Boat Review April 1, 2005 Issue

Seaward 26 RK

By no means just a stretch version of Hake Yachts' 25-footer, this new craft features a retractable keel and sensible pricing options.

When Nick Hake, a graduate of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, decided that he'd had enough midwestern winters, he moved to Florida. Despite his epicurean proclivities, he decided that he liked building boats more than being the head chef at an upscale restaurant in Coconut Grove.

"I always wanted to be self-employed," he recalled.

Between 1974 and 1982, Hake built roughly 2,000 dinghies before introducing a 17-footer called the 'Slipper,' which ultimately became an 18-footer that was marketed as the Fox. With the introduction of a 22-footer in 1979, he formed Seaward Yachts, but now markets Seaward models under the Hake Yachts brand.

A compact coastwise cruiser, the Seaward 26RK has useful features like a lifting rudder and keel, but it needs a vang and the genoa could sit closer to the deck.

In 1984 he introduced a 24-footer that eventually became the Seaward 25 (see PS February 1, 2003), but in 1993 he sold the company to a group of Philadelphia-based investors. However, after two years, the romance of the boatbuilding business wore thin with the hobbyist owners, and they sold the business back to Hake. He now focuses solely on production of the newly designed Seaward 26RK, and the Eagle, a shallow-water 32-footer.

 

Though the company enjoys a reputation for building solid boats, it was during Hake's hiatus that lax construction methods and poor quality control resulted in a number of poorly constructed boats leaving the factory.

Since Hake's return, boat construction and quality control have returned to prior levels. In fact, the production floor is now adorned by a bulletin board—visible to both customers and employees—that itemizes the most recent "mistakes worth mentioning," along with the appropriate corrective measures.

"We see it, and our customers see it," Hake said.

Design
Hake designs the boats his company manufactures. His latest, the Seaward 26RK, bears a striking resemblance to her 25-foot predecessor. The first impression when viewed abeam is that her profile is traditional, accented by a tall bow and upward-sloping cabintop highlighted by four ports, and downward sloping sheerline leading to a cockpit surrounded by a stainless steel stern rail housing two seats.

"We designed new molds for the boat, and took a new approach to pricing at the same time," Hake said. Compared to the 25-footer, the new model has 18" more waterline length, and a more user-friendly cockpit since "most of the additional space is aft of the wheel." The additional waterline length also contributes to improved performance.

Of the modifications, Hake says that he also "wanted to increase the designed waterline for the purpose of increasing buoyancy in the stern when she's loaded with several adults. The 25-footer tended to drag her stern a bit when overloaded, which affects performance, so we solved that problem."

A roomy cockpit—even on a boat this size—is an important feature as that's where the majority of time on board will be spent. Measuring 8' 4" long by 5' 2" wide, with seats that are 16" wide, this cockpit will comfortably seat four, allowing the helmsman adequate space to steer and the crew sufficient room to trim sails.

The 26RK also has a transom gate that eases entry from the stern.

We were befuddled to learn that most purchasers opt for a boat equipped with a wheel (a $2,150 option), since she carries a light helm and the tiller can be moved out of the way when dockside.

Hake calls his hull shape a "spherical tumblehome," defining that as "a concentric shape at the waterline from the bow to amidships with soft bilges." When overpowered, a soft bilge produces tippyness, but Hake explained: "she'll make way best when heeled 10 degrees, and owners begin shortening sail when the wind pipes up to around 15 or 17 knots. Though she has a plumb bow, she also has a rounded entry that prevents broaches by eliminating the tendency of the nose to bite into the sea and skid.

"We were primarily looking for a boat that would do the best job of sailing in the waters of the East coast, particularly Florida, where we have tons of quiet and unspoiled waters that are very shallow, but also to be able to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas and do some island hopping…Performance-wise, we wanted a boat that would sail with a sport-boat feel but could be easily handled by one person and comfortable for a family. We kept the rig uncomplicated, the underbody clean, and went with vertically retracting foils to take care of performance, stability, and shallow water issues."

