Judy B and her first mate on her Wight Potter 19 "Redwing"
There are certain brands of boats that seem to stir up strong emotions in people. Mention Mcgregor sailboats on a sailing newsgroup, and a flamewar will follow between those who hate them and those who sail them. Mention Hunters on the Cruising World Message Board, and again a long thread of both positive and extremely disparaging comments will follow. Mention West Wight Potters on the Trailer Sailor Message Board, and again, the invective will fly. What is it about these boats that sparks such controversy? They definitely are manufacturers that have chosen to challenge the common wisdom of what a boat should like like, how it should be constructed, and how it is used.
One of the better things about the West Wight Potter is the intensively loyal class association. It seems to be incredibly active, and there are constantly WWP get-togethers across the country. It is almost enough to make you run out and buy a "potter" yourself. Almost. Owners talk about ease of launch with the daggerboard (no centerboard trunk, no shoal draft keel). When you are wrestling to drop your boat off at the launch ramp, and you see a Potter float off in maybe 6" of water, it is almost enough to make you run out and buy one yourself. Almost. When you find out that they are 2/3 the price of comparable pocket sailors, it is almost enough to make you run to the bank. Almost. So why doesn't everyone own one (and more specifically, me)?
They are reputed to be slow. This is a reputation that the Potter owners attack fiercely. It is definitely undercanvased if you don't buy the optional genoa (but that is true of most modern boats). It has a FLAT bottom, so it pounds in waves (but it it also planes easily, resulting in fast downwind runs). It has a hard-chined hull (but chines do help you drive to windward).
The real downside to me is the daggerboard. I didn't want to worry about messing around with a 450# daggerboard. I remember too many times running aground in small dinghies, and jamming the daggerboard. At least there is an easy fix in a small dinghy for this. I have read quite a few messages on the WWP email listserver discussing the "routine" fix of repairing the daggerboard trunk after running aground. Given, the daggerboard gives you the ability to launch the boat in a puddle, requires no interior centerboard trunk, and gives the boat good windward performance. Every keel arrangement on a trailerable sailboat is a compromise between performance and convenience. but this wasn't the option I wanted to choose.
The other downside is hull construction. The boat is fairly lightweight for it's size, and it shows in hull construction. The flat panels of the hull have a thin lay-up with no coring material. This means they will flex if you push on them (like a small dinghy). The boat is also fairly boxy, which is apparent when you look at the stern.
Don't take my word for this. You should really seek opinions of the owners. They all seem to be wildly enthusiastic about their boats. Taking the opinion of someone who doesn't own one, or sail one, isn't the best idea. If you are considering one, I suggest you subscribe to the WWP email listserver, and discover what a friendly group of people they are.
Both Lars Mulford and Judy B are active contributors
at the Trailor Sailor Message Board. As outspoken advocates of the
WWP-15 (Lars) and WWP-19 (Judy), their opinion is useful for those seeking
information on these two boats. Below are some copies of the information
Judy has provided about her boat.
If the Potter 15's and 19's weren't such a small boats, it wouldn't have built a devoted following of thousands over the past 30 years nor would International Marine be selling 10 P19's and 5 P15's a month.
The Potter 19 will do a sustained 5.5 to 6 knots in 15 knots of wind if you learn how to trim her. It's amazingly seaworthy for a little boat and a favorite of folks who live in areas with heavy winds and seas. It's not a true blue water cruiser, but it is an able short coastal passage maker, as long as you remember it's still just a 19 footer. It's a tough little mini-cruiser, not a racer, not a daysailer.
It has high initial stability, doesn't heel as much as other boats, very stable, and forgiving of a beginners mistakes. It will pop back up from a 90 degree knockdown, since it's got the 370 pound iron centerboard keel for ballast sticking out 3.5 feet below the hull. If you knock it down past 110 or 120 degrees, it will capsize (turtle), but that's almost unheard of over the last 25 years. It's unsinkable with it's positive foam floatation.
It's popular with beginners for the reasons I just mentioned. It also has an undeserved reputation for being slow and not being a good pointer, but that's because beginners can't trim well enough to point high or go fast. But if what you want is a seaworthy mini-cruiser and you like the features of the P19, you won't outgrow the boat. With a good skipper, she's a good performer.
