Best Recreational Racer: Seascape 18
Rodney Johnstone, the father of J/Boats, once published an online essay that outlined the traits of the “perfect” sailboat. The most essential thing, he wrote, was that the boat be one on which anyone could safely enjoy “the complete range of the sailing experience” — from wet, white-knuckle speeds in big breeze to ghosting home, upwind against the tide. Throw in the ability to race it, sleep on it and sail it all day long, and you’ve got what the judges felt was the most surprising boat of the contest, the unexpectedly versatile Seascape 18. It would easily pass ol’ Rodney’s litmus test.
It’s simple and stable, rewarding and exciting to sail, said the judges. It’s unique and minimalist, and they were genuinely surprised by how much they liked it after sailing it in an idyllic 10-knot sun-kissed southerly.
Conceptualized and designed by Mini 6.50 and Class 40 sailor Samuel Manuard, the Slovenian-built Seascape 18 (a 2010 European Yacht of the Year) has the characteristic wedge hull of modern shorthanded offshore racers, which means there’s plenty of stability for high-speed reaching. The wedge shape doesn’t typically make for a kindly upwind sailing experience, but when heeled onto its chine, the judges said, the Seascape demonstrated excellent upwind sailing angles, good speeds and smooth flow through maneuvers.
It’s lightweight — 1,100 pounds all up, with 275 in the swing centerboard — and with 284 square feet of upwind sail, there’s enough power in the rig to get through the light stuff. A robust, tapered and spreaderless carbon rig responded to Allen’s depowering techniques; a firm vang and eased mainsheet twisted the leech without destroying the jib’s good looks.
“I was stunned,” said Tom Rich after sailing the boat in flat water. “It handled really well. Every control line worked without much effort at all. I can see anyone being able to singlehand it, go double or fit three people — comfortably. I was also surprised by how stable it was. When the chine was in, it really locked into a groove. What a cool little boat.”
For an 18-foot boat, there are very few options to deal with an asymmetric takedown system. Bringing the spinnaker and pole into the boat’s interior is asking for a lot of water collecting in the bilges. Seascape’s solution was to mount the extendable sprit and spinnaker sock smack on the port side of the foredeck. It’s not the best look, the judges said; it’s just something to get used to. The on-deck snuffer takedown system, however, simplifies shorthanded sailhandling and makes for faster mark roundings.
“It’s beautiful sailing,” said Allen of the Seascape 18’s straight-line performance. “When it’s flat, the helm is a little soft, but once you lean into it and put in a little angle of heel, the chine digs and it feels great.”
The judges pulled up the weather rudder, resting it in the up position by wedging the blade in its own aluminum cassette. Feel on the tiller immediately improved. One-design class racing, however, requires that both rudders be in the water at all times. For daysailing and handicap racing, playing the rudders would be beneficial.
With all three judges aboard at one point — well beyond the ideal overall crew weight — the transom was sticky, but with two lighter adults, the combination was perfect. “When there were just the two of us, it all felt spot on,” said Allen. “It felt like a dinghy. [It’s a] really cool boat.”
Even the construction was outstanding, said Rich. “The boat is solid, the craftsmanship is perfect, everything lines up, and the finish is good. I said to myself, ‘I could get one of these, pile kids on it, and it would be a lot of fun.’ For $30,000, it’s good for weeknight racing, daysailing and one-design racing, if it ever gets there.”
The inside of the Seascape is undeniably designed for camper sailing, but that’s also the appeal. While it’s thin on headroom, the V-berth is sufficient for two, and with clever use of portable LED lights, a lightweight cooler and a camp stove, gunkholes are ripe for exploring, especially when you run out of races.