Gem 23 day-sailer
You know something’s up when a hardened petrol-head launching his jet-ski at the boat ramp stops to admire a timber yacht. “Bloody beautiful!” The smitten jet-skier was ogling Jade – a Gem 23 class day-sailer – and he was one of many admirers.
A modern reinvention of a timeless classic, hand-crafted by a traditional wooden boatbuilder.
The key to Jade’s celebrity is her classic lines and varnished spars. They have something about them that seems to attract the romantic streak in people. Her 23-feet are pure magic and the design and detail of her construction is thanks to Herbert Krumm-gartner. As a young man in Germany, Herbert loved sailing so much he decided to build his own boat and sail around the world. Unfortunately, although there was plenty of timber in his home area near the Black Forest, there were few boatbuilding or sailing opportunities.
He promptly moved to Lake Ammersee, near Munich, to become an apprentice boatbuilder. In 1986, with his wife Romy, he moved to New Zealand and set up a classic boatbuilding business.
Initially he worked for John Gladden, before becoming one of the working partners of the Wooden Boat Workshop. Aspiring to build real boats and deal with classic boat enthusiasts, Herbert then stepped out on his own to run a working boatyard exhibit at the New Zealand Maritime Museum.
The experience and craftsmanship gained over the years has culminated in the formation of Classic Boats Ltd – and the building of Jade – with the aim of getting people hooked on wooden boats.
The design inspiration for the Gem class came from the dayboats of the United States east coast of the early 1900s. It was a time when Nat Herreshoff dominated yacht design and the day-sailer was the gentleman’s version of sailing.
Herbert designed her the old way, with a spokeshave and a piece of kauri creating a half model that looked right to the eye and the result is a work of fine art. Jade’s long overhangs, counter stern set beneath a classic gaff rig are immediately striking. The addition of a spoon bow for upwind work, a narrow beam and deep displacement have produced a rare mix of performance and beauty.
Says Jade’s current caretaker, Dirk Spoelstra: “Wooden boats just have that something extra. I enjoy the sailing rather than the maintaining and Jade offers the beauty of a wooden boat with the reduced maintenance of a boat that can be trailered and garaged.
“This also avoids all the cost of owning a keeler and opens up a whole world of cruising destinations that can be got to by road. With Jade we can get into places most people ignore which, in the end, is what sailing is about for us.”
Jade’s construction is carvel-planked in yellow-heart kahikatea over laminated tanekaha ribs. There was a mould per frame to ensure a fair hull and the narrow carvel planks were tapered and edge-glued.
Getting the kahikatea planks to Jade’s curves must have required much steam and patience, as there is not a straight line in her. Once the hull was completed the structure was glassed over. This is traditional boatbuilding meeting modern convenience and it has produced a hull that is both strong and pleasing to the eye.
Jade carries her counter well aft and she has a long keel to provide directional stability and to protect the low-aspect
rudder and the prop of the 8hp Yamaha. The outboard protrudes through the hull from its well in the aft end of the cockpit.
A pipe from the outboard’s exhaust exits under water and ingeniously removes exhaust fumes from the well. There are two watertight compartments in the bow and stern which provide ample buoyancy in the unlikely event of swamping.
Teak floors and long bench seats divided into lockers are features of the cockpit. The forward starboard locker doubles as an insulated ice box and bodes well for the chance of cold beer.
The cabin is a simple affair and doesn’t offer commodious accommodation. Built from heart macrocarpa with mahogany trim, its low profile provides room for two and some gear. But the cabin does have two great features, not obvious in the photos. The smell is of oiled timber and the sound is pleasantly subdued due to the thick carvel construction
With an Oregon mast in a captive tabernacle, rigging Jade is easy. Being gaff-rigged the short six-metre mast stays in position when lowered, only just clearing
the counter stern. With the mast locked in the upright position it is a simple matter of bending on the sails before floating her off her trailer. At 1,100kg she is no more hassle to trail than the average trailer-sailer and, with practice, quicker to rig.
Stepping aboard is the first of many pleasant sensations. The motion is pure keelboat with none of the skittishness of a trailer sailer. Most of her 300kg of ballast is down low in the keelson and the predictability of her motion alone engenders a sense of calm for nonsailing guests. This makes her perfect for introducing first-timers to sailing.
Under power Jade has good manoeuvrability – the prop’s directly in front of the rudder. The 8hp Yamaha fits into one of the best-fitting outboard wells I’ve come across, with no slop or gurgle or clouds of blue smoke. This makes a nice change from the intrusion of an outboard bracket on the stern and keeps the traditional trim look of her day-boat heritage.
Once clear of the ramp we raised Jade’s sails. The peak and throat halyards are beside each other on the cabin top – this makes raising the mainsail a simple task from the cockpit. Each halyard has its own bronze horn cleat
and with practice you can get the throat and peak to rise in sync.
Both the gaff and boom are varnished Oregon with the jaws beautifully crafted and finished off in leather. Her tan-coloured sails by North Sails are cut with narrow panels to give the authentic traditional look.
Within minutes the ingeniousness of the gaff rig is apparent. It is enormously tweakable, with subtle changes to the peak, throat and outhaul paying big performance dividends.
Jade’s working jib is set on an Oregon jib boom with the sheet leading back to the cockpit along the starboard side deck. In the narrow confines of Lake Hood this was a blessing as its ability to self-tack took the drama out of close-quarter manoeuvring.
Despite having a relatively small rudder she remained well-balanced on the helm. The large 15m2 mainsail is the powerhouse of the boat with the centre-of-effort low. The strain on the mast is minimal, but the grunt is such that a first reef would be considered around 16 knots. Like many narrow boats she is initially tender but stiffens
up dramatically once the leeward rail reaches the water.
The centreboard lowers via a small bronze cockpit winch and is made of 50mm thick Oregon timber with a 30kg lead insert and glassed over. With parts of the lake suspiciously shallow we sailed most of the day with the centreboard raised and the performance did not appear to suffer greatly.
Downwind the gaff rig came into its own. A little tweaking of the trim and Jade had the pace to show her long counter stern to all but the skinniest racing boats. With three teenagers aboard the sailing was effortless as the large, comfortable cockpit meant everyone maintained their positions.
Jade’s trim was such that large crew were perfectly positioned for fore and aft trim without any of the tail dragging. This often happens when everyone crowds into the aft cockpit of a trailer sailer. From the photo boat
Jade was a delight to behold from every angle. Each roaring powerboat or jet-ski that shot past offered admiring glances and a thumbs up – despite the barrage of engine noise and sound systems. On Jade there was nothing but the sound of water moving around a long hull and the unique combination of beauty and function with the promise of great adventures ahead. BNZ
FAR LEFT With freed sheets the big main drives Jade effortlessly. ABOVE Immaculate craftsmanship, the richness of timber – and plenty of tradition.
BELOW A boomed, self-tacking jib makes short work of upwind legs.
ABOVE, LEFT & FAR RIGHT Jade’s classical lines are accentuated by the bronze fittings.
ABOVE & BELOW RIGHT The varnished Oregon spars are beautifully finished, and the outboard engine is discreetly mounted.