Hake scored points on those criteria, having produced a sail area/displacement ratio of 18.4, and displacement/length ratio of 113.2, both of which are considered on the fast side. In comparison, the Catalina 250 (wing-keel version) displaces 4,200 lbs. with 200 fewer pounds of ballast, to produce a SA/D ratio of 16.29 and a D/L ratio of 195. On paper, the Seaward has the speed edge.

The 26RK displaces 3,800 lbs., only 200 lbs. more than her predecessor. Weight, Hake said, is distributed throughout the boat and that doesn't affect performance or balance.

The retractable keel is a NACA-designed, high-aspect, 8'-long section with 26" wings attached to a bulb. It draws 6' when fully deployed and only 2' (the depth of the bulb) when raised. Its thin shape—the chord is only 15.5"—and low center of gravity, are nearly identical to longer, fixed-keel boats, so it produces excellent tacking ability, as we learned during our test sail.

"We chose a torpedo bulb on the keel to keep displacement low without compromising stability, and produced a lower center of gravity and improved stability. We also felt the bulb was necessary to keep stability high when the boat was sailed in shallow-water situations with the keel only partially extended," Hake explained. This is another good change since, in shallow water with a typical dagger elevated, wind and surf might produce an unpleasant ride.

Lowering and retracting the 1,200-lb. keel is a simple matter of pulling one of two lines located on the cabintop near the cockpit. The lines are attached to a switch on a Rule Industries 20SS electrical motor with a 2,000-lb. lift capacity, all housed in a fiberglass box just beneath the mast. Rule's standard product is equipped with a spring that could allow the keel to fall freely, but Hake's employees modify the motor to prevent such an occurrence. Should the motor fail, Hake has devised two back-up plans for retracting or lowering the keel, one involving the use of a cordless drill to turn the winch motor.

We initially thought this arrangement of pulling lines to control an electrical switch was an antiquated, potentially faulty approach. However, like much of Hake's thinking, it represents the utmost in simplicity. It's a lot like the old system of pulling a string to switch on a light. Sure, a dedicated switch mounted near the cockpit and wired to the motor would be more tidy and convenient, but it would also invite the possibility of a future wiring failure. Hake's solution may seem crude, but it's effective.

The 26RK's rudder continues that trend of functional simplicity. The stern-hung appendage can be adjusted up and down within its sheath. The leading edge of the rudder is a combination of carbon fiber and fiberglass. At the head of the rudder is a pin that prevents it from lifting out of the sheath in a following sea.

A byproduct of these retracting foils and subsequent shallow draft is the ease with which this boat can be launched at shallow ramps.

Deck Layout
Excepting the keel motor box, deck clutter is limited to two sheets, two blocks, and three winches, with all lines led aft. Stainless steel ports that were fixtures on older boats have been replaced by plastic ports, a $1,250 cost saving. The shrouds extend to the cabintop, producing tighter sheeting angles as well as easier movement forward and aft. Stainless-steel handrails set on the cabintop fore and aft of the shroud bases, and double lifelines contribute to the safety element.

The mainsheet is led from the end of the boom to an athwartships track at the base of the companionway, rather than on the cabintop. This produces good sheeting angles, but it's a stretch for the helmsperson to reach with the traveler eased. The Andersen headsail winches—set midway along the cockpit coaming, are closer by. The halyards are led on the cabintop to Ronstan rope clutches that sit forward of an Andersen winch.

In the cockpit, the starboard locker is 28" deep, 34" wide, and more than 6' long, adequate for storing miscellaneous gear and a spinnaker. And Hake allowed space for a 6-gallon fuel tank under the starboard cockpit seat; it is easily removable when the time comes to fill 'er up.

The sail plan on the 26RK is supported by an uncomplicated, deck-stepped, fractional rig with single spreaders that is designed to be easily raised for sailing away. As Hake says, "We build our boats for mature owners who want to step aboard and go sailing without worrying about the technical stuff." We didn’t step or unstep the spar during our test, but in our review of the Seaward 25, we did question that the backstay is attached to just one side of the transom. "The boat will sail well without a backstay, anyway," Hake told us, adding that the mast is so stiff that bending it is not an option. Regarding the strength issue, he provided photos of a 26RK suspended aloft from a crane with lines attached to bow and stern pulpits.

