Features September 2003 Issue

Offshore Log: IMX 45 Boat Review

Nick Nicholson recently returned from the Marblehead-Halifax Race, in which he was aboard the winning boat as navigator. He decided to devote his column this month to a review of that boat.

The new IMX 45 is the Jeppesen brothers' largest IMS racing boat, but it makes a surprisingly comfortable performance cruiser with the wave of a magic wand—and a day of work to install removable cruising options.

Ah yes, the hypothetical dual-purpose boat. Do you want a cruiser that races, or a racer that cruises? The gap between cruisers and racers has never been greater than it is today, and we can say without fear of contradiction that there is no single boat that is perfect for both.

X-Yachts of Denmark has recognized this dilemma by producing two parallel lines of boats, one for performance cruising and casual racing, and the other for performance racing and occasional cruising.

The IMX 45 is the company's biggest "pure" racer, but plans for even larger racing boats are in the works.

The Jeppesen-designed IMX-45 is decidedly high-performance, but is no stripped-out crew-beater, either.
Company History
X-Yachts was founded in 1979 by brothers Niels and Lars Jeppesen, who are joined in senior management and ownership by Birger Hansen. It is often observed that X-Yachts is the Danish version of J-Boats, both as a family-owned company and in the production of performance-oriented boats for both racing and cruising. It is an apt comparison.

 

The X-Yacht performance cruising series ranges from just over 30 feet to a new 73-footer, with boats up to 141 feet in the planning stage. In times when many sailboat builders both in the US and overseas are suffering, X-Yachts is booming. Some 200 X-Yachts were launched in 2002—the second-best production year in the company's history.

X-Yachts generates a lot of interest through their annual regatta series, following a pattern found extremely successful by Nautor with their international Swan regattas. A regatta series is a great way for owners to see the latest and greatest company products—a superb selling tool, since many X-Yacht owners move up through the series to larger boats over time.

The bulk of X-Yachts production is sold in Europe, but the company has distributors in Asia, Australia, and the US.

Design
The IMX series of yachts are the company's racing-oriented line, designed for flat-out competition under the IMS (International Measurement System) handicapping rule. The boats also do well under other handicapping systems.

The IMX 45 is a development of the IMX 40, a boat that has enjoyed huge success in racing around the world. We first raced against the IMX 40 in the 2000 Thailand King's Cup, and were extremely impressed with the boat's light-air performance.

The IMX 45 takes that performance to an even higher plane. Designer Niels Jeppesen seems to have IMS figured out. His boats rate well, and sail even better.

The designed displacement of 20,000 pounds means that the boat is light, but she is no ultralight. IMS treats displacement fairly, so there is little incentive to shave every ounce out of a boat for rating purposes. At the same time, the boat is fairly light for a waterline length of over 39'.

The standard draft of 9' means that this is not a boat for gunkhole cruising, but it doesn't pretend to be. Likewise, the high-performance design means that this is not a boat you will race efficiently with a pick-up crew on Wednesday night. This is a no-apologies racing boat which is adaptable for cruising, rather than a cruising boat that is usable for racing.

The IMX 45 has fairly full forward sections compared to IMS designs from Farr and Frers. Looking at the boat head-on beside a Swan 45, the IMX 45 looks huge, with much more volume forward.

While this might suggest a compromise in upwind performance in a seaway, it increases interior volume for cruising and makes the boat more flexible in weight distribution when racing.

Construction
The IMX 45 is built much like other boats in the X-Yachts line. The hull is a relatively conservative E-glass sandwich utilizing vinylester resin and Divinycell foam core. The core is vacuum-bagged to the outer skin.

In the way of through-hull fittings, the integral steel keel frame, and the engine installation, the core is removed, giving a solid laminate in these areas.

A unique characteristic of X-Yachts, including the IMX 45, is a massive longitudinal and transverse hot-dipped galvanized steel load-bearing frame. Although heavier than a similar fiberglass girder system, the steel backbone provides a stiffness and strength that is impossible to replicate in composites without resorting to complex and expensive engineering and construction.

Chainplate attachments, mast step, and keel bearing flange are all incorporated into the steel backbone, which absorbs the incredible loads of a racing boat. Massive tierods join the shroud chainplates to this grid. The grid is so securely glassed to the hull that it incorporates a single-point lifting eye for hauling the boat. It is not uncommon in Europe for boats to be lifted by crane rather than a straddle lift, and a single lifting point greatly facilitates this process.

The standard keel consists of a cast-iron fin and lead ballast bulb, with a weight of just over 9,000 pounds. Internal ballast is used to bring the boat down to her sailing lines. An optional heavier bulb increases draft from just over nine feet to about 9' 5". With this option, the internal ballast is removed, so that the all-up weight of the standard keel and deep keel versions is virtually identical.

After a considerable amount of research on the effect of additional stability versus rating, it's pretty clear that for sailing in the US, the deep-keel version is the way to go. The small impact on rating is more than offset by the increased righting moment, particularly if the boat is to be used for shorthanded performance cruising as well as racing. To put it bluntly, anyone willing to deal with the 9' draft of the standard keel will probably be able to put up with the extra 6" of optional draft.

