Established in Casco, Maine, in 1970, Sabre has built more than 2,000 boats, having survived a reorganization precipitated at least in part by high interest rates during the early 1990’s.
Roger Hewson, a transplanted Canadian engineer who raced International 14s, formed the company when he opened a small shop and began building the Sabre 28 pocket cruiser of his own design. He introduced the company’s first boat at the Newport Boat Show in 1971.
Building on that foundation, Hewson designed and produced Sabre sailboats and SabreLine power boats, ranging in size from 28′-42′. A traditional thinker with a penchant for speed, he favored boats that were pleasing to the eye, finely finished, livable, required little maintenance, and maintained high resale values.
Faced with excessive debt and high interest rates, the company was reorganized in 1994 with new ownership, led by a group of experienced business executives who have a keener eye for the intricacies of the financial marketplace than most builders. It has prospered under their direction.
“We have one of the strongest balance sheets in the business, a small mortgage on the buildings, and no other debt,” company spokesman Bentley Collins told us. It now operates in two manufacturing facilities; sailboats are produced in a 65,000- square-foot facility by 120 employees. Gross sales for 1998 are estimated at $17 million.
Collins said one of the company’s strengths is the fact that most employees have been cross-trained to work in all phases of production. More than one-third have been with the company for more than 10 years, many for more than two decades.
The building process is divided into six segments, during which each boat receives a 600-point inspection. The final inspection is by a member of top management.
With Hewson’s departure, responsibility for the design of new boats was given to Jim Taylor, a designer in Marblehead with more than 30 years’ experience. His credentials range from the design of daysailers to the Admiral’s Cup boat, Numbers, and membership in the design team that created the 1992 America’s Cup winner.
Taylor is responsible for designing the hulls, underwater appendages and rig plans, while the Sabre Design Team develops the interior accommodations and deck layouts.
The company’s design philosophy is to build contemporary, comfortable cruisers with a turn of speed. Collins estimates that most owners have more than 15 years’ experience, and that 15% race their boats.
To keep in tune with owner sentiment, Sabre surveys its customers and responds to input in several ways. While existing models are in production, upgrades and modifications are made. For example, 47 changes have been made to the 362 since the first boat was launched. A keel/centerboard is now an option, and newer 362’s have $79 light fixtures instead of the original $12 cheapies. Also, design changes are made when molds begin to deteriorate.
“We know that after about 100 boats are produced from a mold we will be faced with retooling costs,” Collins said. “When we reach that point we consider a new design that reflects the current conditions in the marketplace.”
Such was the case with the 362, which followed in the footsteps of the Sabre 36. The 36 (hulls #1-#106 ) was produced from 1985 to 1990; the 362 was introduced in 1993 with hull #107. Though changes were subtle, the 362 is a faster boat with more space belowdecks, and has reconfigured accommodations. Hence, a swim platform is an option.
“The most significant difference between the design of the 36 and 362 is that the 36 was influenced by the IOR rule and the 362 by the company’s desire to produce cruisers with modern hull shapes,” Taylor said. To that end, he designed a boat that is suitable for racing under newer, circa-1992 IMS rules.
“The 362 has a fuller stern, which creates more volume in the interior, and shorter overhangs,” he said. “But the biggest difference is in the righting moment, which is 23% more than the Sabre 36,” a function of additional beam and lower center of gravity. The redesigned keel is 12% deeper and produces greater lift, which translates to better pointing ability.
Additionally, the rudder is larger and deeper, and has an elliptical shape. The redesigned skeg is smaller and shallower.
The 362, only 2″ longer on the deck, is more than 1′ longer on the waterline, which translates to increased speed. The bow is more plumb, and has a finer entry. Beam was also increased 1′. Displacement was increased 600 lbs. The displacement/length (D/L) ratio is 219.
Among Taylor design targets was a sailplan to “allow a full mainsail and 150% genoa to be comfortably carried up to 14 knots of wind.” Sail area was increased from 612 to 634 sq. ft. in the masthead rig. The mast has been moved forward and the J dimension reduced by more than a foot, which results in smaller headsails.
The boom is more than 1′ longer, making for a larger mainsail, but most owners manage it by opting for full-batten mainsails and some type of lazy jack system. The sail area/displacement (SA/D) ratio is 17.3.
The boat’s limit of positive stability is about 118°, close to the 120° number we consider a minimum.
The Hall Spar mast is a straight aluminum section supported by double swept airfoil-shaped spreaders. A tapered mast is a $900 option that reduces weight aloft only negligibly, Taylor said. In his opinion, a boom vang and backstay adjuster would have a greater affect on performance.
