Harbor 25 Sea Trials
By Walter Johnson
Newport Beach - I recently had the opportunity to take a Harbor 25 out for several sea trials. They included sailing in a variety of venues - a Thursday night Beer Can race at Balboa Yacht Club, an ocean delivery from Newport Beach to Long Beach, a race to Catalina Island from Long Beach, and some local cruising with my family.
When I was first introduced to the Harbor 25, I was initially somewhat skeptical. I was a little taken aback by its classical styling, inverted transom, and classic short waterline. Most modern boats I have sailed have a plumb bow and a reverse transom to maximize waterline length. The Harbor 25 is a new design that does the exact opposite. It was not until I saw the boat out of the water that the modern keel with a bulb and spade rudder came to life - but it was the easily driven hull with flat runs that caught my eye. Along with the tall rig and self-tacking jib, it had all the makings of an easy boat to sail with the potential to get up and go. Soon, the classic lines started to feel right.
The Harbor 25 sails well in a variety of conditions. With a preliminary rating of 171, it is similar in rating to that of a classic J-24. In the light flat waters of Newport Harbor sailing in a Beer Can race, the boat accelerates quickly and sails well against 30 to 35 ft boats. The self-tacking jib is perfect for a couple sailing together and allows the boat to easily react to the shifts and accelerate while our competitors are still fighting with their classic 155 jibs. In the lighter breeze, the boat reacts well to each puff and the helm is light and responsive. The 85% self-tacking jib provides enough energy to make the mainsail efficient and allows the boat to point very well. The boat loses a little on a broad reach but once you go wing-on-wing, the sail plan seems to provide enough go to compete in a non-spinnaker Beer Can race.
I then took the Harbor 25 on an open water delivery up the coast from Newport Beach to Long Beach. Generally, this is a three-hour trip. My choice was to go as a single person delivery, motor-sailing and sailing in the late afternoon where the winds can top out at 22-25 knots as you approach Long Beach. I really wanted to see how the boat fared in the wind and waves. I had many questions - Would the boat oil can? How wet would it be? How would the rig handle the trip? Was there enough freeboard? Would I get water in the cockpit? How would the boat drive? How scary would an ocean trip be for my newbie sailor girlfriend?
I left Newport Beach and motor-sailed for the first half of the trip until the waves started to whitecap. The boat motor-sailed well, the helm was balanced, and it seemed that I was making good time as I checked key points along the way. Once I turned off the motor, the first thing I noticed was that the boat sailed well in big seas because there is plenty of freeboard. In 25 knots and waves of three to four feet, I took a few waves over the bow, the cabin, and me. However, the cabin took the majority of the spray, protecting most of the cockpit, and the water drained off the combing by running off the back of the boat.
I was very surprised that the boat handled big breeze so well while I worked to keep it flat with maximum boom vang, maximum outhaul, and maximum backstay. The boat sailed easily with the rail down and I never felt unsafe nor did I ever think I was going to get water in the cockpit.
The boat had a balanced helm, the spade rudder worked well and only stalled or dragged on a few occasions. While the boat was fully loaded, it never felt overpowered. In fact, the boat handled the seas much better than I had anticipated. The hull was stiff and there was no oil canning. The rig handled the loads well with no pumping. The mast rocked on the hinged mast step and it took a few waves to get used to this but the boat was really solid and dry. The boat never pounded - it just found its' groove and sailed up and through the waves. When I was able to get on to a close reach, the boat dug in and sailed as fast as its 21 ft of waterline could muster. In summary, the boat handled the delivery very well and I was extremely impressed. I have done this trip hundreds of times in 30 ft sloops, J-120s and one-design 48s. All got wetter and were scarier rides.
My next sea trial was a race from Long Beach to Catalina Island - 24 miles of beating and reaching without a spinnaker with only my girlfriend and myself as crew. The boat sailed well in the light to moderate morning breeze and sailed well against its' competition that were mostly 30 ft boats with crews of 4 to 8. It turned out to be a moderate air close reach for 18 of the 24 miles. This is where the boat started to suffer from its' 21 ft waterline and lack of rail weight. But for a couple's cruising boat to Catalina Island, we reached our destination with most of the fleet in sight.
Our big test would be the sail home... could the Harbor 25 power-reach with the 30 ft boats and how would it compare once they set their spinnakers. To my surprise, in 18 knots of breeze, the boat power-reached really well. It wasn't until we were one third of the trip across the channel (over an hour of sailing) that the closest boat in the fleet, a Ranger 29, passed us. We sailed wing-on-wing in 22 knots of breeze just as well as our competitors with spinnakers. The Harbor 25 surfs with ease!
All of my earlier skepticism was now put to rest. The boat is seaworthy. It's not just meant for harbor sailing but also for a couple's weekend to Catalina Island or other close shore adventures. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to sail the boat with a masthead cruising spinnaker and I would recommend a masthead reacher for non-spinnaker racing events. I'm sure that when properly rigged, a masthead cruising spinnaker would allow the Harbor 25 to be effectively sailed as a couple's cruising racer.
Lastly, I took my family out for a weekend cruise in Newport Harbor. We found that all it took was two boats sailing in the same direction for an impromptu competition to go into effect. We raced a Beneteau 48 up the harbor, with our 9 year old daughter at the helm, and we were easily the winner due in part to the self-tacking jib and the ease of operation. In fact, during the impromptu race, the Beneteau had great difficulty making quick tacks due to their large jib and we soon overtook them. We then raced a Columbia 36 later that evening with similar results, again with our 9 year old daughter driving. I think any couple taking the Harbor 25 on a weekend adventure would find the boat to be a winner and worthy of its' price.