Glued-down teak decks are an option, but we'd pass. This is a racing boat, after all, and the weight of even thin teak decks will have a negative impact on performance. The first two IMX 45s imported to the US were fitted with laid teak, just on the cockpit sole and cockpit seats. This is a relatively small weight penalty, and it adds significantly to the aesthetics of the boat.

Below, the overhead is completely sealed with a lightweight molded glass liner. We were leery of this at first, since it eliminates access to the back side of deck-mounted hardware. However, all the deck hardware is mounted using heavy drilled and tapped backing plates which are glassed in place, eliminating the need for access to nuts belowdecks. As long as the original mounting location of the hardware is correct, this is a superb mounting system, as a single person can remove any hardware without a second person to loosen nuts below.

The IMX 45 lacks some of the interior finishing detail of the standard X-Yacht line, but is by no means crudely finished. Glasswork is excellent throughout, with thoughtful engineering detail. Woodwork is well-executed and nicely finished, with a clean, modern look—sort of Danish modern, in fact...

Deck and Rig
The mast is a 15/16ths, triple-spreader carbon spar by Nordic Mast. It features extremely narrow, slightly swept spreaders. The narrow shroud base gives excellent sheeting angles for overlapping upwind headsails, but requires substantial pre-loading to keep the mast in column.

The pre-loading is supplied by a removable hydraulic mast jack, which allows the rig to be pre-tensioned in a way not possible in the conventional way, by tightening turnbuckles. Going to windward, even in the heaviest conditions, there must be absolutely no slack in the leeward rigging for this rig to perform at its best.

 

The slight spreader sweep eliminates the need for running backstays or checkstays to keep the rig from pumping.

Instead of hydraulics for vang and backstay, the IMX 45 employs a mechanical vang and backstay. The backstay is adjusted using a unique large-diameter belowdecks carbon drum, which results in a powerful, fast, and simple means of adjustment. A single line with a cam cleat exits the steering pedestal next to the mainsail trimmer, allowing him to shape and trim the sail with backstay, traveler, and mainsheet without additional assistance.

The mainsheet adjusts from winches port and starboard, with most of the sheet's run hidden belowdecks to eliminate a tripping hazard on deck.

Frederiksen deck hardware is used throughout, and it works beautifully. High-load Spinlock jammers and clutches are used for control lines and halyards. The boat we sailed featured an upgraded Harken winch package for racing, which we would highly recommend if the boat is to be seriously campaigned. Stainless steel Andersen winches are available for those who prefer the aesthetic of stainless over black-anodized aluminum.

The deck layout on this boat is just about perfect for racing. The pitman can work from the companionway area and stay completely out of the way of trimmers. Headsail trimmers work near the front of the cockpit to keep weight out of the stern. Only the mainsail trimmer and helmsman need be near the back of the boat.

The lack of a toerail aft of the mast makes sitting on the rail comfortable, but it means that anything dropped on deck has a good chance of rolling overboard.

A recessed foredeck well can contain a windlass and cruising ground tackle, as well as housing an underdeck headsail furling drum.

A large locker in the cockpit sole, with a gasketed, watertight lid, will hold either a 12-man liferaft or two 6-man rafts, solving a storage problem which can be perplexing for either offshore cruising or racing.

Under the cockpit sole just aft of the wheel, a covered deck recess contains both the installation point for the emergency tiller and the fuel tank fillers. This recess will retain any fuel spilled while tanking up, and is a superb idea.

Belowdecks
Most people coming below on the IMX 45 expect to confront a stripped-out racing interior. Instead, you find a comfortably fitted out teak interior with most of the comforts of any performance cruiser.

Bulkheads and joiner work are teak-faced ply. Weight is reduced by using slightly lighter materials than would be found in more traditional cruising sailboats. Berth supports, for example, are of sprung, lightweight slats, rather than solid plywood.

The cabin sole at first appears to be conventional teak and pseudo-holly ply. A closer looks reveals that the "teak and holly" is a realistic plastic laminate surface. We were somewhat taken aback by this, but it's no different from the high-quality faux wood floors that have proliferated in homes ashore. In fact, we quickly found that this surface has huge advantages. It's not damaged by dragged sails or dropped winch handles, and the finish does not wear away like a conventional oil or varnish surface.

The standard layout includes two matched quarter cabins aft, and a tapered V-berth forepeak. Optionally, the port aft cabin can be replaced by a head and a huge cockpit locker. For cruising, this layout makes more sense, as it gives two couples suite-like accommodations at either end of the boat.

The saloon is quite comfortable, with long settees on either side and a large drop-leaf dining table. There are optional cabinets which give much-needed storage above and outboard of the berths. There is a large storage space behind the fold-up seat backs, but these folding backs need some means to hold them in position when sailing hard.

For long-distance offshore racing, a pair of removable pipe berths was added above the main cabin settees on the first boat imported to the US.

