Bristol Channel Cutter 28

By Jack Hornor

Revised by BoatUS editors in October 2012

If you're a sailor who just can't get enough of the nostalgia and romance of bygone days and traditional boats, yet fear the genre's often deserved reputation for poor performance, take a look at the Bristol Channel Cutter 28 (BCC).

This design comes from the late Lyle Hess & not a household name when it comes to yacht designers, but one who achieved near icon status among a select group of adventurers who enjoy sailing the world aboard small boats. Besides the BCC, other notable Hess designs include the North Sea 27 and both of Lin and Larry Pardey's world cruisers.

The BCC, built by the Sam L. Morse Co. of Costa Mesa, CA, was introduced nearly 30 years ago and remains in production today although Morse no longer owns the company. From the start, she was designed and built to take the punishment of extended offshore cruising. Hulls are hand laid using multiple layers of fiberglass cloth and resin. Thickness varies from nearly an inch on centerline to about 3/8-inch at the deck edge. The deck and cabin structure are a sandwich construction utilizing plywood rather than balsa as a core material. The hull and deck are joined on an inward flange, bolted on six-inch centers and sealed with 3-M 5200 adhesive sealant. There are no prefabricated liners used so nearly the entire interior is accessible for maintenance. This is a very strong, well-built boat and problems with aging boats are most likely to result from normal wear and tear and hard use.

No boat is perfect and if there is a downside to the BCC it&s her abundance of exterior woodwork that needs maintenance to keep it looking sharp. Long ocean voyages usually allow plenty of time for varnishing though.

Like everything else about the BCC, her decks are laid out with safety and ocean passages in mind. The narrow trunk cabin terminates just aft of the main mast and provides wide side decks for sure footing. There is a scuttle hatch on the foredeck for access to the cabin below. A nearly 8-inch high bulwark and 28-inch high double lifelines completely surround the deck area. The cockpit is small with the seats at deck level and 16-inch deep foot well. The arrangement is not particularly comfortable but ideal for safety at sea. The tiller can be easily removed to allow more useable space for entertaining while dockside or at anchor.

The interior arrangement is as functional you are likely to find on a 28-footer with sufficient volume for the storage needed for long distance cruising. The main saloon is nicely arranged with a transom berth and pilot berth to port and a settee/berth to starboard. The galley is aft to port with the ice box to starboard the top of which doubles as the navigation table. One of the really great features is a fold-down counter extension that, when raised, fills the space between the galley and navigation table allowing the entire area to be used for meal preparation. This results in a galley that's larger than those on many modern 40-footers. Below the cockpit, to starboard, is a quarter berth and storage to port. The engine compartment is beneath the cockpit and allows good access for service.

Early model BCCs were woefully underpowered with a 13-hp Volvo engine while later models used a more suitable 27-hp Yanmar model. Some see this as a minor issue and point out that the Pardeys have sailed their similarly-sized and styled Seraffyn all over the world with no engine at all, so what's the big deal? In my view, if you put an auxiliary engine in a boat, it is there to be relied upon and should be up to the task.

Despite her modest length on deck and 14,000-lb displacement, the BCC is not doomed to slogging along at five knots or having to rely on the engine in order to tack. Her theoretical hull speed is an impressive 6.9 knots and under ideal conditions there are many reports of 150+ mile days.

Because of her relatively long waterline length, it is not fair to compare the BCC's performance to other 28-footers. Her waterline length is 26' 3', displacement length ratio is 346, sail area displacement ratio is 15.9 and comfort ratio an impressive 37. This compares very favorably to some respected offshore cruisers including the Cabo Rico 34, Pacific Seacraft 34, Niagara 35 and Camper Nicholson 35, with an average waterline length is 26' 6", average displacement length ratio is 355, average sail area displacement ratio is 15 and average comfort ratio is only 33.75.

The Bristol Channel Cutter is a small boat capable of circumnavigating the globe and while it may seem a shame to shackle her to the confines of day sailing and coastal cruising, there is no need to venture to far corners of the earth to enjoy this great little yacht.

Naval architect Jack Hornor was the principal surveyor and designer for Marine Survey & Design, Co., based in Annapolis, MD. He was on the boards of the American Boat and Yacht Council, the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and the Society of Boat and Yacht Designers. He and his wife sailed their Catalina 42, Legacy, based on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

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