Biscayne Bay and the sounds of South Florida are not Blue Water Sailing’s usual sailing grounds, not the least because the water is anything but blue and is for the most part remarkably thin. Few offshore cruising boats can venture all the way around the southern tip of the state inside the keys without spending a few hours perched on one sand bank or another. If you draw more than five feet, you can’t sail there at all.
But that was not to be our problem. The new SP Cruiser from Island Packet Yachts draws a meager three feet, eight inches, so we were confident that the inside route would be an excellent choice for our trip from Miami round the bottom to Tampa Bay on the west coast. It is a run of about 280 miles so we gave ourselves a good 48 hours to make the run, naively calculating that at six knots we would knock off two 144-mile days. We were to be surprised.
With Greg Knighton, who runs Doyle Sails Sarasota, and Ken Clark, a veteran passagemaker and retired electrical engineer, aboard we set off from Miami’s Bayside Marina not long after dawn. It was a beautiful morning with a light easterly blowing in from the Bahamas. We motored south though Miami and then across Biscayne Bay where pelicans divebombed schools of fish in the shallows near Stiltsville. We tried to get the mainsail and jib to fill, but the breeze was still too light to hold them so we rolled both away in hopes that the sea breeze would fill in later in the morning.
This first chance to roll the sails out and in showed how much thought Bob Johnson and the designers at IPY had given to the sailing aspects of their new motorsailer. All halyards and sheets run to a single electric winch in the starboard corner of the cockpit aft via conduits below decks so there is no line clutter on deck.
Island Packet Cockpit Lines
The main halyard, reefing lines and sheets actually run all the way down the mast to the keel and then through turning blocks to emerge at a large line stopper above the electric winch aft. You would think this system would create friction on the lines and sheets, but we found that we were able to handle trim and reefing without the winch in the light breeze. Of course, the push button winch is seductively easier. The genoa control line is the only line visible on deck and runs neatly aft along the bases of the starboard stanchions.
While we were sailing the SP home to Tampa Bay, the boys at IPY were in the process of testing a new Lewmar reel-winch system, called the StoWinch, on another of the new motorsailers. Two captive reels are mounted under the aft cockpit floor and are accessible through large floor hatches. Toggle switches at the helm and aft in the cockpit allow you to trim either main or jib with a flick of a switch. Captive-reel winches have until now only been available on mega yachts. Now, as an option, you can have them on the 41-foot SP Cruiser.
Running the inside route around the tip of Florida required some vigilance since the channel twists and turns through the shallows and low mangrove islets and never gets much more than five feet deep. With the throttle down and the GPS giving us a heads up to aid in the eyeball navigation, we steamed along happily at 8.5 knots with the 110- horsepower Yanmar turning at 3,500 rpms. From time to time we would see light brown swirls of sand rising in our wake, which corresponded with the under three-foot readings on the depth sounder. Yet, even plowing a furrow in the bottom, we charged ahead without fuss, although we were probably leaving a red stripe of antifouling in the sand to bemuse the manatees.
Island Packet Doghouse
The steering station is inside the raised doghouse, where two swiveling and adjustable captain’s chairs are placed at the helm. Visibility from the helmsman’s chair is good through the large sloping front windows. The helm is set up with hydraulic steering, which takes some getting used to.
But the simplest way to steer, and we think the way most owners will man the helm, is with the autopilot. The boat we were sailing had a full Raymarine complement of instruments and autopilot that worked flawlessly through the passage.
Late in the afternoon, as we passed Marathon, we turned northward into the Gulf of Mexico on a straight shot to Sarasota Bay and then Tampa Bay. Through the night the breeze filled in from the east–the very edge of the northeast trades–so we could roll out full sail.
Backing the throttle down a bit and with the knot and a half boost from the sails, we still kept the speed above 8.5 knots. The lower revs abated the engine noise considerably while the press of sail gave the boat a fine easy motion through the water and the feel of a boat sailing instead of motoring.
There was only a sliver of waning moon so soon the night was pitch dark with the stars extra bright overhead. Everglades National Park to our east is uninhabited, so the whole coast five miles from us was black and foreboding, except for the amazing loom of Miami that was visible from 60 miles away.
Aboard the SP Cruiser we were snug and warm inside the doghouse as we took watches through the night. Greg and Ken shared the double aft cabin that is tucked under the doghouse’s floor. The inside berth is over the engine, so the reduced revs during the night helped them sleep. I was awarded the forward cabin with the large centerline double berth, which was comfortable and perfectly fine as a sea berth in the flat, reaching conditions.
All the next day we power reached northward and, finally, after cruising through Sarasota Bay, we pulled into the marina in Bradenton where the SP Cruiser lived. The 280-mile run had taken 34 hours at an average speed of 8.3 knots. We were well rested and none the worse for the overnight passage. The boat had served us well and shown that it has all the capability to stretch her legs for longer offshore passages and with such shoal draft would be an ideal Bahamas cruising boat.
Bob Johnson founded Island Packet Yachts almost 30 years ago and has remained the company’s president and chief designer. The SP Cruiser is his first dedicated motorsailer for the IPY line and is different in many ways from the rest of the company’s well known and highly recognizable cruising boats.
Modern motorsailers really benefit from advances in construction technique and the ongoing evolution of both sail and powerboat design. In order to have the hull stand up to the large motive forces of an 18-inch, threeblade prop driven by a 110- horsepower engine–to prevent the stern from burying itself in the stern wave–the SP Cruiser has a wide and full transom, and the design lines running aft are fairly straight. This provides the volume and buoyancy to keep the hull on her lines when powered up.
