Features September 1, 1999 Issue

Stern Boarding: Stairway to Heaven…and the Dinghy

Readers tell why they like Hunter, Freedom and Beneteau, why they modified their conventional transoms, and why they think weíre buttheads.

In the January 15, 1999 issue we presented a photo essay on stern boarding options, mostly of the scoop transoms found on a number of todayís production sailboats. Naturally, we had both good and bad things to say about them. Readers were vociferous in their responses, some of which we include below, along with two custom modifications to conventional counter and reverse transoms made by PS readers.

Defends Hunter 450
You are, for many of us, the voice of sanity in sailing. You have more experience, and largely through Practical Sailor, more exposure to more products than any group of sailors. Sure, your tests arenít exactly double blind randomized-studies with statistical power, but who cares? Youíre the most objective voice around, and are revered by those of us with little or no experience.

Which is why it saddens me when you behave like a butthead.

We know you donít like Hunter sailboats. Itís not clear why, but itís more than just design, quality or aesthetics, otherwise youíd bad-mouth Catalinas as well. With you, itís personal. Iím referring, of course, to your vicious put-down of the stern of the Hunter 450 in which you refer to ďits complete lack of aesthetic appeal.Ē Youíve taken other shots at Hunters as well. Some of us like the Hunter look. They may not be the ultimate sailing craft, they may not have the classic lines that you prefer, but they canít be as bad as you say. No boat could be that badóit wouldnít float!

Iím not saying you should lower your standards, nor would you if I suggested it. Rather Iím suggesting that you raise your standards. Be objective, and if you canít, let someone do the review who can be objective.

No, I donít work for Hunter, nor do I own one. Not all of us can afford a beautiful new boat, and not all of us have the time, money or ability to refinish an old boat. Boats like Hunters are the only way some of us will ever become owners.

So lighten up, OK? And please review the Passage 42 so I can decide whether or not to buy a used one. And let me know if you want any more of my helpful advice.

Bruce Campana
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


I am a big advocate of unbiased information regarding consumer products. Most of the time I feel that your assessment of various marine products is very worthwhile information. I have oftentimes purchased your recommendations and steered clear of products that you take issue with.

There are times, however, when I feel that you allow a subjective opinion to enter into the analysis. Although you had nothing to say of any substance in the review of stern boarding platforms, the fact remains that consumers like this feature and will buy boats that provide this option. It is very obvious to your readers that you despise new design features and technological advances in boat design. I have owned boats with and without the stern boarding platforms and like most boaters, I prefer the platform. In fact, Iím not sure how we lived without it!

You also seem to have problems with most of the less expensive but quality production boats. Your old salt attitude that sailing should be an uncomfortable hassle prevails in most of your reviews. I am a big fan of the ďkeep it simpleĒ philosophy; however, I think comfort and low-maintenance definitely play into most weekend sailorsí wish lists.

Your repeated trashing of Hunter vessels is getting somewhat old. The comments that you made on the 450ís total lack of aesthetics are simply a subjective opinion that should be omitted from your practical review of the stern platforms of these boats. I am the proud owner of a 450 and it is my second Hunter. It is the best boat I have ever owned. It handles beautifully, is very seaworthy, and furthermore, it is COMFORTABLE. I also happen to love the stern boarding platform and all of the other technologically advanced features such as the B&R rig, the lines leading to the cockpit, the spacious and bright cabin, and the aft-stateroom. Itís a great boat when you consider the amenities and the price. Iím amazed at how many innovative advances come from the production boat designers. Most of us appreciate the comfort and safety that these enhancements provide. If you had your way, weíd still be sailing on old wooden, gaff-rigged, bug-infested boats. By the way, when you old salts buy your next car, you may want to go ahead and get an automatic transmission and A/C. Trust me, youíll love it!

Not all of us can afford a Hinckley, and not all of us choose to be uncomfortable. Your publication would be better suited to making objective assessments of marine products and leave out your ridiculous aesthetic comments. Youíd never find this kind of subjectivity in magazines such as Consumer Reports. Your readers are paying you to provide a service. Do not discredit us by assuming we canít determine for ourselves the aesthetics of a boat. Why donít you stick to the facts? While youíre varnishing your exterior teak, Iíll be out sailing.

Trey Byrnes
Providence, Rhode Island

Aesthetics lie at the heart of yacht design. It is an area of study not as subjective as many people apparently think. (Some) designers go to school to learn the rules.


Custom Nauticat
Last summer I completed a transom alteration on my 1984 Nauticat 38. From the moment I bought that boat, I loved every square inch of it except ďthe butt-uglyĒ transom. It looked and behaved like it went through a chop saw. I lived with it for six years, before taking a deep breath and biting the bullet. Cost, of course, was a big issue, but I was really most concerned about the appearance: Was I going to ruin the rest of the boatís classic good looks?

