You can blame it on the unseasonable weather we had on the East Coast last fall. What was supposed to be a good hard test at sea turned out to be primarily a motorsail in unusually balmy and light airs.
The route we were taking was the standard delivery course from Annapolis, Maryland north via the C&D Canal and Deleware Bay to Buzzard’s Bay, with our landfall at Marion, Massachusetts, approximately 400 miles of coastal and offshore sailing that promised to give us headwinds, reaching conditions, and even some downwind work. It wasn”t to be.
Yet, even with the engine doing most of the work not an uncommon event on a cruising boat we got a feel for how the new Sabre 452 handles, how she works as a passagemaker and, on the last day, how well she can sail in a good breeze. But, for the first 36 hours of the trip, it was a good thing the World Series was on TV.
When Sabre set out to build the new 45-footer, they went to designer Jim Taylor with a brief to create a capable blue water passagemaker that could be handled by a couple and that offered the storage required for long-haul sailing all in a package that provided superior performance under sail and luxurious accommodations. A tall order. Involved were the difficult compromises required to fit a woody, Maine-style interior into an efficient, light hull that could cruise under sail at good speed and compete favorably in offshore events such as the Marion-Bermuda Race or Pacific Cup.
As veteran sailors know, a good offshore boat should be as simple and robust as possible, with a rig that can be handled by one person on watch, assuming the vane or autopilot is doing the driving. That dictated a light, simple three-spreader rig on a keel-stepped aluminum mast. Cap shrouds, intermediates and lowers all terminate at a single, multi-tang chain-plate fitting on deck, which keeps the side decks open and clean and provided for a water-tight thru-deck chainplate design. Narrow sheeting angles and ample sail area provide the sailing performance the builder was seeking.
The hull had to be light and efficient. Taylor’s current cruising designs have evolved from the state of play in offshore race boats and offer long waterlines, light ends, a broad run aft and low wetted surface. Below the water, the rudder and standard seven-foot, nine-inch keel are moderate-aspect modern blades that provide a lot of lift on the wind and good bite (once the boat is moving well) off the wind. A five-foot-six-inch cruising bulb keel is also available, which provides slightly less lift but actually adds to the hull’s stability.
The deck layout is clean and simple with lazzarette lockers and a huge sail locker aft and a large anchor locker forward. Next to he companionway, a little catchall bin has been molded in that will be just the place for tubes of sunscreen, spare lanyards, a light and horn, and so forth. With the main traveler mounted on the cabin-top, the cockpit is open and clean and room has been allotted for both a sea-going dodger and a small Bimini. When the design was down on paper and the final parameters met, the boat ended up with a Displacement/Length Ratio of 186, which is light by conventional cruising boat standards. Moreover, it flies 1,043 square feet of working canvas and has a Sail Area/Displacement Ratio of 21.37, which would be considered high on a traditional boat. (Our Mason 43 had a D/L of 350 and a SA/D of 16.5!) The significance of these design numbers is (1) that the boat is light and, thus, it promised to be fast and (2) it flies a lot of sail so it will perform well in light airs and will be powerful in a breeze.
Fast and robust, simple but elegant tall orders, but after a few days at sea we found that Sabre had gone a long way down the road to achieving these ends.
Modern fiberglass, production construction has evolved a lot over the last decade, and new laminates are lighter and have superior strength. A debate lingers on about the difference between balsa and foam as the core material, yet time has proven that cored panels have higher strength-to-weight ratios than solid panels, and that balsa provides a stiffer composite structure than does foam.
The 452′s hull and deck are built for Sabre by North End Marine in Rockland, Maine using hand-laid vinylester-balsa composite structures. Above the waterline an isopthalic gelcoat is used, while below the waterline, a blister resistant ISO NPG gelcoat prevents ingress of water into the laminate. The interior structural members of the hull are built up from the hull itself of marine plywood and solid wood floors, which are all tabbed to the hull with six-inch overlapping fiberglass tabs. The net effect of tabbing in the floors, cabinet furniture and bulkheads is a massively strong overall structure that does not twist in a seaway or flex when pitching into a head sea. The hull is joined to the deck mechanically, with stainless-steel bolts on 6-inch centers, and sealed with 3M 5200. Thru-hull fittings are fitted through deck sections cored with marine plywood and backed with metal plates.
Sabre has made the move to a carbon-fiber rudder post, which is lighter than a steel or aluminum post, resistant to corrosion, and adds a degree of flexion to the spade which, in turn, gives it a much higher destruction threshold. All of this means that the carbon post is better than more traditional alternatives.
The systems and engineering in the boat have been planned carefully and kept simple, despite the tendency of buyers of larger boats to add on a lot of extras. Wiring is all color-coded and labeled. Plumbing has been centralized and is also labeled. Both are accessible. The wiring throughout is of tinned copper, which resists corrosion and has a longer life than non-tinned wire. Thru-hulls on the boat we sailed were plastic and easily accessible.
In terms of accessibility, we ran into only one problem. Once at sea, while trying to open the overboard seacock for the holding tank, which is placed at the bottom of the starboard lazarrette, we dove in head first. We discovered too late that the locker was deeper than it looked and we became indecorously stuck upside down with feet waving in the air and blood rushing to the head. It was at this point that we deduced that a slimmer, younger person going in feet first was the right tool for the job.
During the run north from Annapolis, we occasionally slammed into a wave or fell off one. The hull met the sea solidly without causing any creaking in the furniture. While motoring, vibration was so minimal as to be unnoticeable everywhere in the boat but in the after cabin, which is virtually on top of the engine. On deck, the boat is so solid and the insulation so effective that the splash of the exhaust was the loudest engine noise the helmsperson heard. Although the Sabre 452 is built with modern materials and modern techniques, it still has the stiffness under foot and the quiet ride of a larger, more traditional and much heavier cruising boat.
