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Old 14-09-2016, 23:36   #1
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Bilge or Keel

I am in the market for a 30-35 boat for cruising the British Isles which will be based in Pwllheli initially just because I spend most weekends there.

I have been researching various boats and it seems to me that after deciding the size of boat the next consideration is the keel profile.

I am drawn to bilge keels for the drying out possibilities but as most will know bilge keel boats are much harder to come across than fin keel versions.

Most of the threads I have read deal more with the relative sailing abilities rather than the ability to dry out.

My question is whether the ability to dry out really should be a major consideration when buying a boat.

How often, if ever, do people actually dry out? Is that good for the boat's structure and does not being able to dry out place a significant limitation on available moorings?
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Old 14-09-2016, 23:38   #2
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Re: Bilge or Keel

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Originally Posted by kurtwray View Post
I am in the market for a 30-35 boat for cruising the British Isles which will be based in Pwllheli initially just because I spend most weekends there.

I have been researching various boats and it seems to me that after deciding the size of boat the next consideration is the keel profile.

I am drawn to bilge keels for the drying out possibilities but as most will know bilge keel boats are much harder to come across than fin keel versions.

Most of the threads I have read deal more with the relative sailing abilities rather than the ability to dry out.

My question is whether the ability to dry out really should be a major consideration when buying a boat.

How often, if ever, do people actually dry out? Is that good for the boat's structure and does not being able to dry out place a significant limitation on available moorings?
In Britain I always have bilge keels. I have a Centaur now with them.. Handy for the long tides and to sit pretty on the mud. Good for cleaning the hull too.
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Old 15-09-2016, 02:26   #3
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Re: Bilge or Keel

They're very handy to have so long at the boat's internal structure that they're connected to is seriously overbuilt. So as to take the loads & bumping that accompany either end of a drying out session. As, when I was growing up at least, it was common to see them on lots of boats in Scotland. Where some boats would dry out with every tide cycle in locales protected from wave action.

I wish that they were common in the US, given that it's easier to setup a boat to have shoal draft with them. Not to mention being free from needing a Travel-Lift, crane, or railway, in order to haul out for many jobs.
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Old 15-09-2016, 02:35   #4
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Re: Bilge or Keel

Normal bilge keel boats (Westerleys, older Moodys, etc.) sail significantly worse than normal keels. They produce much more leeway and so are much harder to get upwind. Take that into account.

There are some new twin keel designs from France which perform as well as comparable single keel boats, due to very long and high aspect keels (at least that's what the maker, RM, claims). Very cool and worth looking at.

In any case, for cruising around the UK without too much ambition to cover long distances in a day, particularly upwind, bilge keel boats are ideal, in my opinion. UK coasts are all about the estuaries, and you can crawl right up them in a modest draft bilge keel boat. Estuary-crawling in a bilge keel boat would be just absolutely fabulously fun, I think, you could spend a whole lifetime and not see all of them.

Around here, you do not dry out on in exposed locations where you can get battered by waves as the tide goes down. Drying out in bilge keel boats is done up rivers where there are no waves. All these old UK boats are strong enough, and more, for this duty.


With a bilge keel boat, you can go where other sailboats can't, you can anchor where other boats can't, you have no fear of going aground (in sheltered water anyway), you can use half-tide moorings which cost 1/10 of the price of deep water moorings, and you will never need to pay to be lifted out to change anodes or do antifouling. There are a million advantages. I love them, personally.
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Old 15-09-2016, 03:17   #5
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Re: Bilge or Keel

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, kurtwray.
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Old 15-09-2016, 04:22   #6
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Re: Bilge or Keel

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Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, kurtwray.
Thanks Gord, I have been a very interested observer for some time. Great forum!
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Old 15-09-2016, 04:36   #7
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Re: Bilge or Keel

Look at RM Yachts bilge keeled boats. They're drawn by Marc Lombard, who mostly does performance boats. www.rm-yachts.com So hopefully that mitigates the hit that such an underwater configuration creates. And since many of the designs in the range come with the option of various keel configurations, you could ask them for polars on the boats, along with their racing ratings. So that it would be easy to compare them, speed wise.

Another option is to find a boat that has a keel design that makes her reasonably stable on her own bottom when the tide goes out. And then get a pair of supporting legs for her to assist in her stabilization when drying out. It's a pretty common 'trick', which would give you the benefits of a standard keel while still being able to dry out sans boatyard assistance.
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Old 15-09-2016, 04:55   #8
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Re: Bilge or Keel

I have always thought that bilge keels had their moment and could sail fast, stable and more.

I have a 45 footer now, she makes an easy 7 knots in 10 to 15 mph of wind. We hit over 9 in 20 plus. The keels are shaped like airplane wings, cantered and toed in a bit. We heel at 12 degrees and are stable as all in 4 foot chop and she loves large rollers.

I wish they had made more and various sizes but there are bilge keelers that do perform, just rare and hard to find in the US.

Check out my pictures and good luck.
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Old 15-09-2016, 05:17   #9
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Re: Bilge or Keel

For once I disagree with Dockhead. The very early bilge keel boats had either flat steel plates bolted on or long GRP keels as part of the hull which were then filled with anything heavy like steel punchings. There were not particularly efficient due to there shape. Often found on 1960/1970s era of yachts.

However, later Westerly and Moody's have aerofoil shaped keels which are completely different. A friend who sailed his fin Moody 31 one weekend and a bilge keel M31 a week later across to Holland reported very little difference in the real world and I suspect you wouldn't know just by sailing them.

We do dry out on the keels in sheltered areas regularly, also to do the annual antifouling malarky as a lift and store ashore for a week on the south coast will cost 400 plus, a beach, scrubbing grid free or nominal charge.