Standard equipment includes internal main and genoa halyards, three halyard sheaves and a spinnaker crane. The upper shrouds are 9/32″ wire, intermediates are 1/4″, and lowers are 5/16″.
Taylor’s performance prediction program (“polars”) indicate that the boat’s best upwind performance will be in 10-plus knots of breeze, sailing at 44° to true wind at 6-plus knots. Best downwind speeds are attained in 16 knots of wind at 173° of true wind angle.
In competition, the 362 has finished first in class in the Annapolis-Bermuda, and Daytona-Bermuda races. The PHRF handicap in most areas is 108.
Because a lightweight speed demon was not a criterion for the 362, more attention is given to producing a strong hull and deck structure than to counting ounces of resin and fiberglass.
The hull and deck are cored, laid up by hand using a different schedule than most manufacturers: The bottom is balsa-cored to the waterline, except on the centerline, where it is reinforced with eight layers of overlapping bi-axial and unidirectional reinforcing cloth to provide impact resistance and reinforcement for the keel and skeg. The engine bed is constructed of plywood stringers with threaded steel caps encased in fiberglass into which engine bolts are threaded.
The hull is further stiffened by installation of furniture components and cabinetry, all of which are tabbed to the hull. We think this method produces a stronger, quieter and more accessible structure than installation of pre-molded pans.
Topsides are solid fiberglass, the major difference between Sabre and other maufacturers who want stiffness in the large unsupported panels of the topsides, and don’t want the risk of wet balsa below the waterline. Sabre’s reasoning is that balsa stiffens the high load panels of the underwater hull, but because it sells mostly dark-colored hulls, it’s use in the topsides too often causes print through.
In the deck, marine mahogany plywood replaces the balsa in high load areas and where deck fittings and hardware are to be installed.
Vinylester resin under the ISO NPG gelcoat provides a superior moisture barrier; Sabre calls its protection system Duralam™. The company warrants that “all fiberglass hulls will be free from structural defects under normal use” for 10 years, and “the gelcoat below the waterline of all fiberglass hulls manufactured by it against premature weathering or deterioration” for five years.
The hull-deck joint is the same internal flange used on Hewson’s first boats. The deck is bonded to the flange with 3M 5200, and fastened with stainless steel bolts on 6″ centers.
The mast is stepped on the keel, and shrouds are attached to stainless steel deck chainplate fittings bedded in solid fiberglass and through-bolted to backing plates with 3/8″ bolts. Belowdecks, Navtec rod is attached to the lower section of the deckplate; its lower end is bolted to a 4″ wide stainless steel chainplate secured to the hull using 1/2″ bolts.
The company discovered a design flaw in the rudder when one failed during an ocean race. It then recalled the first 86 produced.
“The original rudder called for two pieces of schedule 80 stainless pipe to be welded one inside the other. The breakage occurred at the weld,” Collins said. The company’s response was to reconstruct the rudder using carbon fiber and to retrofit boats at no cost to the owner. Because of the system used to number Sabre boats, hulls with retrofitted rudders bear numbers 107-191.
One owner described the company’s action as “absolutely amazing. I didn’t know there was a problem until they wrote me. Sabre handled the problem with the local yard and it didn’t cost me a dime or five minutes of my time.”
One 362 owner whose profession is the installation of heating and wiring systems in boats was critical of the difficulties encountered in the installation of an engine-driven refrigeration system, forced air heating, and autopilot.
“It takes a small, nimble person to work in the confines of the aft section to install an autopilot,” he said, “and it is difficult to find spaces to run copper tubing for refrigeration or air ducts for a heater.”
Standard deck hardware is supplied by Lewmar, Schaefer and Harken.
The newest boats have two more Lewmar Ocean Series deck hatches than early models. The first models had hatches over the saloon and forward berth; newer models add hatches over the head and galley. Additional lighting comes from four fixed Lexan portlights in the main cabin and opening ports in the main, aft and forward cabins and head.
Typical of modern boats, halyards are all led aft from the mast. The main halyard is led through a turning block to a Lewmar #30 self-tailing winch. The first boats had smaller winches, but Lewmar 30’s became standard equipment with the 1994 model year. The genoa halyard was led to a winch on the mast until 1997, when it was re-led to a Lewmar #30 self-tailer that doubles as the winch for the mainsheet when the halyard is stoppered off.
