There was a time when you couldn't fully trust design reviews and other published works that attempted to analyze and critique yachts. In some magazines boats were far more likely to be chosen for review in the first place, and to receive a glowing commendation, if a color ad showed up on the inside cover. Entire books were published with titles proclaiming that the included designs were the best available. Those in the know realized the designs were sometimes there because corporations paid for the privilege; what we had amounted to a hardbound endorsement - and advertisement. Although this might still be going on in some venues, there are plenty of places where it isn't. At Maine Boats & Harbors, for example, we calls 'em as we sees 'em. Whether or not you appreciate our viewpoints here, you can rest assured that we have no hidden agenda.
A far more famous example of evenhanded and honest appraisal of the boating industry is evidenced in Cruising World magazine's annual "Boats of the Year" contest. I'm proud to say that two Maine boatbuilding firms took honors in this year's contest. Morris Yachts won "Best Small Sail Cruiser" and "Best Overall" with the Morris 34. And this month's Off the Drawing Board selection, the Sabre 452, from South Casco, Maine, won the title as "Best Large Cruiser-Racing Yacht."
When you study this design carefully it becomes evident the selection committee made an excellent choice. Not only can I state this is as innovative a production yacht as I can imagine, I can take my endorsement one step further and proclaim that if I had the means to purchase a large cruiser, this would be the one. Here's why
There is a lot to say in favor of a boat of this size, no matter who designs it. With a modern, stable hull platform and a waterline over 38 feet, this boat will see eight-knot speeds fairly often and perhaps even top 10 - knots when pressed hard on a reach. Boats tend to be pressed hard at sea because the wind is strong there, and often cruisers will navigate the common trade lanes with both wind and current behind them. The result in an ultramodern design such as this can be an average speed of 10 knots on favorable routes. At 45 feet long a boat really begins to feel big, and a big boat is more comfortable at sea. This boat's modern interior design - and this interior is beyond modern, it's clever - takes advantage of size to pack accommodations down below. I'll cite details later, but the Sabre 452 manages to be about as roomy below as any design of this length and beam could be. Yet, as big as she is, such a carefully designed boat is still small enough not to require a professional skipper to handle or maintain her.
The Sabre 452 was designed by Jim Taylor of Marblehead, Massachusetts, with input from the very experienced and talented team of in-house architects and engineers at Sabre. For years, most Sabre yachts weren't designed by a "name" designer. Rather, they came from the "Sabre Design Team," a collection of several truly professional naval architects under the excellent leadership of Roger Hewson. Nowadays, Ken Rusinek is the team leader. Was it Jim Taylor's participation that added an extra incremental bit of sparkle to the product this time? It's difficult to say, as Jim concentrated on the big picture, such as the hull, the keel, the rig and the layout, while the in-house Sabre designers tackled the majority of the distinguishing details.
Jim Taylor has been a leading designer of custom I.M.S.-rule racers. (I.M.S. stand for International Measurement System.) Because I.M.S. is a formula that allows a designer to go for speed without distortions of shape or other trickery, we shouldn't be surprised that the Sabre 452 has a simple fair hull shape, in what I call a "flatiron" plan, with a typical steep slope to the bow. The sheerline is unabashedly flat; freeboard forward isn't that much greater than freeboard aft. Personally, I find this to be the first modern outboard profile with such a sheer that I actually like. Have you noticed the two large, dark windows at station six and the smaller windows forward and aft? These are details that serve to visually press the line downward; they induce gracefulness to the sheer even though it is nearly a straight line.
And Oh, those details! I have always loved the perfection of Sabre's fiberglass tooling, and their use of small but important little beveled facets, such as along the cockpit coaming/seats and surrounding the window of the main saloon. While other builders have eliminated above-decks woodwork, Sabre has included on this boat a slightly larger than normal full length wooden toerail. This detail, and other wooden adornments, remind us of the difference between a boat and a yacht.
Certainly part of the rationale for the Sabre 452's mast height and the masthead rig was to pack as much sail as possible into a package that could still sneak beneath the fixed bridges on the Intracoastal Waterway. Not that a 60-foot mast is anything to sneeze at, but note that the boom is a whopping 20 feet from end to end - a third the height of the mast.
I have long liked the handling quality of modest rig height and moderate aspect ratio, especially in a mainsail, and more specifically when the main is large in proportion to the area of the headsails. This allows you to do the sunset harbor cruise with the main alone. A full-batten main (which I abhor but most folks seem to like) will set and furl better with this aspect ratio, and there will be less reefing of the main in favor of easier rolling of the jib. Nobody actually looks down on a boat under sail, except seagulls, but if you did, you would see some of the design devices that makes this boat so successful. The hull is rather wide aft, and the cabin is markedly wedge-shaped. The result is that the cockpit coamings are actually wide seating boxes with, beneath, plenty of volume to make a clerestory over the starboard after cabin. Of course you'll also note that the helmsman sits right ahead of the transom, another factor that allows interior accommodations to stretch nearly to the stern.
Before going below I should point out that the cockpit is on the small side, which I actually prefer in a sea boat for three reasons: (1) Boats sail with smaller complements nowadays, so extra cockpit is just wasted space; (2) smaller cockpits are inherently safer at sea because they have less volume to become flooded; and (3) the combination of a small cabin and a huge dodger enhances the "back porch" effect, offering the sort of shelter I relish out on the ocean.
It takes a yacht designer to recognize what makes the interior unusual, apart from the extreme overall length of the space: It's the zigzag apportioning of the functional units, and I can just imaging the level of concern this must have engendered when Jim Taylor first proposed the arrangement to the design team at Sabre. The after cabin to starboard overlaps the galley to port. The nav station to starboard overlaps the settee to port. The dinette/berth to starboard is NOT opposite the settee as is conventional but draws one forward to the entry of the head, and so on.
This review/article originally appeared in Maine Boats & Harbors Magazine, 1999. For more great sailboat reviews, visit their website at: www.maineboats.com
OUR RECOMMENDED SAILING GEAR