A stout pocket cruiser for the far seas that can travel by road as wellBy Brian Fagan with pictures by Geri Conser
Imagine spending a month in the San Juans one summer, three weeks on the Great Lakes the next, and a leisurely two weeks at Christmas time in the Bahamas later the same year- -all in your own yacht. Imagine doing this in a 27-footer and then a short time later taking the same vessel on a circumnavigation or transatlantic voyage.
That's what Lyle C. Hess designed the Nor'Sea 27 to do as a matter of routine. No less than four of them have circumnavigated and nearly half of the 300 or so sailing have crossed an ocean. Quite a track record for a small cruising yacht, especially one that can be loaded on a trailer and transported thousands of miles with the greatest of ease.
The Nor'Sea 27 is a luxurious cruiser throughand through.
I must confess that I was somewhat skeptical about the Nor'Sea 27 when I arrived at Dana Point Harbor, south of Newport Beach, California, on a gorgeous late May day for my test sail. How could a large trailer yacht possibly be capable of crossing oceans? I found I was laboring under a misconception. The 27 is a transportable cruising boat, not a trailer yacht in the strict sense of the word. She isn't a yacht that you'll launch for a quick afternoon's sail, then haul home in the evening. This is a real little ship designed to explore remote and not-so-remote cruising grounds, with a trailer to take the tedium out of long passages to windward. My skepticism evaporated in minutes as Bob Eeg of Nor'Sea Marine explained the rationale behind what turned out to be a gem of a small cruising yacht.
"We build Nor'Seas for strength, to withstand tough conditions far offshore," Eeg said. "At the same time, they are easily transportable so their owners can sail in remote cruising grounds without having to invest a year or more getting there." As we talked, I admired the attractive sheer of our test yacht, Sundance, her dark blue, clinker-style hull nicely set off by the white sheer stripe. A short, teak bowsprit and handsome outboard rudder with beautifully laminated tiller set off the sheer, while the graceful main cabin house adds to the overall effect. Small yachts of somewhat traditional design often look fussy and somewhat boxy. Lyle C. Hess has created a classic, timeless design, which at the same time bristles with ingenious and sometimes unconventional features. For its part, Nor'Sea Marine lavishes superb craftsmanship on each boat. The quality of the fiberglass and woodwork is the finest I have ever seen in a yacht of this size. This was apparent from Sundance, a used 27 traded-in by the yard. She was built four years ago but showed few signs of wear and tear. It is a compliment to the quality of the construction that all that was needed was a good hull polish to make her look like new.
Sundance felt right the moment I stepped aboard. The bulwarks and lifelines give a nice sense of security and the LeFiell (now forespar) spars and rigging are solid and designed to take real weather. The narrow side decks are easily accessed so it is easy to go forward underway.
The chart table is accompanied by a drawerfor standard-size charts, ample shelving andspace for electronic gear.
Once there, you step down into a well-like foredeck with its own drains that is an excellent, secure working platform for sail changing and anchoring. The teak bowsprit is a masterpiece of design, complete with twin bronze bow roller, and, best of all, a teak seat where you can sit to hank on sails, work on anchors or simply contemplate life, wineglass in hand at anchor or underway. Aft, an optional permanent boom gallows with bronze handholds is a boon in rough seas and comes into its own when towing. The Nor'Sea 27's mast is mounted in a simple tabernacle and rigged so you can lower it with the greatest of ease. Eeg says that it only takes about three hours to rig and launch a Nor'Sea, a remarkably short time considering the complexity of the rig.
I was astonished to find that Sundance had a center cockpit and an aft cabin, something I have always associated with much larger yachts. I am an ardent aft cockpit fan, but my prejudice vanished when I slipped down through the aft hatch. Two berths pass forward under the cockpit seats and you can put in an insert to make a larger double berth if you wish. The comfortable bunks are only moments from the helm if need be. In fact, you can stand in the aft hatch and steer from below. There are ample lockers under the bunks and at the stern. Indeed, the 27 bulges with locker space, more than enough to carry food and other supplies for a passage of a month or more. There's also a 40-gallon water tank aft. While lying in the aft cabin, I admired the fine tongue-and-groove planked finish on the interior, a feature carried throughout the boat. This sophisticated liner eliminates condensation and reduces water noise underway and at anchor.
