The Price of Cool: The K 650
A high-powered French brain trust pools its resources to develop a sportboat unlike any other, but too much of a good thing can be darn expensive. A boat review from our April 2010 issue
The BOTY judges take a spin on the K 650
With big names like Kouyoumdjian (Juan, the designer, of course), and Karver (the avant-garde hardware manufacturer) contributing to a production sportboat, the world should expect nothing less than a top-shelf, big-grins sailing machine. As I'm told, Kouyoumdjian was given wide latitude to design the very sort of boat that he would want to race. With "Juan K" this invariably means something out of the ordinary, something risky in the business of selling boats. Yet in risk, there is thrill, and for thrills there is the K650.With big names like Kouyoumdjian (Juan, the designer, of course), and Karver (the avant-garde hardware manufacturer) contributing to a production sportboat, the world should expect nothing less than a top-shelf, big-grins sailing machine. As I'm told, Kouyoumdjian was given wide latitude to design the very sort of boat that he would want to race. With "Juan K" this invariably means something out of the ordinary, something risky in the business of selling boats. Yet in risk, there is thrill, and for thrills there is the K650.
Karver engineers did their part to trick it out like a garage rocket, decorating it with their minimalist hardware. Upstart French builder Yum Boats staked out production floor space at Composites Marine International, in Thailand, and the result is one of the most high-quality builds Sailing World's Boat of the Year judging team has laid its eyes on in many years.
"It has this really cool dockside appeal, more so than the other sportboats that surrounded it [at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis]," said BOTY judge and naval architect Greg Stewart after testing the boat last October.
Yet, as with most things in life, cool comes with a hefty price tag. In the K650's case, that's upwards of $80,000 by the time you pay your sailmaker's invoice.
"This is not a cheap boat at all," says fellow BOTY judge and boatbuilder Barrett Holby, "but it's a first-class boat, from the rudders, the keel, to every single thing they do on it, so it's not overpriced, there's a lot for this size of boat."
The price, says Brendan Cavanaugh, of Yum Boats USA, the Connecticut-based importer, is currently $64,000, with trailer. In February, however, his Franco counterparts reacted to slower-than-expected sales by offering an aluminum mast, recalibrating the price to $59,000 (again, with trailer, no sails). According to Yum boats, preliminary comparison tests showed no tangible effect on downwind speeds, and only a 1.5-percent loss upwind.
That's enough about the cost. What of all this cleverness that is the K650? The Europeans clearly know their stuff when it comes to Open-style boats, and this 21-footer is definitely open; lots of volume and long, flat bottom sections pulled out to a hard-chined, angular stern. Upwind, tight-angle sailing will not be its thing, but off-the-wind in breezy conditions will. In light air, forget about it; as much as Juan K tried to keep the boat's wetted surface area in check, it's the nature of the beast in these types of boats. It's not supposed to sail like an Etchells.
"The thing will be a blast to sail around in on the real windy nights," said BOTY Judge Chuck Allen after sailing the 650 in Annapolis in no more than 8 knots and flat water, "but it's sticky in the light stuff. Until any one-design stuff gets going, anyone who has one of these will be sailing in PHRF weeknight fleets-when it's mostly light-and they're going to get crushed. Sweet boat, though."
Those who favor the technical, but simple, details of such sportboats will appreciate K650. Let's start with the rudder assembly: foils, rudderheads, tie-rod, and tillers are carbon. In his demonstration of the boat, Kavanaugh explains the transom-hung rudders rely on the "Ackermann principle." The rudder linkages align such that the outside rudder angle matches that of the inside rudder through a turn, thereby minimizing drag of one and maintaining good flow over the other.
In the deep cockpit, there was an obvious push to simplify the sail controls: there's barely any hardware or tails, and the helmsman gets the mainsheet from a floor-mounted pedestal. The traveler purchase cascade is flush against the cockpit wall, not on the floor, and is led to a cam cleat at hand's reach. The busy work is up forward behind the rotating mast base (the stainless steel ball is a piece of art, too) where there's the forestay adjuster, spinnaker launching controls, pole articulator, and retractable-daggerboard adjuster. In other words, a three-man crew should never be bored.
The sail plan is more than enough for heavy air. The big-roach main is 247 square feet and the jib, a whopping 188 (a J/24 genoa, by comparison, is 191 square feet, and note, the K650 has no winches). They can get away with this headsail size because the rig is set far back in the boat. It's a roller-furling jib, too, flown on a composite headstay and low-profile continuous furler.
Rarely can the judges get inside boats of this size, But after our resident builder squeezed through the foredeck hatch, he reemerged with eyebrows raised, clearly impressed. The finish glasswork, he reported, especially where you'd typically find corners cut, was immaculate. His hull spelunking also afforded him a closer view of the daggerboard system, an idiot-proof rotary design that swings the daggerboard up for easy launching.
While the K650 is a one-design program with a seemingly committed builder behind it, Allen, ever the skeptic doesn't give it a shot in the United States given its price and the challenges facing existing similar classes. Let's hope he's wrong. This is not a boat to be left sitting in its trailer at the boatyard on any night of the sailing season. Exposure is its only hope, because seeing is believing, and once you see it under sail you, too, will believe that sportboats are still the future.
Test conditions: 5 to 8 knots,
Recommended use: One-design or
race crew: 3-4 (716 pounds)
DSPL: 1,345 lbs.
SA: 435 sq.ft.
Price (no sails): $64,000