Sequestered in a warren of buildings in the heart of Rhode Island’s boatbuilding capital — Bristol — Shannon Yachts is a semi-custom boatbuilder that has established a reputation over the past 30 years for solidly constructed, traditional cruising vessels. To date, the company has built over 250 sailboats (and 100 powerboats) from 28 to 51 feet.
Founded in 1975 by Walter Schulz, Shannon Yachts has since maintained a firm grip on this niche of the market. Schulz’s formal training in fine arts — he earned a master’s degree from Parson’s School of Design — is not what he credits for the company’s refined products, but instead the 15 or so years he spent working in New England boatyards repairing boats. His hands-on involvement as the principal designer and an active presence on the building floor is and always has been a Shannon hallmark.
In 2004, the company gained new investors as a means of diversifying the business and branching out into new realms, which now include brokerage. Bruce Brown, a seasoned cruising sailor, boatbuilder, and large yacht project manager, came on-board as the CEO, effectively freeing Schulz up to concentrate his energies on design and execution. It was shortly after that juncture that the company unveiled the Shoalsailer 35, which it markets as the ultimate coastal cruiser.
This model, which is an evolution of the Shoalsailer 32 introduced in 2001, represents a distinct departure for Shannon Yachts. In essence, the design melds both power and sailboat elements, yet the 35 is decidedly not a motorsailer. And most notably — drawing just 30 inches — it’s not deemed an offshore cruiser.
The 32-foot version came to life after years of research and prototyping by Schulz, and was spurred in part by the request of a client who wanted to sail the shallow waters of New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay, yet have the speed under power to return home quickly. Of course the customary response to those parameters is “you’re talking about a multihull.” But on-the-water research led Schulz to dismiss that approach, principally due to the inevitable requirement of daggerboards for upwind sailing. “To get a cat — and most trimarans — to sail satisfactorily into the wind you have to drop daggerboards down about six feet, and then you wipe out the shoal draft advantage,” explained Schulz. So, he devised a different scheme based principally on hull shape.
The Shoalsailer 35 comes standard with a 40-hp engine, but Shannon offers the option of what it calls the High Speed Package with a 125-hp engine and a hydraulically operated trim tab just beneath the swim platform. The company advertises that this combination makes the boat capable of 11 knots under power.
PS spent five days aboard Hull No. 2, which is equipped with Shannon’s High Speed Package as well as a bow thruster.
In profile, the Shoalsailer 35 resembles many mid-size cruising auxiliaries, except for its rig, which is situated well forward and has two headstays, what Schulz and company began calling the “scutter” rig back in 1997. The J measurement on this boat is 10 feet, which means that almost 70 percent of the boat is aft of the mast partners. Schulz explained that this is a simple solution for the most manageable sail plan: “The easiest sail to handle on a boat is the mainsail.” He also wanted as much drive as possible with the mainsail, hence the large roach.
The scutter rig — derived from Schulz’s amalgamation of the words “sloop” and “cutter” — uses a 125-percent, roller-furled inner headsail tacked on the bow for light and moderate winds. When the breeze gets above 20 knots, that sail is furled and the 150-square-foot, high-clewed jib, which is tacked to a furling unit on the bowsprit, comes into play.
This rig, says Schulz, offers more flexibility than a standard genoa. “No matter what you do with sail design, furling a genoa more than 30 percent makes it into a bed sheet, not a jib,” he asserts. “The sail you need the most when you’re clawing off a lee shore is a jib.” For the lightest wind conditions, he says, you simply turn on the engine. “I’ve been cruising on sailboats for more than 40 years, and a third of that time has been spent under power. Everybody has a schedule to meet.”
To fulfill his self-imposed shallow-draft mandate, Schulz designed a keel that extends just 30 inches below the waterline. Unlike almost every other monohull, it’s not the keel or the twin rudders on this vessel that produce the lift under sail, but the shape of the hull itself, which Shannon has patented. According to Schulz, it’s primarily the twist in the hull, and how that directs the laminar flow of water over it that develops lift.
The Shoalsailer has a very fine entry at the bow, and full sections in the stern, which might equate to too much weather helm when heeled, but the cutback in her forefoot alleviates this problem. The other aspect that Schulz likes to point out about the hull is the stability it offers due primarily to its exceptional beam. “The hull shape is where the initial and ultimate stability come from,” says Schulz, “and the beam has a lot to do with it.” He likens the boat’s heeling tendency to that of a cruising multihull.