The cabin is huge for a 19 footer, but the cockpit is relatively small. It's comfy for 4, but not 6 people. If you have more than 4 aboard, they have to hang out in the huge cable :-) The four berths are spacious and there is a huge amount of space for stowing gear.
The centerboard is has a study trunk, and no pivot bolt to freeze up or jam. Out of the hundreds of people on the Potter email list, I have heard of only one example of damaging the keel trunk by running aground under full throttle motor power, and it was easy enough to repair the crack with fiberglass. In the real world, it isn't a problem. People who are used to swing keels worry about it -- a lot more than the Potter owners' experience says should be necessary. the P19 is a mini-cruiser that you sail like a keel boat.
If you want to go gunkholing or beach the P19, just crank up the keel, kick up the rudder and go ahead. Just remember to strike the sails first or you WILL capsize her :-)
The looks of a Potter 19 are tough and chunky, not like sleek and fast. She looks like a working fishing boat or a little tugboat. She's a hard working mini-cruiser. She looks good under sail, but funny on a trailer with the hard chines. There's a picture below of my P19 doing 6 knots on Monterey Bay in California. Make up your own mind on this one.
If the cable for the keel is in your way on a weekend cruise, loosen one nut and you can get it out of your way in three minutes. The cabin feels twice as large when you get it out of your way.
The P19 is easy to trailer, rig and launch. Still in production, for the past 25 years and selling well. Replacement parts are available below retail from the builder, and customer support and service is excellent.
As for quality, there have been three builders over the years. The original and present builder build good quality boats. In the middle the builder had were some problems with superficial finish quality and the quality of the blocks and tracks. (I own a "middle" boat, and simply fixed or replaced all the stuff. It's a 15 year old boat and needed it anyway.) Throughout it's 25 year history, the Potter 19 has been structurally tough and durable, if not finely finished.
The current builder, International marine, is building good boats for a good affordable price. It's a lot of boat for the bucks, leaving you something left over for customizing what is basically a production boat.
But the finish quality on the new Potters is pretty decent these days. (It wasn't always uniformly true over the 30+ years that the Potters have been in production.)
I'd like to STRONGLY counter the perception that the hardware on Potters is not top quality. That may have been the case before International bought the company in 1992 or 3, but it's certainly not an issue now.
The quality of hardware on the Potter is excellent these days. It's all Harken hardware, with one or two Garhauer blocks. The other exception is the aft genoa tracks, they're by "Racelite", and made of formed SS track; and while that doesn't look as "cool" as black extruded aluminum track, it works fine and is strong enough for the job on a 19 foot boat. All the hardware is properly and safely rated for the load placed on it.
Some of those small blocks you see on a Potter look small, but those Harken 183's are rated for 500 pounds safe working load, and have a breaking strength of 2000 pounds. That's overkill for the load they bear. Sometimes there's an the advantage to being compact, strong. low friction, and inexpensive. Bigger blocks may look cool, and give you a warm fuzzy feeling, but on a small 19 foot boat they're often not needed.
As for hardware on the older Potters, who knows what hardware you'll find on any old boat, courtesty of the dreaded "Prior Owner". That's where some of the misperceptions come from about Potter rigging. There are literally a thousand or more Potters that are over 20-30 years old still sailing.
The Potter was always sold as a basic boat, with none of the lines run aft, and owners then customized them. Some owners knew what they were doing, some didn't. you can see hardware quality on them ranging from "what junk!" to "my god, what overkill!" on them. My pre-owned 1985 P19 came with a half-dozen "marginal quality" blocks, courtesy of the prior owner. (and almost all of them were dangerously UV damaged and brittle, with worn bearings after 15 years of use too)
As for the quality of fiberglass layup, International Marine is building a high quality, carefully hand laid boat, with extra unidirectional glass in all high load areas (keel, bow, places where high-load hardware attaches). The rest of the hull is laid with woven roving alternating with matt. there's no chop in the hull or deck) That's pretty standard for good quality glass work.
Heck, they make about 10 P19's a month, and 5 P15's per month, and they've been doing it since 1992. They DO stand behind their product with excellent customer service (slow sometimes, but always honest and friendly) , so they have every incentive to do it right.