The U-shaped galley is small by American standards, but typical of European boats. It has double round sinks, a good gimbaled two-burner propane stove with oven, and a seven- cubic-foot refrigerator. The refrigerator lacks any form of shelving or other space subdivision, which it sorely needs. The Isotherm refrigeration system will be fine for sailing in temperate waters, but like most 12-volt systems, it will probably struggle in tropical waters.

There are decent storage lockers outboard of the galley for foodstuffs and cooking gear. Drawers below the galley counter hold plenty of utensils.

A single 10-pound propane bottle is mounted in a dedicated starboard cockpit locker. This is adequate for offshore racing and coastal cruising of short duration.

The nav station features a large chart table and a reasonable amount of space for mounting a suite of navigation instruments. If you want to install radar, an LCD screen is the way to go, as it does not require the cabinet depth of a conventional CRT installation. (In a few years, we suspect, CRT radars will be ancient history.)

Ideally, navigation instruments should be mounted so that they directly face the viewer. This is not possible in the IMX 45, but a diagonal partial bulkhead forward provides a good mounting surface for a large computer screen.

Performance
The IMX 45 is, first and foremost, an IMS racing machine. Since the launch of the first boats last year, the IMX 45 has compiled an enviable racing record in Europe.

The summer racing season of 2003 saw the debut of the IMX 45 in the US. The first boat here, Dr. Richard Shulman's Temptress, compiled a staggering record in the short space of six weeks of racing. In 10 races, her combined record was eight first and two second places against a wide array of production and custom IMS cruiser/racers. Both second places came when she was over the line early at the start, and was forced to return. She won the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta with a 2-1-1 record, Block Island Race Week with a 1-1-1-2-1-1 record, and capped the season by winning the IMS division of the Marblehead (Massachusetts) to Halifax (Nova Scotia) ocean race. This is clearly one very fast boat, and a boat that rates well under IMS.

 

We have sailed the IMX 45 under a variety of conditions, from drifting cats paws to strong summer breezes, round the buoys, offshore racing, and deliveries. With her huge carbon fiber wheel and high aspect-ratio appendages, steering is extremely responsive, although it does demand concentration.

Even with the optional deeper, heavier keel, the boat is fairly tender—a trait she shares with most IMS racing boats. She is best raced with a crew of 11 or 12, so that seven or eight can be out on the rail in a breeze.

Part of the tenderness results from a relatively narrow beam waterline—a characteristic that reduces wetted surface in light air. The narrow beam waterline also allows the boat to be effectively roll-tacked in light air, something you don't often see on a boat this size.

Upwind target speed in 12 knots of true wind is 7 knots, at a true wind angle of 40 degrees, or 26 degrees of apparent. Downwind target in the same breeze is about 7.6 knots. In stronger winds, the boat is capable of sustained bursts of off-wind planing at speeds far in excess of normal displacement speeds, despite her relatively heavy displacement for a pure racing boat. In our experience, target speeds have proven to be accurate, if conservative.

For cruising, the boat can be de-powered with a slightly smaller mainsail and non-overlapping, self-tacking, roller-reefing headsail on a removable transverse track. She will miss the weight of crew on the rail, but the slight loss in speed will be insignificant for cruising. The boat will still pass almost everything in sight that's anywhere near her size.

Under power, a 55-horse Volvo Saildrive unit easily propels the boat at just under 7 knots. A folding prop reduces drag under sail, but slightly compromises handling under power. Going ahead, this is no problem. In reverse, the limited thrust available from the folding prop requires patience when maneuvering. Any boat with a folding prop will have these same issues.

Since Saildrives lack the alignment and stern bearing wear issues of conventional shaft installations, there's very little vibration at any engine speed, and this is the best Saildrive installation we've ever seen. A molded-in pan contains any engine fluid leaks. The engine compartment is well insulated, and the sound insulation is protected by perforated aluminum sheet metal. There is access to both sides of the engine through removable panels in the aft cabin and head; access for routine service requires lifting out the companionway stairs.

The engine control panel is located on the aft face of the steering pedestal, just above the cockpit sole. It relies on alarms for warning of non-normal operating conditions, and lacks any instrumentation other than a tach. We would strongly recommend installing an engine hour meter at the panel or belowdecks, as it is otherwise impossible to monitor engine use unless a proper engine log is maintained.

Price
Since X-Yachts are built in Denmark, the price will vary with fluctuations in currency exchange rates. The relatively weak dollar has pushed the price of the IMX 45 higher in the year since her introduction.

The current landed, duty-paid price of the IMX 45 is about $470,000, less sails, electronics, and options. This is dramatically less than the boat with which the IMX 45 is most commonly compared in size and type—the Swan 45. Yes, the Swan 45 is more elegant in finish detail, but is no more functional for either racing or cruising than the IMX 45.

This is a lot of boat for the money, if racing is your main game.

Contact - X-Yachts USA; Prestige Yacht Sales, 203/353-0373,www.prestigeyachtsales.net

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