Accommodations
A fully equipped version of this 26-footer offers seating/dining space for four adults, a galley, and modest head, and berths for four that are more than 6 feet long. Headroom is approximately 5' 10" throughout the interior.

"Belowdecks, we wanted creature comforts for a couple, or a young family," said Hake. "We try to use every inch of space and design the interior so everything can fit. Everything can be removed and the interior hosed out for cleaning."

Hake frees space in the main cabin by hanging the dining table on the bulkhead. It's not an original idea, however, having to work around the keel trunk, which sits center stage, was a challenge. He cleverly attached the forward end of the table to a stainless steel rod affixed to the bulkhead. The 34"-long table is lowered and then rotated amidships to create dining space on both sides of the cabin. It works well, and spans much of the 5' space amidships between the settee backs.

Counter space in the galley is 48" long if the sink cover and oven top are used as working surfaces; additionally, the ice box top doubles as a cutting board. Opposite the galley, the head compartment measures 32" wide x 40" long; not spacious, but appropriate for a boat this size.

Getting this boat fully equipped, however, comes at a price. Since the company is attempting to broaden its market to include first-time buyers and the less affluent, living spaces are offered a la carte. In lieu of a privacy curtain, a teak door and bulkhead that enclose the forward berth will add $1,000 to the base price; a privacy door on the head adds $200, and a portable marine head $375. Additionally, an Origo single-burner stove will increase the cost of the galley by $300, and the stainless steel ports are a $1,250 option.

This boat does suffer a paucity of bulk storage space (unless the aft quarterberth is used for that purpose).

Construction
With minor exceptions, Hake's construction methods remain unchanged since our review of the Seaward 25. The lamination schedule for the hull includes a vinylester gelcoat, 1.5-oz. chop-strand mat and isophthalic polyester resin applied with a chopper gun. "I know some people don't like that, but it's an effective way of assuring that there's resin on both sides of the strands," says Hake. "The second step introduces 40-oz. triaxial cloth. While we use Coremat in the flat runs of the hull to provide stiffness, most of the hull is solid glass."

The interior pan is a solid fiberglass structural member that is vacuum-bonded to the deck. Extra laminations are added in potentially high-stress areas where the hull and keel trunk meet, and where the hull and deck meet.

 

The hull-to-deck joint—shaped like an inverted "J"—is chemically and mechanically fastened using stainless machine screws every six inches and a proprietary putty. "It doesn't leak because of the accuracy of our tooling and the bonding materials," Hake said.

The deck, which is cored with Divinycell foam, follows a similar schedule. Deck hardware is tapped into 1/8" aluminum plates bedded into the fiberglass lamination, a strong method that is becoming more standard in the industry. Chainplates are mechanically and chemically fastened as well. A 3"-wide stainless steel strap penetrates the coachroof and is carried down to the hull, where it is attached to a stainless rod.

The fiberglass outer skin of the keel contains a core of resin and 1,000 lbs. of lead, which is poured in place.

Performance
We sailed the 26RK in 10 to 15 knots of wind on the Chesapeake Bay. In the process, we also introduced a total neophyte to sailing and reaffirmed that, at its elemental level, sailing is relatively uncomplicated.

The cockpit proved to be large enough for four adults, with sail controls located so that the boat could be singlehanded if necessary. Though we found steering while seated on the stern-rail seats comfortable, it puts the helmsperson at too great a distance from the sail controls.

With approximately 10 knots of wind, and a full main and 110% headsail deployed, the boat easily sailed through the short chop on the bay, and pointed to within 40 degrees of the apparent wind. Our handheld GPS registered boat speeds between 4.5 and 5.5. knots over the ground. Easing sheets, the speed increased to the mid-6 range, and we registered a 7-knot run for several minutes.

When the wind increased to 14 knots, we tucked a reef in the main, which reduced heel and increased comfort while maintaining the same speed.

As advertised, one advantage of sailing a trailerable boat is the ability to maneuver in shoal waters. This became clear when we ran aground. Floating the boat was a simple matter of pulling a string in the cockpit, which raised the keel. When operating in shallow water, raising the rudder is also simple; you remove a pin, lift the foil to the proper depth, and replace the pin.

