Water Craft Magazine Review: Storm 17

This review for the Storm 17 appeared in the May/June 2006 edition of Water Craft magazine published on Tuesday, 25 April 2006 and is reproduced here as it appeared on Swallow Boats’s original web site.

“A Dream To Sail”

Beautiful Boat, beautiful setting, beautiful weather… For once it all comes right for Alice Driscoll as she’s first over the line in this issue’s trio of articles about double enders.

With photographs by Peter Chesworth

I wasn’t too sure about a boat called Storm. It seemed ominous, especially with the weather we usually get when I am doing boat reviews. However, when I found out that Storm 17 was Swallow Boats’ new design, I knew that, whatever the weather, it would be good fun. I was looking forward to seeing Nick Newland again, whom I had first met when we sailed the Little Auk, nearly 9 years ago. So I was surprised when the email arranging the sail came from someone called Matt. With no mention of Nick, the efficient Matt got Chesie and myself organised to be at the Teifi estuary, near Cardigan, at 9.30 am prompt. Arriving the night before, we were taken aback by the beauty of the area. Swallow Boats is set right on the edge of the estuary, in a stone and grey slate-roofed farmhouse with large barns as its boat sheds. The sun was setting across a vast expanse of shoreline, with just a small trickle of water running down the estuary and out to the open sea, which was hidden round the corner. I could see now why we needed to be punctual.

Test day dawned with clear blue sky, sun and a surprisingly good wind. It turned out that Matt is Nick’s son, who has taken over much of the day to day work and is in charge of the new boat projects at Swallow Boats. The Storm 17 is his baby, and the new GRP version will be on show for the first time at the Beale Park show in June.

The Storm 17 has an interesting history, owing her existence in part to a TV comedy show and the Inland Revenue. After finishing college, Matt became a management consultant, based in London. Employed on government projects implementing changes within organisations such as the National Insurance system and the Inland Revenue, he realised that his working life was becoming as tedious as those in The Office, Ricky Gervais’ satirical show. Coinciding with Nick’s desire to slow down a bit, Matt realised that, back at home in Cardigan, he could live the life he wanted in beautiful surroundings, building the type of boats he wanted to sail. Working out his notice, Matt made the maximum use of his computer expertise and learned how to use the latest sophisticated 3-D CAD software. Leaving London to gain more experience in boat design, he got a job with top yacht designer Tony Castro. By August 2003, he was already developing the plans for Storm 17, but it was not until a year later that he finally decided to commit completely to the Storm 17 project and leave a comfortable salary to join Swallow Boats full- time.

The Storm 17 was designed as a family boat, to carry up to four adults. It was the largest boat in the Swallow Boats range for a while and filled the requirements for an easy to sail, stable but fun boat, light enough to be manoeuvred on a trolley down to the water and easily towed behind a medium-sized car. As with all Swallow Boats, the initial plan was to create a kit which could be assembled by anyone with limited knowledge or experience in woodwork.

To cater for those who do not have the time or space to construct their own wooden boat, she is also available fully finished. To broaden the design’s appeal even further, moulds were made for a round bilge GRP boat, and here she is, in front of us, rigged and ready to go, waiting for us to get on the water – before it disappears.

The first impression is of a very pretty boat. She has a neat, symmetrical double-ended shape, with FSC certified Brazilian cedar gunwales, seat slats and kingplank. The bottom boards are western red cedar and the hollow spars are Douglas fir. There’s even a traditional wooden Samson post on the foredeck. In fact, there’s so much wood that at first sight, she doesn’t appear to be GRP. The broad cream sheerstrake gives her an elegant line, which is even more apparent when I see her at a distance on the water.

This Storm 17 is a gunter ketch. The foresail has an optional club boom, which is easily set and adjusted, making her simple to sail even if shorthanded. The mainsail has a sprit boom, which is raised well above head height. The mizzen is similarly rigged, being sheeted and cleated to the tiller. The sails are made by Dolphin and are available in a choice of colours. The foresail is easy to furl with a quick two step operation to unhook the jib sheet from the boom and then roll it. The mainsail can also be rolled against the mast and then unstepped, keeping the sail crease free and making it quick to de-rig.

The floor length leaves plenty of room to store the oars, and with a 6’ (1.78m) maximum beam, the Storm 17 is designed to be easy to row. If you don’t like the sound of manual labour, there’s an aft well for a 2-3hp outboard.

Talking of manual labour, I like the fact that there’s even a bilge pump, but thanks to her open inner moulding and removable bottom boards, there’s no danger of any hidden water accumulating on board.

As we wheel the boat down to the water’s edge, my eight year old decides she wants to join us; the five year old declines. My husband, along with Sharky, who usually sails with me in the Enterprise, decide they don’t want to miss out on the fun and opt to take the smaller Storm 15 out.