Like some cruising multihulls — and a few monohulls — the Shoalsailers are built to withstand groundings. In fact a principal benefit of this design is that it’s intended to be beached. PS put this aspect to the test numerous times.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of the Shoalsailer 35 is the breadth of its cockpit. Max beam on this craft (12’9”) is situated well aft, 60 percent of the way back from the waterline entry at the bow. That girth extends another 25 percent of the way aft and then tapers only slightly near the transom. The effect of this is a voluminous cockpit, one we’d expect to see aboard a sailboat at least 10 feet longer.
The Shoalsailer’s deck layout is primarily clean and functional. A stainless steel bowsprit (the aft portion is filled with a welded stainless plate, the forward section with a panel of Starboard) serves to support a single bow roller as well as the stainless pulpit. We’d prefer two bow rollers, which would be an easy option because these are semi-custom boats. Extending down from the bowsprit to the stem is a stainless rod bobstay, which transfers the load of the forward-most stay. The deck is framed by an anodized aluminum toerail running from stem to stern on either side.
Just in front of the cabin trunk on the foredeck is a low-profile, midsize Scanvik hatch — one of five on the boat — which offers good ventilation and access to the forward cabin. Forward of this, there’s sufficient deck space for one person to comfortably handle the ground tackle using the Maxwell windlass mounted on the bowsprit’s stainless plate. Deploying a second anchor would be somewhat less convenient because there’s no on-deck access to the chain locker (it can be reached via an opening in the bulkhead at the forward end of the V-berth down below). We also noted that the anchor rode does not have a fair lead from either of the twin cleats on deck forward to the bow roller.
The diamond-patterned non-skid molded into the deck offers good, secure footing. But on the sloped cabin house leading to the foredeck, where you’re most apt to need nonskid, there is none. This can be resolved by installing textured strips or some other form of traction to ensure good footing.
Moving aft, sections of aluminum track fitted with leads for the inner headsail are mounted well inboard, at the base of the cabin house on either side. This not only makes for relatively tight sheeting angles on the genoa, but also leaves the side decks uncluttered.
On either side of the cabin house, a stainless steel grab rail runs fore and aft nearly the full length of the house. And just aft of the mast partners, on either side of the house, is another pair of Scanvik hatches that open to the main saloon. Between them, running all the way aft to the companionway, is a seahood that houses the run of halyards, reefing lines, and other sail controls, which are led aft to a pair of Lewmar two-speed, self-tailing winches.
The Shoalsailer’s cockpit is protected by high, broad coamings that flare out from the aft end of the cabin trunk. Atop each, within easy reach of the helm, a Lewmar 40 two-speed, self-tailing winch is mounted. This hardware is secured only with washers and nuts, not backing plates, but Schulz affirmed that the coaming top is cored with ¾-inch marine plywood expressly for this purpose. (The winches on the cabin top are fastened through a solid glass laminate.)
Shielding the aft end of the cockpit overhead is a fixed, fiberglass panel supported by a stout anodized aluminum frame (optional) that also serves as the aft pulpit. At the forward end of this is a collapsible vinyl bimini that covers the rest of the cockpit. Plexiglass viewports above each steering station let the helmsman check mainsail trim.
Beneath this wide cockpit, there’s room for a very large locker (accessed via a hatch in the portside seat) that contains the boat’s many support systems (generator, inverter, steering quadrants, autopilot, holding tank and macerator, refrigerator-freezer, and air conditioning), and the aft cabin’s double berth to starboard.
Apart from its unusual breadth, the cockpit’s most notable feature is its twin steering stations. Each is fitted with a 30-inch Edson wheel, dual Morse controls for the engine, an analog steering compass, autopilot controls, and controls for the bow thruster. There’s enough room behind each helm that you don’t feel at all crowded.
Standing at the wheel on either side, you can easily lean forward and reach the primary winch or either of the two cleats mounted there to secure the headsail sheets. If you’re at the weather side helm and you need to move to leeward to tend the headsail sheet, it’s just a few steps away. However, the mainsheet winch and controls for the Schaefer mid-boom traveler are situated forward on the cabin top, far out of reach from the helm. The controls for raising and lowering the rudders are located on the transom, just aft of the helmsperson’s stations. We found it difficult to get the rudders to drop consistently when we released the lines from the horn cleats. The problem persisted even after we cleaned the lower section of the rudders of all marine growth.
