boat test


We’re sorry the J/70 boat test is delayed for another day, but after a little Tuesday test sail in 15-20 and ocean waves, Mr. Clean was so stoked on the McConaghy 38 that this review went to the front of the line. J/Fans should check back here Friday for the J/70 report.

I jumped on Rob and Sandy Butler’s McConaghy 38 Carbonado yesterday for a little shakedown cruise pre-Charleston Race Week. We went out without two key crew members, spent a half hour sorting out basic issues like a screwy mainsail clew strop and the wrong jib pennant size for the halyard locks (the MC38 has ‘em on both main and jib), but finally got the rags up and headed past Fort Sumter and out to sea. After passing the last red can, we popped the practice kite and headed North in 15-18 knots of Charleston seabreeze. The boat munched up the miles, and even though the kite came from a Swan 42 and was too short and all wrong on shape, we sat on a plane, trucking downwind at 15+ knots. It was a long way back upwind, giving all of us a chance to see how the boat liked the big ocean, and after a bunch of that, we jib-reached back through the harbor entrance.

Unlike the typical magazine reviewer, I’m going to assume you’re not idiots, and you know how to work the interwebs well enough to find the boat’s specifications, designer, and basic layout. My job instead is to give you an early and honest look at one of the most exciting new boats on the market.

The Deck Layout is probably the most interesting part of the boat, and it’s not because there is anything new about it. Instead, what’s exciting about the deck and cockpit is how completely simplified everything is, and how spacious your working area is. As you’d expect on a Grand Prix buoy racer, all the sheets and control lines run down under the deck in dedicated, drained tunnels – even the spinnaker sheets. It’s a strange feeling to be sailing a boat like this without a single line underfoot, and a damned nice one. Like the other new forties, the 10,000,000:1 vang is all the way at the back of the bus, and the only control that didn’t make sense was the continuous traveler located on the mainsheet hand’s foot rest – the cleat location needs to be rethought for smooth operation of a very necessary control.

The Cabin doesn’t deserve to be called that – a cabin that requires crawling to access it needs a better name. I’ll just call it the “Underdeck”, like my nephew Jake has been calling cabins since he first sailed a Melges 24 at age 3. Anyway, the underdeck of the McConaghy 38 gives away the boat’s real purpose while setting it apart from the rest of the new Forties. There is no ‘there’ there. It’s black, damp, and an obstacle course of stringers and bulkheads, and while plenty of folks will tick the ‘pipe berth’ option and plenty more will take it offshore, the boat’s underdeck has maybe 4 feet of head room, and I’ll just sleep on the rail, thank you very much. I’d recommend living with the weight penalty and splashing a coat of white paint on the walls down there; either that or hire a very small vampire to find and organize shit down below. While it’s obvious that everything is the lightest of weight, the construction seems as solid as any TP-52, and the interior finish is about the same level as the most recent MedCup boats – in other words, there ain’t much. You will NOT be impressing racer chasers with the interior of this boat. But you’ll impress the hell out of the real Sailor Chick. Which is all that matters anyway, right?

Upwind, Carbonado has a lot going for her. The main is gi-normous, with a huge square top main that looks massively sexy while providing a lot of drive up high. It’s almost impossibly flat, but with the running backstay and Cunningham on hard and the traveler down about 4 inches, the boat had more than enough power to get through the wind-driven chop. The jibs are small (there are three Class jibs) and very easy to handle, and with no cabin blister at all on the flush-decked racer, it has ridiculously narrow sheeting angles that the boat seems to like. Instruments were all chicken-winged, but sailing sportboat angles upwind (playing heel with the main and never feathering) kept us in the low 8s at somewhere in the 38-40 degree true range. The boat is too light and the foils way too narrow to get into the low 30s TWA like you do with a Farr 40, feathering up into the puffs. In the McC, the rudder is so deep and the boat so stable that you let her heel over to 20 degrees and power up in the puffs rather than bleeding off. It’s fast, it’s fun, and the only tough part about it is the demands it puts on the driver to focus on tellies all the time. A very light helm means very little feedback, which can be disconcerting to people who’ve been sailing heavy-helmed boats their whole lives.

