Review of my 1999 Seaward Fox!

I bought the Fox for a several reasons.

The prettiest boat in it's class... look at the shear of the hull!  Look at the length of that mast!1.It is the prettiest boat in this size range (it has a very "shippy" look to it... lots of curve to the shear, and some decent tumblehome back aft). The M-17 is also a pretty decent looking boat (judging from the NorSea website, which obviously is far superior toHake Yacht's site)

2. Freestanding, carbon fiber cat-rig. What could be simpler to rig on the boat ramp than this  (except for maybe a Laser dinghy)? I wanted something that was simple so it wouldn't prevent me from trailering it because of all the work of rigging the mast, especially when single-handing it.

Large image (1280x960), slow connections beware!3. Fixed shoal draft keel. I would rather not deal with a centerboard in a keelboat again. I have had problems with mine (given, the M-17 design probably wont have the problems my Tanzer 22 has had), and heard too many problems from other people. I didn't think that the wings on the Fox keel actually did much, but I am willing to accept the extra leeway I would make heading upwind against the ease of launch, and the deliverance from any mechanical problems occurring either under water (hard to fix), or inside the keel when on the trailer (harder to fix).
 
 

The Trailer

Note the mast support post attached to rudder and optional outboard motor bracket.  Also look at the sweet tumblehome on this hull.Notice the end of the extendable tongue and the fairly flat bottom of the boat.I have heard bad things from some Seaward owners about the Performance trailers.  Obviously that is a thing of the past, since I am pleased with the trailer that came with my boat. It has "Vee" shaped cross members to put the keel close to the ground and small diameter but very fat tires (for the same reason).  It has boards to guide the boat on and off the trailer.  It seems a bit narrow for the boat; the wheel track is 6' and the beam of the boat is 8'.  I bought mine with an extendable tongue.  The factory mixed up my order.  I intended to get one with a separate extendable tongue (since it could extend to 8'), but my trailer came with the main tongue extendable.  It was a fair trade, however, since the trailer came with brakes ($500 option) that I had not ordered.  I had an initially aborted attempt to put the boat in the water.  The tongue at that point could only extend 2.5' (almost not worth it).  The boat wouldn't float off with water over my rear bumper (in all fairness, it was also a very shallow boat ramp).  I have made some modifications so now it will extend about 5'. That and a steeper ramp enabled the boat to easily float on and off the trailer without submerging my truck.  It was no work at all to get the boat back on the trailer and snug it up against the bow stop.  This was one of the big reasons to get a boat this size.  The trailer has "spindle lube" type hubs (Champion Trailers), which allow all the grease in the bearing to be changed out completely by just pumping grease in with a grease gun.  That way you don't have to disassemble the hubs to repack the bearings .I put a quick disconnect coupling on the brake line (if I had to do this again, I would just get a 5' length of hose with brake fittings swaged on the end... that much less to do at the boat ramp), and drilled a new hole 18" behind the former hole for tongue extension.  The other modification was to add goal posts to the back (very useful in aligning the keel when pulling up onto the trailer, and vital when retrieving with a cross-current) and some rubber dock bumpers on top of the crossmembers.  Since they slope down to the middle where the keel bunkboard is, if the boat gets misaligned on the trailer while retrieving (especially if there is any wave action), it is possible for the keel to impact these crossmembers at the edge of the trailer (which is why I spent one weekend filling in a small divot in the edge of my keel).
Home-made forward mast support bracket for trailering.Aft mast support is a worthwhile option to purchase.The trailering rig has a stainless post with a semicircular padded rest for the aft end of the mast when it is down.  It sticks into a tube permanently attached to the rudder.I built a small cradle that slides over the bow pulpit to support the forward end of the mast securely (just tying it on to the bow pulpit concerns me on the highway).  It would be nice if the factory included something like this with the boat (to complement the aft mast cradle).
 
 

The Carbon Fiber mast.

