As I drove up Interstate 5 to test sail the new Bravura 29 in Newport Beach, I pondered the task at hand. Id surfed to www.bravurayachts.com to learn about the latest from Leif Beiley. Beileys coined the phrase Sport Utility Vessel to describe a new line of craft of which the Bravura Sportster 29 is the first. The website explains that Beileys design objective was to produce a boat with sportboat performance and Lexus-like comfort.
Thats a pretty big promise, I thought to myself as I drove along in my still sporty, but far from luxurious, 11-year-old Ford Probe GT, but well see whats possible in the price range. The base price for the Bravura Sportster 29 is $79,000. The sail-away price–ready to take on the local PHRF fleet with its 78 rating–is in the $95,000 to $115,000 range.
Beiley pulled the boat into the dock as I arrived. Viewed from abeam, it has pleasing, modern, well-proportioned lines. As with any 30-footer that offers any semblance of an interior, the sheer is a tad higher than a full-on racer, and the cabin is quite tall, but its not offensive. Overall, its looks leave no question that this boat should deliver in the performance department.
Going below to stow my gear, I immediately liked what I saw. Lots of big bunk space, a decent central area for hanging out, an ample icebox, and not much else. Thanks to extra interior volume provided by the cockpit seats, there are two large double quarterberths. I could envision my family heading over to Catalina for the weekend, camping out in this boat. By the end of the weekend, Id probably remember to duck when sitting on the settees to avoid bumping my head — a minor annoyance.
We left the dock, heading to the Pacific in search of the ultimate spinnaker ride. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was uncooperative, so we turned back toward Newport Harbor hoping to snare a local thermal.
On the way, I had plenty of time to chat with Beiley. Hes an engineer who used to design fuel systems for guided missiles, then got lured into the marine industry by his love of sailing. In 1975, he answered a newspaper ad for a position as a draftsman at Islander Yachts. He taught himself naval architecture and started his own business in 1977 as a builder, designer, and delivery skipper, and then in 1988 he founded Bboats, which produced the successful B-25 and B-32 sloops. He sold Bboats in 1995.
Bravura Yachts is his new baby, and Beiley designs, engineers, and oversees the construction of the first of this new line of sport utility vessels in his Costa Mesa shop. A closer inspection of the 29 reveals excellent workmanship and creative engineering utilizing standard vinylester/E-glass sandwich construction. Its a bit of a stretch to call a nice gelcoat finish with a smattering of wood trim Lexus-like, but certainly the Bravura Sportster 29 epitomizes the concept of a quality fit and finish for a production boat. Beileys creative engineering influence can be found throughout. A great example is the multi-part laminate structure that locks the keel fin (steel with a lead bulb for optimal ballast power) into the hull and ties into the chainplates as well.
Based on his experience marketing Bboats, Beiley feels that offering a quick sportboat is not enough; that today, interior comfort is also important to most buyers of performance boats. He says that the fast sailing features and on-deck potential do 90 percent of the job in piquing the customers interest; but at some point everyone goes down below and the amenities usually make or break the deal.
Im an on-deck kind of guy and was restless to put this 4,000-pound boat and its generous sail plan through its paces. After motoring (inboard saildrive) up the harbor, we found some wind, and I took the helm. The boat felt friendly sailing upwind. The 108-percent jib in the nearly masthead foretriangle provided plenty of power in all but the lightest breezes (when you really dont want to be sailing anyway). Im a huge fan of the increasingly popular swept-back spreader, no-genoa rig. The higher hounds on the Sportsters 15/16ths rig offers more jib area than a typical fractional rig, but when combined with a relatively stiff Ballenger spar, it doesnt allow for much bend control. That should be OK so long as the sailmaker designs the mainsail on the flat side with at least one reef. The stiff rig adds a nice safety factor at the expense of a wider range of mainsail shape control. Like most sportboats, the 29 sacrifices some upwind stability for downwind speed. An owner will want to have two jibs, the full-size all-purpose jib, and then a short-hoist, short-overlap, heavy-air headsail.
Finally, we set the kite, and at that moment it was clear that I was no longer sailing my Etchells. Can you say horsepower to burn? With its wide back end and giant kite, the 29 will be a rocket on windy offwind legs. Even if its not quite a Lexus down below, it certainly has hints of a Ferrari under sail. The boat is offered with either a traditional spinnaker, or a sprit rig. The symmetrical kite has plenty of area (thanks to an oversized pole), but Id order my 29 with the sprit and the asymmetric. This boat is light enough that it can handle the hotter VMG angles and the asymmetric is much easier on the foredeck and cockpit team.
The deck layout is functional but could use some minor tuning, which Beiley said is still in process. The forward cockpit seats with coaming backrest are fine if youre not interested in hiking out. A pure race boat wouldnt have coamings, but they allow for a lot more space down below and give the cockpit a cozier feel dockside. Theres also plenty of room for the helmsman aft behind the traveler.
The Bravura Sportster 29 provides great value and fills a niche in the sailboat racing market. Its small enough to trailer, much less expensive than the 35- to 40-foot performance boats, yet offers a comfortable, campable interior while possessing bona fide sportboat-level performance.