Downwind, the McC is exactly as you’d expect from a boat that weighs less than a newborn baby, powered by a masthead kite and monster mainsail. It skips along the surface like a potato chip with the deep rudder providing perfect control and little fear of a wipeout (though I didn’t really try). I was a little busy to check the speed on my phone, and the practice kite’s shape is something I’m trying to forget, but I can promise you the boat is as fast or faster downwind as anything I’ve ever seen or heard of in this size range. The jib will stay up in almost all conditions, and boat captain Marty Kullman set up a slick little hobble so the jib is self-tacking downwind. Having the sheets run under the deck is awesome, though I’m guessing we will see some failsafe solutions from old bowguys that get nervous at the thought of not being able to re-run a spin sheet in a few quick seconds.

On A Reach the boat really shines, and it may turn out to be the boat’s most powerful asset in the inevitable medium distance races. The combination of big bulb and long lever arm, wide hull, and long rudder provide enough sail carrying ability to really press her down on a reach. I sailed the Vanquish (ex-Moneypenny) STP65 from Florida to Charleston a few years back on a race that was 96% close reaching, and the heel and wake we had reaching into the harbor at 100 TWA yesterday looked and felt identical to the Vanquish. Attention is needed on the vang to keep the square top from spinning the boat out, but form stability is a nice thing to have.

Overall Impressions

  • This is a stripped out racer, period. And in my opinion, it’s one of the prettiest boats on the market today.
  • The cost is extremely attractive, I’m told it’s easy to get a new MC38 on the line for well under 400K. This puts it well below the Farr 400, and even weller below than the Carkeek 40. The boat’s real competition on the price point is the Soto 40.
  • This thing is going to be a hate mission for long distance races. As nice as all those holes are, it’ll be wet and uncomfortable if you opt to start a race into a big beat.
  • Comparing the McC38 to Farr 400 or Carkeek 40 misses the point. That’s like comparing the original Cone to a Melges 32. The 400 or Carkeek 40 are built so they are ready to sail to Bermuda or Transpac – they are bigger, heavier, and way more expensive. You can take the McC on one of those races, but only if you’re slightly mad.
  • The deck is surprisingly dry in 2-3 foot seas, but as soon as it gets bigger than that, I think it’ll be damned wet.
  • Max beam starts a long way forward and is carried all the way aft. I like the fact that everyone hikes in the back. Even upwind, it doesn’t seem like the boat needs any weight forward at all.
  • -Despite the small displacement, the boat and rig both seem overbuilt, if anything.
  • Combined with the boat’s looks and McC’s reputation, the price point puts this boat in a very good position to build some real OD fleets in the US and Caribbean. One of the active Puerto Rican racers was out sailing with us, he came specifically to look at the McC, and he was damned impressed. Honestly the boat should destroy in caribbean racing, and I can’t even imagine how fun it would be to race this thing in 25 knots and 8 footers in a 10-boat, non-rating fleet at the Heineken or St. Barts or Charleston or <gasp> Key West.
  • Nearly 10’ of draft is going to take a little thinking for those used to 7 or 8 feet of draft. It’s deep.
  • Rudder and lightness makes you want to flick the boat into the corners like a Ferrari.
  • Lines are extremely lightly loaded. Winches are tiny. Nothing on this boat feels like it’s going to kill you if a block explodes at 20 knots.
  • Carbonado is a family program – mom, dad, and 15 year old boy are the core crew. Don’t know a lot of 40’ ultralight racers that you can say that about.

Big thanks to Sandy, Rob, Riley, and the crew for the ride and hospitality. Onboard Photo Alan Block, KW shot from James Boyd.