Leon Slikkers is a boatbuilding legend. Chris Scott, who has worked with him for over three decades, knows the story well:
“Leon grew up on a farm in Michigan. I doubt he ever saw the ocean. What stood out then, as it does now, was his craftsmanship and ingenuity. For instance, he made his own tractor from used car parts. After the war he left the farm and went to work for Chris Craft [in Holland, Michigan]. He had a good job running the shop that made hard tops, but , even with a mortage and a young family to feed, he decided to go out on his own. ‘I can build a better boat.’
“He began in his garage, building 15- and 17-foot runabouts. From there he grew Slickcraft until AMF came and bought it in the early ’70s. The sale included a non-competition agreement for five years.
“Slikkers couldn’t sit on his money, though, so in 1973 he started S2 to build sailboats. Building on the niche that he’d established in powerboats, his original aim was a series of ‘well-detailed, nicely built, high-quality trailerables.'”
Along with the differences between sail and power, Slikkers ran into the problems of pushing premium products in a price-competitive arena. “And those early boats weren’t wonderful,” Scott says. “The joke was that S2 stood for “slowly sideways. They weren’t very salty looking, either.”
Slikkers, however, was a quick study. By the late ’70s the company had developed a full series of cruising auxiliaries. The new boats continued the Slikkers attention to detail and solid craftsmanship. Sailing performance and styling were improved, and the second wave of S2 sailboats helped people forget the ugly ducklings.
The Slikkers story continued. The “third wave” was a successful foray into high-performance boats, with the Graham & Schlagater-designed Grand Slam series—7.9 meter, 9.3, and 10.1. (The 7.9 was twice MORC National champion.) Then, in the early ’80s, Slikkers read the shrinking sailboat market and returned to building powerboats—this time the Tiara series. He retooled twice for limited orders from established sailboat classes (a fleet of 7.9s was wiped out in a hurricane, for instance) but abandoned sailboats for good in 1986.
Tiara (along with its companion line, Pursuit) still thrives. From Holland the company has grown to encompass plants in Florida and North Carolina. Leon’s sons, David and Bob, are at the helm, but Leon continues to maintain an office in the Holland plant and is “more active than you can imagine,” says Scott. Along the way he managed to acquire the assets of his original Slickcraft company at a fraction of the price that he was originally paid for it.
Introduced in 1977, the S2 11.0 reflects the maverick disposition of her makers, the quest for a better mousetrap, and the market savvy of a successful entrepreneur. She was built in both aft and center cockpit versions (roughly 160 of each type were sold). She has weathered the intervening quarter century well. The owners we queried were universally upbeat about her durability and sailing ease.
Often credited to the “S2 Design Team,” the 11.0 was actually designed by Arthur Edmunds. A veteran of the sailboat projects initiated by Chris Craft in the late ’60s (Commanche, Apache, et al), Edmunds was called upon by Slikkers to draft the lines for his cruisers. Largest of the bunch, the 11-meter was to combine modern sailing performance, an attractive layout, contemporary styling, and meticulous construction. Says Scott, “Leon left Arthur’s lines alone below the water, but the ‘team’ concept came from the fact that he had tremendous influence on everything else.”
Perhaps the best way to describe the 11.0’s sailing characteristics is “straight down the middle.” In an era when IOR bulges and bumps were visible even on cruising boats, Edmunds opted instead, in almost all cases, for “the mean.” Her 11′ 11″ beam is substantial, but it’s regular and fairs nicely into waterlines that give her a symmetrical “footprint” or waterplane, meaning that as she heels, her shape in the water is only minimally distorted. This is one of the sources of her light, mannerly helm.
She has the sailplan proportions of her day—masthead rig, small main, overlarge foretriangle. Modern cruisers have come to appreciate larger, controllable mainsails and smaller, more easily handled headsails, but that’s not a combination you’ll easily find in boats of her vintage.
It’s hard to recall that there was a day when all sailing controls weren’t led to the cockpit, but the 11-meter was a pioneer in that regard.
The boat has a longish fin keel that strikes a balance between the deeper, thinner foils of today and the full-length keels they’ve evolved from. In order to encapsulate the considerable (6,000-pound) ballast, however, Edmunds was forced to make the keel very thick in section. In addition to adding to parasitic drag the thick keel produces less lift than might a modern NACA-inspired or suitably engineered foil. This all tends to decree middle-of-the-pack performance, especially upwind.
Her rudder is lower in aspect ratio than those that have followed, and it is supported by a vestigal skeg. Both of these factors reduce turning efficiency, but cruisers get some compensating confidence from the protection afforded by the skeg.
