Water Craft Magazine Review: SeaRaider

This review for the SeaRaider appeared in the Sept/Oct 2006 edition of Water Craft magazine published on Wednesday, 29 November 2006 and is reproduced here as it appeared on Swallow Boats’s original web site.

“Great Craic”

The Irish word craic, pronounced crack, is almost untranslatable. It can be a wild gathering with girls, gossip and Guinness, or it can be sedate and simple fun. Kathy Mansfield discovers that the new SeaRaider from Swallowboats can be both – if you bring the girls, gossip and Guinness.

With photographs by the Author

On a crisp, early June morning on Scotland’s mountain-circled Loch Lochy, the wind was shifting between Force 2 and Force 5, then died away altogether as the race began. Seven oars appeared on the American whaleboat Molly: we wanted to beat her but our rowing horsepower was less than half of hers. Almost before we could bring out our own oars the wind returned, and Matt Newland’s 21’10” new SeaRaider, Craic, began to perform. An exhilarating tacking duel made up the distance and then put Craic well ahead of Molly, thanks to Craic’s ability to sail very close to the wind plus a good decision on the part of our guest skipper, Iain Oughtred, to short tack up the windier side of the loch. Craic’s owner, Claus Riepe from Hamburg, sailing his older boat, must have been bursting with pride as his new boat left the rest of the fleet behind.

Hardly had we congratulated ourselves before the combination of unsettled weather and mountains began to throw ever longer and heavier gusts down the loch, and lacy whitecaps became trailing tails of spume. Loch Lochy was throwing us a Force 6/7 on the nose, gusting up to 33 knots. Molly fell well behind while putting a reef in; we could have done likewise plus filling our water ballast tanks, but we were curious to put Craic through her paces, and she was heading up the loch very well with a bit of judicious spilling of wind. The Development Class boats were supposed to put in a downwind leg from Buoy 7, and at that point we really started speeding, prudently tacking downwind: Matt clocked 8.7 knots on the GPS before the boat suddenly picked herself and all four of us up and started planing. There was too much spray to read the GPS but Matt had clocked well over 10 knots on Cardigan Bay in Wales, where Craic was built, and we were probably going faster. “It’s like a Nantucket sleigh ride,” I thought to myself, remembering the phrase used on the whaleboats when being towed top speed by an injured whale. Never had I started the sailing season on quite such a high! When we rounded the next buoy and headed back upwind weather, we decided to put in a reef – but by the time we reached Laggan Locks that afternoon, an hour ahead of the rest of the fleet, the wind had dropped back down to a negligible breeze…

There can be few better or tougher trials for a small boat, particularly for one just off the drawing board like Craic, than the Sail Caledonia trip up Scotland’s Caledonian Canal. The area is all too able to provide, in the space of the week, testing upwind and downwind conditions plus sudden katabatic gusts or rain squalls which would test much larger boats – yet always allied with enough softer breezes and sunshine highlighting the dramatic Scottish lochs and mountains to melt the hardest of hearts. It’s no wonder boat designers and builders are tempted north, and prospective boat buyers too. Any design or building faults, any glitches or lapses, will quickly be more than obvious. Sail Caledonia over the years has given Craic’s owner Claus a unique opportunity both to watch a great variety of small boats perform under sail and oar and against each other, and to put together ideas for a new boat which would bring together all the best features.

Claus wanted to keep all the many advantages of his much-enjoyed, yawl-rigged previous boat – trailerability, seakindliness, safety, good looks, good performance in high seas, heavy weather, and shallow waters, and under motor or single handed. “But also,” he continued, ” I want better sailing performance, especially upwind, better rowing ability with room for four oarsmen for raid events, a self draining cockpit that is also wide enough for overnighting comfortably on occasion. I want a self-tacking jib for easy singlehanding, a mizzen that can be handled from within the cockpit and without a bumkin, a strong rudder but one that does not have to be removed before beaching, good stowage and watertight compartments; and excellent buoyancy and righting capacity. It’s a long list, really,” Claus admitted, “but Matt took on the task and has delivered what I wanted. All through the design process we stayed in close contact, and together developed some innovative ideas and solutions that will, I’m sure, make their way into future boats.”

One of these ideas, not new in principle but carried out very neatly, is the water ballast system, which Matt and Nick at Swallowboats saw as the way to satisfy the conflicting requirements of a light boat for rowing and racing, and a safe boat with the characteristics of a ballast keel for short-handed sailing in varying conditions. “A false floor,” Matt explained, “is sited just above the waterline and inclining aft slightly, so the cockpit can self-drain through self-bailers or a simple twist hatch into the outboard well. A single tank underneath this floor can take up to 660lbs(330kg) of water, equivalent to the weight of four adults lying in the bilges.” Two inflatable buoyancy bags in the tank can be partly inflated to fine tune the amount of ballast water taken on, a far more versatile system than multiple tanks. “And in effect,” Claus points out, “the boat has several different personalities. I can fish off the west coast of Ireland in a steady boat, or race with a crew in a light boat with its sail area of 18.2m and 6.1m waterline length for plenty of fun and excitement.”

