Southerly 57 RS: Oceangoing Gunkholer
This long-range passagemaker has a trick up its keel trunk.
Every boat consists of a series of compromises, but some designs manage to strike a balance in which far more is gained than given up. Since 1978, Northshore Yachts, in Chichester, England, has been building high-quality semicustom, variable-draft sailboats that deliver, as the company’s literature puts it, “deep-draft performance and shallow-draft freedom.” Its new flagship, the Southerly 57RS, brings together Northshore’s swing-keel technology and designer Ed Dubois’ superyacht styling and sensibility to create a 58-foot bluewater luxury yacht that can be sailed shorthanded across an ocean and then parked within wading distance of the beach.
Northshore Yachts has sold more than 900 variable-draft Southerlies in the past three decades, incorporating swing-keel technology into ever-larger sailboats. The underbody on the 57RS consists of twin canted rudders and a 7,385-pound cast-iron keel that retracts completely into a heavy-duty keel box set in a grounding plate that provides an additional 11,794 pounds of ballast. With the keel all the way up, the boat can sit on this plate and a centerline skeg that protects the propeller and keeps the rudders safely off the bottom. A hydraulic ram controlled by a button positions the keel anywhere from fully retracted to fully extended. If the keel hits something, it swings clear of the obstacle without damaging the ram. With 10 feet 6 inches of maximum draft, the boat sails well to within 30 degrees of the apparent wind but can still sneak in front of all the other yachts in an anchorage to anchor in 3 feet 6 inches of water.
While Northshore has plenty of experience with swing-keel technology, this is its first 50-foot-plus design and its first collaboration with naval architect Ed Dubois. Designing a boat in the 55- to 65-foot range can be tricky as some couples will operate the boat themselves and others will hire professional crew. While maintaining the overall styling introduced by Rob Humphreys in the 42RST and 49-foot models, Dubois has brought together a sensible sail plan that can be managed by a couple, design details and amenities normally found only on much larger yachts, and a choice of interiors to meet different owners’ requirements.
The 57RS has plenty of sail area to drive its 55,000-pound displacement. The double-headed rig consists of a 990-square-foot, full-batten mainsail and two furling headsails, one at the stem and the other just aft. The self-tacking blade jib on the solent, or inner, stay makes for easy singlehanded short-tacking up a channel or into an anchorage, while the 140-percent genoa on the headstay powers the boat to windward in moderate conditions. Offshore, unfurl both sails and pole out the blade jib for easy downwind miles; when the wind goes light, set the 2,000-square-foot asymmetric gennaker from the retractable sprit. While it takes a bit of time for that much displacement to start rolling in light air, once moving, the boat slips along through short chop without a hitch. In 7 to 10 knots of true wind, the Southerly 57RS sailed at 6 knots to within 35 degrees apparent with the keel down, and the speed increased to 7 knots when we cracked off to 70 degrees apparent. The 990-square-foot mainsail is available with in-mast or in-boom furling as well as in a conventional, full-batten setup.
Down below, Dubois has created luxurious spaces on different levels that function equally well for a couple or a crowd. The raised seating area over the keel box in the center of the boat allows a party of 10 to see out the large ports while lounging around the dinner table. Professional crew can take their meal in the small “breakfast nook” opposite the galley that doubles as a computer workstation. Dubois has designed in spaces for superyacht amenities like a dishwasher and trash compactor in a galley with enough room for four people to work. The different levels in the boat do make for a choppy, up-and-down traffic flow, though: from the galley up to the main saloon, across the main saloon and down to the base of the companionway, up the companionway steps to the cockpit. To some this could be annoying when trying to serve a big meal in the cockpit.
Dubois hasn’t compromised on the essentials for safe offshore sailing. Bluewater details include clean side decks with molded-in handgrips along the coachroof within easy reach all the way to the mast, dorades for heavy-weather ventilation, an optional dinghy garage for proper offshore stowage, and, at the base of the companionway, a commodious nav station to port and a head with a wet locker to starboard. But he’s also provided flexibility with three different layouts. Owner-operator couples with coastal aspirations will probably trade the dinghy garage for the splendid aft master suite; those with professional crew or frequent guests will find the three-cabin layout more to their liking. The combination of the dinghy garage and four real sea berths in the four-cabin layout will appeal to owners dreaming of long offshore passages.
The double headsail rig should be great offshore, but with two furlers forward of the windlass, two anchor rollers, and the optional retractable sprit, the bow platform felt a bit crowded to me. I also felt it’d be difficult to fit two anchors up there. Additionally, I found the systems throughout our test boat to be complex and access tight in some areas. However, according to Claire Horsman of Northshore, the systems on our test boat reflect a high level of customer customization. “Other examples of the 57RS aren’t as complex nor do they have any access issues,” she said.
Still, the Southerly 57RS will widen the horizons of cruising sailors by allowing them to explore the interface between land and water without giving up offshore safety and performance.
Beth A. Leonard is an offshore cruiser, author, and CW Boat of the Year judge.
LOA 58’ 2” (15.91 m.)
LWL 51’ 8” (15.77 m.)
Beam 17’ 1” (5.21 m.)
Draft (min/max) 3’ 6”/10’ 6” (1.07/3.20 m.)
Sail Area 1,564 sq. ft. (145.30 sq. m.)
Ballast 19,179 lb. (8,699 kg.)
Displacement 55,391 lb. (25,124 kg.)
Water 264 gal. (1,000 l.)
Fuel 369 gal. (1,400 l.)
Holding 126 gal. (478 l.)
Engine 140-hp. Volkswagen TDI
Designer Ed Dubois
Northshore Yachts Ltd.