 
Lower mast section pulled out of the boat. Upper bearing with mast step removed Lower bearing.  The mast step tube just rests in it. Drain in the middle sends water overboard instead of allowing it to collect inside the boat Mast step with mast up
This is really the reason I bought the boat. I was dreaming of it taking 2 minutes for me to rig the mast by myself, without having to deal with shroud lines, etc. The reality?  YES!  It is amazingly simply to put the mast up. The mast is 6" in diameter at the base, 2" diameter at the top, is 28.5' long, and weighs only 33#.  You just put the bolt through on the mast step, and push the mast up as you walk forward. It is secured by a 6" diameter, 2' long sliding aluminum tube INSIDE the mast which couples the upper mast to rotating mast bearing on the deck.  It is an amazingly good idea.  It takes 2 minutes (if that) to rig.  Very little grunting and groaning on my part.  It is sort of disconcerting at first to sail with no shroud lines or stays.  You expect the mast to come crashing down at any moment.  The mast rotates 360 degrees, with a bearing at deck level and near the bilge of the boat to provide support. A drain is mounted in the middle of the lower bearing which goes overboard to drain off any water which might collect through the large 6" hole which is in the boat when the mast is down.
 
 
 
Sailing Properties

The sail controls are pretty simple,  The "boom" is a 1" diameter fiberglass rod that fits into a 3' stainless steel tube attached to the bottom of the mast.  This batten slides into a pocket along the foot of the sail.  The sail itself has the mainsheet attachment point sewn to it.  The foot tension is adjusted with a velcro pocket (like some batten pockets on other boats).  The halyard is a bit different than normal; it has a small block that you attach to the head of the sail, and that block travels up the mast when you pull up the main halyard.  I guess the idea is to give you some more leverage to get all those battens to the top.  The sail has 6 full battens along it's length, with one reef point that has reef lines sewed into it.  This is a bit too simple, since it is impossible to get adequate luff or foot tension on the main to allow upwind performance.  It would also be impossible to add a boom vang to the main (an attachment point would have to be sewn onto the sail itself, and the lower batten would just flex excessively from applying force with the vang in the middle of the batten), which is important for off wind work (see modifications section for the solution).  It is important to let the sail fly in the wind (easily done by unclipping the mainsheet... the mast will turn to point the mainsail track downwind) when raising the main to minimize binding of the sail slugs (one per batten) when you raise the sail.  Otherwise, it can take quite a bit of effort to get the sail up. The sails are made by Super Sailmakers, and appear to be of decent construction.  The one reef on the main is very deep, and sizes the sail down from 190 sq ft to probably 120 sq ft.  An intermediate sized reef might be nice.  With the big sail, it pays to reef early.

The counterbalanced rudder provides almost hands-free helming.Notice the large wings on the trailing edge of the keel.It is different to sail a boat that you don't constantly tweak this line and that... because you can't. Racers probably wouldn't like this simplistic approach.  The advantage to this comes at the ramp... every single one of those extra tweaking lines would normally have to be attached every time you raised the mast.  The boat behaves well under sail.  I was worried about how the rudder would handle (since the more "classic" cat boats with their "barn-door" rudders can develop a bit of weather helm).  No problems.  The rudder is counterbalanced, and exhibits NO weather helm.  You can let go of the helm at any point of sail, and the rudder will stay where it is (at least for a short while).  I need to add some telltales to the leach of the mainsail to give me some idea on sail trim.  It is very stable for a boat this size... it doesn't list much at all when you move around the deck.  It seems to be less "tippy" than my Tanzer 22, which has 3100# displacement... more than double the size.  I suspect that the wings on the keel act to stop alot of the rocking motion when you move around... sort of like the anti-rocking devices some people suspend over the side of their boats when at anchor. The keel almost looks like a "scheel keel": an inverted flare shape where the bottom of the keel has a larger cross-sectional area than the top.  This helps performance in such a shallow draft craft. Thin at the top, thick at the bottom, it puts the majority of the boat's ballast where it will do the most good while creating a strong high pressure against side slippage. The keel shape gains lifting efficiency by eliminating "crossover flow" from the high-pressure side to the low. The cruising spinnaker is handkerchief sized... I haven't learned enough how to fly it to determine if it is worthwhile or not.  The boat has a fairly flat bottom, and has potential to really get up and go on a downwind run.  Due to the large sail size (190 sq. ft), you need to reef early.  At about 12 knots (white caps starting to form) of wind, you are ready to take a reef or dumping wind excessively.  The full battened main doesn't take well to dumping wind when close hauled (the battens pop over and reverse the curve of the sail). My wife really likes the bimini cover, which we can put up while we are sailing (a must for the hot summer months in Charleston, SC).

