Cruising a Classy 36-Foot Racer
Cruising a Classy 36-Foot Racer
Exiting the Niagara River was a wake-up call for all five of us. As we cleared the point, riding two knots of current under main only, Seaweed
leaned over in the 16-knot easterly and began charging into the short
steep waves. I quickly realized that Sophie, my 11-year-old, probably
shouldn't be sitting in the bow pulpit for this part of the trip, and
soon had her and the others settled in the cockpit. Driving the
powerful Beneteau First 36.7 with its big wheel wasn't hard, nor was
easing the traveler, but sailing through the bumps was like riding a
powerful horse; you had to hold the reins with authority and keep
We didn't have far to go. We were heading northwest, towards Toronto's
CN Tower, standing tall, 25 miles across the west end of Lake Ontario;
but the lake was chilly and rough for this, the first leg of our
four-day family cruise from Youngstown to Rochester, N.Y., via the
Why were we heading for Canada on this frisky racer/cruiser anyway?
Because this 2002 Boat of the Year model has sold 180 times in North
America, and many are racing in one-design fleets. Why not
investigate the cruising side of the boat's personality? I borrowed Seaweed
from boat dealer Don Finkle and signed on my family crew. The only
requirement was that we deliver the boat 80 miles east, in time for the
next weekend's race.
Finkle doesn't have time to cruise Seaweed-he
intends to someday. Instead, he races every weekend and Wednesday night
all summer and is the pied piper of the class on the Lakes; the fleet
is now up to 25 boats on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. His counterpart on
the Chesapeake, Garth Hichens, has developed a 22-boat fleet. Hichens
admits he has commercial reasons to race a 36.7, but believes the boat
provides both good value for the money and the dual-purpose
capabilities to be viable in the long term. "The class has legs," he
says, and "caters to racers, families, and people who need their boats
to be fiscally justifiable." Just as important to Hichens: "The boat is
fast and fun to sail."
I'd already met some 36.7 racers at the Toronto NOOD a month earlier. Dave Shriner's Legend crew sent him swimming after winning that series and were primed for the Nationals in Chicago (Legend finished second to the three-time champ, Wes Siegner's Abino).
Shriner, who owns the boat with Dan, his father, described the learning
curve as "frustrating at first. I thought the boat should be sailed
with the sheets on hard, not a lot of twist, and pointing high." They
soon began to learn that making target upwind boatspeeds (up to 7.3
knots) meant putting the bow down and twisting the sails. Shriner told
me he hadn't cruised the boat, but had done lots of deliveries. He said
it "sails a little tender," but added that he had yet to reef it.
Flattening the main and putting the lead aft on the No. 3 kept it
depowered in a blow.
Back on Seaweed, the waves smoothed out as we reached deep water.
I unrolled a third of Finkle's 135-percent cruising genoa to balance
the helm and pulled out my handheld GPS. As Shriner had said, if you
put the bow down, it's fun to go fast. We were occasionally touching 9
knots over the bottom. As the breeze swung aft and progressively faded,
I unrolled the whole headsail, and we broad reached into the Toronto
Islands a few hours later. For my family, the highlight of the day was
probably watching the Yankees and Blue Jays, but for me, tucking Seaweed
safely away at the Royal Canadian YC's friendly Centre Island
facility gave me as good a feeling given the weather report.
As predicted, a 25-knot northeasterly blew in the next day, but the
36.7's cabin was a dry, comfortable place to sleep, read, and play
cards. The girls shared the aft cabins (two in the queen-sized berth
and one in the over-sized single), and with main cabin settees to
lounge on, we spent a relaxing day, waiting out the breeze.
We spent much of the next day motorsailing along the Canadian shore.
Our destination was Cobourg, Ontario, 56 miles east, and I was
surprised to find we were going 6.5 knots through the water, but only
5.4 over the bottom. With a low pressure system to the west, I guess
the water was all heading downhill. Anyway, I had plenty of time to
ponder that puzzle, stop when the sun came out for a mid-lake family
swim, and then enjoy broad reaching the last 15 miles on a gentle
southwester, arriving at Cobourg as the Tuesday-night beer-can fleet
That night I interviewed Olivia, age 13, on her impressions of the
boat: Below, she felt there were lots of good seats and good storage
for her clothes and accessories (she always has the over-stuffed bags
when we travel), and she liked how neatly her cabin drawers opened and
closed. She felt the bunk boards could've seated better, but found
sleeping on the bunk comfortable. Noise and vibration from the 29 hp
Volvo saildrive unit were minimal-she hadn't woken up until we'd
covered at least a dozen miles that day. On deck, at 5'2", she'd have
preferred a tiller. Beneteau has modified new boats so the Edson wheel
sinks into a shallow well, making it easier for shorter people to see
Recently, I talked with Melanie Tisdale, who owns FirstToday
with her husband Gary, and has cruised Lake Ontario's Thousand Islands
and the North Channel. Moving up from a C&C 29, Tisdale was unsure
about the change until a regatta in Toronto. After racing and topping
off the water tanks, she took her first shower aboard. That's when she
fell in love with it. "It sounds silly," she says, "but we hadn't had
hot water or refrigeration before."
Storage space, is limited, says Tisdale, but she loves the airy
interior and the comfort of the dining area, and says Beneteau's white
upholstered cushions have held up well. (They come off for races, along
with bedding and other cruising gear.)
The Tisdales aren't just cruisers with a quick boat. After their North
Channel cruise they finished third overall in the NAs in Chicago with
Gary steering and Melanie doing the pit. They have made some
minor adjustments in the cockpit, such as releading backstay controls
and adding a foot brace. And for cruising, there's now a cockpit table:
"I went to Sam's Club and bought a little plastic table for $19," she
says. It folds up flat and has even been sanctioned by her husband to
stay aboard for apres-race usage on Wednesday nights.
Our short cruise wrapped up with a quiet foggy morning at the Cobourg
street market, then out on the lake, breaking through into a sunny
afternoon sail into Rochester. The breeze gently increased, and while
the other crewmembers focused on reading and sunbathing, I enjoyed the
quick feel of this Farr design, sailing closehauled with a big
fractional rig above me and performance foils beneath. The 7'3" keel
may keep you out of some harbors, but it sure felt good that day,
allowing us to sail rather than using the iron genoa. My reading-room
crew occasionally spelled me at the helm; but I admit I was happy to
Beneteau First 36.7
Disp. 12,939 lbs.
SA 657 sq. ft.