Sea Pearl 21

The Sea Pearl 21 approaches the concept of daysailing from a dramatically different direction than either the X-21 or Rhodes 19. It is long and slim, unballasted and unstayed, but the Sea Pearl's simplicity and light weight do not compromise her speed, seaworthiness, or sailing fun. In many ways, they enhance it. These notions are not new and radical. The roots of the Sea Pearl's design go back to 1929, when L. Francis Herreshoff drew the lines of a sailing/rowing tender for his motorsailer Walrus. He called the design Carpenter, which with a few modifications eventually became the Sea Pearl (see SBI #26).

The 21 is completely decked over about 6 inches below the sheer. The skipper sits in a separate self-bailing cockpit aft of the mizzen. There's an open storage hatch/footwell amidships with space for oars and other gear. With the optional canvas cabin, this center cockpit can also serve as a bit of shelter for eating or sleeping out of the weather. Gerr rated the construction as "first class."

For the Sea Trials, Marine Concepts provided the marconi-rigged cat-ketch version with centerboard. Twin lug rigs and leeboards are also available at extra cost. Like a Laser, the boomed, loose footed sails set on a sleeved luff over two-section aluminum spars. The only sail controls are the mainsheets, which run within easy reach of the helmsman, the outhauls, the downhauls, and the boom vangs, a recommended option. To furl the sail, the boom is removed and the battenless sail is wound around the mast simply by rotating the spar.

She's definitely easy to rig. We summoned builder Ron Johnson from his booth at the Small Boat Show at least half a dozen times in our attempts to get photographs when the sun shone, and each time he had his sails set in less than 5 minutes. Johnson also showed us what kind of upwind performance his boat was capable of when he pointed her almost dead into the winds and sailed out past the narrow finger docks.

The Sea Pearl was hardly bothered by the 20-knot winds (and stronger gusts) during the Sea Trials. She reveled in the rough conditions, upwind, downwind, and reaching, and always felt responsive and in control. While there is some dispute about whether she ever got on plane, there was no doubt she is a screamer on a broad reach. Gerr reported that she was remarkably dry through it all, throwing spray down and out rather than up and back.

Tacking in high winds and steep seas requires some extra care. Her minimal rocker slows her turns, and her light weight means she quickly loses momentum. She's also sensitive to crew weight and demands an attentive helmsman when running before strong winds, but the judges had no difficulty keeping the Sea Pearl on her feet. Owens expressed reservations about the open cockpit. He suspected it might fill with water in a knockdown or a rainstorm and be difficult to bail. Prudent use of the standard snap-on tonneau cover would help weatherproof the boat against this possibility. Besides, the foam flotation makes even a loaded Sea Pearl unsinkable.

With her narrow, flat bottom and 550pound weight, the 21 is easy to trailer. She'd be just as easy to gunkhole. "She can take you just about anywhere you can go in a canoe," says Gerr. "Yet she's a lot more boat than a canoe and can be sailed over bars in complete safety." And when the wind dies she's easily moved under oars. What's more, Owens says, she is a pleasure to sail, exciting, and confidence inspiring at the same time.

Simplicity Plus. The unstayed, cat/ ketch rig on the Sea Pearl 21 provides plenty of power for her lightweight hull (below). All sheets lead to the helmsman's self-draining cockpit aft. Her open cockpit amidships offers storage space or even a place to sleep (right).