They recently invested a pile of money for a new computer-generated, perfectly-cut, mold to replace the 30 year old, hand carved P19 mold.
To kind of summarize:
International Marine isn't cutting any corners that matter in terms of functionality on their boats. The fiberglass interior (instead of hardwood interior) keeps the price down. There isn't a bit of "salty looking" brass anywhere on the boat. The hardware is by Harken, Garhauser and Racelite. The glass is hand laid, using the right types of glass cloth in the right places.
They're building a good quality, no-frills, affordable trailer-sailor. IM isn't building "cheap boats", it's building good boats inexpensively.
That's the Potter's market niche. A well-built, good handling, decently equipped 19 footer that you can weekend on -- all for under $12,000 complete with sails, trailer and outboard. (or the little P15 complete for under $7000.
About a month ago, when I had to do some work on my own boat, I sent out an email on the Potter email listserv to ask for stories of damage to the keel trunk from groundings. I got responses from five owners who had done damage to their P19's in the last 25 years, out of several hundred owners on the list and about 1100 P19's built to date. I got dozens of stories about groundings with no damage and a few about groundings that caused damage. I also got a few stories about damage to swing keels on other boats they had owned.
From my decidely non-scientific survey on the Potter email list, I drew the following conclusions: Overall, the historical record of damaging a P19 keel trunk is very good, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. This past year, out of hundreds of subscribers to the Potter email listserv, 3 boats (including me) damaged their keel trunks by running hard aground.
Two older P19's put cracks in the top front of the keel trunk (mine was repaired with fiberglass and the other with Marine tex), and one boat pulled out the lockdown gadget off the outer surface of the keel trunk (which was repaired by installing a new one onto the keel trunk after patching the attachment place with epoxy.) There were zillions of groundings this year in which no damage occurred.
I've hit sandy or mucky bottoms with no damage to the trunk on my P19, both when my daggerboard was free to ride up (just with bungee straps holding it down) and when it wasn't (with a lockdown bolt engaged). I've sailed the boat slowly into a sandy beach til it grounded, without damage, and then cranked up the keel and pulled it up on the beach. I've hit rocks at moderate speeds with no damage when the keel was free to ride up a little. I've hit the edge of a channel at 5 knots and come to a dead stop with no damage.
My husband was sailing on a friend's P19 when it hit a large rock at over 5 knots, stopped dead in a split second, and no damage was done.
The P19 centerboard trunk in the newer P19's is held down with four flip-up bolts, which are mounted on the outside of the keel trunk. The gadgets look like hatch "dogs" on the sides of the keel trunk.
If you're sailing in shallow waters regularly, you'd probably be smart to rig up a "stretchy" system to use as an alternative to the keel "dogs", like a heavy duty rubber strap over the top of the trunk, so that the keel can ride up a few inches, yet still be secure in the event of a knockdown. Another alternative is to add a rope and a cleat, and leave a little slack in the line so the keel can ride up. Both of these systems are used with good results by Potter 19 owners.
Several folks have hit hard hard enough aground in the newer P19's with the keel locked down so that the lockdown "dogs" have pulled out of the keel trunk. Repair consists of re-expoxying the mounting screws into the keel trunk, and/or replacing the bolts (under $10 each).
My old 1985 P19 has a different lockdown system -- just a bolt passed sideways thru the keel trunk and iron keel. Using a breakaway nylon bolt or a bungy tiedown, it survived 15 years and literally hundreds of groundings without any damage. Most of SF Bay is very shallow, and grounding is a common experience, even with a boat that draws less than 4 feet. ( I get a little careless sometimes, because it's so easy to get off when you ground)
Here's the story about how I damaged my keel trunk: One day last September, I didn't have a nylon bolt handy, and I used a steel bolt instead. Wouldn't you know it?? The one time I didn't use a breakaway bolt, I hit a huge rock that day and put a 1" to 1.5" crack in the top front corner of the keel trunk.
The steel bolt didn't break away (not surprising, huh?), and the daggerboard keel rotated around the bolt, with the front top corner of the daggerboard hitting the top front corner of the trunk.