Contemporary cruising boats tend to have longer waterlines and stems that are more nearly plumb than the 11-meter. There’s good reason that boats have evolved toward longer waterlines, narrower entries, and flatter waterplanes—they go faster. But yesterday’s cruisers, even yesterday’s “modern” boats like the S2, offer some compensations. Certainly the foredeck on the 11.0 is kept relatively dry by her marked overhang forward. Certainly her look is more balanced and graceful due to her overhangs fore and aft. Her reverse transom works nicely with the rising line of her overhanging counter to form one of the aesthetic achievements of the boat.
In profile we can’t help but wince a bit at her oversized windows. While they certainly make the interior brighter and more habitable, they involve three jumbo-sized cutouts in the cabin trunk—big enough to pose a risk, in our view, in breaking seas. The rest of her styling elements—the marriage between a relatively straight sheerline and a slightly forward-leaning housetop, the stem and stern angles—all work together well.
When Slikkers introduced the 11- meter, the most popular auxiliary in the world over 30 feet was Morgan’s Out Island 41, which at that time was closing in on 500 sold. Morgan attempted to capitalize on this acceptance with a smaller boat, a 36-footer built around the same open feel, the same center cockpit convenience and aft cabin privacy that made the 41 so popular. Despite being built on the hull of a racing design and being able to sail circles around its larger Out Island cousin, the Out Island 36 didn’t come close to matching the 41’s popularity. Neither did the Out Island 33.
Is a 36-footer too small to be a good aft-cabin cruiser? Not if you’re willing to separate appearance from effectiveness. The center cockpit version of the 11.0 has a very workable layout. Passage fore and aft can be accomplished either through a passageway (with galley ranged outboard) to port or a double-doored head (to starboard). The galley is close to the companionway and in the pitching center of the boat—good for ventilation, communication, and comfort. The saloon is pinched a bit by being shoved forward, but it works. We think it would work even better if the space devoted to a navigator’s electronic center had been minimized to achieve a bit more elbow room.)
Take a look at the two versions in profile, however, and you might have second thoughts. While the aft cockpit 11.0 has a comforting familiarity, the aesthetic adjustments called for to accommodate to the tall and bulging center cockpit boat are major. And, perched way atop the thing at the wheel, how protected, comfortable, and at ease will you feel? We sailed the aft cockpit model, so this is just speculation. Suffice it to say that, in return for the privacy of well-separated cabins and the convenience of sailing the boat from the middle, there are some prices to be paid.
The mid-sized sampling of owners who weighed in on the 11.0 made her durability and sound construction their central theme. Said one owner of a center cockpit boat, “On the trip from San Diego to Hawaii we had several days of 12- to 18-foot seas and winds up to 55 knots. The boat handled everything with no problems. We felt very safe.”
Most rate the boat’s strength, quality, and equipment as well above average. “A lot of that,” says Scott, “is the integral keel. Molding the whole boat instead of bolting the keel onto it makes it much stronger.”
The hull is solid fiberglass. The deck is cored with end-grain balsa in the way of the walkways. During the production run of the 11-meter, blisters popped their ugly heads onto the marine scene. Says Scott, “We did a lot of research right away. We had been using vinylster resin from the start. What we wound up doing was replacing the exterior layer of cloth with chopped matt to eliminate the problems caused, we felt, by the binder in the cloth. Up to that point we’d always thought the chopper gun was a quick and dirty tool that we’d never use. We were among the first in the industry to come up with a five-year anti-blister warranty in 1984.”
Just a single owner in our sample reported blistering. His, he said, “are widely spaced and have shown no change since 1983.”
S2’s hull-deck joint is simple, well-engineered, and has held up well: The hull molding has an inward-turning flange, onto which the deck molding is dropped. The joint is bedded in a flexible sealant, and through- bolted on six-inch centers by bolts passing vertically through the entire height of the slotted aluminum toerail. The joint is also through-bolted across the stem. Deck leaks seem not to be a problem.
The chainplates, however, have been a source of aggravation to several owners. One claims that they must be rebedded every season in order to keep them watertight.
Slikkers designed and made the hatches for the 11.0, rather than buying them from a vendor. From molding the surrounding lip into the deck tooling, to shaping the Lexan, to sizing and making the gasket, developing the sealant, and cutting the teak non-skid strips that guard it, the entire operation was done in-house. “Gelcoat was the premium available,” says Scott. “Our factory was one of the first to be climate-controlled. We pioneered the practice of building the boats in the molds so that they’d have maximum support.”
The 11-meter boats were sold with a variety of engines, including Universal, Volvo, and Yanmar. We saw no engine complaints, with the exception of one Volvo MD 17C (with saildrive) that had problems with overheating until a separate through-hull was installed for raw water intake.
