I lie parallel to the Hudson River's surface, 3 feet over the water, sailing along at about 8 knots. I'm attached to the Scandinavian Cruiser 20 sailboat only by the soles of my feet and a wire running up the mast that attaches to a harness around my waist. and I am thinking about having a cup of tea.
The boat leaps forward as I shift my weight. It then slices through a motorboat wake, sending a thin spray of the bow's synthetic teak deck. Although I'm hanging from what sailors call the trapeze, the ride on this stately day sailer is mellow enough that I actually consider dipping into my thermos. The 19.7-foot (6 meter), one-person boat is stabilized by a 375-pound (170-kilogram) bulb keel that minimizes leaps and plunges.
"The entire concept of this boat is about going sailing easily," says Haye Kesteloo, the U.S. distributor for Bandholm Denmark-based Scandinavian Cruisers Ltd., the builder of the SC20. "You just get on the boat and go."
The SC20is a re-imagining of the classic skerry cruisers, popular in Scandinavia and Germany at the turn of the past century. They were sleek wooden boats, narrow in the beam. The SC20 uses modern materials and design techniques to increase the boat's speed and comfort without sacrificing its classic looks.
The sailboat features a free-standing carbon mast, shaped like a wing, which rotates to increase the lift generated by the square-topped, fully battened mainsail. The keel strut and rudder are both carbon, and the keel looks like something you'd find on an ocean racer or America's Cup yacht.
The technology doesn't detract from the boat's curb appeal. When I arrived at the dock in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, for our test sail, kesteloo was still rigging the boat in the marina parking lot. He had attracted a small crowd of curious teenagers from the local junior sailing program, all of them hoping for a ride.
We launched from a ramp before using a stowable block-and-tackle system to lower the keel. Then we came about and headed into the middle of Haverstraw Bay, picking up speed as we emerged from the shelter of the harbor.
Sailing the boat is a very civilized experience. There's enough room under the boom for a 6-foot-tall person to cross the cockpit without worrying about a knock on the head. The spacious forward compartment can hold a picnic cooler, extra gear and an anchor so the crew can park and take a swim. All lines run back to the cockpit and are easily accessibly the helmsman. The cockpit is self-draining; any water that comes in goes right back out.
Though the SC20 is designed for one person, sailing with two doesn't hurt performance much, though we were a bit slow to accelerate in light winds. The long, thin rudder means steering is more responsive as the boat moves faster. The roller-furling jib sail tack itself, switching sides on a track and minimizing crew work. Downwind, Kesteloo tugs one line to roll up the jib and another to unfurl the balloon-like, asymetrical spinnaker that gives the boat another burst of speed.
The overall sailing experience is relaxed and easy, befitting a boat that yachters would describe as a gentleman's day sailer. (Gentlewomen can buy one, too.) The boat is stable, fast and maneuverable. Its controls are well placed and easy to reach from the helm. The SC20 has all the speed advantages of a modern racing boat--the spinnaker, the trapeze--without the requirement that the sailor be young and athletic. Its heavy keel makes it extremely unlikely you'll end up getting pitched from the trapeze into the river.
Prices start at about $25,000 and can run up to $33,000 with options. The teak deck is optional, though I think it's critical to the overall aesthetic. Kesteloo plans on showing a fully loaded version at the annual boat show in Annapolis, Maryland in October.
I am having too much fun to drink the tea. We zigzag back down the river until we reach the marina. I pull the line to roll the spinnaker. Though the boat can mount a small outboard--and I recommend it in shallow water--this one has no engine, so we sail into the dock, landing without a bump. Upon our arrival a new crowd form to admire this elegant entry to the world of day sailing.