Magazine reviews and other references and comments on the Bristol Channel Cutter
BOAT U.S. Magazine
May 2005. “If you’re a sailor who just can’t get enough of the nostalgia and romance of bygone days and traditional boats, yet fear the genre’s often deserved reputation for poor performance, take a look at the Bristol Channel Cutter 28 (BCC). This design comes from The late Lyle Hess – not a household name when comes to yacht designers, but one who achieved near icon status among a select group of adventurers who enjoy sailing the world aboard small boats. Besides The BCC, other notable Hess designs include the North Sea 27 and both of Lin and Larry Pardey’s world cruisers. The BCC, built by the Sam L. Morse Co. of Costa Mesa, CA, was introduced nearly 30 years ago and remains in production today although Morse no longer owns the company. From the start, she was designed and built to take the punishment of extended offshore cruising. Hulls are hand laid using multiple layers of fiberglass cloth and resin. Thickness varies from nearly an inch on centerline to about 3/8-inch at the deck edge. The deck and cabin structure are a sandwich construction utilizing plywood rather than balsa as a core material. The hull and deck are joined on an inward flange, bolted on six-inch centers and sealed with 3M 5200 adhesive sealant. There are no prefabricated liners used so nearly the entire interior is accessible for maintenance. This is a very strong, well-built boat and problems with aging boats are most likely to result from normal wear and tear and hard use…”[Click here for the full article]
GOOD OLD BOAT magazine
May/June 1999. “In the wake of the Pardeys”; by John Vigor. “The Bristol Channel Cutter (BCC) is a boat of superlatives. For many dedicated long-distance cruisers, she is, for her size, simply the best of everything: the most comfortable, the most seaworthy, the most traditional, and (naturally) the most expensive. There are some who call the BCC the Rolls Royce of yachts, but they have it the wrong way around. The Rolls Royce is actually the BCC of automobiles……The BCC as designed by the legendary Lyle Hess and built today by the meticulous Sam L. Morse company, is as cultured a piece of sailing machinery as you’re likely to find anywhere. In fact, you wouldn’t be far wrong if you said that Chippendale and Hepplewhite were the BCCs of fine furniture……”
BLUE WATER SAILING
June 1998; “Lyle Hess’s Bristol Channel Cutter”. A detailed review of the design and performance of the Bristol Channel Cutter and a Cover photo. “The Lyle Hess-designed, Sam L. Morse-built Bristol Channel Cutter (BCC) has been around for nearly a quarter century, crossing oceans and knocking off 150-mile days in the trades, riding out storms with aplomb, and carrying it crews safely and happily to countless backwaters of the world….”
CRUISING WORLD Magazine
December 1996; REVIEWS, “Bristol Channel Cutter 28”, by Barbara Marrett. A review of the Bristol Channel Cutter. “I’ve been impressed by consistent reports of the good blue-water performance by owners of these venerable craft… If you want to cruise in a proven conservative design, in a boat that has and will withstand the tests of time, the Bristol Channel Cutter demands your careful attention.”
January 1996; “CLASSIC CUTTER, The Bristol Channel Cutter is 28 feet of ocean going charm”, by John Kretschmer. A review and sailing boat test by sailing magazine. “Designer Lyle Hess is the Bristol Channel Cutter guru. He is responsible for blending the seakindly and unexpected swift, full keeled hull shape of the Bristol Channel Cutter with more modern construction techniques and rigging… My initial reaction upon climbing over the lifelines was that this was not a 28 foot boat… the Bristol Channel Cutter is, by all accounts, a big 28 footer… We shot off on a close reach and our little photo boat struggled to keep up… We beat our way south, close tacking through both commercial and pleasure traffic…I was amazed at how easily she came through the wind, trimmed up and accelerated. She certainly did not feel like a heavy full-keeled cruising boat… Surprise was clipping along at seven knots.”
September 1995; Volume 21, Number 17 and 18; “Three Semi-Custom Cruisers”. A critique on a Alerion Sloop, Bristol Channel Cutter and Morris 40. “The BCC, inspired by British work boats, is a heavy displacement cruising boat with a long waterline, short overhangs, full keel and big rudder. The cockpit, while quite small (it holds just 700 lb. of water) is quite comfortable, with generous backrests… This is a go anywhere boat, which like the Alerion, is a piece of furniture that you hope your children will cherish when you pass on.”
