19 to 21 - foot Cruisers, Racers, & Daysailers
By Thomas Baker
photography by Robert Foley
Small Boat Journal #45 October/November 1985

  • Sprindrift 19
  • O'Day 192
  • Montego 20
  • Rhodes 19
  • Mirage 5.5
  • X-21
  • Sea Pearl 21
  • How does she sail? How well is she put together? How versatile is she? How easy is she to use? How much does she cost?

    It's a fair guess that every sailor contemplating a boat asks these five questions, JP. "If you have to ask.." Morgan notwithstanding.

    And so it was this May, at the second annual SBJ Sailboat Sea Trials in Newport, Rhode Island, that Small Boat journal set about answering these questions for seven sailboats between 19 and 21 feet long. (For a report on the 1984 SBJ Sea Trials, see SBj #39.) Enlisted in this quest were two avid and long-time sailors, to whom we gave the title "Sea Trials Judges." They were:

    Armed with evaluation sheets and waterproof pens, they were given three days to learn everything they could about the . seven sailboats. The weather cooperated, after a fashion. One minute it was calm and sunny. The next minute, gusty squalls came charging across Narragansett Bay, giving the judges an excellent opportunity to test the boats in different conditions.

    The 19- to 20- foot boats chosen for this year's Trials fell into two general classes: weekend cruisers and daysailers. Representing the weekender category were the Spindrift 19, the Montego 20, the O'day 192, and the Mirage 5.5 The daysailers in the Trials included the Rhodes 19, the X-21 and the Sea Pearl 21. All boats were production fiberglass models, and all except the Sea Pearl were sloop rigged. None would be well suited for bluewater cruising.

    Each boat was evaluated for construction quality, trailerability, the comfort and layout of cabin and cockpit, ease of handling, and safety features. The judges found little to fault in the way of construction. Generally, the finish, fairness, stiffness, layup, and engineering of hull and deck on all the boats passed muster. What's 'more, the boats withstood two days of rough seas without a failure or a problem.

    The way the boats were rigged, however, prompted some unfavorable comments. For instance, most boats came equipped with only the basic sail control hardware. Satisfactory for beginners, perhaps, but not enough for maximum performance. And though "maximum performance" may not be of great importance to every sailor, being able to use different sets of sails, or to trim or reef them to varying conditions, does increase the amount of time that a sailor can spend safely on the water. Fortunately, with a little extra investment, hardware to improve sail handling can be easily added.

    Given the weather conditions and only two judges, there was no way to obtain "scientific" data with which to compare the relative performance of the various boats. Nor were any absolute standards applied in the evaluations. Much in the comments and conclusions of the judges is subjective, as it is based on their sailing preferences and experience. .

    In any case, the Sea Trials is not a contest in which one boat wins and another loses. Every boat has its strengths and weaknesses, and no boat could do everything well. The saying is still true that small boats have to make big compromises.

    Finding the right boat for you means first establishing what kind of boating you want to do, then test sailing those that seem to meet your needs. As Doug Owens put it, "Sailing is what sailboats are all about, and that means reasonable performance in a variety of winds, good control, and acceptable comfort while sailing. "

    Two 19s. The Sprindrift 19 (left) and the Rhodes 19 (right): two different approaches to sailing fun.