Finally, those really pretty little beaches which attract dozens of boats on a hot sunny weekend, well you will find us moored right in close to the beach with a draft of 3'8" whilst the fin keeled yachts are jostling for position further out. Bilge keels were an essential item when we went shopping for a yacht.

There are bilge keel Moody 336, 346 and 35 which might be of interest. Also a number of Westerlies were built with bilge keels up to about 34 feet.
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Old 15-09-2016, 05:58   #10
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Re: Bilge or Keel

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Originally Posted by Pete7 View Post
For once I disagree with Dockhead. The very early bilge keel boats had either flat steel plates bolted on or long GRP keels as part of the hull which were then filled with anything heavy like steel punchings. There were not particularly efficient due to there shape. Often found on 1960/1970s era of yachts.

However, later Westerly and Moody's have aerofoil shaped keels which are completely different. A friend who sailed his fin Moody 31 one weekend and a bilge keel M31 a week later across to Holland reported very little difference in the real world and I suspect you wouldn't know just by sailing them.

We do dry out on the keels in sheltered areas regularly, also to do the annual antifouling malarky as a lift and store ashore for a week on the south coast will cost 400 plus, a beach, scrubbing grid free or nominal charge.

Finally, those really pretty little beaches which attract dozens of boats on a hot sunny weekend, well you will find us moored right in close to the beach with a draft of 3'8" whilst the fin keeled yachts are jostling for position further out. Bilge keels were an essential item when we went shopping for a yacht.

There are bilge keel Moody 336, 346 and 35 which might be of interest. Also a number of Westerlies were built with bilge keels up to about 34 feet.
I will defer to Pete's far greater experience with bilge keelers

Also I'm still waiting for an invitation to that creek-crawling expedition

The bilge keel Moodys are certainly worth a hard look -- lovely boats.

If the budget allows, the RM Yachts dual-keel boats are also worth a look. They are quirky boats -- I believe they are made of plywood. But very beautifully designed and fast as h*ll. Much beloved by French sailors on the other side of La Manche.
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Old 16-09-2016, 19:49   #11
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Re: Bilge or Keel

Twin-keeled 45-foot boat two weeks ago: We raised the main and genoa in 15kts of apparent wind. The boat was at hull speed close hauled within moments with barely any heel and most definitely taking us to windward (where we needed to go).

Sailors disagree on everything, of course, but I really think those who say that twin/bilge-keel boats don't sail well just haven't sailed them enough. If you look at some of these boats out of water they just don't look like they'll be fast, but in the water they can be ('fast' being a relative term, of course). Practical tests have been done on identical hulls with and without twin keels, and the results are more or less the same, probably dependent on conditions for each test as much as anything else. If I'm right, one ought to focus on other aspects of different keels. Doing that suddenly makes the twin-keel boats look very attractive indeed (to sailors if not to owners of Travelifts).
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Old 17-09-2016, 00:17   #12
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Re: Bilge or Keel

I have Westerly Centaur. 26 foot. By design a slow (ish) vessel but not due to the twin keels. It will pick up immediately and take off if we blow at the sails. It will point and do everything that a sailing vessel should do. It is stable and takes anything thrown at it.

I have sailed larger bilge keel Westerlys and did not know they were bilge keels at the time, and marveled at the performance.

Either you are VERY old DH and remember the early days of design, or you got to ride a lemon build somewhere.... The Centaur was the best selling and loved boat of all time for its size, handling ability and safe all round performance in Europe.

I have no problem with recommending a good Bilge keel as the best boat to use in tidal waters around the UK....
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Old 17-09-2016, 01:25   #13
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Re: Bilge or Keel

I purchased a new (old) boat and returned to sailing earlier this year. Sailing on the Solent I recon that it only a matter if time before I run aground. Therefore with a novice crew I saw that twin keel was an essential safety and piece of mind feature.

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Old 17-09-2016, 03:23   #14
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Re: Bilge or Keel

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. . I have no problem with recommending a good Bilge keel as the best boat to use in tidal waters around the UK....
I might not agree with the other details in this post (and probably this disagreement is just a result of having different standards), but I do agree with this sentence. For coastal cruising around the UK, a bilge keel boat is the best choice, at least if you're not racing, and especially if you want to explore the marvelous beauty of the UK estuaries.

And not just the UK -- I think the French Atlantic coasts are also prime territory for a bilge keel boat. Note that the French sailors use a lot of lifting keel boats, another approach to the problem.
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Old 17-09-2016, 04:06   #15
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Re: Bilge or Keel

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I might not agree with the other details in this post (and probably this disagreement is just a result of having different standards), but I do agree with this sentence. For coastal cruising around the UK, a bilge keel boat is the best choice, at least if you're not racing, and especially if you want to explore the marvelous beauty of the UK estuaries.

And not just the UK -- I think the French Atlantic coasts are also prime territory for a bilge keel boat. Note that the French sailors use a lot of lifting keel boats, another approach to the problem.
When I first moved from power to sail in the 80s, nearly every boat in the sailing club was bilge keel. It seemed strange to me that someone would pick a vessel that would not stand up on its own base when the tide went out.

As to handling, perhaps because Im not a 'fiddler' on the winches trying to extract every last angle of dangle or ounce of speed, I equate the handling as the same as a non twin keel boat. I acknowledge that ultimately a single keel will probably be faster yet in practice for me, it is not by much.

I would have a larger bilge keel vessel with no qualms. I guess it comes down to what you want out of a vessel and the internal satisfaction of having a boat that excites you in the handling. Im more of a 'Heavies' pilot and sailor myself, I go for the chunky big build go anywhere plodders... I love them... race boats and sleek lines are beautiful yet Im attracted to the sturdies. Probably why I like '80s build Catamarans.
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