Foredeck Design Trends in New Sailboats

A Pointed View of the Sharp End: In this first installment of a series examining the features and layouts of contemporary cruising boats, the focus is the foredeck. By Alvah Simon.

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****Much as a blind person runs fingers over strangers’ faces to get to “know” them, I always feel that I can run my hands over the stem fitting of any vessel and with only that cursory knowledge still “know” the true nature of the craft. Is it traditional or modern, robust or flimsy, or prioritized toward fashion or function? Aside from the fact that the foredeck takes the lion’s share of punishment at sea, many of the essential tasks of sailing occur at the sharp end of our boats. Little has changed in terms of the general functions performed there: docking, anchoring, and changing or furling the headsails. But much has changed in the general design, layout, and equipment found on the modern yacht’s foredeck. Long, traditional overhangs have receded incrementally to the point that near or actual plumb stems are now the norm. While these eliminate the potential issue of long bowsprits piercing expensive topsides, they do present a new problem. If the bow roller is too short, serious damage to the stem can be prevented only with a stainless-steel flashing, an addition that’s apparently aesthetically anathema. If the anchor roller extends far enough forward to protect the stem from a gouging anchor, then it becomes subject to side loads beyond its design capabilities. Especially if the roller isn’t gusseted, care must be taken to avoid being “short scoped” under coral or rocks. Photo 1: Bavaria 50
A growing trend in modern foredecks is recessed windlasses mounted in an externally accessed rode locker. The arrangement allows sailors to clear fouled lines and chain overfalls without the need to go below.
Alvah Simon

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****Increasingly, a single roller is found offset to one side of the forestay rather than integral to the stemhead fitting. Many modern cruiser/racers have incorporated removable rollers or eliminated them entirely. If you use your boat only for weeknight races and return directly to a marina, fine. But this will prove a detriment to happy coastal cruising, where one might deploy and retrieve ground tackle several times a day. The modern adaptation of the solent rig features two furlers placed close to each other and as far forward as the foredeck allows. This maximizes the foot length of the inner working sail, allowing the clew to terminate just forward of the mast; many of these sails are self-tending. While practical, this configuration tends to crowd the foredeck, often at the expense of the anchor setup and the windlass installation. Photo 2: Tartan 4000
This American builder still offers a traditional foredeck complete with bulwarks, closed chocks, a deck-level windlass, double rollers, and a wraparound pulpit.
Alvah Simon

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The increasingly popular deck-accessed rode locker is convenient for clearing fouled lines or overfalls of chain without having to duck below, and it doubles as good stowage for extra ground tackle and fenders. A watertight bulkhead usually acts as the aft wall of the locker, and if it extends below the waterline, it has the considerable benefit of acting as a crash bulkhead. Also, all that salt water, methane, and mud drains directly overboard, not down into the forepeak or bilge. But beware: These lockers must have large and well-placed scuppers; otherwise, enormous volumes of water can build up in rough conditions, causing the yacht to track poorly or wallow. A large hatch offers easy access to the foredeck rode locker but can be cumbersome to fasten in the open position; it often ends up obstructed by the furling lines routed aft. That said, some lids are so small that they negate their raison d’être: access to the locker’s contents. Photo 3:**** Sense 55
In its new Sense series, Beneteau has opted for a traditional deck-mounted windlass with an interior rode locker. On modern boats, the once ubiquitous samson post is a thing of the past. Chain stops or nylon bridles can ease loads on the windlass.
Billy Black

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****In search of clean lines, designers increasingly try to recess the windlass and even the furling drums beneath the deck. It looks sleek, but it necessitates a smaller windlass than one might otherwise employ; also, especially with vertical windlasses, such placement precludes the use of the windlass as a mechanical tool to hoist a dinghy on deck or a person up the mast. And because it may prove difficult to clear overrides on recessed furling drums, it’s essential that the design and function of the drum feed are impeccable. Long gone is the samson post that’s fixed aft of the windlass on the ship’s centerline. This was a robust bollard that accepted anchor rodes, towlines, snubbers, and combinations thereof. In its absence, either a stout chain stop must be fixed to take the load off the windlass axle or a nylon bridle be used as a snubber. Photo 4: Passport Vista 545
Larger cruisers such as this Passport now offer "dolphin-watching" teak seats forward, a nice touch. Small details—for instance, an anchor retainer pin with a captive lanyard (circled)—make efficient foredecks.
Alvah Simon

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What about the size, strength, and positioning of bow cleats? A cleat should be large enough to handle extra-thick or multiple lines and be placed so that one can make a line fast without obstruction. Nylon rope can stretch more than 10 percent of its length when under load; thus, the farther the cleat is from the chock, the more movement of line there is, which generates more heat and chafe. Appropriately large and stout bow cleats are now more often mounted at the outer edge of the hull, thereby eliminating the need for chocks altogether. However, the cleats have migrated so far forward that they often no longer provide a fair lead to the bow rollers. The old wraparound pulpit is also disappearing. The introduction of a forward “gate” allows easier access forward for, say, clearing kelp off the anchor or attaching an asymmetric spinnaker to a sprit extension. Some larger vessels are now including a built-in observation seat in the pulpit; it’s a nice touch. Unfortunately, the average height of the pulpits, along with that of lifelines, is dropping toward the legal minimum of 24 inches. Photo 5: Jeanneau 509
On many new boats, cleats are placed well outboard, eliminating the need to use chocks as fairleads. But if the cleats are mounted too far forward, lines run through the bow rollers won't have a fair lead to the cleat.
Alvah Simon

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****Even in the cruising market, design is performance driven. Bows are becoming ever finer and the foredecks subsequently thinner. There’s a lot going on in this increasingly limited space, and careful thought must be given to integrating equipment and necessary foredeck tasks in a harmonious manner. For example, setting up a furler quite close to the deck may slightly enhance performance and contribute to a cleaner look, but it may also inadvertently preclude the use of some popular anchor designs. Windlasses fixed too far forward might clean up the foredeck but may also necessitate anchors with shorter shanks. At the last U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, I found an extreme example of such a complication: An anchor roller was installed well off-center to port while the windlass was installed well off-center to starboard. The resulting lead could only be called convoluted 6. Hunter e33
This simple, sensible setup consists of a recessed windlass and a full-size locker lid opening to a generous storage space. The chain lead is fair, and there's even a dedicated cleat for a snubber.
Billy Black

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****The good news is that where once only the larger vessels sported electric or hydraulic windlasses, now reliable powered windlasses, in both horizontal and vertical orientations, come standard on even the smallest production boats. I feel this can only translate into safer cruising and healthier backs. So if you’re shopping for a new boat or even for a used one, take a meticulous look at the foredeck. Carefully consider the quality of the equipment and the materials used on the vessel, note the compromises that have been made in the selection and placement of gear, and determine the balanced outcomes that result with regard to the various topics I mentioned above. If you like what you see in the initial 4 feet of the boat, chances are that what follows will also suit your style and needs. Detail: Bavaria 36
With a hatch this small, it's essential to have quick, convenient interior access to the rode locker. Note: The cleats are installed too close to the chock and rub-rail, leaving minimal room for linehandling.
Billy Black

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Detail: Xp 38
In a quest for clean lines and crisp aesthetics on deck, some builders now opt for headsail furling drums that are recessed belowdecks. They look great, but one potential downside is a smaller windlass than might otherwise be specified. Click here for more in our Design Trends series. CW contributing editor Alvah Simon earned his advance degree in foredeck assessment as a judge in the 2013 Boat of the Year contest.
Billy Black