The SP Cruiser has a theoretical hull speed of 8.5 knots and at that speed under power the boat sat very level. Apply more revs to achieve a maximum speed of nearly nine knots and the stern does squat, but very little.
As you would expect, the motorsailer concept calls for a relatively small rig. The SP Cruiser’s sail area-displacement ratio of 15 (low for a cruising sailboat) indicates that the rig has a manageable sail plan that will not overpower her crew. During our sail trials, we shut down the engine for a while in Sarasota Bay and got the boat sailing on a broad reach at nearly six knots in a breeze of about 12 knots apparent. The rig will really shine in stronger breezes when you are less likely to motorsail.
The SP Cruiser has the trademarked Full Foil Keel like the rest of the IPY line, which gives the boat great directional stability and some lift when sailing to windward. The prop and rudder are protected by the keel so you can confidently cruise in shallow water, as we did, without fretting about damaging either.
Island Packet Forward Hatch
The deck layout accommodates both inside and outside living and easy sail and boat handling, as mentioned above. The after cockpit has a door to the swim platform aft and two small built-in seats. The floor is wide enough to accommodate two folding captain’s chairs.
Moving forward the side decks are wide and handholds are readily within reach. An outside forward cockpit with a small table will be an excellent place to while away hours at anchor or when motorsailing in calm conditions. This is a great use of cabintop space. We wondered if a little more plumbing might also turn it into a hot tub as well? And a small boom tent would add the right amount of shade at anchor.
The foredeck is wide and easy to move about. The Hoyt Jib Boom works well when sailing and makes the jib self-tacking. It can get in the way when docking or anchoring, but we soon got used to it.
Island Packet Hoyt Jib Boom
Designing a raised doghouse on a 41-footer can be a challenge. The raised saloon needs to have full headroom, yet is also needs to have the floor high enough to fit the engine room and guest cabin beneath it. The SP does have quite a high doghouse, yet the boat looks purposeful and handsome and all of the above requirements have been met with usual IPY style.
One issue that arises when designing a doghouse is the large areas of glass in the windows and doors. One of the first details we noticed when looking around the boat was the quality and strength of both the large opening windows and the aft door. Built by American Marine, these units have sturdy metal frames, heavyduty closures and thick shatterproof windows.
The window and door units are built to the highest NMMA and European CE standards. In fact, the SP Cruiser is certified by the NMMA and by the IMCI to be rated Category A Ocean– the top rating for an offshore cruising boat.
The raised saloon in the doghouse with the two captain’s chairs and the L-shaped dinette is the place where the SP’s crew will spend the most time whether underway or at anchor. The view is great and you are protected from both sun and rain. Also, with the large windows open, the ventilation is truly indoor-outdoor. With the addition of louvered shades from a company like Oceanair, the saloon can be made snug and private for marina living.
The galley is down three steps going forward. Two large fridge compartments lie under the bench counter, one a freezer and the other a fridge. A two-burner Force 10 stove is standard. The twin galley sinks are on the centerline so they will always drain properly. There is ample storage under the sinks, in cabinets above the stove and counter and in cabinets under the counter.
The passageway through the galley leads to the master cabin forward. As we can attest, this is a very comfortable cabin and bunk either underway or at rest. Plenty of cabinet and hanging locker space will make living aboard pleasant, even for a clothes horse. The head, which is to starboard, has a separate shower stall, a large head area and plenty of storage for bathroom essentials and personal toiletries.
Aft of the head lies a small office desk that will be a fine place for taking care of business and could easily sport a laptop and printer. The desk could also be a chart table, but we suspect owners will do as we did and use electronic charting with paper backup charts spread out on the saloon table or on the flat area next to the helm, which is near the pullout chart drawer.
The guest cabin lies aft under the saloon and has twin berths and enough locker space for clothing and hanging items. The SP Cruiser is built to a high degree of strength and finish and makes both a solid and very comfortable floating home.
Island Packet StatsThis year BWS launched a new series of editorial sections on motorsailers and trawlers. We did this because we see an increasing desire on the part of cruising sailors to give up on wet, cold night watches in an open cockpit in exchange for the protection of a well designed doghouse. Moreover, as we cruise we are seeing more and more cruising folk motoring all the time. Hence the interest in motorsailers.
The SP Cruiser is not the first new motorsailer out there, but it is the first to be brought out by a production builder in a long while. Hull number one was introduced at the Newport, R.I., boat show last September, during which we had several days of cool fall rain. The SP was packed every day, and the advantages of the doghouse were too obvious for any sailor to miss.
As a kind of hybrid cruising boat that can motor efficiently, sail acceptably and motorsail with real aplomb, the SP Cruiser is destined to be seen as a leader in the evolving world of cruising boat design. It is no surprise that more than 25 have been sold in the first six months since its introduction.
The one real advantage to a motorsailer like the SP Cruiser over full trawler designs lies in the boat’s ability to sail offshore comfortably and efficiently with very little rolling motion while still maintaining the speed and accommodations of a trawler. For sailors thinking of making the switch to power, the SP Cruiser should definitely be on their short list. Moreover, it is an Island Packet, so it represents excellent value at the outset and will hold an impressive resale value over the long haul.
Displacement 23,000 lbs.
Ballast 5,000 lbs.
Sail area 714 sq. ft.
Engine 110-hp. Yanmar
Water 130 gals.
Fuel 215 gals.
Hull speed 8.5 knots/8.9 max.
Range under power 1,000 miles
Base price $344,950
(until July 30, 2007)