After I calmed down from the anguish of damaging my boat, I realized it didn't do any serious (meaning structural) damage to the boat, so I just sailed it like that for two more months until the season ended.
When I got around to repairing it in Novemeber, it took about 3-4 hours over two days to cut away the damaged fiberglass and replace it and then paint it with gelcoat, doing a proper job that's as good as new. It wasn't a difficult job at all. The hardest part was getting the boat lifted to drop the keel. It's not complicated to drop and reinstall a dagger keel, but that sucker is heavy!!! (I paid the boat yard to do it, and sandblast the keel while they were at it)
Before doing the repairs, I spent a lot of time researching the keel trunk design, because I didn't want to have that ever happen again. (Heck, I spent more time researching it than it took to repair it!) Initially, I wanted to make the front edge of the keel trunk so strong that it would never, not even in a million years, never crack again.
In the end, after consulting with the foreman at my boatyard and a naval architect I know, I decided the best decision was to leave the design the way it was and just repair it. Here's why:
The keel trunk on the P19 is designed to "take the hit" in a safe, easily repaired place, if, for any reason, the lockdown device doesn't break first and permit the keel to rise. They compared it to "crumble zones" on a car - the keel trunk is designed so that in the unlikely event of damage, the damage happens at the very top of the keel trunk, where no water can come it and the keel will still operate properly. With the P19 trunk design, there's little chance of damaging the keel trunk where it meets the hull, which could cost a bundle to repair or even rip it out of the hull and endanger everyone's safety .
I've never heard of anyone damaging the trunk where it meets the hull, except for little chips at the back bottom of the trunk that can be repaired with marinetex. (There's 4" of extra room back there at the bottom aft end of the trunk, so you really gotta smack that sucker really hard just to even chip it.)
Just like there are drawbacks to daggerboards, there can be problems with swing keels after harsh groundings. Keel bolts can be bent in a grounding when the wind swings the boat around, or the fiberglassing around them damaged. Cables can snag. Swing keels can jam so you can't get off the grounding or get the boat back on the trailer. (At least with a daggar on a P19, you'll never jam the daggerboard keel so you can't move it. At least I've never heard of it happening)
Repairing a swing keel is much more complicated than a daggerboard keel, and about 5 times as expensive, according to the guys at the boatyard. According to them, if the keel doesn't fully retract flush into the hull, there's a good change of bending the pivot bolt, and/or damaging the fiberglass around it.
In the end, I guess you gotta pick whichever system seems the lesser of two evils to you, "sophisticated swing" or "simple dagger". Dagger keels are less prone to maintenance problems than swing keels, and cheaper to fix when there is damage from a grounding, but maybe more likely to sustain damage from a hard grounding. On the other hand, swing keels are more prone to getting stuck, require more maintenance, are often very difficult to repair around the pivot bolt assembly, but they don't sustain damage as frequently in a hard grounding.
I think a well designed dagger or a well designed swing will both give you about the same service and dependability, while a badly designed one will be a real liability.
P19 KEEL CABLE WOES…
I love the new P19's but I have to admit that jamming the cable in a block is a fairly common occurrence. Unfortunately, it happens once to most new Potter owners. Fortunately, they learn from their mistake and learn how to avoid it in the future. With several dozen active P19's in our club, I've seen plenty of cases of cable jamming.
Jamming happens when the operator started lifting the keel when the cable was *really* slack, by several inches, rather than snugging the cable first. When the cable is winched, it can get caught in the block, between the sheave and the cheek of the block. I believe this is what you were talking about when you said the cable "jumped" off the block.
Jamming can be prevented by snugging the cable loosely and slowly before starting to lift any weight. That's something we tell every new P19 owner in our club. Failure to do it "operator error".
It happened once on my boat. The path of the keel cable on my 1985 is slightly different than the new boats, but the problem is exactly the same. When it happened to me, it was a real pain in the butt and robbed me of an hour or more of my time while the family was on a four day sailing vacation away from home. But no lasting damage was done and I got it fixed quickly.