S2s were priced above the market average, but lots of sailors were willing to pay for what they delivered. Praise is not unanimous, however. Though no one has reported structural problems, one sailor sees the wooden mast step and relative “lack of structural support for the keel-stepped mast” as a potential problem. The recessed grab rail atop the cabin house is also, we noticed, the sort of “finger breaker” design that is neither accessible nor hefty enough to be a useful handhold in a time of genuine need.
The 11.0 displaces 15,000 pounds. That means that she doesn’t get thrown around by the waves. It also means that it takes a lot to get her going. You can make the case that weight and momentum are advantages in a seaway, but our experience, and the evolution of modern cruising design, suggests that the less weight for a given sail power, the more efficient (and certainly the more sprightly) the sailboat. The trend over the quarter century since the 11.0 was designed has been toward lighter and lighter cruisers, and there are few sailors today who feel that adding pounds adds to sailing performance.
The 11.0’s sail area/displacement ratio of 17.2 is moderate, but it’s up against a displacement/length ratio of nearly 300. She has more wetted surface (by something approaching 25 percent) than a typical modern cruiser might. She is, in short, no speed demon. The lighter the breeze and the closer into it the course, the more she tends to suffer for the design trends of her era.
Due to her stability, predictable handling, and ease of maneuvering, though, she can be fun and forgiving to sail. She’s quite stiff, despite the fact that she derives relatively little form stability from her slack-bilged hull. Her T-shaped cockpit, an innovation in its day, limits the size of the wheel (36-inch) so that steering from the rail isn’t comfortable or efficient. The cockpit is not as deep nor the coamings as high as we would like to see on a boat that ventures offshore. The cockpit locker, on the other hand, is big enough to afford access to the port side of the engine, as well as space for generator, watermaker, and plenty of stowage. Furthermore, it’s compartmentalized intelligently.
From its oversized (6′ 5″ x 6′ 4″) forward berth to its generous (6′ 5″ x 3′ 9″) quarter berth aft, the S2’s interior is more than a little accommodating. Throw in places to sleep for three more and she truly fulfills the “boat with beds” ideal that was the controlling interior principle in the ’70s and ’80s. But she’s more than a bunkhouse. Her galley, wrapped around a “serve-through counter,” was ahead of its time in terms of function, elbow room, clever use of space, and integration with the rest of the interior.
Using the quarterberth as a seat for the nav table is an acceptable accommodation in a boat this small. A surprisingly large hanging locker, well-finished drawers, and a jumbo head with shower are among the other details that have make the boat livable.
Whether the center-cockpit version “succeeds” in your eyes depends upon the priority you put on sociability belowdecks. The necessary functions—cooking, sleeping, and head-going—receive more space and attention in the twin-cabin set-up. The saloon is nudged forward and made “cozier” in the process—not necessarily a bad thing.
Having separate cabins is a boon for couples that cruise together. If that’s what’s on your mind, the 11.0 offers a boat that’s sized and priced to make double-cabin sailing a reality. One owner, who is 6′ 5″, reports that “I not only have room to stand up and lie down, but in weeks at a time of cruising I’ve never gotten that ‘closed in’ feeling.”
Most owners rated the 11-meter’s original equipment as good to adequate. One said, however, “make sure that primary and halyard winches are big enough. My boat had Lewmars that were very undersized. I’ve moved to #43 (primary) and #42 (halyard) respectively.” Another wrote, “The original refrigeration wasn’t adequate for living aboard. We replaced it with Adler Barbour 20 years ago and it’s still going strong.”
Superior gelcoat quality is part of the S2 reputation. Most owners are pleased with the way theirs have held up over the years. While the boats were never built with an epoxy or any other form of barrier coat, the research that Slikkers and company did in the ’80s, and the use of vinylester resin, seems to have yielded hulls that have resisted blistering well.
The boats that Slikkers built, both aft and center cockpit, are cruisable in the extreme when it comes to accommodation and capability. The more you demand from them in terms of sailing sizzle, the more their slips show, but considering the high level of construction in the hull, deck, and cabinetry, the generally good standard equipment list, and the thoughtful design details throughout, it’s easy enough to see why these boats have held their value over the years. According to the BUC Used Boat Price Guide, a 1981 model S2 11.0 (in both center- and aft-cockpit versions) has a retail value range today between $48,000 and $52,000 (Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region).
There’s a good deal of information on S2 boats on the Web. In particular check the pages at www.angelfire.com/mi/loosecruise/S2/index.html.
Contact – Tiara Yachts, 725 E. 40th St., Holland MI, 49423; 616/392-7163; www.tiarayachts.com.
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