(A British magazine) October 1993; “The Bristol Channel Cutter” by Randall Brink. The author gives his opinion of the Bristol Channel Cutter. “The BCC is rich in character-sufficiently so to satisfy the most stalwart of traditionalist-yet, despite its traditional line and its look of a very purposeful boat, it is fast-remarkably so for a beamy, heavy-displacement cruising hull. The BCC’s performance history includes many days of 180 nautical mile passage in the logs of its owners due, mainly to the generous sail area and long waterline length. The boats have also marked a number of race victories: first overall in the Newport-Ensenada race in 1978 (out of some 400 boats), first in its class in the Newport Ensenada race 1979 and first overall in the 1980 Panama Canal Yacht Club race. Most recently, in 1990 won the overall season’s “A” class trophy for outstanding performance in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea… While underway the BCC will sail 30 degrees to the apparent wind at hull speed. It performs very well under windvane, hands-off. This is a boat that you can comfortably leave alone on long passages. Some owners have reported twenty days or more during a passage when they have barely touched the tiller.”
BEST BOATS TO BUILD OR BUY
A book by Ferenc Mate. “One For the Eyes, Bristol Channel Cutter”. Also the cover photo. A personal review of the Bristol Channel Cutter. “Exaltations aside, the boat is strong, stiff, beamy and heavy, and considering its wetted surface, fast. To put it simply, it’s really a 34 foot boat without the overhangs… Below decks the boat is a wonder. In spite of the narrow deck house there is much volume, and Mr. Hess’ original layout is one of the most sensible I’ve seen for an off shore cruising boat designed for two people… The Bristol Channel Cutter is built like the proverbial brick relief station… they use traditional floor timbers with plywood soles and no liners so any alteration is possible. The bonding of the furniture to hull is very thorough — and if you are contemplating the purchase of a complete boat, I can say that the quality of finish is of the best I have seen anywhere. If I sound like I am raving about all the wonderfulness of these boats, remember the title of this book. The chaff has fallen by the wayside long ago.”
THE WORLD’S BEST SAILBOATS
A book by Ferenc Mate. “Sam L. Morse Co.”. A personal opinion of the Bristol Channel Cutter. “I might as well start off by telling you that the Bristol Channel Cutter and the Falmouth Cutter are the most beautiful 28 and 22 foot fiberglass boats in the world… If you look at the lines of the Bristol Channel Cutter, you will see she reaches maximum beat well aft of the mid station, and her entry lines are straight, very much like the best of modern cruisers… As to how well she handles, all you have to do to answer that question is read the Pardey’s books, for they sailed her without an engine all over the world, which means a lot of mean light tacking in mean tight harbors, and they came back to the same design again… If you’re not converted yet, then let me tell you how she’s built. A good indication of solidity of this good yacht is that in spite of her 28 feet she weighs almost 9,000 pounds without ballast.”
