The Ultimate 24 earns this years Boat of the Year award as the top sportboat because its fun to sail, has superior attention to detail, and has the capability to do more than your average sportboat. I sailed the Ultimate 24 as a judge for Sailing Worlds contest last fall and was impressed with its dinghy-like responsiveness yet substantial feel. Several design details, including carbon mast, boom, and sprit, contributed to the boats sailing performance and, unusual for sport boats, other details contributed to middle distance capability.
One key to performance is matching the rig and sails, particularly with sportboats where a single jib and mainsail must perform optimally in all wind conditions. Jib power is controlled largely by forestay sag and mast bend has the biggest effect on the main. With the Ultimate 24 the tailored stiffness of the carbon mast, aided by swept-back spreaders, allows shroud and forestay tension to control mast bend and shape the main throughout the wind range. Without a backstay or runners, the forestay pulls against aft-swept shrouds so that a more powerful setting from looser shrouds also means more forestay sag for a more powerful jib. On the Ultimate 24, forestay tension is easily adjusted while racing with a 4-to-1 tackle system running down the mast, simultaneously adjusting the shrouds so that power in the two sails is linked to a single adjustment. This system contributes to the boats simplicity and while its much easier than finding a wrench to tighten or loosen turnbuckles as is common on sport boats, its also a legal rig adjustment under ISAFs Offshore Special Regulations, which prohibit adjusting shrouds while racing. As a result, Ultimate 24 sailors can still keep their rigs well tuned throughout those longer races that use the Special Regulations.
Although the wind was only four to eight knots during my test sail, this Jim Antrim design moved well upwind under class-standard non-overlapping jib and large-roach main. The helm was light and responsive, and it was easy to roll tack with four aboard. Two-to-one jib sheets lead from the cabintop tracks across to the weather-side winch, also on the cabin house. By cross sheeting in this manner, hiking crewmembers can adjust the jib from the weather rail. In light air, the crew sits forward in the cockpit, with a good view of the sails.
Downwind this boat speeds along with an asymmetric spinnaker set on a deck-mounted sprit. Again, the helm is responsive and the Ultimate 24 accelerates well. Jibes were easy, with tapered sheets running through ratchet blocks to cabintop winches and no backstay to catch the mainsail leech. This is not only less annoying for racers but also a big help to those sailing schools and adult learn-to-sail programs ordering Ultimate 24s as high-performance trainers. The Ultimate 24s spinnaker hoist goes to just above the forestay, not the masthead, as on a Melges 24, but the sprit is about a foot longer. This configuration seems a little slower in light-air running, but should have the ability to stay in control longer and sail tighter reaches in a breeze.
Additional sailhandling details I liked include well-placed traveler controls that allow the helmsman to adjust the traveler whether hiking out against the lifelines or sitting inboard in light air; a hatch-launching spinnaker bag, and port and starboard cabintop vang cleats. Controls were also well placed for spinnaker sets and jibes, with spinnaker halyard, tack line, pole extension line, and jib furler all led to the forward end of the cockpit. Halyard tails fit in a mesh tail bag just below the companionway hatch–a good alternative to either wet halyards down below or a maze of spaghetti in the cockpit.
My only hardware suggestion is to add a set of spinnaker-sheet deflector blocks at the stanchions near the front of the cockpit to allow trimming without the sheet crossing the bulk of the cockpit. Also, the large masthead fitting that accommodates a tri-color running light and Windex, while functional, looks a bit out of place. Hardware was top grade, primarily from Harken and Spinlock, with Lewmar hatches. The custom stanchions at 18 inches tall fit ISAF regulations for a small offshore boat and have inboard bracing legs to prevent deformation at the bases. Put an intermediate lifeline across the open transom and youre nearly ready for ISAF Category 4 racing.
