There are many advantages to a boat that can access picturesque, but shallow, harbours and anchorages or dry out safely on a sheltered beach at low tide. If you want the ultimate flexibility of cruising in shallow waters, a lifting keel is a great solution (a bilge-keel yacht is another option worth considering). Here are five great lifting keel designs.
These distinctive aluminium yachts have an almost cult following among those seeking a robust long-distance cruising yacht with a shallow draught. As well as being popular among French sailors, the range was given a significant boost through Jimmy Cornell, founder of the ARC, choosing an Ovni as one of his own boats, in which he voyaged 70,000 miles over a 10-year period.
The 36 was built from the mid 1990s until the early 2000s. In common with other Ovni models, construction was to a high specification, with a good standard of joinery. In addition, most boats were very well equipped by their original owners. Both two and three cabin accommodation layouts were offered, with the compromises for the latter including more cramped cabins, especially in the forepeak, a smaller heads compartment forward of the mast, and reduced on-deck stowage.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the robust aluminium construction, high standard of fit out and comprehensive inventory of most Ovnis make them expensive boats, even on the second hand market. However, as later models tended to be larger boats, the 36 is available at a lower price than most in the range, with asking prices averaging around £100,000.
Given the large tidal ranges of much of France’s northern and western coasts, it’s not surprising that many of the volume French boat builders have offered lifting keel versions of their popular models.
Unlike the Southerly and the Ovni ranges, in many cases these tended to favour a pivoted centreboard that swings up into a stub ballasted keel. However the Feeling 326 has the board arranged to swing up mostly into the hull, which further reduces draught. Perhaps this model’s biggest drawback is that it pre-dates the trend for twin rudders and as a result the shallow rudder of lifting keel versions can loose grip at a relatively early stage.
On the other hand, this is a boat that scores well in terms of accommodation, with a spacious two cabin layout that benefits from significantly more natural light than most boats designed in the late 1980s. Overall the 326 is an impressive package – it’s a boat that’s light enough to have good performance (providing you don’t try to hold on to too much sail in a rising wind), with the benefit attractive accommodation and the advantage of the option of a lifting keel.
Southerly 42 RST
Although relatively few boat builders have made their name solely through producing lifting keel yachts, Southerly is a notable exception. Based on the south coast of the UK, the company built some 900 boats over a period of 40 years. While early models had boxy styling, and a relatively small rig to compensate for the lack of low-down ballast, the range gradually moved towards more sophisticated styling combined with better sailing qualities.
A step change came at the end of the 1990s, with introduction of the Rob Humphreys designed Southerly 110. This had a softer, more rounded pilot house design, but the most important changes were below the waterline. Twin rudders allowed for a wider transom and greater form stability, while a deeper lifting keel also helped produce significantly better windward performance. However, key Southerly trademark features, such as the 2ft 4in draught with the keel raised, and the substantial iron grounding plate to prevent hull damage should the boat dry out on a rough sea bed, were retained.
The 42 RST, another Humphreys design, takes these features into a larger boat that has the stability and capability for civilised blue water cruising. Key attributes include a 2.72m draught with the keel lowered, together with a sail plan that’s large enough for powerful windward performance. Nevertheless, the rig was designed to be easy for a couple to handle, including a self-tacking jib and mainsail with single line reefing.
Below decks there’s the choice of two or three cabin layouts, as well as a spacious deck saloon and excellent galley and nav station areas. The three cabin layout retains the spacious fore and aft double cabins of the standard layout, but sacrifices space in the forward heads/shower compartment and galley to provide space for a cabin with bunk beds. This model was built from the mid 2000s and, along with the Southerly 38, is one of the most popular of the company’s later models.
Super Seal 26 and Parker 27
This is a fast cruiser-racer that promises rewarding and responsive sailing in an attractive overall package. Most of the ballast is encased in the bottom of the hull, which makes the keel lightweight and easy to raise or lower. While this comes at the expense of righting moment, a ballast ratio of 45 per cent helps the boat to remain reasonably stiff.
Despite the design’s performance credentials, the accommodation layout is surprisingly good for a boat of this style and era. The forecabin has space to stand up and dress, there’s a compact separate heads compartment, saloon with two good-size settee berths and table, plus a compact galley, navigation table and quarter berth. The biggest downside is for taller owners, as headroom is little more than 1.7m.
In the mid 1980s the Super Seal was renamed the Parker 27, which was in effect a mark 2 version, with more interior space and a higher standard of fit out. The 27 continued in production into the early 1990s, when it was replaced with the Parker 275, an all-new design with better headroom and more ballast in the keel.
There are many situations in which smaller boats can offer a lot of fun, as well as opening up opportunities that are denied to larger vessels. While the Hunter Medina is realistically too big to take home after every sail, it’s an ideal option for anyone wanting spend long weekends in different destinations, or even to take the boat for a fortnight’s holiday in the South of France.
Although there is provision for four people to sleep on boat, the accommodation is cramped. However, with boats changing hands for around the £5,000 mark, you could afford to spend every second night ashore in luxury accommodation. These factors, together with good sailing performance and handling characteristics make it an ideal starter boat, allowing families to try out and enjoy boat ownership without committing large amounts of money. A good alternative of a similar size to the Hunter Medina, but offering a more modern and spacious design, is the Red Fox 200.
Trying to decide whether to go for a finn keel instead? See Choosing a yacht: bilge keels vs fin keels. For more features in the series helping you to choose the right yacht, see: 8 great centre cockpit cruising yachts or 4 affordable deck saloon yachts.