Underway on Lake Moultrie, running downwind in light air.The boat is fairly stable, and you can sail hands off for the most part. Actually, you can pretty much control direction of the boat by sheeting in or out on the mainsheet. One of the difficult things to get used to is sailing without a jib. There is no warning you are about to go into irons (like a jib starting to luff)... the boat just slows down and then stops. This probably takes some getting used to for the less experienced sailor (it is easy to trim a jib properly and sail close hauled using the jib's luff telltales to keep you in the groove).  The boat is easy to control... she turns quickly though the wind when tacking, even in light air.  I have never had a problem tacking, even in the lightest of winds. No need to ever backwind the main to get out of irons.  The shoal draft keel has decent sized wings, and seems to move fairly well to windward. Like all trailerable sailboats, this is a compromise. A deep fin keel would make much less leeway, but would turn the 5 minute launching sequence on the boat ramp into a nightmare. A centerboard would sail better upwind (like a montgomery 17), but it is always asking for trouble to have mechanical devices below the water line (especially in saltwater).  With some hardware additions (see Modifications section), the boat delivers decent windward performance.  It definitely likes heeling 10-15 degrees... it is very stable when heeled over.  The boat will get in a groove and track well to windward.  I can tack through 75-80 degrees if I pinch, but cat boats definitely do better if you crack them off the wind a little bit.  When sailing upwind, my GPS gives me about 100-105 degrees between tacks, which accounts for leeway being made.  This is decent for a shoal drafted boat.  The stability when heeled was unexpected, and is real nice.  At first, I was hesitant to let it heel over (mostly to keep my wife happy), but you need to because it allows the wings to bite deeper in the water and really gives you a boost to windward.
 
 

Interior Arrangement.

Cutaway topview of the interior, showing stove and sink (underneath cushions) and comfy seat

It is small inside. No big surprise.  2 quarter berths, a cramped V-berth. The support board for the V-berth doubles as a table that mounts on a post in the cockpit (nice touch).  You can also rearrange the board and cushions to give you a comfortable chair facing aft looking out the companionway hatch.  This is one failing in small boats usually... no place to sit comfortably inside without being hunched over.  Unfortunately, the two seats on the side made up by the quarterberths have no back to them, making it uncomfortable to sit there for any length of time.  I will definitely attempt to create some sort of a backrest for these spots to provide at least one more comfortable seat belowdecks. The arm chair in this cabin is as comfortable as any chairs in my house.  When the filler cushion is installed in the vee-berth, it is actually quite roomy for two people. There is space for a sink and stove underneath boards that swing upward.  There is also a rack for plates and cups (which are included) underneath the cushion.  I am not sure how utilitarian this is.  While cruising, I have always chose to cook and wash dishes in the cockpit.  The "sink" here just becomes a place to put my keys and otehr small items.  A softsided cooler is also included (much better idea then an installed icebox in a boat this size).  The boat comes equipped with a "safety pack" to meet coast guard requirements (lifejackets, cushion, flaregun, whistle).
 

The mokey hammocks came with the boat.
Every small boat should have at least one comfortable seat.
Arm chair without cushion in place
The interior is easily modified to sleep 4 friendly people.
Sink and dishes underneath chair.  Stove is on opposite side.
Coffin berth, towel rack, and reading lamp.
The arm-chair cushion fills in the center of the vee-berth to make a huge bed.
The mast support runs through the V-berth.

 
Honda BF2 outboard.

I am using a new Honda 4 stroke, 2 HP outboard.  It is air cooled (a fan at the top pushes air throughout a cowling over the engine... just like my old VW engine). It is the new version with a twist throttle grip and a centrifugal clutch.  It seems to be a very powerful little motor.  I chose it because of the light weight (29 lbs), twist grip throttle, and clutch. It is pretty convenient to be able to control the boat with just the throttle grip, not having to also deal with taking your hand off the throttle to change the gear from forward to neutral.  With no wind or waves, it can push the boat almost to hull speed.  It doesn't have much reserve power though, and any chop or headwind will knock my speed down pretty quick.  It would have been nice to get a little bigger engine (I was looking at the Yahama 4HP 4 stroke... very nice little engine with integrated fuel tank AND external tank connection... but at 60#, it was a bit more than I wanted top hang off the rear of my boat).  I bought the optional motor mount instead of the rudder mounted motor mount to make it easier to tilt the motor out of the water, and place less stress on the rudder.

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The Admiral at the helm in the Florida Keys.


Me underway in the Florida Keys during a little week long cruise this winter.