June 2014 Issue
Alberg’s Timeless Designs
We’d tucked into Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera, when the pretty green sloop sailed through the narrow slot into the basin. A ballsy kid, he didn’t even furl the jib.
I can’t recall his name. He was in his 20s—handy with tools and a brush. The boat’s coamings gleamed with nine layers of varnish. The boat, I remember well. It was the first time I got a really close look at an Alberg 30. She was, in many ways, the sort of sailboat an elementary school artist might render, if you asked him to draw a sailboat. Deceptively simple. Elegant and well-balanced.
I got the feeling that the designer, the late Carl Alberg, approached this boat the same way the child with a box of crayons would—not too concerned with what was going on inside—how many bunks, how big the galley was, or the amount of storage space. (The kid in the Alberg 30 found more than enough room for his worldly possessions.)
Born in 1900 in Sweden, Alberg grew up in the shadow of the shipyard cranes of Goteburg, Sweden. His first and foremost concern, like that of most Scandinavian designers, was seaworthiness. (The North Sea winters can have that effect.)
While Alberg was surely influenced by the ratings rules of his era, which encouraged yawls and long overhangs, he held a deep conviction that the heavily ballasted, narrow hull offer seakeeping advantages that wider hulls lack. Even Alberg’s later yachts built for Cape Dory, designed in the 1970s when beam-to-length ratios were still fairly modest, demonstrated an aversion to girth at the waterline.
In his exceptional book on the history of fiberglass boat building, “Heart of Glass,” former PS Editor Dan Spurr describes Cape Dory’s Andrew Vavolitis trying to squeeze more beam out of Alberg to meet the market demands for floating condos. “He might give me an inch or two, but that was it,” said Vavolotis. “After that, Carl would say, ‘If you want more beam, go find another designer. I don’t think that’s right.’ ”
To loudly proclaim that a wider beam is superior for its initial stability is to simplify yacht design. As any keelboat racer will tell you, a wide flotation plane can backfire when wave and wind conspire to force a capsize. And such statements say nothing about the effect of a wider beam on the way a boat handles.
In our February 2009 issue, we took a hard look at the effect of the modern hull-design trends and helm balance. The article focuses on wide-bodied, fin keel designs and their tendency to round up (even self-tack!) in a gust. While the long-keel Alberg 35 profiled in this issue has its own performance quirks, a tendency to self-tack is not one that its owners have to worry about.
The bottom line in any yacht design is a good sense of proportion. Alberg clearly had a keen eye for this, and the fact that his boats still draw sighs 50 years after their debut shows that his aesthetic sense has endured.
A few days later, the kid steered the green sloop out of Hatchett Bay the way he’d come in. “Headed south,” he’d said before leaving. I watched him go with envy. The boat cost him all of $10,000. A hell of deal. I imagine he’s still got it today. The kid struck me as the intelligent sort.