This is a Category A ocean-going yacht even with the keel fully raised. The swing-keel is a proper foil shape, cast by Iron Brothers in Cornwall. It has a deep iron fin with a leading edge in lead. The keel itself weighs around two tonnes and there is another four tonnes of ballast contained in the grounding plate, which is mounted using 40 bolts.
The keel swings up into its casing from a pivot point using a combination of Dyneema and a hydraulic ram. There is also a manual back-up pump. If the keel touches when down it will lift up without harming the lifting mechanism. It can also be pinned in place, above the waterline in the sealed box.
The 48S draws just 1m with its keel raised and will sit on a beach on its ballasted cast-iron grounding plate and integral skeg (which protects the prop and has space for a stern thruster).
centreboard on a dinghy.
Once the conditions had settled and the rain clouds had blown through, we shook out the reef and continued under full sail for the remainder of the day. We clocked a respectable 7-7.5 knots boat speed upwind at 40-45° to the apparent wind, which reached the high 20s over the deck. It was easy sailing. No one had to leave the cockpit and, other than some winching to unfurl canvas, white sails sailing was a helmsman-only affair.
A twin headsail Solent rig is standard on the 48, with a genoa rigged close to the jib. Sail controls, including the sheet for the in-mast furling mainsail, are led to winches in reach of the helms and the self-tacking jib can be a set-and-forget affair when tacking upwind. Given that the boat is set up to sail short-handed, however, I’d have opted for powered aft winches.
The 48S is also very easy on the helm. Even when there was a fair degree of heel in the gusts, which were up to 23 knots true, it never felt overpowered. The twin spade rudders, which are shallow enough not to beach but have a long chord, helped the Discovery track effortlessly.
It remained dry in the cockpit with a comfortable motion, even around the Shingles elbow, a shoal patch that results in sharp chop and overfalls opposite the western arm of the Isle of Wight. Those looking to sail distances offshore will want a yacht that bestows confidence in its ability and the 48S is quick to do just that.
With the kite set and the keel raised we ripped back downwind and into the Solent, topping 13 knots over the water when passing Hurst narrows and averaging 8-9.3 knots through the water in 15-21 knots, deep reaching at 145° to the apparent wind.
Dusk rapidly turned to darkness by the time we started beating back to base and if the weather had delivered what the clouds were threatening, we’d have sought shelter with more haste. I couldn’t help but appreciate that the options for calm anchorages in such a situation dramatically increase when you can instantly reduce draught to a metre, or even dry out.
Raising the keel is a simple, sub 30-second push-button affair. An LED panel beside the port helm clearly displays the current position of the keel. The grounding plate extends to offer a protective skeg for the propeller. Under engine we made 7.5 knots at 2,500rpm, although it was a little noisy below decks at such revs (up to 85db in the companionway and aft cabin).
The new, slightly higher deck mould makes a telling difference. As well as the increased light from enlarged coachroof windows, I really like the protection afforded below the arch and sprayhood. This carbon-reinforced affair is an option that all bar one owner have taken. It provides 6ft clearance even above the bridgedeck and keeps the boom and mainsheet tackle well clear of the cockpit, although it does make for a very high boom.
The cockpit layout works well, enclosed by its protective coamings. These form deep backrests around the benches, which can seat three each side of the fixed table.
For stowage there’s a lazarette aft, albeit with a narrow entrance, and quarter lockers, including a deep gas locker. Shallow lockers under the helm seats are useful for keeping practical items to hand and there is a deep sail locker forward.
Once you’ve reached your picturesque anchorage and are nestled up to the shallows you want to be able to fully appreciate your surroundings whatever the weather. Here the swing-keel directly leads to the inclusion of another feature: a raised saloon. When you have a keel box large enough to accommodate the full keel, it makes sense to build the saloon above it and create the type of raised main living area typically enjoyed by multihulls and pilot saloon yachts.
The Discovery 48S has a saloon with near-surround views, a navstation from which you can stand a watch and a superb sea-going galley. All three areas have abundant natural light. There’s also direct access to a heads from the companionway, which includes a dedicated wethanging locker in the adjoining shower stall.
Discovery has ensured its wraparound windows are placed at the right height to give optimum benefit to those inside looking out. The vertical hull portlights also create a marked difference, adding a contemporary note to the hull and a wow factor from inside the cabins.
It’s obvious why these designs have been popular, but there are some downsides. This is fundamentally a decade-old design and therefore feels fairly compact for a 48ft yacht of today’s beamy standards.
Another drawback of a raised saloon format such as this is the number of levels it entails – there are small steps everywhere. Although this is something I find you quickly get used to, there is a sensible option for a traditional lower saloon in the fixed-keel 48R model.
Bluewater cruisers and those looking to spend extended periods of time aboard may also bemoan the comparative lack of machinery space. It is a bit fiddly to access the engine fully and you need to remove various floorboards or saloon seating to get at any extra machinery such as a genset (buried below the port saloon seat) or watermaker (below the aft saloon seat). I also found that items tend to be mounted where it’s possible rather than where you might conventionally think to find them. You have to kneel down in the saloon to use the switch panel, for example.
WHICH CABIN’S MINE?
The 48S is designed to suit couples going for extended cruising, the core market of all Discovery models. Where the yard has made an enormous improvement is in the forward cabinthis new two-cabin version is light and spacious enough even to eclipse the aft cabin. It’s a luxurious use of space and the ability to have two genuine ensuite master cabins to pick from – depending on whether you are at sea or in port – is an enviable decision to have. The inclusion of a third bunk cabin remains an option forward, but in the test boat’s format, the forward cabin boasts abundant stowage, good headroom (6ft 3in), a desk/vanity area and two sets of vertical hull ports each side.
Narrow doorways, particularly into the aft cabin and heads (down to 41cm) are another area where the design shows its age. But although headroom reduces to 5ft 10in below the bridgedeck in the aft cabin, it still feels like a plush cabin, helped in part by the vertical hull ports.
The galley is superb, an ideal layout for use at sea with bracing at most angles, yet it’s the antithesis of a traditional dark galley. It has ample cold stowage (plus extra available) and good work surface space.
The navstation provides excellent views, with two hatches above to view sail trim. However, electronics space is limited and there’s no allocation for keeping pilot books to hand. The test boat used the area forward of the navstation for extra work surface and stowage, but this can also be used for additional seating or a pilot berth.
The standard of workmanship throughout the boat is first class and the Marchwood yard has left its signature in the hand-finished joiner work. Although standard trim is in light oak, the test boat had a contemporary walnut finish. The yard’s skills are also evident in the Corian surfaces used on the worktops, sinks and soles in the heads and it is clear that Discovery has the ability to fulfil most bespoke requests for finishes.
It now uses Amtico on the sole, for instance, a highquality durable vinyl available in many colours and styles. This makes a smart and practical solution, with a blessed lack of creaking underfoot. There are multiple access hatches in the sole boards and lifting one reveals the sturdy weight of the solid ply flooring.
This is an attractive, good-natured and very comfortable bluewater yacht which oozes quality. Discovery has taken a proven design and a clever niche and added extra options and another layer of luxury to adapt it to the times.
I very much enjoyed sailing the 48S. It offers more spirited performance in both directions than the traditional fixed-keel Discovery designs and it reminded me of the fun I had sailing the previous generation of Southerlys. The 48S is an example of how a proven design can be improved – and the decision to offer it with lower saloon or fixed-keel versions certainly helps give this model broad appeal.
If you’re a social type, the value of a shoal draught yacht that can reach parts other yachts can’t may not be so highly-regarded. But for those who have seen the light, please remember to keep the secret safe.