October 1993; Cover Photo
CHESAPEAKE BAY Magazine
November 2003; Cover Photo http://www.cbmmag.net/magazine/nov_03.html
February 1992; “Gambatte means “Go for it” by Tom Linskey. An article about an attempt to race from Melbourne, Australia to Osaka, Japan on a Bristol Channel Cutter. “I visualized the 5,500 nautical miles ahead of us, our course through the Tasman Sea, Coral Sea, the Solomon Sea, and 2,500 miles of wide-open Pacific… Yesterday only hours before we were to have sailed Freelance, the 28-foot Bristol Channel Cutter I finished from a bare hull in California across the starting line in the Yamaha Osaka Cup, a cooking-oil fire broke out in our galley… Freelance served us well through two years of cruising… Freelance is happily close-reaching at hull speed, aimed 330 degrees true…”
Issue unknown; “ROLL, REEF AND SELFSTEER”-, by Tom Linskey. An article about roller reefing and windvanes on a sail from Melbourne, Australia to Osaka, Japan on a BCC. “Unfortunately, all our cruising friends are right; no one crosses the Tasman Sea, the 1,500 miles of ocean separating New Zealand and Australia, without getting dusted at least once. And tonight is our night. A gale-enforced systems test of boat, crew, seaworthiness, man handling… So our Tasman Sea gale descended, instead of doing courageous battle out on the bowsprit, I stayed in the cockpit and pulled the furling string. Now, I realize that I may be the last seagoing shellback on earth to shed my hanks, but the five-second transformation from a rail-down, overpowered and unhappy boat and crew to an upright, balanced and happy boat and crew struck me as nothing less than magical. The drama had disappeared, thank you very much, from heavy weather. If I’d known it was this easy…Rolling or unrolling just a few rolls of headsail made an astonishing change in how successfully our boat steered in heavy air and seas… When the line squalls began pushing the wind into the 40-knot range, we rolled the jib completely, dropped the main and carried on under staysail alone since Freelance is cutter rigged. Between squalls I unrolled about six-feet of jib, just the clew radials, and even that tiny flag of sail was enough to stop us from wallowing in the seas and start us powering through them again.”
October 1982; “Pulling Up Stakes”, by Christopher Chadwick. A Michigan family of four trades it all for a Bristol Channel Cutter bare hull. “I am enjoying the fruits of the two and a half years labor it took to finish Whistler, our 28-foot Bristol Channel Cutter, which I built from a bare hull… The search to find the right boat for us began in 1975. It was at that point that we realized we were not happy with our lifestyle and weren’t getting what we wanted out of life… The money would come From the sale of our custom-made dream house, but first the search to find our proper boat was launched. The list of requirements included a heavy displacement hull with a broad, full keel for stability, ease of handling and drying out in a tidal range. We wanted an outboard rudder as it was easily serviceable without hauling out and would take a self-steering vane easily. Wide side decks were a must for going forward in a seaway and we wanted something more than a 1-inch toe rail for security on a heeling deck. A divided rig and jiffy reefing were also a must for easy sail handling. Below decks our list included good sea berths and ventilation, full headroom, lots of storage space and enough room so we didn’t feel like sardines on rainy days… We’ve lived aboard Whistler on a mooring… She’s easy to live aboard… She has been a delight to sail… despite her heavy displacement (14, 000 pounds), moves very well in light to medium air.”
June 1987; “Dream-Boat Man by Morry Edwards. An article about Lyle C. Hess and the boats he designed from the beginning to the present.
February 1989; “Passage making, First Reckoning’ by Tom Linskey. An article about crossing the Pacific to the Marquesas on a Bristol Channel Cutter. “Freelance is a physical part of the trades now, and I think of how long I’ve dreamed about being out here, doing exactly this… We are seeing the graphic importance of light-air performance, a quality largely written off by many cruisers who fall back on their motors in winds below 6 knots. But you can’t motor across an ocean. Any barge will sail in 20 knots of breeze, but in light air the performance differences among cruising boats are dramatic.”
October 1985; “Modern Classic: Bristol Channel Cutter”; by Peter Bohr. A review of the Bristol Channel Cutter. The Seraffyn/BCC is about as well tested as a design can be: Lin and Larry Pardey cruised Seraffyn around the world for eight years… Though she’s no Transpac downwind sled, she’s remarkably quick for a heavy boat with lots of wetted surface… The BCC has even managed to chalk up a few racing laurels… But make no mistake, the BCC is first and foremost a bluewater cruiser with ample living space for at least a couple of long-distance voyagers… While the BCC is handsome and functional, perhaps more endearing is the boat’s quality… Sam Morse Company makes certain that each boat is a gem. You won’t find tacky telltale signs of a mass-produced production boat in a BCC… she has no fixed interior fiberglass liner so buyers may modify the standard layout.”
“Boat & Owner: Hale Field and Fram,” Sea, June 1976, pp. 44 – 7.