All instrument readouts are mounted on a pivoting display panel that’s situated just aft of the centerline cockpit table, between the steering stations. We found that the panel would be more functional if it were extended another 20 inches higher so that the user didn’t have to look so far down and thereby be distracted from his or her course. Also, the remote VHF mic installation restricted the panel’s rotation, but that could be readily corrected.
The cockpit has a broad, centerline opening just aft of the steering stations where one step down takes you to the wide swim platform. In the center of the platform is a flush hatch that opens to the interior space beneath the cockpit where the majority of the boat’s support systems are housed. We’d rather this were a separate compartment with its own drainage. To get to the stern ladder, you have to duck under the port section of the boat’s split backstays. If the stays were given a wider base, the rig geometry wouldn’t be affected but access to the ladder would be improved.
The Shoalsailer’s two-spreader mast, which is stepped on the keel, is stayed by four shrouds on either side of the mast, the two headstays, and the aforementioned split backstay. This might seem like overkill, but this boat is built to go aground and keeping the rig in place in those situations requires an additional degree of safety. The only issue we see here that one set of lower shrouds terminates well forward of the mast on the cabin trunk, meaning that the clew and lower leech area of the inner headsail will brush past these stays on every tack and most jibes when the sail is fully unfurled.
The Shoalsailer 35 comes standard with a two-cabin layout, but calling the area that houses the quarterberth to starboard a “cabin” is a stretch. (The double berth here is just long enough to accommodate two people who are no taller than 6 feet, and personal stowage is limited to a large compartment outboard of the berth, one small hanging locker, and one drawer.) Despite a small overhead hatch and a portlight that opens to the cockpit footwell, ventilation here is less than ideal, which is why a small fan has been mounted on the aft bulkhead. Also, the hinged teak panel that sections off this area is more of a privacy screen than an actual door. Elsewhere down below, this boat is much more accommodating, particularly the personal stowage capacity in the V-berth cabin.
The interior layout is quite traditional, as is the styling. The saloon is arranged around a large teak table fixed on centerline, which has drop leaves ample enough to seat six people in relative comfort. To port and starboard are full-length settees that can be used as berths if required. Outboard of these are storage compartments and shelves.
The saloon is well lit and well ventilated. There are two deck hatches located over the settees and four ports on either side of the cabin trunk (two opening and two fixed), as well as two small fans mounted on the main bulkhead.
There is no nav station on the Shoalsailer 35, a reflection of the designer’s preference for what he calls “laptop navigating.” “The reasons for going below to look at a chart or radar have all gone the way of the carrier pigeon,” says Schulz. However, he says he still carries paper charts when voyaging, and these would be spread out on the broad teak countertop to port in which the door to the large refrigerator and freezer compartments is recessed. Just outboard of that is the boat’s nerve center, where the electrical panel is mounted. There’s room here for instrument repeaters, a VHF, stereo, and nav light, as well as other accessories.
Opposite that area, to starboard, is the small, L-shaped galley, which features a single stainless steel sink, a double-burner propane stove, a microwave oven, and sufficient cabinet space to stow food and cooking implements for a weeklong cruise. The counterspace is limited, but what truly demands creativity on the part of the cook is the location of the microwave. On the boat we tested, it was mounted outboard of the propane stove. To open the door on the former, you must first remove pots from the latter and turn down the flame. Again, this is a semi-custom boat and microwave location is something that could be changed.
The boat’s head, to port of the companionway steps, uses space well. The shower and toilet share the same compartment, segmented from the sink area by a curtain and a clear plastic panel. The interior surfaces other than the plastic panel, the sink, and the cabinet faces, are made of easy-to-clean gelcoated fiberglass. And all the mechanicals (macerator pump and holding tank) are situated aft beneath the cockpit.
Access to the forward section of the engine is managed by removing the structure around the companionway steps. There is also a small hatch in the shower stall for accessing the port side. To inspect the dripless shaft coupling, you must remove the cushions in the aft berth as well as a plywood panel, but space here is limited and working with large wrenches would be cumbersome. The boat’s other systems — batteries, water valves, bilge pump, etc. — are more easily accessed.
The Shoalsailer is an easy boat to operate, whether under power or sail. Because it draws only 30 inches and has a fair amount of freeboard, the bow is susceptible to being blown around when maneuvering at low speeds under power. Because of this, a bow thruster is now standard equipment, and we quickly grew to appreciate its use, despite the noise it produces.