The cockpit is supremely comfortable, with a deep, narrow locker athwartships on the bridge deck. Here, as elsewhere, comfort comes first. The sides of the aft cabin house are gently sloped so that you can lounge at the helm or sit on the house with a fine view all round. This is one of those cockpits in which you can wedge yourself comfortably sailing to windward or rig a filler piece across the well and use cushions to sleep on deck. Nor'Sea will build a cockpit table for you if you wish.
A steep companion ladder leads into the main cabin, with the head to port and the galley to starboard. An owner can specify an outboard or inboard head system depending on regulations in home waters. There is space for a neatly tiled kerosene heater installation just forward of the compartment. The icebox is aft to starboard under the simple electrical panel, with a CNG stove and sink forward of it. Most boats are equipped with a two- burner stove and grill, but there is space for an oven or microwave for use when alongside or even on the road. There are reports of Nor'Seas being seen parked in truck stops in the heart of the Midwest being used as mobile homes as their owners move to new cruising grounds. Now that's when the microwave comes into its own! The entire galley is small and cozy, but ingenious design and construction make it seem much larger. The builder's fanatical attention to detail shows through again. How nice to find a standard stainless steel safety bar in front of the stove, a rack for stowing the icebox lid when loading it and a wonderful sliding countertop that comes out from under the chart table and slides into a groove under the sink for cutting sandwiches, serving meals and even doing simple carpentry.
The navigation table lies to port forward of the head compartment. There is a drawer underneath for standard-sized charts, sufficient shelving for cruising guides and space for the radio and a loran or satnav. You must stand to work at the chart table, but the builders can modify the station if you prefer to sit.
Two bunks with waterproof lockers behind and under them occupy the remainder of the main cabin. They are separated by an ingenious saloon table that can be collapsed to form the base for a large double berth. There is even a waterproof locker under the table, which provides valuable storage space low in the boat. The bilge, with its automatic and manual pumps, is under the companionway. The entire effect of the saloon is very pleasing. The builders have used light woods and their own bronze ports, as well as a fine teak hatch to give an air of functional airiness. This is a cabin to be enjoyed and lived in for long periods of time. The bow compartment is devoted to the anchor locker and contains ample space for sails, warps and other bulky gear.
This boat is exquisitely fun to sail to windward in smoothwater and a slight chop, responding to puffs like a dinghy.
The 20-horsepower Yanmar carried us smoothly into the harbor channel with minimum fuss and noise. You can cruise at 5.5 knots for hours, with a maximum in the 6.5-knot range. We set the full main and 100 percent jib in the channel and moved effortlessly downwind, accelerating rapidly in the 10-knot puffs funneling around Dana Point. When we turned round for the photographer, Sundance responded beautifully and tacked about 35 degrees to the wind, turning in her own length and tracking beautifully when we pinched her round the corner. This boat is exquisitely fun to sail to windward in smooth water and a slight chop, responding to puffs like a dinghy.
Outside the harbor we found a lumpy sea and 12 knots of wind. Sundance settled to her work with enthusiasm, shouldering her way through the lumpy stuff with no hobbyhorsing or pounding. On a reach, the long keel and modified forefoot gave her outstanding balance. The first reef is tucked in at about 13 to 15 knots of wind. The boat never seemed overpowered and the helm needed but a finger. The Nor'Sea 27 is utterly sea kindly and surprisingly fast. We recorded 6.25 knots with 12 knots of wind apparent on a close reach.
By any standards, the Nor'Sea 27 is a remarkable yacht, constructed to a standard that is rare in a cruising boat of this size. With her one-piece, hand-laminated hull, all lead ballast, top-quality metalwork and remarkable joinery, she is not cheap, but then the kind of experienced sailor who buys a boat like this knows the cost for quality.
What kinds of sailors buy these boats? Cruising couples, professional people who want to sail in many places but have jobs they love and limited time afloat, retired folk with all the time in the world and a yen to explore distant waters without making ocean passages, and plenty of sailors who just want to cruise near home. The Nor'Sea 27 is the ultimate in transportable yachts and is built to a quality rarely seen these days. She is destined to be one of the classic cruising boats of our time.