Bill Lee’s ultralight “fast is fun” concept takes on new meaning in speed cruising form…

“FAST IS FUN," BILL LEE SAID MORE THAN 20 years ago to promote the ultra-light high-performance Santa Cruz sailboats that he designed and built. Fast is still fun, and Santa Cruz Yachts has broadened the concept to include a finely turned-out high-speed cruising boat, the Santa Cruz 52.

Santa Cruz 50 Specs YachtingIf you haven't been aboard the SC52, you may have trouble believing the cruising part. Maybe a few items from the equipment list will help: three-burner LPG stove (with oven and broiler), 8 cu. ft. refrigerator/freezer, watermaker, dual deep-cycle battery banks, 2-kw inverter, hot/cold pressure water and a Wolter on-demand water heater. On deck, the bow is molded to house headsail roller furling gear below deck level.

A displ./length ratio of 93 puts the SC52 into the ultralight category. To keep her there requires a few compromises. Although the interior is very comfortable, nicely finished and eminently cruiseable, it's not as luxurious as, say, an Apogee 50, a Hinckley 51 or a Little Harbor 52. If you want to surf at 20 knots, the tradeoff is usually luxury and an easy motion. If you want the ultimate in luxury, easy motion and light-air pointing, you give up the Santa Cruz's instantaneous response, exhilarating top speed -and more cash. On a given LOA and excluding exotic materials, heavy boats always cost more than light ones.

The SC52's tall rig and modest wetted surface area (good sail area/wetted surface ratio) make her fast in light air. The Omohundro spars on this 52 are exquisitely made. Ambiance belowdecks is just the ticket for folks who like to sail hard and have fun without worrying about damaging the varnish. The conservative use of wood trim lends a Herreshoffian air to the living spaces.

Typical of ultralight boats, the 52 doesn't have a full fiberglass liner, the upholstered overhead or the acres of varnished wood common aboard "luxury" racer/cruisers. Instead, three molded pans, which define the spaces and form most of the furniture and the cabin sole, are bonded and tabbed to the hull. These pans stiffen the hull, reduce labor costs on the interior and keep down the weight of the furniture.

The overhead is simply the beautifully faired and painted inside of the laminate, sparkling with stainless steel fastenings for the deck hardware. I love the look. Wiring and plumbing hide behind and under the pans; the runs are exceptionally neat and well labeled. Teak fiddles, door and drawer frames, ceilings, shelving, bulkhead faces and sole dress up the interior. The joinery, though sparse, is excellent, and the ambiance below couldn't be more pleasant.

DESIGNED BY NAVAL ARCHITECT Bob Smith in collaboration with Lee, the SC52 is 3' longer, 2' wider above the waterline, and 2,000 lb. heavier than the SC50, from which she was developed. The beam increases interior volume and stability when she's pressed; the weight gain settled in the subtly flaring foot of the keel. The length comes from more overhang forward and the swim platform aft. Her footprint is the same as the 50's, but she carries more sail (the rig is 4' taller) and will be faster in light airs.

Construction: Hull and deck are E-glass vacuum bagged over a balsa core set in vinylester resin - solid laminate in way of the keel, mast step, and deck fittings.

Santa Cruz 52 DrawingsI sailed hull No.8 on Narraganset Bay in winds of 6 to 12 knots and a light chop. Under main and 135 genoa, ships instruments showed 8 knots speed over the ground in 12 knots of true wind at an apparent wind angle of 25 to 27 degrees. Reaching under main and asymmetrical spinnaker at an apparent wind angle of 90 degrees and 12 knots true, we clocked 10 knots SOG.

Our test boat was set up with a conventional spinnaker and an asymmetrical. The spinnaker pole doubles as a deck-mounted bowsprit - slide it forward through an eye, then hook the after end into a special fitting. Easy. Running backstays help tune the sail shape and keep the mast from pumping.

The SC52 tacks quickly, precisely, and accelerates out of a tack as though she were a 30' sport boat. Steering is light, quick and very accurate, and response to steering input is instantaneous, thanks to a large, effective rudder and keel, light weight and a shallow underbody. We didn't have a seaway in which to test her motion, but experience with ultra-lights makes me think the SC52 will have a quicker motion than heavier 52-footers. On the other hand, her nicely rounded sections ought to keep her from pounding when she flies off a wave.

The cockpit is huge and arranged so that the crew will have an easy time with sailing's chores - it's not a singlehander's dream, because the primary winches are a long way from the helm. The deck has the best anti-slip surface I've ever trod, but if you fall on it, expect to lose some skin.

Base price of the racer/cruiser SC52 is $425,000. Add $50,000 - $60,000 for sails and electronics, about $40,000 for carbon spars. By comparison, the Hinckley 51 carries a base price of about $750,000. You forfeit the Hinckley's custom interior, but you get carefree livability. And don't forget speed - fast is fun, guaranteed.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW OTHER SANTA CRUZ SAILBOATS CURRENTLY FOR SALE IN CALIFORNIA

This review/article originally appeared in Yachting Magazine, February 1996 and is written by Dennis Caprio. For more great yacht reviews, visit their website and subscribe at: https://www.yachtingmagazine.com/subscribe-to-yachting-magazine/

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