Safe, docile, easily-sailed, timeless and all in fibreglass. This is the THE H28 STORY
Story and photos by JENNY GREEN
Sea Spray - August , 1978
Article reproduced courtesy of SeaSpray Magazine' www.seaspraymag.com.
‘‘IF H28s design is only slightly changed, the whole balance may be thrown out. If you equip her with dead eyes, build her with sown frames, or fill her virgin bilge with ballast, the birds will no longer carol over her, nor will the odours arising from the cabin make poetry, nor will your soul be fortified against a world of warlords, politicians and fakers…”
So warned designer L. Francis Herreshoff in a delightful rambling description in Sensible Cruising Designs, of what has since proved to be, in New Zealand anyway, his most popular design, the 1943-vintage H28.
The grand old master, doyen of yacht design, whose books on designs and designing are filled with similar warnings, denouncements and fantastically dogmatic statements of opinion, not only cautioned would-be builders of the H28 against desecration of the design, but also had this to say on the then-new medium of fibreglass:
“‘There is no doubt that some day large concerns will make motor boats by the ten thousand, all alike, of plastics. These will suit the swill man’s son, the ash man’s son, and the son of the local politician, for they will all be painted bright red and trimmed with nickel plating.
‘But why someone wants to put these chaps on the water, I don’t know for there is nothing on the water they want to see, hear oi smell. Their only desire is to take some bad girls up around the bend of the river, and this they might just as well do overland in the swill wagon their father navigated before them.”
Harsh words indeed. But whether or not the birds carol over the couple of hundred altered, fibreglass H28s that cruise the waters of New Zealand and beyond, and whether or not the owners are the sons of swill men, ash men and local politicians with evil intent on their minds, what the old man didn’t know when he penned those lines was that his H28 design was to become possibly the biggest and most popular class of cruiser/racer keelboat in New Zealand in a remarkably short space of time.
From small beginnings in Henderson in 1972, Compass Yachts have turned out an amazing 247 fibreglass H28s in various stages of finish and colour — they’re not all red! — for yachtsmen all over New Zealand ranging from enthusiastic learners to retired centreboard jockeys — and maybe the odd swill and ash men’s Sons as well. Politicians’ sons? Well, who knows.
With Compass Yachts still busily laminating and finishing H28s (there were three in the shed when we visited, and another outside awaiting delivery to Northland) despite the state of the economy, we decided to take a closer look at what seems to be New Zealand’s favourite keelboat, and find out why.
Compass Yachts director John Maurice puts it in a nutshell
‘The H28,” he says, “is the Volkswagen of New Zealand yachting.’
And thinking about it, we reckon that’s a pretty fair summing-up. For whatever your personal feelings about the H28, you’d have to agree it’s a safe, docile, easily sailed, traditional and thus timeless-looking boat, with stacks of practical features, plenty of room below for the average family, and, most important, within the reach of that average boating family.
Unlike many glass boats on the New Zealand market the5e days. the H28 came into fibreglass production as a result of careful market research by Compass Yachts and Half Moon Boy Brokerage. Maurice and friends were looking for on deal boat to manufacture in glass for the average boating man, a boat thot wouldn’t date easily, would appeal to a wide section of the buying public and would be reasonably easy and cheap to produce.
The H28, in its original wooden form, was proving to be the most sought-after secondhand yacht on the market, and brokers had clients waiting.
So Compass Yachts decided that with a few alterations, (and may their souls be saved from the warlords, politicians and fokers) in the form of more headroom and slightly deeper draft, with accommodation altered to sleep the average family, the H28 would be a worthwhile proposition.
With the assistance of well-known Auckland designer/builder John Lidgard (who, presumably, wosnt too worried about warlords, politicians and fakers either) plans were drawn up giving 1 27 mm mare topside amidships and 64 mm more at the ends, increasing the yacht to 9 m (29 ft 7 in) with the draft increased from 1 .06 m to 1.21 m(3ft 6 in to 4ft).
Another important decision was to use steel punchings encapsulated in resin as ballast instead of lead, an important cost- saving exercise.
Chris Bouzaid (of Hood NZ Ltd) drew up a sail plan (for shame, more alterations) and Compass Yachts were ready to go into production, thinking that maybe they would build about 20 yachts a year.
The first glass H28 was launched in October 1972 and to date Compass Yachts have delivered 247 to owners all over New Zealand, in Australia and the United States.
To allay the fears of some of those more superstitious owners who had not, perhaps, realised that the famous designer of their little cruiser/racers did not approve of alteration or, horror of horrors, coloured plastic boots, Compass Yachts actually did get the blessing of the designer before he died.
