Island Packets seem to be a very popular topic on sailing discussion groups. I must admit that Island Packets are a bit of a mystery to me. I understand and love traditional watercraft and I also understand modern yacht design. I really don't get Island Packets. They appear to be traditional in appearance and yet Island Packets are very far from the kinds of hull
modeling and rigs that give traditional watercraft their character and laudable sailing characteristics. Neither are Island Packets modern boats that take advantage of advances in material engineering and aerodynamics. Instead they seem to be a strange combination of design elements that exhibit many of the disadvantages of both traditional and modern craft but with few of the virtues of either.
What Island Packets do well is provide a lot of living space on a given waterline length, or length on deck
. They manage to provide a tremendous amount accommodations and tankage in a nominally small package but of course that depends on how you define small. There is a tendency to size a boat by its length on deck
. Using that metric an Island Packet
puts a lot of boat in a small package.
But measured by any other system of measurement they don't fare quite as well. To explain my position, it can be argued that displacement
is a fairer measure of size. By and large displacement
governs the amount of sail area and wetted surface that a boat has. All things being equal, displacement governs the cost of a boat to build. It governs the size of the hardware
that is required and it governs the cost of maintaining and owning a boat. And probably more than anything else, displacement governs how much work it takes to sail a boat. On the other hand, in and of itself, displacement does not contribute to strength, or seaworthiness or comfort.
While Island Packets load a lot of displacement on a given waterline length, they do not offer a lot of room, or comfort for their displacement. Which brings me to the next issue, the affects of putting a lot of displacement on a relatively short waterline length. (Using displacement as yardstick, you would not think of these as heavy boats but as boats that are short for their displacement.) When you put a lot of displacement on a relatively short waterline, you end up with a boat that has a relatively large amount of drag compared to a boat that has a longer length but the same displacement. That means that it is hard for the shorter waterline boat to achieve the same speed as the longer boat on any point of sail. This is especially true at either end of the wind
range, in lighter or heavier winds, and when going upwind and downwind where drag is especially important. Higher drag, the deeper canoe body, which restricts the depth
of the foil portion of the keel
, and a blunter entry, means more leeway and poorer pointing ability for the shorter length boat. Greater drag means that the shorter length boat needs to carry more sail area in heavier going. Higher drag means that although these boats may have a similar theoretical hullspeed to boat with an equal length waterline, their greater drag means that they will end up spending less time at or near that theoretical hull speed
and will be a lot harder to sail at anywhere near its potential.
In a properly designed boat, greater length for a given displacement also means a more comfortable motion because it means a shallower canoe body, which for a given draft
permits more roll dampening and a longer waterline also provides better pitch
With less drag, the longer boat of the same displacement can get by with less sail area and so is actually an easier boat for a couple to handle short handed, especially when things get dicey out there. One of my pet issues with the Island Packets is that they do not really provide the tools that allow the sail plans of these boats to be depowered (not reducing sailarea)properly when winds and seas require depowering.
Of course spreading that displacement over a longer length also means a more comfortable and less cramped interior
arrangement. As someone who has designed sailboat interiors, that extra length allows greater storage
and just a little more room in the head
and for berths and for the kinds of spreading out that makes living aboard
And here is where personal preference comes into play. Some people prefer to have the advantages that come with a faster boat (greater range in a given day, less motoring time, and the strategic advantages of being better able to pick your time of leaving or arriving). While for others, speed is not important. If speed is important to you then there are much better choices out there. Speed and sailing ability can be a real advantage in coastal cruising but it is not a be all and end all for everyone. Faster boats with better lighter air performance are richly rewarded on the Chesapeake (where I have kept my boats for the past 20 years). On the Chesapeake a little more speed means a lot more places that are within range for a weekend and when combined with better light air performance allows a lot more sailing and a lot less motoring.