Here's the story: My husband started cranking the keel up -- but he was turning the handle in the wrong direction so he was actually loosening the cable, rather than tightening it. He didn't notice that he was going the wrong way. I saw him spinning the handle like there was no weight on the other end, and immediately told him he was doing it backwards. He argued with me and kept going, and after another 5 seconds, the 390 pound keel started to rise as the cable snarled around the drum and over-wrapped a loop of slack cable. The over-wrap held tight until the keel was raised about 1 foot, and when the weight was sufficient, the loop of slack cable slipped out from under the override. The 390 pound keel dropped a few inches, and forcefully yanked all the slack out of the cable. The loop of cable got jammed between a sheave and the cheek of a block (what Lars called "jumping" off. )
The cable was jammed with the keel was hanging a few inches above the trunk. We couldn't budge it up or down.
Here's how I repaired it: All the blocks and the cable in the keel raising system are easily accessible and externally exposed. I jury rigged a 3:1 or 4:1 tackle made of line and spare blocks to the keel top, raised the keel a few inches, taking the weight off the cable. Then I un-jammed the cable, which took some grunting and effort.
Total time to fix the jammed cable: One half hour to think about it and about 1 hour to actually do it. Plus two hours to kiss and make up with my husband :^)
DAMAGE TO THE BACK OF THE KEEL TRUNK FROM GROUNDING:
Like I said in my last post, I've seen small cracks at the top front edge of the keel trunk from groundings and heard of lock-down "dogs" ripping out of the outside of the trunkcase, but never seen any damage to the back of the trunk.
I hit two big rocks in the last two months (and probably ten times that many over the 15-year life of my P19) and the only damage I can find at the back of my 1985 keel trunk is a tiny 1/8" diameter gelcoat chip.
Here's another example from a 1995 P19. It's a direct quote from an email I received when I was conducting my online "survey" about keel truncks. It's pretty typical of other stories I've heard.
"Both times, I was sailing with the keel full down in 5 to 6 feet of water in the Gulf after storms had roiled the normally clear water. Impact with the oyster bar was unexpected and abrupt. [The boat] stopped completely, pinned against the bar by wind pressure on the sails. Letting the sheets run free allowed her to pivot and free herself. In both incidents, the keel did not ride up noticeably, but rather moved aft in translation rather than rotation."
"Neither time was the keel locked down. Since a lot of the water I traverse on a day sail is really thin, this is SOP for me."
"No damage occurred to the forward edge of the trunk in either incident. All damage was concentrated at the rear of the trunk, and consisted of crush damage to the rounded profile of the trunk where the square profile of the keel impacted. Severest damage was at the exterior aft end of the trunk opening. Easily accessible and strongly if not elegantly repaired with Marine-Tex."
REPAIRS - SWING VS. DAGGARBOARD
I'm comfortable sticking with my assertion that a simple daggar trunk, with no inacessible interior mechanisms, is easier and much less expensive to repair than a swing keel trunk with encased and difficult-to-access mechanisms such as a pivot bolt with bearing surface and encased. I'll also repeat that I agree swing keels get damaged less often, except the kind that retract only partially into the boat.
Having just said that, I think we need to be careful to avoid comparing apples to oranges when we talk about keels. If we're comparing the much lighter weight, easily-removed P15 swing keel to the very heavy P19 keel, then I would agree with you that the swing keel of the P15 is probably not very much more difficult or expensive to work on. And since it retracts fully into the trunk, it's almost impossible to damage the P15 keel during a grounding if it's unlocked.
On the P19, we're dealing with a heavy, 370-400 pound keel on a boat that weighs 2000 pounds loaded with two crew and weekend gear. It's not at all clear to me that you can draw useful conclusions about difficulty of repairing damage from running aground by comparing that to the P15, with its 70 pound swing keel on a boat that weighs under 1000 pounds with two crew and gear. The magnitude of the forces generated by grounding a heavy boat with significant ballast in the keel are much greater than those from grounding a lighter one.
If you compare a heavy keel, swing or daggar, to a light one, there is more complexity in the heavy keel system - there are more pulleys to give you mechanical advantage, and more structural strength is required. It is generally a truism that the bigger the boat, the more complex the systems get and the more gear there is to breakdown and the more complex it may be to fix or maintain. I think most of us would agree that there's some validity to the concept that the bigger the moveable keel, the more likely it is that damage from a grounding will be more extensive than the damage caused by a light one, (all else being equal).
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