In those early days, when the builders actually hod people queuing to place orders at Auckland Boat Show, and found themselves working two eight-hour shifts a day in on effort to reduce the I 2-month waiting list, the ubiquitous 1128 cost a mere $7750 sailaway but without motor. That’s compared to around $17,000 today, though the H28 is still one of the cheaper boats of its size on the market.
And as with so many production boats of this type, Compass Yachts in fact have built about 80% of the sold boots to hull and decks stage only rather than completed — at the considerably cheaper price of $6500. At that, using either a kitset from the builders for the interior or undertaking their own joinery, which, Maurice says, has been of a remarkably high standard, and taking advantage of H28 marketers Half Moon 8ay Marina’s package deal for materials, fittings, gear etc, owners can still put an H28 into the water for around $14,000.
Construction of the boat is basically 340 g (12 oz) gunstock and woven ravings, in the topsides, with 6809 (24 oz) in the keel area. All boats are gun-laid these days and Compass Yachts work on producing a hull and decks in four working days with 26 working days needed for the sailaway boat.
And some figures to add to the useless information” file which we thought were interesting, is that into the 247 finished boats so for, have gone 17.5 tonnes of resin, 8.5 tonnes of glass, 2 tonne5 of woven rovings, and 1 .5 tonnes of gel coot!
Basic sailaway boat, then, is equipped down below with squabs, two burner gas stove, stainless steel sink and galley pump, vanity basin and pump, 90-litre water tank, 45litre fuel tank, and toilet . . . though the latter was another subject which inspired the designer to more lengthy tirades.
In his description of the H28 in Sensible Cruising Designs (in which he deals with every imaginable subject connected with the design, including who should be on board, and whot they should eat), Herreshoff deals effectively with the subject of marine toilets by quoting J.J, Roche’s poem ‘A Sailors Yarn’
They bored a hole below her line to let the water out But more and more, with an awful roar the water in did spout.
Far better, Herreshoff maintained, for all purposes, particularly on a boot the size of H28, is a well-varnished Cedar bucket with rope handles to make it more comfortable...
Back to the sailaway boat, however, which also comes with the basic deck hardware necessary to get under way from bollard to genoa tracks and blocks, cleats, two sheet winches, plus spars, running and standing rigging, and two sails, a mainsail and working jib.
Extras, like pushpit and pulpit, lifelines eic, and extra home comforts below, can also be supplied. But if you’re a purist, don’t fit a deep-freeze; Herreshoff didn’t like them either.
‘To me,,” he wrote, “or, ice-box seems a terrible thing — too often have I had to clean out of them ossified lamb chops or some other concoction which resembled a pre-Combrian custard.” He advocated lots of dried foods, well-cured bacon, black salami, and prunes!
The alternative, of course, is to eat the lamb chops before they ossify.
Low cost, plus good practical VW-type features in a boot, were not the only reason for the class’ incredible growth in such a short time here, however. One of the biggest contributing factors was the owners’ association, a highly enthusiastic group of people who have also aided class growth by orgonising events, encouraging racing and promoting family cruising,
The H28 owners affiliated themselves to Auckland’s Royal Akarana YC fairly early on, and noe enjoy close, competitive class [ racing with that club under farrly strict one-design rules which ensure that the older boats are competitive with the new the original gloss H28 in fact, still races with some success in the annual Feltex Regatta.
All of which adds up to a unique success story of a pedigree boat which just happens to hove slotted perfectly into the New Zealand stock boot scene. The H28 really has never been the subject of heavy, Americanised marketing campaign but rather has sold itself to the sort of people who want that boot.
And although he would probably hove had heart failure at the thought that is words would be used eventually to describe a successful, plastic, coloured stock boot, Herreshoff’s description of H28’s design purpose probably best explains why:
“The H28,” he says, ‘was designed for the man who has only a limited amount of time but would like to go somewhere and bock in that time,
“It was designed to be a boot that could quickly be gotten under way for a soil on a summer evening — a boot that could coast along in light breezes as well as stand up to everything A simple, old fashioned philosophy of design and a “lucky punt” by the New Zealand manufacturers, and you’ve got New Zealand’s favourite family keelboat, the H28.
One of the biggest features contributing to the success of the H28 has been a highly enthusiastic group encouraging family racing and cruising. Left: Stock H28 from Compass Yachts . .. 247 like this have left the mould so far. Interior layout. - full headroom, ample working space and all the comforts needed by the average family yachtsman.
One look at the stern and there’s no doubt about who designed the H28