Southerly 135 Sailboat Review | Cruising World

Southerly 135

Neither shoal water nor blue presents any problems for the Southerly 135.

Northshore Yachts, builder of the Southerly 135 Series Three, calls this boat "a variable-draft bluewater cruiser with a raised-deck saloon," and that just about says it all. This innovative Rob Hum-phreys design is representative of a line of swing-keelers that Northshore Yachts has been building for over two decades. These boats have attracted a strong following in the United Kingdom and Europe, and with over 600 launched, it’s worth taking a look at why owners feel these boats offer them the very best of two distinct cruising worlds.

Let’s start with the options that a draft of 2 feet 6 inches opens for a 45-footer in the Bahamas, Chesapeake Bay, the ICW, and other skinny-water estuaries that most monohull sailors seldom get to see close up. Combine this inshore advantage with a seagoing hull built to European Union Category A specs, and add a swing keel that transforms the shoal-draft creek-creeper into a very viable bluewater sailboat. When the swinger is unswung, it becomes a deep, foil-shaped keel with a 9-foot-8-inch draft.

Another key reason for the interest in this boat is her easy motion and user-friendliness under sail. On a chilly fall day with a shifty, 11- to 14-knot northerly breeze kicking up a hint of a Chesapeake chop, the Southerly felt right at home as we ran down the bay. When we hardened up and sheeted in the full main and 120-percent genoa, we were close-reaching at 7.3 knots, building to 7.5 knots as we fell off onto a beam reach. We turned farther off the wind and adjusted trim for a broad reach; boat speed decreased by about a knot. The optional asymmetric spinnaker will help cope in the lighter apparent wind.

Despite a relatively small sail plan, the boat’s sailing performance was good. Her Seldén rig is well thought out, the Furlex roller-furling headsail system was easy to handle, and the placement of sheet leads made sailhandling a snap.

I found the Lewmar 48s a bit small for primary winches on a 45-footer, a problem easily fixed by an upgrade. The steering was finger-touch smooth, and with the keel fully down, the vessel tracked well, indicating the boat has good directional stability. This is an attribute that’s appreciated the more time one spends at the helm. It’s also a key factor in how well a boat responds to a self-steering vane or autopilot.

Serious cruisers recognize the traits that add up to seakindliness, and under way, it became clear that the Southerly 135 had more than her fair share of them. She exhibited neither the quick, jerky motion of a lightweight raceboat nor the bargelike undulations of full-sectioned heavy-displacement cruisers. Her decks, handholds, and lifelines work together to keep crew on board, and the efficient sail plan and substantial punch from the turbocharged 75-horsepower Yanmar diesel get you where you want to go.

An optional furling mainsail and a bow thruster can make sailhandling and maneuvering in tight confines even easier. However, these aren’t on my "must-have" list of options because the Southerly 135 is a comfortable cruiser that can still be handled by a small crew.

Structural Matters

Northshore employs conventional FRP laid up by hand, with balsa core in the deck and in the hull above the waterline. In the deck laminate, plywood infills replace the balsa at each compression point, such as where hardware is installed. The solid laminate below the waterline grows thicker as it approaches the centerline, and a unique keel box is molded as an integral part of the hull. Unidirectional fiberglass is added to high-stress areas, and the underwater surface of the hull has a clear gelcoat. The vessel comes with a five-year blister warrantee.

The keel itself is an articulating, airfoil-shaped blade made of cast iron that weighs 3,610 pounds. It’s held in place by what the builder calls a "grounding plate," another cast-iron structure that weighs 6,260 pounds. Together, they constitute the ballast package and are attached to the hull in a very rugged manner. The large contact surface between the iron grounding plate and the recess in the hull is well reinforced with transverse and longitudinal structure inside the hull. Twenty-eight 12-millimeter bolts spaced around the perimeter of the grounding plate mechanically fasten the ballast package to the hull. While iron oxidizes more slowly than steel, and modern marine coatings will hold rust to a minimum, some ongoing maintenance still will be needed to keep the bottom paint on the keel and ensure that the grounding plate remains a smooth, flake-free surface.

