Mailport: December 2012
The Ideal Keel
I would suggest that the keel article (PS, November 2012) misses out on a couple of matters that are very important to cruising sailors.
As may be gathered from the attached photo (above), I believe that a 3/4-full keel is the ideal for a cruising sailor for the following reasons:
• It allows the boat to have a real bilge, not the inches deep approximation that is the standard with fin keels. That means any water entering the boat has a place to go instead of running up the inside of the hull (if the boat is heeled) and soaking every storage area.
• As stated in the article, it will survive the inevitable grounding on coral (me three times) and on mud and sand (lost count) without real damage either going on or getting off. In one grounding in sand, I raised full sails to heel the boat, therefore reducing my draft, and got off easily. That maneuver may have stressed a fin keel to damage point. If you are aground on a falling tide, the fuller keels provide a stable support for the boat, allowing it to stay upright for a lot longer—hopefully until the tide starts to come in again.
• It is said that the full keel and 3/4-full keel make tacking more difficult, and that may be true to an extent. However, I make the point that cruising sailors never tack more than once a day, and then only after several hours of careful consideration, and they have no compunction about starting the engine to drive the bow around. There is no law that says you then have to fly the “I started my engine” flag.
• The fuller keels provide protection for the rudder from debris, nets, and other material that seems to abound in the so-called open ocean.
I do have to say that the fin keels provide one advantage that leaves me green with envy: They can be accurately steered in reverse.
Dolphin Spirit, Mason 54
One other consideration with any keel design is balance. Boats like the Mason 54 with so much lateral plane aft can be stiff to steer, require more rudder angle to go windward, and have a tendency to broach early. The low position of the rudder can also make it vulnerable in a grounding. That said, the boat is a good example of a rugged cruising boat.