The Contessa 26.
An unknown bloke who designs fast dinghies and dayboats.
What was i thinking ?, here i am working on the design series posts for ‘F’ and ‘G’ now and for some reason i completely missed out on some of the ‘C’s, so in this post i’m going to try and correct that with a quick look at one of the best traditional smaller cruising boats ever built and then take a look at the work of British designer ; Keith Callaghan.
“Sweet sailing, seaworthy, safe, seamanlike” : these are all words that have bee used to describe the Contessa 26 as designed back in 1966 by David Sadler alongside boatbuilder Jeremy Rogers who built the boats under his ‘Contessa’ brand. The basic design drew strongly on the Folkboat shape ; Sadler having been a Folkboat owner. In size, shape and displacement the Contessa is very much akin to a later model Folkboat with it’s semi-long keel, keel hung rudder, low coachroof and so on….to it’s ‘compact’ Folkboat like cabin under a low coachroof.
These are all pretty old boats now and there are a lot of very tired and run-down ones kicking around, and they do pop up occasionally as cheap sell-offs ; i tracked one on EBay last year that went for less than £1000 but that one looked as though it needed a new engine, all new rigging and new sails…..i’d be happy to sail one without an engine, in fact i would make the boat faster by filling in the prop void and just having a big oar to get home with !.
What they are as an older GRP boat is a much heavier layup than more modern GRP hulls, please correct me if i’m wrong but iv’e never heard of a very bad case of boat-pox in the Contessa 26 either. Even a rough one is eminently rescue-able and, i would say. totally worth the effort : that of course begs the question “would i have one” ?. My answer is both yes and no in the context of that answer over time. In the past my answer would have been yes except that i chose a Frances 26 instead because it’s a bit of a ‘chunkier’ boat inside and there were lots of things i liked more about the Franny !. My current answer is no because i now want boats that dry out on their own bottom with either none, or very little support : both the Contessa and my old Frances will stand on their keels, that’s how i scrubbed mine, but both of them need legs to stand on a beach.
Contessa 26…..what is it good for ?
Answer….pretty much anything and everything as long as it’s just you and maybe your partner, and don’t expect to be able to stand up in one ; just like a Folkboat !. The list of Contessa 26 voyages and accomplishments is so long that it’s hard to pick out a good small sample but here’s a few ; this, by the way, is a quite shameless cut and paste from the Contessa 26 Wiki page.
“In a review Michael McGoldrick wrote, “The Contessa 26 … is clearly robust and overbuilt, and it has to rate as one of the very best ocean-going production boats in its size category. For example, it has no sliding hatch over the main companionway, a feature which makes the cabin roof much stronger and better able to withstand a pounding in an offshore storm. Evidence of this boat’s abilities as a bluewater cruiser can be found in the fact that it was chosen by both Tania Aebi and Brian Caldwell in their separate attempts to set the record as the youngest person to complete a single-handed circumnavigation. Because of the nature and origins of this design, the Contessa 26 has a narrow beam and limited elbow room down below.
Peter Hancock tells of his travels in Kylie in Sailing out of Silence, Sailing into Sunshine, and Sailing Home. Several transoceanic voyages have been completed, including two circumnavigations: by Tania Aebi in Varuna, as described in her book Maiden Voyage, and by Brian Caldwell who in 1995 aged 19, began a journey of 27,000 miles (43,000 km) in Mai Miti Vavau to become, at the time, the youngest person to sail around the world alone. These latter two sailed in the J. J. Taylor built Canadian version of the 26.
Norwegian couple Henrik Nor-Hansen and Nina Kristin Nilsen are currently undertaking a circumnavigation in their Jeremy Rogers 1976 Contessa, Bika having set-off from Norway in Spring 2005.
Australian Nick Jaffe sailed singlehanded in his Jeremy Rogers 1972 Contessa 26 named Constellation, to Sydney, Australia. He set off from Monnikendam, the Netherlands on 17 September 2007 and arrived in Sydney in the early hours on 1 February 2010.
Canadian Stéphane Tremblay, sailed singlehanded & engineless from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Spain via the Azores & back against the trade wind, aboard his J.J. Taylor Contessa 26 Joshua III on 15 May 2008.
Thomas Höckne did two single-handed circumnavigations in a Jeremy Rogers Contessa 26 named “Tai Fun”. The first lasted between 1981 and 1985,and went via the Panama Canal and the Cape of Good Hope. The second lasted from 1987 to 1998, via the same general route. Both started and ended in Helsingborg Sweden. “Tai Fun” had no inboard engine.“
Now for something radically different : Keith Callaghan and boats that look like a Merlin Rocket on steroids.
Here’s one of his 18 foot open dayboat designs on Ebay.
I’m unusual for a sailor of my generation in that i didn’t come up through dinghy racing as most of my friends had done ; had i gained that early ‘seat of the pants’ experience i would have been a much better sailor earlier on….at least i think so.
One of the boats that i greatly admired when i was effectively learning to sail….usually as bowman and all round winch-winder….was a very wide (for the time) and reputedly fast wooden racing dinghy that i was told was a Merlin Rocket. I never did get to sail that one but as a class it was one that i always watched out for and still do, on this coast we have an active class of them just down the coast at Salcombe and racing them there, or in nearby Looe, is a big deal. I used to marvel at their plethora of control lines and their radical looking wide chined hulls with that uncompromisingly sharp bow.
Merlin’s and please note that none of these pictures are my own.
The high ‘C’ connection here is that British designer Keith Callaghan designed a series of radical ‘Rockets’ and then went on to design a whole series of other fast dinghy’s and dayboats with a very ‘Merlin Rocket’ kind of look to them….plumb bowed and usually wide sterned boats that look a bit like small mini transat yachts.
I have to admit that iv’e always hankered after a Merlin just for fun, except that i’m too old, too heavy and too slow to sail one…..or maybe not !. For many years now iv’e kicked around the idea of somehow getting a viable boat to the start line of the Everglades challenge and one boat that iv’e always had in mind would be an older ‘classic’ Merlin but much converted. That’s not as stupid an idea as it seems as there plenty of different Merlin designs, i’m just learning my way around them and the EC itself is often sailed in smaller and slower boats.
At the moment it’s still a daydream project except that iv’e worked out which of the older designs would be the one to go for and even had a chat with the class secratary to sound them out on the idea. The main problem, aside from taming one and learning to react quickly again is that i would have to convert it to a solo boat and one would be more easily handled offshore. I can see ways of doing that with for example a ‘soft’ rig like a standing lug and maybe a small balancing mizzen…..the boat isn’t much different in overall size to local guy Steve’s Welsford ‘Navigator’ although of course it’s a radically different concept.