- Powerful rig
- Excellent performance
- Easy to trailer and launch
- Easy to rig
- Strip-plank cedar and foam core-E-glass construction
- Roomy interior with good headroom
- Suitable for overnight stays and longer
Trailer-sailers tend to fall into one of two camps – cruiser or racer. But occasionally you come across one that manages to skilfully blur the boundaries.
During the trailer-sailer boom of the 1970s and 80s the dream was a family boat that could be raced or cruised. Like religion and social media, it sounded like a good idea in theory, but in practice it was never achieved, and many families got bored or frightened off by badly-designed boats.
For the most part these boats were either stripped-out, oversize dinghies or floating caravans that sailed like one. The idea of the perfect family trailer-sailer that could be raced and cruised at the same time was a dream as wild as sticky date pudding being served during a yacht race.
That was until Banks Peninsula designer Dan Leech took the best features of these efficient extremes and designed them into an innovative trailer yacht that feels like a race boat on deck and a cruising keeler below.
Dan is a former runner-up in the Tanner and Tauranga Cups and six times consecutive R Class Skiff National champion. He has designed boats ranging from commercial workboats to fast performance racing yachts.
With the launching of his Leech 8m CR prototype Hettie’s Gift, Dan has applied a sailor’s sensibility and a father’s understanding to the trailer-sailer concept and come up with a unique combination of a livable and efficient trailer yacht.
As part of this innovative design, Dan has harnessed the efficient production method of a full CNC cut-out, kit-set type build system to create the jig for the hull. This simplifies the construction and speeds up build time, but still allows for the finish of a production boat and maintains the underlying strength and stiffness of composite construction.
The construction of Hettie’s Gift took 18 months under the skillful hands of Bruce Keen and his team at Bruce’s Boat Repairs in Invercargill. With any custom boat it is the relationship between builder, designer and the owners that is key and Hettie’s Gift is the result of talent and skill on all sides of the equation.
She was constructed in top and bottom halves. The lower section of the hull is cedar core strip plank with the topsides and deck created out of foam core all encapsulated in an epoxy/E glass laminate.
Areas such as the chainplates and dagger board case are reinforced with the judicious use of carbon which makes for a light, stiff hull any racing buff would be proud of.
The hull form is similar to the Leech 8m racing version below the waterline, with a narrow entry flaring into a wider stern. Strong chine sections integrate into impressive topsides which give the boat a keeler-like freeboard and, unusually for a trailer-sailer, full standing headroom in the main saloon.
The interior is constructed in a mixture of composite panels and epoxy over gabbon ply. With a long waterline and narrow beam extended to the chines very little effort is required to get her moving and keep her moving.
In times past the cruising trailer-sailer has been dogged by accommodation that is only suitable for midget contortionists. This turned most of them into day boats dragging around the weight and complexity of a cabin that is never used.
From the outset Dan had family cruising in mind with the design of Hettie’s Gift. “The owners Pete and Angela go away for around 10 nights at a time with two young children under 5, so she needed to be comfortable for everyone,” he says.
Getting standing headroom into an 8m boat is a challenge for any designer. Dan has managed to accommodate this by the use of high freeboard rising up from the chines and kept the cabin profile low and slim with subtle curves and cabin window design.
There is just the hint of a reverse sheer and a chine which flares out the stern, combined with the ample freeboard this bodes well for a dry ride. While this freeboard looks imposing on the trailer, once Hettie’s Gift hits the water the hull form settles into a handsome boat.
The cockpit is commodious by trailer-sailer standards and feels more like the layout of a Young 88. Input from the owners and builder has resulting in some clever design around the sail controls, the cockpit is free from the usual clutter on a racing boat.
This is aided by having the traveller right on the transom and the jib sheets and fine tuners on the cabin top so that all the sail controls are easy to reach from the helm – a boon for short-handed sailing.
Twin rudders provide plenty of grip and instead of having two tillers sweeping the aft deck, a clever below deck rod-and-T-bracket system do the job nicely. Either side of the rudder system are the petrol tank and gas lockers – generous in size thanks to the space in the stern. The twin rudders also allow for a centrally-mounted 15hp Parsun outboard on a dedicated, adjustable bracket.
On the cabin top are the usual array of keyboards backed up by two Harken 35 winches which provide more than enough grunt for hoisting sails. The 450kg dagger board and bulb are controlled by an ingenious Maxwell electric anchor winch system which sits just aft of the mast and takes the heave out of raising the board.
The impression of the layout is a racing keeler on deck and a comfortable cruising boat down below. Stepping down into the hatch you seamlessly transform from one to the other.
Cabin layout is not only commodious but also unconventional. The forepeak has a comfortable double bunk while immediately to either side of the dagger board trunk are the toilet/shower (to starboard) and the inline galley to port.
Having the galley in this part of the boat allows the saloon to function as an area to relax without having to constantly step past the cook. Beneath the spacious cockpit floor is one of the largest athwartships double beds you will see on a trailer-sailer, roughly equivalent to domestic king size in my estimate.
Many of the innovations of the interior came from co-owner Angela Henderson. She wanted plenty of room for the children to move while they were small. It would also be a boat that needed to grow with the family, including the extra large berths, harness points and space for storage.
On the water
Our test sail is in the narrow waters of upper Lake Aviemore – a couple of miles upstream of us is Benmore, New Zealand’s biggest hydro dam. Our crew comprises owners Angela and Peter Henderson, their children Brackley and Ruby and a possie of boatbuilders from Bruce Keen’s yard. The mix of racers, cruisers and children is a sure test of the modern trailer-sailer concept.
Stepping aboard Hettie’s Gift is like being on a small keeler. The freeboard and space belie the fact you are on a trailer boat. The next impression is of a clean and wide cockpit with room for a race crew – or the entire family – depending on the mode.
Under engine the boat manoeuvers well with plenty of grunt in the Parsun. Under sail the outboard lifts out of the way. With a fickle westerly of five knots the 25.3m2 Zoom Sails mainsail and 15m2 jib get Hettie’s Gift gliding along nicely.
The 8m CR has the same rig configuration as the 8m racing version so there’s plenty of power in the 10m double-spreader rig. She is quick to accelerate in the puffs and drops her leeward chine into the water which stiffens her up noticeably, and having the sail controls in close proximity makes for quick and easy trim adjustments.
The helm remained nicely-balanced with the twin rudders working well. On a long run the windward rudder can be lifted and this makes the helm even more responsive. Down-wind the retractable carbon prod is extended and the 80m2 masthead asymmetrical spinnaker is set. This gives her the sail area to glide in the dying breeze and the odd puff shows her ability to get up and scoot.
On deck it is all go with an experienced racing crew having fun. In the cabin the kids are strapped into their car seats, happily watching a movie, while Angela is busy in the galley. It is perhaps this dual vision that best sums up the whole design.
We are busy discussing the finer points of sail trim on deck when from the hatch appears a world first for a boat review. Bowls of deliciously warm sticky date pudding and good Southland cream are handed up on deck.
To do sticky date pudding justice requires two hands, one for the bowl and the other for the spoon. I am wondering what to do with the tiller when Bruce dumps the traveller and eases the jib. He meets my enquiring look with “I call it sailing to the conditions,” before grinning broadly and tucking into his pudding with both hands.