Island Packets are boats that tend to roll and pitch
more slowly but through larger angles than similar sized boats. For some this slower motion is much more comfortable. For others these larger roll angles make getting about more tiring and less comfortable. This is very much a product of personal preference. There is no universally right here but on the Chesapeake with its short spaced, steep chop, these roll characteristics can really be uncomfortable and just about stop the boat in its tracks. It drives me crazy that Island Packet make no effort to keep its vertical center of gravity as low as posible which in every study of safety
at sea is seen as one of the most critical factors for comfort of motion and safety
when things get really bad out there.
Your post seems to suggest that you are trying to learn to sail. Learning
to sail means different things to different people. To some it simply the ability to reliably get a boat out of slip, and back again. It is the ability to sort of go up wind
and down. To others there is a lot more to learning
to sail well. To this group there is learning how to trim sails
to improves speed, comfort and to reduce the wear and tear on crew and the boat. I can assure you that you will never be able to develop those kinds of sail trim and boat handling skills on an Island Packet 31 (especially the 31. I know because I have tried to teach a couple how to sail their Island Packet 31 and ultimately we had to go out on my boat help them understand. I am suspicious of a sailing school
that somehow thinks its a good idea to teach sailing on an Island Packet but that will have to be another thread.)In any event, if your goal is to learn to sail well, in other words to understand sail trim and boathandling, then the Island Packet should be off of your list of possible choices.
Then there is the whole quality issue. Island Packets are filled with nicely executed details. On the other hand there is a bunch of design details that really drive me crazy on these boats. It drives me crazy that a boat with the size sail plan of these use light duty, plastic sheave, blocks. It drives me crazy that the sailing ergonomics of these boats makes sail trim and sail handling so difficult. It drives me crazy that some of the IP models vent their propane tanks
amidships near the waterline where they fail to meet basic safety standards when heeled. (That is a just plain basic safety item that even the high volume builders seem to get right) It drives me crazy that so few of the IP models have good seaberths or a cabin sole
that can be traversed easily when the boat is heeled over. It drives me crazy that setting sail off of a bowsprit
is somehow seen as a good idea. Even traditional working craft began to give up on bowsprit
by the early 20th century. That bowsprit means that you pay for a slip for a much longer boat than you get to enjoy the speed, seaworthiness or comfort of.
It drives me crazy that IP's use post hung spade rudders but then fail to really take advantage of the potential virtues of a spade rudder
. Using a post-hung spade rudder
in the way that Island Packet does makes no sense to me. On a properly designed modern fin keel/ spade rudder boat, the rudder is quite a substantial distance above the bottom of the keel
so that it usually does not contact bottom during a grounding. On the Island Packets their spade rudder is pretty much the same depth
as the keel making it even more vulnerable than the sportier spade rudders that they put down in their sales talks at boat shows.
Then there is their much-vaunted long keels. To me, having owned quite a few long keel boats in my day, there are few features that are more over-rated. To a great extent tracking ability is the product of dynamic balance. (The best tracking boat that I ever owned was a fin keeled spade rudder boat and the worst had a long keel. Tracking is in the eye of the designer
and sail Trimmer) When you run a long keel boat aground you are seriously planted. A grounding that might have been a simple inconvenience becomes the moral equivalent of homesteading. While long keels do provide more support to a boat in a grounding, in the case of the Island Packet, they are using an encapsulated keel. While these are cheaper to build, in a hard grounding it exposes the watertight membrane of the hull
to the full impact rather than having the somewhat sacrificial metal surface of a bolt on keel.
In the end, whether an Island Packet makes sense for you all depends your priorities. If you enjoy gunkholing under sail. If you live and sail in a venue such as the Chesapeake that favors light air performance and rewards a little bit more speed with a lot more places to go. If you are trying to develop sail trim and boathandling skills. If you hate to motor
when you could be sailing, then perhaps the Island Packet might not be the best choice. If these are not a priority of yours then the Island Packet might suit you fine.