My husband, Alex, and I intended to be cruising the world for some time, with no particular plan to circumnavigate, and we had a pretty reasonable set of criteria for the vessel that would help us get there. The boat had to be sturdy, capable of handling heavy seas and possible collisions with floating objects, and manageable for each of us alone. It had to be comfortable under way and at anchor, and it had to be pretty. We expected to sail doublehanded for the most part, so we wanted a split rig.
At the end of a long search, the boat that sang to us was a Bowman 57 ketch, which was designed by Holman & Pye, who later designed many Oysters, and built in 1976 by Bowman Yachts, located in Southampton, England. We named her Aleria.
She’s a “boat-shaped boat” with beautiful lines, a delicate transom, and a wave-splitting bow. Drawing more than 8 feet, she’s not about to go gunkholing, but she’ll certainly handle a sea well. Her skeg-hung rudder is protected behind a substantial fin keel onto which the mast is stepped. The hull is solid fiberglass-no balsa core to rot, no foam core to get soggy or crack. If she hits something solid, she’s likely to bounce.
With a beam of less than 15 feet, the Bowman 57 is svelte by current standards, and the design’s slenderness makes a difference belowdecks. It’s possible to traverse her length with handholds all the way.
As was usual with boats of this size and vintage, Bowman 57s were customized for individual owners. Aleria, formerly Grand Dame, had been originally commissioned by the pianist Andre Watts. The galley has custom-designed tile work, Corian countertops, double stainless-steel full-size sinks, a three-burner stove, cabinets galore, and double refrigeration compartments. In this long galley, on the starboard side under the cockpit, bracing yourself is easy: Cabinetry and bulkheads bind its entire length.
The navigation station, to port at the foot of the companionway, has a nicely sized chart table. Adjacent to it is an office, with full-size drawers for paper charts, a desk for a computer, an office chair, cabinets, and more.
The aft cabin has a single berth to starboard and a double to port with cushions between, both good sea berths. It doesn’t have enough storage space, but it could be easily modified. An adjoining head has a shower, a full-size toilet, and a porcelain sink.
The well-ventilated saloon seats six around the table using only the U-shaped settee, eight with chairs added at the end, and three more on the port settee. Forward are two cabins with two bunk berths each and another head and shower. In the forepeak is a workshop complete with workbench, vise, and cabinets.
Ketch rigged and with double headsails, the 57 can take on sail in small enough doses for each of us to be able to handle them. Aleria behaves like the big boat she is, responding more slowly to the helm than what we were used to. My first turn at the wheel was intimidating, but I took comfort in the feeling from the center cockpit that following seas were a long way “back there.” Once under way, balanced and in the groove, she sails like a freight train.
Only a handful of Bowman 57s were built. All have differences in layout; prices range from $250,000 to $350,000.
Bowman 57 Specs
LOA: 57′ 0″ (17.37 m.)
LWL: 44′ 7″ (13.59 m.)
Beam: 14′ 8″ (4.47 m.)
Draft: 8′ 4″ (2.54 m.)
Sail Area (100%): 1,162 sq. ft. (107.9 sq. m.)
Ballast:16,000 lb. (7,258 kg.)
Displacement: 42,000 lb. (19,051 kg.)
Water: 350 gal. (1,327 l.)
Fuel: 200 gal. (758 l.)
Designer: Holman & Pye
Lifelong sailors Daria Blackwell and her husband, Alex, operate CoastalBoating.net on Long Island, New York.