Meet the Pixel, Kirby's Latest
Meet the Pixel, Kirby's Latest
Bruce Kirby is at it again. The 76-year-old former Olympic sailor,
International 14 champ, and raceboat designer has always had a thing
about light and sound designs, notably his international success
stories, the Laser and the Sonar. Now comes the Pixel, named for one of
those dots of color on your computer screen. Kirby says the 13'8"
doublehander is his 15th dinghy design.
The Pixel is a light, stable transition dinghy for youth sailors
learning about jibs and symmetric spinnakers when they graduate from
Optimists or other beginning boats. It also aims to be a boat on the
recreational track, for kids not so fired up about racing or sailing
solo. Kirby's target crewweight is 200 to 250 pounds, so it should fit
for kids who aren't ready for more powered-up dinghies like the Laser
and Club 420.
I went for a sail with Lightning champ Jim Crane on one of four
fiberglass and epoxy prototypes built in China for Nearwater Boats
(Kirby and partner Wes Oliver). Considering that the wind was light,
maybe 4 to 8 knots, and that we were 100 pounds over the target weight,
we had a fun sail. The helm balanced easily, and the boat accelerated
well in puffs, moving nicely through the chop. The bottom is flat so a
little heel going over a bigger wave didn't seem like a bad idea. The
side decks were wide enough for comfortable hiking, and at its
windiest, maybe 9 knots, we both were on the rail. I imagine two
lighter youth sailors would've been sitting together on the rail in 6
or 7 knots of breeze, hiking comfortably in 8 to 12, and getting a good
workout when the wind is over that.
We set the spinnaker-the first time Kirby had had one up-and had some
pleasant little scoots on a few small waves. I think the Pixel would
plane easily with a modest amount of wind. It did for Crane's brother
Bill, who sailed the boat without the spinnaker in 20-plus and found
that it planed upwind. Even without a trapeze, the boat has enough
horsepower. Sailing in light winds as heavy adults, we could've used
more sail area, but that means it's probably about right for lighter
Besides being relatively quick, there are other attributes worth noting:
The double bottom and the shape of the side tanks makes lounging on the
floor of the boat as comfortable as on the side, which for rec sailing
is a plus. In combination with an open transom, these design features
should make the Pixel easy to self rescue after a capsize. Even better,
the boat is extremely stable to start with and has several good
anti-turtling details including a sealed (carbon) mast, foam in the top
of the mainsail, and inboard cutouts in the sidetanks to make it less
stable upside down. I have to confess, due to the raw weather for our
test sail, we saved the capsize test for another day.
One smart feature of the Pixel related to its stability is its open
bow, which makes it easy to step aboard from the float. While rigging
the topping lift, Jim Crane stood in front of the mast and had no
concern that the boat would flip the way many dinghies would. The
absence of a foredeck kept his center of gravity low, and the light
carbon spar couldn't have hurt. Other factors contributing to stability
are the flat bottom, relatively hard chines, beamy waterlines, and wide
transom. In keeping with this, we noticed that a hard hike was needed
to effectively roll tack the boat.
The original idea of the Pixel came from Kirby's partner, Oliver, who
says the time has come for a new, modern dinghy that can teach all the
basics of spinnaker sailing to lightweight sailors. He also thinks
there may be a larger market for the boat, but his focus at the moment
is entirely on sailing programs with transitioning sailors. Oliver
wants to keep the price at $6,000 or less, and hence the construction
in China. At press time in December, a fifth prototype was underway
with a few modifications, such as two foam stringers to minimize
flexing in the bow sections, and carbon spars (the Pixel's first spars
were built in New England). Oliver intends to deliver complete
glass/epoxy boats, direct from the builder, including sails by Neil
Pryde of Hong Kong. Production boats should be available for spring
LOA 13' 9"
LWL 12' 6"
Beam 5' 6"
Disp. 185 lbs. (hull) 220 lbs. (all-up)
Sail area 94 sq ft. (upwind)
Nearwater Boats, LLC