Sabre owners, as a class of sailor, tend to take their boats to sea, either racing or cruising, and thus have passed back to their builder numerous refinements of what works out there and what doesn”t. The result is an interior that is both a functioning floating home and one that works well at sea.
In terms of life at sea, the boat has three good sea berths. The quarter-cabin double berth works well, although it is a bit noisy when motoring for long periods and is too wide for sleeping in bad rolling conditions without the use of bundling pillows or a centerline lee cloth. The settee berth to starboard, which has an ingenious retractable table, is a great berth at sea, as is the dinette to port. The curved cushions restrict the length of the bench berths and have to be removed for sleepers longer than six feet.
The galley is the heart of the interior and works well at sea, despite spanning a large area. We did not have bouncy enough conditions offshore to warrant using a safety belt in the galley, but anticipate that a belt would be a boon during boisterous trade-wind passages or Gulf Stream crossings. The centerline sinks drain on both tacks. The three-burner stove gimbals nicely and the cook is protected from it with a sturdy stainless-steel crash bar. The huge fridge-freezer is accessible from the top and the side and has useful interior shelves.
The engine compartment is under the cockpit and accessible from the side and the front by removing panels and stairs. Most routine maintenance can be performed from the side panel in the quarter-cabin. We did not measure the companionway, but it appears that the 76-horsepower Yanmar on the boat we sailed could be hoisted almost directly out of the cabin from its engine beds for repairs. The engineroom is not large enough to house an auxiliary generator, which would probably have to be mounted at the bottom of the port sail locker.
Two heads are nice on a boat of this size, although we always have to wonder if the tradeoff in interior living space is worth those few minutes of extra privacy every day. On balance, couples cruising with guests prefer to have their own heads. The after head, right below the companionaway to starboard, is the at-sea head, and if it were larger could have served as the wet locker. But the forward head, with its large shower, probably will end up being the wet locker.
The V-double in the forward cabin will probably be the in-port master berth. It was a fine under-power berth on our sail north, as motion was minimal and the rush of the bow wave a pleasant soporific. But in anything of a seaway, this cabin will end up as the stowage space for rolled up dinghies and extra sails. With its large opening hatch and a windscoop mounted, this forward berth will be a lovely spot on balmy tropical nights anchored in the tropics.
The finish in the boat we sailed was the standard cherry Sabre is now using. We like it a lot better than teak as it has the look of fine furniture, although it is much more difficult to work with. The cabinet work through out is excellent; doors, drawers, and lockers all are solid and well made. At sea, drawers didn”t pop open, nor did doors jump their latches. But then, we never had a wave over five feet high to leap off.
We had two pleasant nights at sea on the 452 and felt comfortable and at ease all the way. With ample tankage and storage for supplies and spares, the interior of the boat makes a fine seagoing home that a couple or family would soon make into a handsome floating, cruising home. Built on a production basis, Sabre’s Bentley Collins says that the company will “personalize” the boat, but does not engage in major custom alterations.
We did not get to see the 452 in all its various poses under sail. We had only a main and genoa to play with and not enough wind to do much playing. We did get to know the boat under power. With the Yanmar cooking at about 2,800 rpms and the seas fairly flat, the 452 slipped along at a happy seven knots, burning, we estimate, about three quarts of diesel per hour. Given her 100-gallon tank capacity, the boat has a comfortable motoring range of 800 miles, which is about right for world cruising.
Maneuvering under power was affected by the wind, as the bow has a tendency to blow off in across breeze. Yet with the large spare rudder, the boat backs like a sportscar and turns virtually within its own length.
Under sail, we only really got to test her abilities running before a breeze of about 15 to 18 knots on the last stretch of our trip up to Marion. The wind came up at dawn from the south and with the genoa on a whisker pole and the main all the way out, she ran easily before the mounting chop. The GPS gave us a steady eight knots in 15 knots true and we regularly hit 10s, and 12s as she surfed down the face of little swells. Hand-steering, the feel on the helm was sure and quick. The foils of the rudder and keel gain grip as the boat accelerates, so at 10 knots she feels like a Laser planing down a wave.
With the Autohelm 7000 engaged in the lumpy running conditions, we found we had to put the pilot on the fastest response setting to keep the boat going straight. It worked well this way, but the constant action from the pilot meant we were burning a lot of amps. A windvane might well have done a better job in these conditions.
After 400 miles, with less than 100 of that really sailing, we came away exhilarated by the boat’s sailing performance and would really enjoy making a longer and windier passage aboard. This boat was fresh out of the plant and straight from a boat show. It carried only the basics in offshore supplies. But even so, it was fitted out well enough for a short ocean trip and well enough put together for us to feel complete confidence during the boat’s first at-sea shakedown. With a spinnaker rigged, a No. 3 blade jib, a spitfire and trysail aboard, we can envision sailing this boat just about anywhere in the world.
If it isn”t already obvious, we liked the Sabre 452 and enjoyed our 400-mile passage aboard. The boat has many attributes of a custom cruising boat (large tanks, accessible engine, good sea berths) and is very much cut from the modern design cloth that calls for a lot of sail area over a moderate, fin-keel hull configuration.
We like to make 200-mile days and know that the 452 can do that for days on end in the trade winds or running before the westerlies without breaking into a sweat. On the race course, she should acquit herself very well in cruising canvas divisions and under the new Americap rule. The boat will make an excellent floating home and will carry her owners far and wide with a good turn of speed and a pleasant and safe motion.
|Sail Area||1,043 sq. ft.|
|Spinnaker||1,899 sq. ft.|
|Aux.||Yanmar 76 hp diesel|