Finally, to confirm her maneuverability, we eased sheets completely, pulled the tiller hard over, and she spun on her keel, sailing in circles the diameter of her own length.

Our principal criticisms pertain to the size of the mainsail, and the headsail furling system. Light-air performance aboard the 26RK would improve with additional area in the mainsail, and that could easily be achieved if the tack were lowered or more roach area was added. Hake Yachts' Sales Manager Dave Brady told us that most owners are content to sacrifice light-air performance for the ability to defer reefing when the wind really pipes up, but he also mentioned that custom sails remain an option.

The Schaefer headsail furler elevates the tack of the jib at least 12" off the deck. That's good for visibility from the helm, but it also sacrifices sail area, keeping the boat from reaching its full potential when going to weather. Hake attributes the use of that brand of furler to the fact that the unit is mounted on a levered tang that eases hoisting the mast. At this writing, he is considering the use of a CDI furler as an alternative. We'd also want to add a vang to get better mainsail shape off the wind.

The standard sails are manufactured by Super Sails, a Florida loft that Hake has used for 20 years. "They know our boats so well," said Hake, "that the sails come out exactly to the specified dimensions."

Pricing
The base price of the boat is $29,950, including mainsail and 110-percent jib, standing and running rigging, bowsprit, and anchor roller. Surprisingly, this price is $5,000 less than the company charged for its 25-footer. Hake explained: "Price-wise, we wanted the boat to be competitive with the mix of entry level boats currently on the market, without compromising our hard-earned reputation for quality. To that end, we decided to offer the boat with a low (for us) base price so that a young family just starting out could have a Seaward now, and perhaps add some of the bells and whistles later, as their bank account grew."

Interestingly, that approach differs from many manufacturers, who are adding to their bottom line by including many high-margin options in their base boats. A Seaward 26RK equipped with a Yanmar diesel ($7,500), rather than an outboard, galvanized tandem-axle steel trailer with surge brakes ($3,800), wheel steering, instruments, portable head, Origo stove, and a CDI furler, would list for almost $50,000.

We think Hake's pricing strategy makes sense in this market since it allows the neophyte or budget-conscious sailor to manage the size of the expenditure, while affluent sailors can add all of the amenities they like. A small company like this, making just three models, does well to utilize that kind of flexibility.

Conclusions
This is the second PS review of a Seaward sailboat; we think the 26RK is a much better buy than the earlier 25-foot model, especially since the company has managed to maintain essentially the same price for more boat.

This boat reflects a thoughtful approach to design that increases user comfort, though its sail plan may disappoint more performance-minded sailors. The additional space in the cockpit and waterline length are a plus, especially since they add only 200 lbs. to the displacement. And we think owners of the 26RK will be pleased at the boat's ability to gunkhole in bodies of water where deeper draft vessels would be restricted.

Hake has succeeded in cramming reasonable creature comforts into a small area, so crew can sit comfortably when at anchor.

And he has come to grips with construction quality issues by publicly giving employees demerits for poor workmanship, and by using conventional construction methods to produce solid structures.

We also see the use of a la carte pricing as a plus. Since engine beds are part of the mold, a diesel could replace an outboard; and other retrofits could be accomplished just as easily. Plus, given the choice between spending more money on options or taking a credit for the sail inventory in order to buy a bigger mainsail, for example, offers additional flexibility for the prospective buyer.

True, the current glut of used 25- to 30-foot boats on the market provides buyers the opportunity to achieve the goal of boat ownership for significantly fewer dollars than Hake is charging for the 26RK. But considering the quality of this boat and its potential for high resale value, we'd recommend that buyers in the market for a trailerable cruiser seriously check it out.

Contact - Hake Yachts, 772-287-3200, www.seawardyachts.com.

Comments (2)

In all reviews it would be good to make clear the date of the review. I suggest adding the hull number of the boat tested, given the improvements during a production run.

Posted by: Mark C | June 30, 2013 10:35 PM    Report this comment

A VERY HELPFUL REVIEW BY PS. HOWEVER, WE NEED A REVIEW BY PS OF THE 32RK AND 32 EAGLE SEAWARDS AS WELL.

Posted by: sanshonea | December 10, 2011 10:48 PM    Report this comment

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