Those who want a sailing yacht that offers a shallow draught for access to interesting cruising areas, picturesque small harbours or cheaper moorings often have to compromise in other areas. In particular they often have to accept a loss of sailing performance. It’s an inescapable fact that a deep-draught yacht will always sail better than an otherwise identical boat with a shallower draught, as the latter will suffer from increased leeway when sailing upwind and a reduction of stability.
Nevertheless, demand for shoal draught vessels has historically been such that designers typically produce two versions of a cruising yacht – one with what they consider to be the optimum keel for the model and its intended use, the other typically saving between 12 and 18 inches (0.3-0.45m) of draught, depending on the style and size of boat. This may sound like a modest reduction, but don’t forget the keel represents only part of the underwater profile of the vessel – on many shoal draught designs the keel accounts for only half of the draught, with the immersed section of the hull responsible for the rest.
Over time designers have been able to mitigate some of the drawbacks of shallow draught formats. A key catalyst was the historic victory of Australia ll in the 1983 America’s Cup, which was aided by her revolutionary winged keel. Designers of cruising yachts quickly realised that wings, or other protrusions, at the bottom of the keel would mitigate some of the effects of a shallow draught by creating a more hydrodynamically efficient foil, with the weight concentrated low down. Most of these were a useful step forward, narrowing the gap between shoal and deep-draught designs to the extent that a good shallow-fin boat with decent sails may be quicker than a deep-keel boat with tired sails that no longer hold an efficient shape. A few of the new designs, however, overstepped the mark, with wings that were so large they added significant additional drag.
Beneteau First 435
It’s easy to see why this series quickly became popular in the mid-1980s – they are spacious fast cruisers with a great hull shape and lots of accommodation by the standards of their era. Most were available with a choice of shallow or deep keels, with the former still enjoying the kind of performance that would out-sail lesser designs.
The 435 was the flagship of the range and a large yacht by the standards of its day. The accommodation offered plenty of space in a three-cabin/three-head layout. Alternatively, an aft cabin model with a peninsula bed was available, although this suffered from limited headroom under the aft cockpit. Three keels were offered, a standard deep-draught fin with a 2.3m draught, a 1.9m shallow fin, and a centreboard, although very few of the latter are believed to have been built.
In the 1970s and 1980s Sadler Yachts gained an enviable reputation for producing rugged cruising yachts with excellent sailing characteristics. Launched in 1984, the 34 was one of the yard’s later models and was offered with a wide choice of keels, including three different fins, a wing keel, twin keels and a lifting keel. Most examples were fitted with either deep (1.75m) or shallow (1.45m) fin. It also benefited from being an unsinkable design, thanks to closed-cell foam sandwiched between the hull and an inner moulding.
Accommodation was well laid out, with decent sea berths, galley, chart table and heads compartment. It also included a double quarter-cabin, making it a big improvement on earlier designs, although there is less volume overall than designs of a similar length from 10 years later.
Image above is of a Sadler 34 for sale on our sister site YachtWorld.com
This is a boat that was designed to deliver plenty of space at a price that other manufacturers could not beat. This was primarily the result of economies of scale and careful production engineering. The boat certainly proved a successful concept, with large numbers built over a four-year period starting in 2000. The most popular keels were the deep iron (1.95m draught) or shallow iron (1.65m draught), with the former appearing to be significantly more popular. There were also tall-rig and lead-keel options.
There’s ample space in the three-cabin/two-heads layout, as well as decent ventilation and natural light. Today you would be hard pushed to find a boat with more space at a similar price.
Introduced in the mid-1980s and remaining in production until the early 1990s, this model was a mainstay of this former large British boatbuilder’s range of centre-cockpit cruising yachts. The standard keel offered a draught of just 1.68m, while the shoal-fin option reduced this figure to only 1.37m.
Accommodation was excellent for a boat of its era, thanks to the centre-cockpit layout allowing almost the entire hull length to be used for accommodation. While the layout, apart from the location of the galley, is very similar to that of the smaller Moody 34/346 models, the 37/376’s extra length and beam means that each element of the interior has more space and there’s also more room for stowage, both on deck and below. The arrangement, with a double cabin at each end of the boat offers more privacy than an aft-cockpit boat can provide.
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36.2
This model from the late 1990s appealed to a wide range of buyers, including both private owners and charter companies. The shallow-fin option reduces draught from 1.9m to just 1.37m, while stability is maintained by increasing the ballast by one third of a tonne to 1,875kg, although it has to be noted that the deep keel version was considered to be relatively lightly ballasted.
There’s well proportioned accommodation, within a hull length that’s a fraction under 35ft. Compared to the Sadler 34 there’s a huge amount of additional volume, thanks to a wider beam that’s carried almost to the transom and a longer waterline length. The arrangement is also more up to date, with a larger forecabin, significantly bigger aft cabin and an aft heads compartment.
For more discussion of Jeanneau cruising yachts, see: 5 Jeanneaus: Melody, Sunrise, JOD 35, Sun Odyssey.
A shallow fin design is by no means the only way to find a boat with shallow draught – there are a number of other options. In many cases a bilge-keel design will offer similar performance to a shoal fin model of the same draught. Here’s a review of bilge keel yachts with unusually good sailing performance.
Equally, there are a number of lifting keel boats that are well worth considering: 5 great lifting keel cruising yachts.
Finally, it’s also worth looking at multihulls – here’s a selection of comfortable catamarans: 6 of the best comfy catamarans.