There is an ingenious method for filling and emptying the tank. A reverse positioned self bailer positioned within reach of the helmsman means the water can be sailed in, and three properly positioned self bailers can sail it out when the boat is moving as little as 3-4 knots. The water can also be pumped out with a conventional bailing pump, or drained off as the boat lifts onto a trailer. In fact when we we gave a capsize demonstration in Scotland with the water ballast tanks were full, the boat self-righted so quickly from a complete knockdown there was remarkably little water to lose. According to the times listed in the metadata of my digital camera for the sequence of photos I took, the boat was righted, drained, her crew back aboard, and the boat sailing within two minutes – more on that separately.

Craic has the lean shape and flat run aft of a racing dinghy of the 1960s, her transom narrowed to reduce wetted surface and improve rowing ability. Primarily she is a sailing boat, with a firm turn of the bilge, good form stability and a flat run aft, well able to plane in the right conditions, as we found. She weights just 325kg when the tank is empty, fully 200 kgs less than Claus’ old GRP boat of the same length, so she’s lighter to manoeuvre, tow, launch and retrieve, yet robust enough to have the same hull warranty period, and an RCD Category C rating. Craic has an outboard well sited well inboard on the centreline where it should be, with a slit just for the propeller that can be simply faired over with a flap. The outboard can be up to 5hp, but a Honda 2.3 short shaft is sufficient.

Once Matt was happy with the design, he proceeded to have all the plywood parts cut out by computer controlled router. “This not only saves time,” he explained, “but also ensures the hull is completely design accurate and fits together exactly. She was built right way up over a 4-mould construction jig. Her bottom panel is sheathed with very heavy 450g biaxial glass and the whole hull is epoxy sheathed. The construction method is largely self jigging and relies on internal structure like bulkheads to form the shape. Once the decks go on the whole monocoque structure becomes incredibly stiff.” Several custom made pieces of stainless hardware were commissioned for the boat, including the massively strong rudder head (plywood blade), the tiller joint, and mast tabernacle.

The resulting boat is a modern classic, with the graceful looks and lines, lovely sheer, and elegant use of varnished wood for spars, gunwales and slatted seats that we have come to expect from Swallow Boats. For Claus as customer, it was important that they could both design and build his new boat. I loved her lines, the rounded shape of cockpit and well, the generous use of varnished wood, her ease of use, and the fact that the outboard is kept out of sight pleased my photographer’s eye. I might have built the cockpit coaming a little higher, lengthened the seats a bit further aft, and rounded the spars a bit more, but those are easily done.

Craic’s sailing abilities were self-evident in Scotland. Her yawl rig gives the versatility of sail area that gives a small boat a chance to sail in varying wind strengths. Impressively, she can make good directly to windward (ie VMG) at 2.9 knots under just jib and mizzen. She is amazingly close winded under full sail. Part of Craic’s upwind performance is due to the carbon fibre topmast and mizzen being enclosed in luff pockets like a windsurfer. It reduces turbulence on the leading edge of the sail, and adds a bit of sail area. The jib is set on roller furling gear and tacks easily with its club boom, and for stowage, the mizzen rolls around its round, carbon fibre mast: the mainsail too can be furled around the mast if the gooseneck is disengaged. Both masts can be simply stepped or lowered. The sprit on the mainsail means that the spar is well above head height yet the sail is well supported. Slab reefing is still possible, with cringles near the mast, or the main can simply be dropped, and the yard and sprit stowed in the cockpit. There’s that old problem with this rig of the tiller/mizzen conflict, and Matt with his engineering skills has gone for a slave tiller with a yoke and wires going either side of the mizzen and outboard well, under the aft deck, a tricky job. We found it responsive when sailing: it’s a bit heavier than an ordinary tiller, but easy to use. Over the week we also found that Craic rowed well, with the rudder slightly down to give a bit of directional stability, and the heavier rowers sitting on the forward thwart. The thwarts are removable as in a Shetland boat, to clear space for sailing. Everything works so easily.

Matt Newland joined his father Nick at Swallowboats only in 2004 after a stint in London, bringing with him his engineering skills from Cambridge, designing skills on 3-D CAD software, and the experience of working for a time with yacht designer Tony Castro. If Nick had thought he could ease into semi retirement, he’s probably revised the date into the future: the company is fully and happily stretched, with the Storm 15, 17, 19, the Cardigan Lugger, a cabin version of the 19, the intriguing and handsome cycle launch Winsome, and now the SeaRaider all catching the imagination and, most importantly, solid sales. A new SeaRaider will be finished by Autumn 2006, and several orders have already been taken for a smaller version, the BayRaider now being designed with less emphasis on speed and more on family comfort, to be about 19.5′ long and 6.5′ wide. The second SeaRaider will be finished in Autumn 2006 and will be available for test sails, and a class association is being formed. This should become a deservedly popular new boat, one destined to give a lot of fun in a lot of different places, conditions, raids and events – a great Craic, as owner Claus is happy to join the Irish in saying!