Moving down below, I found the interior atypical of sportboats, both in terms of the spaciousness and level of finish. It took several minutes to realize we had four people comfortably sitting below viewing a dockside demonstration of the keel-retraction mechanism. There are bunks for four, with the V-berth separated from the aft berths by countertops and lockers that incorporate the mast-support beam and shroud-chainplate supports. This carefully engineered mast-support structure is a molded carbon and fiberglass beam with side pylons in place of the usual compression post and provides much greater interior space. Interior volume is also helped by the elimination of the cabin sole, stepping directly on non-skid on the inside of the hull, which is possible since the cleanly molded keel trunk supplies all of the structure normally hidden below cabin soles.
Interior components of the Ultimate 24 were crisply finished, carefully fit, and bonded in place with advanced adhesives leaving no exposed tabbing. Typical of most racers, the rest of the interior of the hull and deck has a painted finish in complementary colors without the added weight of liners. Other interior details not found on most sportboats include fabric-covered cushions on the berths, interior lights, and molded plastic access doors on storage areas. The result is an extremely clean look that stands above the finish work commonly accepted in production racers.
Construction of the Ultimate 24 also shows attention to detail in both hull and deck. Vacuum-laminated fiberglass skins are sandwiched around a combination of PVC foam and balsa cores. Kevlar, S-glass, and carbon are added locally to those areas where added strength and stiffness are needed. The first layers of the hull are gel coat with vinylester resin for improved moisture barrier and blister resistance. The hull-to-deck joint is similar to a Lasers with an out-turning flange that deflects spray away from the deck. The stanchions, padeyes, and other rail hardware bolts through this flange placing the hardware as far outboard as possible and adding mechanical fasteners to the bonded joint. Attention to detail continues in the aft lazarette hatch, which sits on a molded rise in the sole, discouraging water from going below while stowing the engine.
Another detail of the Ultimate 24 is the retracting keel which, combined with the transom-hung rudder, allows this boat to be ramp launched. Ultimate Sailboats and Jim Antrim have drawn on their previous Ultimate 20 and Antrim 27 lifting-keel systems to refine the system for the new Ultimate 24. Barry Barrett from Ultimate demonstrated this system for us, removing the cap from the board trunk, installing the crane, and lifting the keel within 5 minutes time. Ultimate not only supplies the crane as standard equipment, but also builds in a storage spot under the cockpit so it can be easily carried aboard. The molded keel fin locks down solidly with a combination of UHMW polyethylene blocking in the molded fiberglass trunk. When slightly raised, the tolerances open up for freer running and the fin is guided by molded polyurethane guides that minimize friction and protect the finish of the keel. The whole setup is clean and well organized. Id add a rubber pad on top of the crane so that it doesnt scratch the inside of the cabin, but thats my only suggestion.
Most boats this size dont have electrical systems, but the Ultimate 24 not only has one, its quite complete–interior lights, a sealed gel-cell battery centrally mounted in the keel-support structure, main battery switch, switch panel, masthead running lights, and a solar panel for charging.
With the usable interior, the Ultimate 24 can be more than just a day-racing sportboat. The separate outboard storage aft, deck-access anchor locker forward, large ice chest, porta-potti and four berths below make it suitable for camping aboard between day cruises with the family. Also, with Special-Regulations-compliant pulpits, lifelines, and rig tensioning, this boat meets offshore regulations that other sportboats fail. When combined with a deck-mounted sprit that eliminates holes in the hull, a pit arrangement that works with the hatch shut tight, an interior where changing clothes, sleeping, and fixing a little food underway is actually possible, racing beyond the buoys becomes a possibility. (Rumors are that an Ultimate 24 will attempt the San Francisco to Hawaii Pacific Cup in 2004).
If you get your thrills in a tight one-design class on windward/leewards followed by a comfortable hotel room, you will probably have larger fleets and possibly find more performance in an existing class. But, if that style of racing doesnt satisfy all of your needs for a sailboat, the Ultimate 24, with a manufacturer-estimated PHRF rating of 96, has the extra ability to add either longer races or camping style cruising to your repertoire in a boat that also sails great.