-to-displacement ratio allowed him to virtually drape the cutter rig with 832 square feet of working canvas. The resulting SA/D of 18.7 surprisingly places the FC 34 in the cruiser/racer category.
We tacked effortlessly through mere zephyrs and, with the help of an extended waterline due to the near-plumb stem, held impressive speeds of five knots in very light airs. The FC 34 should dash off very respectable noon-to-noon runs under normal passage conditions. Fear not the doldrums, for the 40-horsepower Yanmar pushed the boat smartly at seven and a half knots.
The helm feels heavy when compared to modern designs, but that's because the large, transom-hung rudder helps this boat track like a train. While not as nimble around the buoys as a fin-keeler, the full-length keel and symmetric waterline fore and aft translate at sea into ease of handling, quieter motion, and less strain on the crew and equipment.
I especially loved the deck ergonomics. Wide, unobstructed walkways lead forward to sensible workstations at the mast and foredeck. A small, well-drained cockpit sits low enough to the waterline to protect rather than expose the person at the helm to high wind and excessive heel. Continuous bulwarks, numerous handholds, and 30-inch lifelines add to the overall sense of security.
All deck hardware is cast in silicon bronze, including the massive Maxwell windlass, the winches, stanchions, stern pulpit, chain-plates, turnbuckles, and tangs. Although initially expensive, future archeologists will find this marvelous material in much the same condition that it's in today.
The hull starts with ISO Ortho NPG Valspar gelcoat. The first layer of glass is impregnated with vinylester resin, and the following layers of hand-laid mat and roving with polyester resin. The molded glass decks are plywood cored and covered with half-inch teak planking.
Hess had a keen eye for aesthetic detail. From the stout boomkin aft to the arching bowsprit forward, he maintained a consistency of traditional style. Somehow, this style isn't interrupted with the concessions to modern equipment and materials, such as furling Dacron headsails and navigational electronics.
The interior fit and finish of Half Lucky is nothing short of perfection. Yet because of its snugness and simplicity, it feels more like a home than a hotel room. Traditional laddered steps lead below. A small but functional galley lies to port, complete with ample counter space, a large fridge/freezer, a three-burner propane stove and oven, and twin stainless-steel sinks.
To starboard lies a comfortable navigation station with room enough to actually use and store paper charts. A large pilot berth lies aft of the navigation station. The main saloon offers a traditional layout of a slightly offset drop-leaf table with thickly cushioned settees to port and starboard.
A stainless-steel diesel drip heater sits against the forward bulkhead; a curtained portal forward gives easy access to the head to port and stowage cabinetry to starboard. The head has a sink, shower, and an innovative composting toilet. The offset double berth in the forepeak is roomy and comfortable.
Although out of sight, the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems aren't out of mind, for they reflect the same level of meticulous attention to detail.
Overall, I found the Falmouth Cutter 34 to be a masterstroke of design exquisitely executed by a dedicated artisan.
While Victoria heated up her homemade empanadas below, Bryan sat at the tiller sipping his maté out of a traditional leather-bound gourd. Dressed in his old woolen hat and sweater, he looked the spitting image of his compañero, Vito Dumas.
And indeed, they share much in common. Both are doggedly determined men with personalities shaped by the craggy mountains and open pampas of Argentina. Both knew hard work and hard times, yet both managed to take their dreams around the world in their classic little boats. And in the end, both fulfilled what Bryan termed a "sacred obligation" by turning their time and talent into something larger than themselves.
You can visit Bryan Gittins' website here.
Alvah and Diane Simon have departed from the shores of the Pacific Northwest and are bound for their home in New Zealand.