The Storm 17 is a roomy boat. With three of us on board, there’s plenty of space. The helm is encouraged to sit back against the curved back rest; in fact, you have to because the tiller stays aft of the mizzen mast an arrangement I eye with mistrust. As I look at it quizically, Matt appears to read my mind: ‘Don’t worry,’ he says, ‘Wait till you’re steering and then see how you find it.’

Libby settles herself on the side bench. She’s comfortable and feels secure enough to stay on the leeward side, despite the way we are heeling as wind gusts hit us. The wind, coming from the north-east and straight down the estuary, is stronger than we first realised. When I take the helm, the boat feels beautifully balanced. The club boom on the foresail keeps it set, without flapping, and the jib sheet is cleated back within easy reach of the cockpit. Matt explains that the Storm 17 is designed to be just as well balanced when sailing with only the headsail and mizzen. We don’t try this, but I can believe it. With the wind gusting down the estuary, we’re having far too much fun to consider dropping the mainsail and taking any of the power out of the boat. She’s a smashing sail and we zip up and down, close to shore, so Ches can get the pics. Then I realise he’s no longer there and Matt says he’s coming out on the water in a boat with Nick. Yahoo, I think, bearing away and heading out into the clear wind away from the shore. After a minute or two, Matt stops me in my tracks: “They’re in the rowing boat,” he says. I turn around to see Nick heroically rowing after me. Whoops. But I did enjoy that little bit of freedom.

The Storm 17 is a dream to sail. We are seeing her, in my view, in perfect conditions. There’s a good breeze, with some unexpected lively gusts and we enjoy some downwind blasts that get her up on the plane. To my surprise, I do find the tiller arrangement surprisingly easy – despite my initial reservations. The boat is so well balanced, in a tack or gybe you can simply push the helm over and leave it as you move across the boat. The mainsheet leads down to a block at the mizzen mast and I find this a bit heavy to hold. however, Matt says they would be happy to fit a ratchet block or cam cleat here if needed. The mizzen sail cleats off on the port side of the tiller, making it easy to adjust on the side it’s cleated. It’s a little more fiddly on the other tack but being self tacking, it is generally sheeted and left to its own devices. Though I have to remind myself that most people would be sailing for fun or pottering, so that taking a little extra time isn’t really an issue, we, however, are really putting her through her paces.

Johnny and Sharky, with a combined weight of near to 420 lbs (190kg) are pushing the smaller and lighter Storm 15 to her limits and we are chasing each other around, gybing and tacking as if we are doing the preliminaries for team boat racing. Just because it’s there, we rig up the optional folding spray hood. A simple system locks it in the upright position, and Libby shelters beneath it. I can see the advantage of this for the crew, though at this size, the helm would have to stay out in the rain. However, it would be easy to specify a larger hood if required. I like the inset decks, which not only add to the appearance but also give a nice feeling of security. There’s also a couple of useful storage hatches up forward, with the option of an extra fully watertight compartment if required.

With the tide ebbing fast, I have to return the boat to the shore as there are some potential customers waiting to take her out. Reluctantly, we head back – straight into the wind, which is very gusty and shifty. However, the Storm 17 is so manageable that it’s easy to get her back quickly; a feature I always appreciate in a boat. With the brass keelband, and automatic self-lifting rudder and centreboard, it’s no problem to sail right up into the shallows to hand her over.

Back on shore, we can see just how pretty the Storm looks from a distance and how well she sails. Steady but lively, she handles well in these conditions, so I would imagine she’s a dream in light airs. Swallow Boats says that the prototype has made 7.1 knots – averaged in two directions – in a Force 4 with two aboard and I believe it. Nick takes us around the boat sheds, where we see their next project: the 21.5’ (6.6m) Sea Raider – see W56 – which is being built for the Sail Caledonia Raid. She’ll also be at Beale Park this summer. Nick explains that he has two boat builders working with them and they have plans to expand their workshop area by building a new boat shed on the shoreline in the field next door. With a growing international market – their kits have gone as far afield as the USA and Hong Kong – and four boats to build between now and the summer, the company is extremely busy keeping up.

The potential customers return from their test sail and I ask Richard Cooper, who has come along with his sister, what he thinks about the Storm 17. His impressions are good: “It’s much bigger than I thought and more spacious,” he says, “and she sails beautifully.” It turns out they are looking for a boat suitable for day sailing, easy to handle and safe in tidal waters. Key criteria include being light enough to manoeuvre, a lifting rudder and a high boom; I think they’ve found the perfect boat.

While the potential buyers are warming up with soup, Nick describes how he would like to use the new enlarged facilities to get people down to sail and try out the Swallow Boats range, combining camping, sailing and generally having a good time. Standing there in the sun, I think it’s a great idea. I know I’d come back.