The swing keel is hinged to the grounding plate on a hefty, 2-inch-diameter, stainless-steel pin that rides on bronze bushings inserted into heavy-duty bosses in the grounding plate itself. It’s a solid, well-reinforced structure, as would be expected since the swing keel weighs as much as a Land Rover, and any trouble with the hinge mechanism itself would become a costly problem. My only concern lies in the difficulty of inspecting the stainless-steel pin, a task requiring the removal of the keel and the grounding plate. Over the long term, galvanic corrosion and electrolysis can affect submerged stainless steel. The builder’s representative with whom I spoke said that pin problems haven’t been an issue in the more than 20 years since Northshore Yachts launched the first swing-keel Southerly.

An electric/hydraulic system raises and lowers the swing keel at the push of a button; there’s a manual backup. A hydraulic ram attached to the upper trailing edge of the keel connects to a Spectra pendant in a purchase. The entire mechanism is contained in the heavily reinforced molded keel-box structure that has an access port for inspection and maintenance of the hydraulic ram, which remains partially submerged.

The low-aspect-ratio rudder is attached to a long skeg that lends it significant support and also provides additional directional stability. The blade itself is semibalanced and, teamed up with a nicely installed Whitlock Mamba bevel-gear, torsion-rod steering system, it gives the helm a smooth, responsive feel. Hard on the wind in heavy seas, the shallow rudder may be less than ideal, and that’s probably one of the reasons why the builder offers a twin-rudder version of the Southerly 135. According to Northshore, "the twin-rudder option provides improved handling and sail-carrying capacity while still allowing the boat to be dried out safely." The optional tall rig would be a big plus in light-air cruising grounds.

Living Room

The attractive cabin accommodations showcase well-executed joiner work. Two layouts are available. Both retain fore and aft cabins. One provides a middle cabin with a single bunk and locates the galley to starboard under the cockpit; the other option features a big saloon, a nicely placed U-shaped galley with centerline sinks, and more space in the main cabin. The sizable molded keel box doesn’t intrude into the accommodations, and crew will adapt to the ups and downs in the multilevel cabin sole, a characteristic of all raised deck-saloons.

The owner’s spacious stateroom and adjacent head and shower take up much of the aft portion of the vessel and in port provide the feel of a true master’s quarters. However, the big berths at opposite ends of the vessel might be less appreciated during an offshore passage. In addition, the elevation of the cockpit forces the boom to be mounted 10 feet above the waterline, lessening the rig’s sail-carrying ability. Many will accept this tradeoff to acquire these generous accommodations.

The turbocharged Yanmar 75-horsepower diesel, an optional upgrade over the 56-horsepower, naturally aspirated standard engine, pushes the boat at 2,800 rpm smoothly and evenly at a cruising speed of 7.5 knots. The engine installation, like other examples of mechanical and electrical work on this boat, is first-class. I saw no signs of shortcuts. Access to all sides of the engine, however, was a little tight in comparison with other boats of this size.
Two water tanks and two fuel tanks—all of them stainless steel—are located amidships to minimize their effect on fore and aft trim as they’re drawn down. Two polypropylene tanks provide a total of 48 gallons of waste capacity. For long-term durability, most materials specialists would recommend aluminum for fuel tanks and stainless steel for the holding tanks.

A high center cockpit offers good visibility but also provides a target for spray off the bow. A foldable dodger gives the helmsman good protection and decent visibility, but it needs a clear-plastic window so the crew reefing the mainsail from under it can see what’s happening to the sail.

A vessel tends to reflect the home waters of its origin, and it’s no surprise to discover that the Southerly 135 is a rugged, well-built cruiser that’s engineered to handle the North Sea and its frequent heavy weather and cold, damp cruising conditions. Small hatches and small dorade vents are a big plus in that climate; still, those planning to spend time in the tropics may wish that the boat’s large, forward-facing saloon windows were actually opening hatches. Effective blinds or covers would help lessen the greenhouse effect caused by sunlight entering the windows, a problem experienced by most raised-deck-saloon vessels.

The side decks are narrow but safe to transit and are capped with the sure footing of a traditional teak deck. Walking from bow to stern, you get the feeling that this is a cruising boat built for sailors by sailors. You immediately notice a useful stem roller, cleats, and chocks that are large enough and strong enough for their tasks. There’s a workbench aft and enough storage for provisions and spares to sail far and long.

Ralph Naranjo is Cruising World’s technical editor.


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