Under sail, the boat heels very little, at least in the moderate breezes we experienced. The steering system was somewhat stiff, but the twin rudders still offered sufficient feedback for us to feel like we were getting the boat in a groove when sailing upwind in 10 knots or more. In lighter breezes, it was difficult to really get a feel for the helm. (The rudders are simple stainless-steel plates with little variation in chord thickness, except for the upper sections into which the lower portions retract.)
We were only briefly able to make the 35 we tested tack through 110 degrees true wind — Shannon says the 35 can sail 35 degrees relative to apparent wind — and we could not hit the projected boat speed of 11 knots under power.
Underwater photos taken during our test seemed to indicate that the starboard rudder was out of alignment, which could have adversely affected performance. Shannon wasn’t sure what might have caused the misalignment — we certainly didn’t hit anything — but suspected that a grounding shortly prior to or during the boat’s delivery to the Bahamas might have caused this. We intend to give the Shoalsailer another sea trial.
On one occasion, sailing in essentially flat water and an average wind of 9 knots, we managed a top speed of 5.8 knots over the ground, but couldn’t get the boat to tack through less than 140 degrees. (We confirmed this with the track on our GPS chartplotter.) A few days later, in 11 knots of wind, with the breeze occasionally surging to 14, we sustained almost 6 knots of boat speed and managed to tack through 110 degrees in very flat water.
We learned quickly that this boat needs at least 4 knots of speed to be tacked. It didn’t take much to develop a technique of bearing off slightly and easing the sheets somewhat before tacking to ensure that the boat was moving through the water fast enough to tack well. We had been forewarned that initially oversteering through tacks is commonplace due to the lack of a deep keel, so putting the boat over does take some getting used to. But the 35 accelerates out of a tack better than we had expected, particularly if you ease and trim the sails accordingly.
We also tested the boat under power. First, we raised each of the rudders. Then, with a 6-inch chop, we revved the 125-hp engine up to 3,500 rpm, but couldn’t achieve the 11 knots of boat speed that the company advertises. Instead, our top end was 9.1 knots (verified by the speedo and the GPS) despite trying various settings with the trim tab. At 3,000 rpm, we managed a comfortable 8 knots, and at a more seemly 2,600 rpm, the speed settled in at 7.8 knots. The boat turns easily and responds readily to the helm under power. From a standing position, the 35 gets underway quite quickly when the big four-blade Autoprop is engaged, but as expected, the engine is fairly loud at the higher rpm ranges.
Shannon’s scutter rig takes some getting used to. We initially tried sailing under both headsails with the main, but performance was always better with just one headsail flying. Which jib worked best depended on the wind conditions and point of sail. Both headsails did furl and unfurl easily and reliably on their Furlex systems. And the Doyle Stack Pak system for the mainsail made raising and lowering this sail very simple and convenient. The fixed windows in the rigid bimini offer a limited view of the main from either helm: You can only see the lower telltales on the headsail if you fold back the forward portion of the bimini.
What really takes getting used to is running this boat up on a beach on purpose, which we did numerous times. It would be a welcome aspect of cruising in many locations to know that you could do this, and then hop into three feet of water off the transom to walk forward and check the anchor out.
The Shannon Shoalsailer 35 handles well under power, and is easily sailed by a shorthanded crew. In the sub-genre of beachable cruising sailboats, this boat is unique. The vessel’s interior isn’t compromised by keel-raising or housing mechanisms, and the generous cockpit is a true anomaly among monohulls this length. Additionally, this is the one single-hulled sailboat that we’re aware of that could safely venture across a large span of shoal water like the Grand Bahamas Banks, or certain reaches of the Chesapeake Bay under sail.
This boat truly redefines the term shoal draft, and it’s capable of a number of things that other shoal-draft boats aren’t. But this versatility comes at an exceedingly high base price — $368,000 — even for a semi-custom sailboat.
While we certainly applaud the designer’s efforts to wrest superior performance from a hull without the use of a conventional appendages, we were not able to verify the company’s claims regarding windward sailing ability, nor speed under power. But we came close enough to certify that this potential exists, and we will hold a second sea trial in the near future.
For sailors not deterred by price and who require a shallow draft vessel with reasonable creature comforts, superior speed under power, and acceptable sailing performance, this boat tops the list of candidates.
Contact- Shannon Yachts, 401/253-2441, www.shannonyachts.com.