Shoal Draft Voyaging

On the face of it, one of the main attractions of the OVNI range is their shoal draft and beachability. We’ve all seen the photos: parked on some deserted islet with an impossibly azure sea far in the background. The theory looks enticing, but how far does it reflect reality?

Undoubtedly, it can be done, and indeed these boats are designed to dry out, but how often will they do just that?

Well, undoubtedly it depends on where you are—it’s probably not a great feature in an area of deep water and few beaches. And maybe that’s part of the reason we haven’t dried out in anger yet—we simply haven’t been in the right place. The one time that we really could have used that ability this season was when our feathering prop got damaged in Ireland. But with little forward drive and no astern, and confronted with a sea of the softest mud with not a hard patch in it, that was not an option.

But we have thought about it and planned for it. And probably after we’ve dried out a few times we’ll feel much more confident, but at the moment some doubts persist. The first being that (ideally) we’d want to know the state of the bottom where we were going to dry out, just to be certain that there are no dangers or obstacles lurking there. The second would be the need for calm conditions and little traffic—no bouncing 12 tonnes up and down on a hard packed bottom if the wind comes onshore, or some maniac in a speedboat is charging around making a wake. But we did see another OVNI on the beach this summer changing his anodes, and as they had probably saved the best part of £500 by not hauling out at a yard, we’ll definitely be doing so—it’s only a case of where and when.

But being able to take the ground isn’t the only advantage—the OVNIs have true shoal draft, and that can be a real benefit. Our old boat drew 7ft, and so when the wind got up we would generally get in as close to shore as we dared to anchor to gain the maximum shelter from the windward shore, but often times we would still be well out and in the full strength of the wind. On Pelerin, with our plate and rudder up, we have been able to get far closer in, which has not only given us much better protection from the wind and sea (and thus more comfort), but also being inshore of other boats diminishes the risk of being dragged down on to. It also means a more horizontal pull on our anchor cable, which is all to the good.

Having a lifting keel encourages exploration, too. When in water where we think we might touch the bottom, we simply put the keel lever on the hydraulic pump in the ‘up’ position, then if the board does touch, it just lifts, which takes a lot of the jitters out of creek crawling. And on two occasions we were able to get into shelter in advance of bad weather by being able to reduce our draft to the minimum, where before we’d have been waiting for the tide to rise for several hours to get in, by which stage it might have become impossible.

And on the night when the visitors’ mooring we had been directed on to dragged due to some unforeseen problem at seabed level, the lifting keel really proved its worth. As is the law of Murphy this happened in the remote arm of a river at 0400 just as the rain had set in and the wind was beginning to rise, and the first we knew was the bump of contact with the boat astern of us. There was no time to waste, so we soon had the engine fired up, got ourselves clear of the other boat and dropped the mooring. The river was full of moored boats, so we motored quietly round in circles while we gathered our wits and switched all of our navigation gear on, which is when the plotter failed—Murphy again. The one possible option to anchor looked to be a bight outside the moorings that we’d looked at on arrival but discounted as being too shallow at low tide. So, feeling our way in with the plate ‘in neutral’, we went in as far as we could, dropped our hook, pumped up the plate and rudder and, happily, settled down to a quiet night. At low water in the morning we had around 1ft of water under us, and more swinging room than we had expected. So next time, we’ll trust our own gear, make more use of our shoal draft and stay autonomous—as we should have done in the first place.

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Meet the Author

Colin Speedie

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

3 comments… add one
  • Blake Redding Jun 3, 2018, 10:20 am

    I fully understand the benefits of shoal draft, but I am wondering how important it is to have a fully beachable/groundable boat, like an Ovni, Southerly, Feeling DI or other. Certainly for doing repairs or replacing anodes it would be very beneficial, but otherwise I wonder about the likelihood/advantages of grounding a boat on the bottom and not being afloat. During that time you cannot use the motor or the toilets and you would not be able to leave when you want. So, how much benefit is there to having a groundable boat with a draft of less than 1 meter, rather than a stub keel boat with lifting or pivoting centerboard with a similar draft, but which cannot be grounded? Thanks for your thoughts.

    • John Jun 4, 2018, 7:39 am

      Hi Blake,

      I guess it depends on each owner’s desires and where they sail. That said, as someone who seriously considered a Boreal 47 my thinking is that if I was going to go shoal draft, why not go the whole way to being able to dry out? Particularly since I don’t think one type has a performance advantage over another. The other thought is that if one is going to consistently go into shallow water with a shoal draft boat, sooner of later we will get that a bit wrong and go aground, and if that’s on a falling tide, it’s a lot better to be in a boat that will sit relatively flat. And finally there are some really fascinating and little visited cruising grounds that are only available to boats that can dry out. Our own inner Bay of Fundy being just one example: https://www.morganscloud.com/2007/05/19/attainable-adventure-cruise/

  • Marc Dacey Jun 3, 2018, 2:19 pm

    Boats that can take the ground in tidal waters include bilge keelers (popular in the UK) and full keelers with “beaching legs”. There’s more than one way to do this, but it’s not always considered necessary, either due to the usage pattern of the vessel, the presence of slings or Travelifts in the normal cruising grouds, or the lack of the tidal ranges necessary to beach/careen a boat of typical draft (retracting or stub keel or not) in the first place. I am considering building beaching legs for use on our steel full keeler because we figured out many of the places we are thinking of visiting reliably dry out, or nearly so, and maintenance on a steel boat is made easier thereby. But that’s not the case for most sailors, I would gather, where the tides aren’t ranging more than the boat’s draft.

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