ESCAPE THE CROWDS
IT’S RARE TO FIND AN OCEAN-GOING YACHT THAT CAN DRY OUT ON THE BEACH, BUT DISCOVERY’S REVISED 48S MAY HAVE BROUGHT THE SWING-KEEL BACK INTO FASHION
It's rare to find an ocean yacht that can dry on the beach, but Discovery's 48S brings the swing keel back into fashion
Psst. Want in on a secret? It’s called shoal draught. Please don’t tell anyone because those of us in the know enjoy having the far reaches of busy estuaries to ourselves. And never more so than today.
The expectation here in the UK is that the harbours, anchorages and beaches will be busier than ever this summer as the hordes released from lockdown flood to the coasts rather than head abroad. While cruising can bring that rich element of escapism, many sailors will seek some solitude on arrival too.
And what about those wanting to sail further afield? You finally reach your dream destination only to have to anchor way out in the depths where there’s swinging room for the lead beneath your boat. It’s akin to standing back in the gallery while the shallow draught multihulls get the front row seats.
Superyacht builders have been onto this for years. Their owners are used to getting the VIP spots, hence telescopic keels are reasonably commonplace, albeit complex and expensive solutions. However, for the majority who still want a production-built monohull, what are the options? Despite the Westerly Centaur being one of the most popular designs ever, no one builds bilge keelers anymore. An aluminium French or Dutch explorer yacht perhaps… or an innovative performance cruiser such as a Pogo maybe? After that I start scratching my head.
The Southerly concept has therefore long been an attractive one: a British design and build with a proper ballasted swing-keel. The fact it had this unique selling point made it all the more surprising when the Itchenorbased yard went bust in 2014. It wasn’t until three years later that fellow South Coast premium yacht builder Discovery acquired the Southerly range and moulds. Although it offers this 48-footer as a fixed-keel version too, it’s telling that nine out of the 10 hulls of the 48 sold since the acquisition have been the ‘S’ for swing-keel models.
Are we seeing a renaissance of the luxury shoal draught monohull? I sailed the Discovery from Lymington in
March to find out.
An element of escapism was certainly in play as we tacked out to sea into a fresh Force 5 south-westerly. The fact we were the only yacht out sailing was down to COVID, but in normal times we’d probably have still been the only near 50-footer in the shallows off Newtown or Keyhaven.
The clouds cleared and the sun began to warm my face as I found myself alone in the cockpit for a lengthy spell, pointing the bows at the horizon. After such a strange year it was hard to focus on the job and not drift off in a reverie of enjoying being on the helm again, or envisage extending the trial sail into a cruise. Sailing does that. But the test boat played a big part in putting me at ease in conditions that, although ideal to test its mettle, were punchy enough to expose any undesirable qualities.
Let’s start with the proven hull shape. Once the decision was made to retain the original hull mould, there was little need to update a thoroughbred Stephen Jones design. The ends are currently receiving some cosmetic attention with the addition of a short bowsprit and a redesigned swim platform, but otherwise it’s an admirable shape, with a gentle sheer and soft turn to the bilge, and cuts pleasantly through the water maintaining a dependable speed.
The addition of wraparound coachroof windows and vertical hull portlights, which give so much reward below decks, are in keeping with Discovery’s family look – as is the quality of the fitout.
Then consider the bonus the swing-keel provides: the upwind angles are noticeably high with the blade jib set. I thought I’d miscalculated tacking angles before remembering the deep draught of the foil, which extends more than 10ft (3.3m) below the hull. A further bonus is that you can then raise it to remove this excess drag when going downwind, just as you might with a