Perhaps the title Boat & Owner is a misnomer in this case, since it would be far more accurate to say Boats & Owner. The name Hale Field as well as his yachts (Renegade, Fram, Hawk) are woven into the tapestry of West Coast yachting and to pick one name out is a slight to the rest. In the course of a lifetime around the water, Field has circumnavigated the North American continent, commissioned the design of a well-known motorsailer, designed several boats himself, abetted the rebirth of a traditional design, and is now building yet another boat.
“In 1950, we’d had our children and we thought it would be nice to have a boat again. I got together with Lyle Hess, a really good designer, and we thought that a boat based on actual working use would be nice. So we cast about and found the old Itchen Ferry cutters of England. Of course they were fishing boats developed to carry a load of fish but they had to sail well because they had no power. Eventually the gentlemen of the day saw they were good sailing boats and started racing them.
“We developed some lines and I came up with a sailplan that was reflective of the old cutters. We gaff-rigged her to be traditional and also so you could pull the topsail down at the first reef.”” Launched as Renegade in 1950, she had single sawn frames of hackmatack every third frame. As a result, she’s kept her shape after 26 years, although a lot of the credit goes to Lyle and Roy Barto who built her.
Renegade, still sailing in Southern California, is a traditional cutter, 24½ feet on deck. Larry and Lyn Pardey saw her, liked her lines, and built a sister ship which, named Serrafyn, is famous for cruising. Except for some materials and for a marconi rig rather than a gaff, the two vessels are identical. “We sailed Renegade for a while and, in 1954, I modified the rig by adding a topmast to get more sail area for the light airs of Newport. We entered the Ensenada Race and, by golly, took first overall in PHRF. PHRF wasn’t the full blooded affair that it is now, so we had Renegade measured to the old CCA ocean racing rule and took CCA overall in Ensenada in 1957. I’m pretty proud of that, since we’re the only vessel to ever win both the President of Mexico and the President of the U.S. trophies.”
Field tried a lot of things on Renegade: sailed her like a bawley boat without a boom, and sailed her for a year without an engine. “We sailed in and out of everywhere, although sometimes she’d leave you out waiting for wind. But there’s a great deal of pleasure out there at night if you’re not frustrated. If you’re not in a rush all the time, you can really enjoy it and you’d be surprised at the progress you can almost always make.”
Field kept Renegade until 1962, when he switched to a brand-new Cal-28 being produced by his friend Jack Jensen. “Boy, that was a transition! Going from a solid wood boat to a Tupperware dish was hard, but the worst thing was the change from having a steady helm to one where the boat would turn around if you looked away. But it was a lot of fun because every new Jensen boat did well, and we were the first Cal-28 to start racing.”
Hale Field is a gentleman in the classic sense … considerate, quiet, self-effacing. You can’t image him ever having to bluster about his accomplishments, although the stories and tales roll forth without ego. It’s not difficult to see why so many yachtsmen are delighted to call him a friend.
“About 1964, I again found that I could manage to do some cruising. My training was as an engineer, but I got into real estate investments in the Fifties which allowed me to arrange my time. So I got together with another designer-friend, Bill Lapworth, and he came up with some plans to meet my specifications. I wanted the biggest boat that my wife and I could handle by ourselves, enough space to live aboard, good sailing ability, and enough power plant to go upwind.
“I shopped all over the world for a builder, came home, and found that Willard right here in Costa Mesa was between projects. They turned out to be great … “course the boat cost money but, at the same time, everything I paid for went into it.”
It was Willard’s concept to build the 46-footer by making a one-off female mold instead of the more conventional method of laying glass over a male plug and then finishing the exterior. The female mold required planking in reverse, “we had to think backwards all the time,” but it permitted the very hard sprayed gelcoat which remains in good condition twelve years later.
Field named her Fram after the boat used by the explorer Nansen, and the name means onward in Norwegian. And that is exactly what Field did with her. Launched in mid-1965, Hale and Gingerlee Field moved aboard in 1967 as their four youngsters left home for college. Even their shakedown cruises were long by conventional standards; San Francisco and return, and then as far as British Columbia the following year.
But 1967 marked the great departure. Business again arranged, Field left in February and sailed down the coast of Mexico. “Fram was designed as a long-shore cruiser rather than a long-distance vessel, so we planned our runs for two days and one night between ports. It’s more fun that way and, if you’re not in a hurry, why hurry?”