Well, you judge for yourselves. Iíve enclosed a snapshot. Iím so thrilled, it makes my heart flutter every time I see the finished product.

CSR Marine did the work here on Lake Union in Seattle. (By the way, huge kudos to CSR. Bid, design, and workmanship phases met or exceeded my best expectations. I would look forward to doing business there again!)

Because of the fairly steep deadrise from the skeg to bottom of the transom, they had to add about 4" of high density foam filler and shorten the rudder stock a couple of inches. Itís effect on performance has been nothing short of positive. Rudder effectiveness has not changed, we picked up a bit of stern buoyancy, and she now slices through the water with very little exit turbulence whereas before it looked like a washing machine back there! The two-step boarding ladder swings down, of course, to provide swimming and MOB access.

We spent three months this summer and fall up in the Queen Charlotte Straits area, taking with us two kayaks and an inflatable on davits. Launching and using our fleet off the new stern boarding platform made us smile every time. We did the right thing!

Gifford Jones
Seattle, Washington


Love The Freedom 35
I was surprised to find no mention or photographs of one of the best swim platforms Iíve seen on any sailboat on the East Coast.

The Freedom yachts have a fabulous transom design that functions beautifully as a swim platform and a stern boarding ladder from either a dinghy or the dock. One of the major factors that played into my familyís purchase of a Freedom 35 was that huge swim platform which meets many of your design criteria and, most importantly, is perfect for my three-year-old daughter to sit on and splash the water with her mother.

I agree that a stern platform is no place to be in a rough sea, but if one is going to buy a family cruising boat designed in this fashion, the Freedom sloop is a great choice.

Timothy R. Sweetser
Barrington, Rhode Island


Before and After
You are correct in taking issue with anyone who contends the scooped transom to be a way to retrieve an overboard crewmember during rough weather. The rising and falling underside of the hull beneath the transom extension would certainly pose a substantial risk of injury to anyone in the water near it during rough seas. Careful, well-rehearsed maneuvering and a Lifesling or similar flotation collar with appropriate lifting tackle high enough and to leeward amidships offers the best way, in my opinion, to deal with crew overboard during rough weather.

My reason for adding a transom scoop and steps was to enhance everyday utility more than anything else. During my 35 years of offshore and coastal cruising and racing I have encountered one emergency crew overboard event, which occurred when two youngsters capsized a 15' Mercury in Long Island Sound during relatively calm conditions following an accidental jibe. A swim ladder amidships of my parentsí 30' ketch and some floating cushions proved sufficient while another boat tended to the turtled Mercury. A transom scoop would have worked even better in that relatively calm setting. Nothing beats having a couple of able-bodied crew just inches above relatively calm water while retrieving people and floating objects, provided that the crew has a comfortable place to rest and a secure handhold. Mythís backstay, in combination with the four handholds and three wide steps, make her transom scoop very comfortable and easy to use.

Not a season goes by, however, that I donít hear of a friend or neighbor getting injured while getting into or out of a dinghy. One could devote an entire letter to the many skills involved as well as many funny incidents worthy of dinnertime laughter, such as the stirrup-type teak step which pinches ones toes between it and the hull side, the giant (without sitting) step from dinghy seat to toe rail which shreds leg, back and shoulder muscles, or the graceful descent which had appeared to properly aim oneís feet at an appropriate part of the dinghy until the dinghy moved a little too much in one direction or another.

Many of todayís transom scoops make tending to dinghy chores much more enjoyable. Our non-sailor guests are much more relaxed going to and from the dinghy via Mythís stepped transom. I can even bail the dinghy under way. I just pull her abreast the transom and from the middle step I can bail to my heartís content.

Having sailed through the fall of 1982 storm, with 25' seas and 60-knot gusts (upon which the book Albatross is based) from Newport to St. Thomas and then to Spain, in addition to a season aboard a J/30 in the Caribbean Ocean Racing Circuit, I am no stranger to heavy weather sailing. It has been with great interest that I have watched the many modern advances in boat design incorporate many well-thought-out features. I can only hope that as boats are made more ďuser friendlyĒ that their owners do not lose sight of the fact that they can all too easily place themselves in harmís way.

Jeff Thayer
Cohasset, Massachusetts


Beneteau 36CC Has It
As a stern boarding advocate, I can tell you that the Beneteau 36 CC is the best system of those shown for one important reason: When you open the lifeline gate on the transom with the boarding ladder in the center you must lower the ladder to use the transom platform. Obviously, you donít need the ladder lowered when getting on or off from a dinghy.

The arrangement with the ladder to one side allows you to get on or off your dinghy without having to deploy the swim ladder.

Martin Blumenthal
Chester Springs, Pennsylvania

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