Skip to main content

Test sail: the Alerion Express 38

The Garry Hoyt design proved quick and agile on a daysail off Portsmouth, R.I.

The Garry Hoyt design proved quick and agile on a daysail off Portsmouth, R.I.

One part eagle, three parts sailor’s best friend, the Alerion Express 38 is the offspring of a collaboration between the late designer Carl Schumacher and the ever-adventurous designer/marketeer Garry Hoyt.

The AE 38 combines the traditional good looks of her smaller sister, the Alerion Express 28, with a 21st-century rig and electric sail-handling gear. Although the AE 38 is reminiscent of Nathanael Herreshoff’s original 26-foot Alerion and its progeny, she has a shallow underbody, fin keel of relatively high aspect ratio, and elliptical spade rudder. She’s fast, agile and easy to sail, alone or with a crew of skipper and mate.

When Hoyt and I sailed hull No. 1 on a spanking clean fall day, the wind blew 11 to 17 knots, primarily out of the southwest. But the narrow roadstead between Prudence and Aquidneck islands off Portsmouth, R.I., tortured the flow and sent it careening in a variety of directions. With an Indian summer temperature in the low 70s, who could ask for better conditions?

The AE 38 began to win me over from the very first maneuver, under the thrust of her 40-hp Yanmar Saildrive auxiliary diesel. As Hoyt backed out of the slip, the 38 kept a straight course until he engaged forward, opened the throttle, and spun the boat as though it were a top. The Yanmar, combined with the bite of its folding prop, gives the AE 38 a top speed of 7 knots under power — more than fast enough to get home in time for dinner when the wind dies. Before we exited the marina, Hoyt performed a couple of doughnut turns to prove that the boat needs only her own length for this trick — great for avoiding trouble in crowded mooring fields.

After we cleared the marina at New England Boatworks, we headed into the wind and hoisted the main from its nest in the lazyjacks. A few wraps on the electric winch and a push of a button are all that’s needed to get started. During the hoist you have to make sure the boat stays dead to windward to prevent the full-length battens from hanging up on the lazyjacks. The rig combines a large elliptical mainsail (single deep reef) set on a Hall Spars carbon-fiber mast with a small roller-furling jib. The patented Hoyt Jib Boom, which sprouts from the foredeck and curves aft to a traveler, makes the jib self-tending. The boom also acts as a vang, keeping the jib from twisting off to leeward near the top. Equally beneficial is that it becomes a whisker pole when the boat’s sailing downwind. No spinnaker needed, thank you. Vertical battens in the jib stiffen the leech, which keeps it from fluttering.

We shut down the auxiliary and bore off on a beam reach. Under mainsail alone and in true wind speeds of 9 and 12 knots, the AE 38 reached speeds of 4.6 and 5.1 knots. The helm remained well-balanced, and the boat tacked and jibed like a big dinghy. This excellent performance under just the main is the result of breaking out of the triangular prison established by rating rules early in the 20th century.

Handicapping rules at the time penalized the mainsail area. To beat the rule and get back the area lost in the main, designers relied on the unrated headsail — the genoa jib. Hoisted to the masthead, these huge sails enjoyed a clean luff (no mast to break up the air flowing over the leading edge of the sail) and provided the majority of drive from a broad reach to close-hauled. For the sail to work as designed, the forestay had to be bar-taut, and only an equally tight backstay could provide this tension. Imagine a crossbow cocked and ready to fire. These two stays determined the shape of the mainsail — and the headsail.

The AE 38 doesn’t have a backstay, because the small jib doesn’t require much tension on the forestay. Getting rid of the backstay lets the designer specify an elliptical mainsail, flat or rounded at the top and nicely convex at the leech. The extra sail area gained from this shape is called the roach, which is nearly impossible to accommodate in the confines of a backstay. Hoyt says that the 38’s rig has the same sail area as that of a traditional triangular main and a 160 genoa, which is difficult to handle during tacks and jibes.

We unrolled the jib and set off on a close reach, topping out at 7.9 knots in 16.5 knots of true wind. Downwind in 13 knots of true wind and with the jib boomed out, we saw 6 knots over the ground. The Jib Boom, sheeted to a traveler on the trunk cabin, takes the drama out of tacking and jibing — simply turn the wheel. Steering was smooth and quick. I needed a light touch on the wheel, making only the smallest of corrections, to keep the boat in the groove.

All of the lines run beneath the deck and emerge at the helm. Sheet stoppers and an electric winch on both sides of the cockpit, just forward of the wheel, take care of the sail-handling chores. Bins molded into the winch pedestals hold the tails of the lines, keeping the cockpit free of clutter. The wheel is large enough to let the helmsman steer from the coamings.

Minimal accommodations — enclosed head, small galley (two-burner Force 10 stove and oven, sink), drop-leaf table, hanging locker, V-berth, and enough stowage to see a couple through a four-day weekend — befit the AE 38’s purpose. White laminates trimmed in varnished teak recall the interior style that the Herreshoff yachts made famous nearly 100 years ago. The interior of the 38 feels warm and cozy, a great place to hide from inclement weather at anchor or under way.

And what about that one part eagle? An alerion (of French origin and also spelled allerion) is a heraldic eagle. Perhaps Capt. Nat thought his original Alerion announced a new way to enjoy sailing. The AE 38 certainly does.

Hoyt says they have delivered 10 Alerion Express 38s, which sell for $315,000 with sails and engine. The new Alerion Express 33 was introduced at the Strictly Sail show in Miami earlier this year, and with a sailaway price of $235,000 to $240,000, depending on options, the AE 33 nicely fills the gap between the 28 and the 38.

For more information, contact Newport R&D in Portsmouth, R.I. Phone: (401) 683-9450.