After cove-hopping Mexico and Central America, they ducked through the Panama Canal, up into the Caribbean to Jamaica and the Windward Passage, and then over to Florida. “At that point, we did a thing that I’d just love to do again … we sort of went with the boats that migrate like birds up and down the Intracoastal Waterway. The kids came and went as they pleased, and it was just delightful. We spent two seasons on the Waterway. In 1967, we went north and watched the America’s Cup, up Lake Champlain to Expo ‘67, and then back down to the Bahamas for the winter.
“The following year, we went north early and that time we just kept going and wound up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At that point, we decided that the best way to come back to California was to break new ground and so we planned to head through the St. Lawrence River and go down the Mississippi.
“But we took our time going along, and it got pretty late in the year. That was 1968 and there was a lot of unrest in the South … people getting shot and so forth … and there were some lonesome stretches of the Mississippi. We weren’t scared, but it wasn’t fun either.”
Hale Field is one of those people who seem to acquire friends along the way like other people collect match books or hotel towels. One fellow he met, the owner of a small railroad near Sault Ste. Marie, said he could get Fram onto a flat car bound for Vancouver. The end result was that they activated a pair of huge locomotive wrecking cranes to lift Fram’s 17 tons like a dinghy on davits. “The overhang on the sides wasn’t bad, but the critical dimensions were the upper corners where they might hit bridges or tunnels. The railroad made an accurate profile of Fram and matched it to their overlays of every obstruction on the whole route to make sure we’d fit.”
Arriving in Vancouver, Hale Field was prepared for problems after the fuss over on-loading Fram’s weight and bulk. But the yard boss didn’t seem too worried even when Field kept emphasizing the 34,000 pound load. “When the boat arrived, they just called up a regular rubber-tired crane, picked us up like a toy boat, and placed us in the water. They were used to really big loads.”
They moved aboard in Vancouver and started south. “I guess we could have learned it from the pilot books, but the wind on that coast blows from the south in the winter. Storms come from the south and clear from the south. It wasn’t much fun.” So Fram wintered in Seattle and completed her circumnavigation of North America in 1969.
Field smiles as he recalls the voyage, “I think the best thing about the two seasons on the Intracoastal Waterway is the sense of purpose. Around Southern California, once you get to Catalina people say “what’ll we do now?’ On the Waterway, the what’ll we do now is you’ll make your next port. And it’s all stretched out in front of you, which gives you a theme for your cruise. There’s an on-going feeling about cruising that I found very pleasant.
“It also gives your crew an objective that is more than just getting someplace to drop the hook and have cocktails. Especially with young people, who have more energy and want to do more. They get tired of just going from A to B on a whim, but if they understand that there is an objective, then they’re happy.”
Fram was designed and built so that the two Fields could handle her easily. “Of course, if you were going upwind, you were powered. We powered a lot too … with the engine aft and the inside pilothouse forward it was quiet and easy. On autopilot, you’d stand your watch in socks and a light sweater and read a good book, looking up occasionally to check outside.”
When Field was looking for a builder, he’d contacted Jack Jensen to see if he’d be interested. But he wasn’t at the time. “But once it was launched, he thought it was a pretty good boat and wanted one himself, and that’s how Jensen Marine came to produce Fram as the Cal-46. They made about 14 with the same layout as mine. I still think the original 46 is a collector’s item. When they modified it to the Cal 2-46, it became a Catalina boat and sold like hotcakes but they’d lost the inside steering and the ability to carry a skiff on deck.”
Fram and the Fields made several more coastal cruises, including a two-year voyage as far north as Skagway, Alaska. “We set up two-week sections when we cruise and then invite people to pick a section when they would like to join us. If no one speaks for a certain section, then we’d go on our own. Otherwise we stuck to a comfortable schedule and people join and depart as we cruise along.”