The mainsheet arrangement is a five-part system anchored by a Harken traveler mounted on the cabin top and Schaefer stainless steel blocks. The traveler is at the forward edge of the companionway, which makes it difficult to reach from the helm (a consideration when short-handed). This also makes the fitting of a dodger somewhat tricky. Primary winches are Lewmar 48 self-tailers located within reach of the helmsman. Boats are also equipped with a two-line jiffy reefing system led to the same winch as the main halyard.
The 40″ destroyer wheel takes up little space, and can be helmed from a seat directly aft or from either corner in the cockpit.
“I’m only five feet tall but can steer from the side of the cockpit easily,” one female owner said.
The cockpit is 7′ 5″ long and provides adequate space for six crew, plus two deep storage lockers.
Stanchions are double braced at the gates, and bow and stern rails are through-bolted and backed with aluminum plates. There is a good handrail around three sides of the companionway hatch
During our test sail, we confirmed that turning blocks and winches are positioned in locations that allow for easy sheeting by trimmers without interfering with the comfort of guests.
Spaces belowdecks have been completely rearranged and are more spacious and comfortable than on the earlier 36, a reflection of the additional interior volume. Headroom in the saloon is 6′ 4″.
The interior is accented by varnished cherry wood, a teak and holly sole and 4-1/2″ thick foam cushions upholstered with removable covers.
Sleeping arrangements provide privacy for four persons in two compartments. The forward cabin has a 78″ x 73″ V-berth, vanity sink, mirror and storage lockers. The aft stateroom has a 77″ x 60″ double berth.
The starboard settee converts to a double berth measuring 78″ x 55″, the single to port is 76″ x 26″, so it is possible to sleep seven adults.
The dining table, mounted on the forward bulkhead, provides seating for five. Storage is behind and below the settees and in cabinets.
The galley is L-shaped below the companionway and features a double stainless steel sink, two-burner propane stove, ice box, dry locker and hot and cold pressure water. Additional stowage is outboard in cabinets.
One couple that cruises the boat for two weeks a year said, “Our biggest complaint is the size of the ice box. It’s smallish, so we are forced to stop frequently for ice.”
If there’s an apparent compromise in favor of comfort versus utility, it’s between the large head and small nav station. The head is divided into two compartments, one 36″ wide for the sink and Raritan PH II toilet, the other 30″ wide for the shower. Hence, the nav station seat is the end of a settee, located just forward of the head, and faces aft without a backrest. There’s adequate room for a typical array of instruments (VHF, GPS, AM/FM stereo, radar, repeaters), shelving for books, two drawers and room for charts under the hinged lid.
We sailed in relatively flat waters in wind speeds ranging from 9-14 knots true and found her to be stiff, seakindly, and quick to maneuver through a tack. Boat speed reached 5.8 knots sailing into 12-inch wind waves at 35° to apparent wind, and increased to 6- plus knots when we footed off 5°. She was comfortable heeling at 15°. Performance suffered somewhat from the high-clewed roller furling genoa on our test boat.
When wind speed reached 14 knots we sailed to weather for several miles at 6.5-7 knots. Wind speed instruments registered a sailing angle of 47° to the true wind, and the hull moved effortlessly through the small chop.
We like the position of the wheel, which allowed us to keep an eye on the telltales from leeward, and to sit high and dry on the weather rail. Though there’s a steering seat directly aft of the wheel, it will be most often used when motoring.
Taylor’s performance predictions estimate boat speed at 7.3 knots sailing downwind at 173° to the true wind, which we figure she’d easily top with a spinnaker.
A vang, adjustable backstay and spinnaker gear are easy add-ons that will enhance performance.
An owner who sails in San Francisco’s blustery conditions said, “In 25 knots of wind we put a single reef in the main and she sails great. She’s stiff and dry and has no weather helm.” He sails downwind in those conditions at 9 knots under a high-clewed 120% genoa.
“She also does not hobbyhorse when we are sailing to weather on the ocean,” he added.
Taylor’s experience as a designer of high performance yachts has been translated to a fast boat with a manageable sail plan. Accommodations are in keeping with the company’s reputation for building proper yachts with all-wood interiors.
The base price for the Sabre 362 is $169,900, fob Casco, Maine, an increase of $35,000 since it was first introduced. Much of the increase reflects upgrades in standard equipment. This makes it slightly more expensive than the $159,900 Alerion Express 38 reviewed last month, considerably more expensive than a Beneteau of the same length, and less expensive than a quality European boat. However you peg it, the combination of performance and quality construction should deliver high resale value, which must be considered in any equation measuring the cost of ownership.
Contact- Sabre Corporation, Hawthorne Rd., Box 134, South Casco, ME 04077; 207/655-3831.