Does Hale Field do much racing? “Sure, but I don’t think I could get much pleasure from spending all the money to win a race. The excuse to me for racing is to get out and see things that you can never see in normal boating. I’ve been sailing the Little Whitney this year with Bill Lapworth on his boat, and we’ve had some really beautiful and dramatic races, especially at night when you wouldn’t be out otherwise. You know, you can’t just invite people to go sail around Eagle Rock at midnight … they wouldn’t come. But, gosh, it was pretty.” Here, again, is the pleasure of sailing with a theme. It may be a race, but you have to enjoy it as you go.
“I’ve never been much in favour of rating rules designing boats, which I think they clearly do. I don’t think the sea has changed much and just because we change rating the rules shouldn’t affect anything. Sailing boats have evolved over a long period of time, but some of the changes aren’t improvements. I shoot towards a handy boat rather than a low rating. To me, if it takes five guys to sail a boat fast, then you don’t necessarily want those same guys along on a pleasure sail. But if a boat can be handled easily by one or two people, then you can select the others for qualities besides being able to grind a winch.”
Even in racing, Field has sailed with both good boats and good crews. TransPac in 1955 aboard Nam Sang, navigator with Don Ayres on Wild Turkey in the 1971 SORC, navigator with Bill Lapworth on Merrydown most recently. “In 1939, Peggy Slater, George Fleitz and I shipped our PICs up to San Francisco to race at the World’s Fair, so my racing goes back a ways.”
In 1971, Hale Field decided he wanted a bay launch for Newport Harbor so he could visit friends from his waterfront home. “There didn’t seem to be much point in making a 5-knot boat that didn’t sail. You can’t go faster in the bay, so it might as well be a sailboat.”
The result was Hawk, a pretty little schooner of 19 feet overall that Field built in his backyard. “She’s just a big open cockpit bay launch with tanbark sails and a diesel engine, but we started getting ambitious and pretty soon we were going places with her. She’s dry for her size, which means she’s wet and you shouldn’t go too far outside.”
So Field the designer went to work again. “I’ve read a lot on naval architecture, worked and sailed with both Lyle Hess and Bill Lapworth, but I finally took the Westlawn correspondence course.” He also modestly overlooks the fact that he helped Willard design the Vega-30s, and that he’d designed the Vega-40 hull.
“After Hawk, I started thinking about another boat something like Hawk but big enough for a watertight cockpit and safe offshore. Besides, it’s fun to build boats.”
The newest Field creation is still just a glossy white hull sitting in the Willard shed, but she’ll be a 31-foot schooner when finished. “I think of a schooner as a sloop with an area between the masts where you can deal with your extra sail area more handily than going out on the bow with a spinnaker. That’s much better than pulling down one sail to put another up. Blondie Hasler (originator of the single-handed TransAtlantic race) once said that a boat where to get more sail you have to pull one down to put another up is like having a car without gears. When you get to a hill, you jack it up and put on smaller wheels. That’s why I like the flexibility of a schooner rig. She sails just like a sloop, and you can fool around with the extra sails in the middle of the boat.”
How soon is the new and un-named schooner due for the water? “Oh, I don’t know really. I’d rather not aim too hard for completion date because I’m savoring the building process.”
Like the building process and like his cruises and races, Hale Field has a theme to his life, but he always has time to enjoy the passing view.
October 1988, “Shaping Course, A New Boat; a New Life”, by Tom and Harriet Linskey. An article about sailing a Bristol Channel Cutter in Baja, Mexico.
September 1979; “New Boats, The Bristol Channel Cutter”. A review of the Bristol Channel Cutter.
48 DEGREES NORTH
February 1995; “Ask The Surveyor, Deck to Hull Joint”, by Tom Averna. “An excellent example of a proper deck to hull joint for an offshore designed boat was on a Bristol Channel Cutter I surveyed. The type of joint was an inward turning flange that was thru bolted every six inches and also bonded with a liberal amount of 5200 adhesive/sealant. The 5200 looked almost new and the stainless steel bolts were still bright and like new even though the boat had just returned from a Pacific cruise. I was impressed with the thickness and width of the flange which did not show any signs of fatigue or damage. The thru bolt diameter was also substantial and it was apparent to me that the builder was not cutting corners and built the joint with the intention of heavy offshore use in mind.”